Tag Archives: dale Earnhardt Snr.

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Over The Horizon

In the run up to the 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring I amassed a few recollections from those who had been at previous events………..Ken Breslauer has graciously allowed me to publish these accounts here on DDC……………enjoy.

Oh and

You can still order a souvenir program from this year’s 12 hour classic. Fans have told us its the best Sebring program ever- 200 pages filled with historical photos and features. $20 + $6 shipping. You can order by calling Toni at 800-626-7223.

Andy Pilgrim


In November 2000, we were testing the Corvette GT1 cars on the full Sebring track and it was the first time Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. had been in the cars. This was prior to them doing the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in February 2001. The Earnhardts had never driven in the Vettes before nor had they seen the track. I had already met Dale (Big E) and Dale Jr. the month before when the whole deal was announced. When Dale arrived at the track he grabbed me and asked me to take him around the track in my C5 street car, while Jr. went off with someone else. The street car Vette was the car that GM had given me to use during my time with the Corvette factory team. I had driven up in it from Boca Raton, about 125 miles south of Sebring.

I did a couple of slow 70 mph laps of Sebring with Dale in the passenger’s seat. I pointed out the apex of each of the corners and how the weird Sebring pavement changes. Meanwhile Dale was filling me in on how his new boat was coming along. I wasn’t totally sure he’d heard one word I’d said, to be honest, but I kept babbling on as best I could giving my top Sebring tips in a two or three slow laps.

As we came down the Ulmann Straight towards Sunset a third time, Dale piped up “My turn”. So I said “Alrighty, no problem,” and pulled in the pit lane and we changed seats.
Dale asked if I was ready, suddenly I saw this little twinkle in his eye. I just knew this was not going to be good. Within a microsecond of the words “I’m ready”, coming out of my mouth Dale launched the car and we must have been doing 100 mph before exiting the pit lane. I closed my eyes, braced for the inevitable impact and started saying sorry for all the things I thought might affect my status in the hereafter.

After a few seconds I realised we were not impacting anything and that Dale had masterfully negotiated Turn 1 and that we were already braking for Turn 3. Dale had not only been listening but had put down every apex and was gaining confidence with every corner and gear shift.

As we were flying down the Sebring’s long back straight I was starting to relax, I could even think about getting out of the car and walking away, we were almost home, one more corner.

But wouldn’t you know it,  there was more. Dale flew into the braking zone at Turn 17, a monster of a brake zone in any car, never mind a production car with zero downforce. As Dale went for third gear from flat out in fourth the car felt like it got hit by a truck and ripped sideways into a massive spin at over 130mph. Round and round we went until finally coming to rest about 8 feet from the bridge at the apex of turn 17.
I just sat in silence for a second and then looked at Dale. He had the biggest grin on his face. He looked at me and asked “You a nervous Nellie yet?” “Nope” I lied. He looked down at my feet and said. “Well that’s not what your feet are telling me” and he laughed. I laughed too, admittedly a more nervous laugh. He was right of course, my feet had almost pushed right through the fire wall as I braced myself. We calmly drove into the pits and parked. No one had really seen anything and nobody asked any questions, it was amazing.
Of course the question on my mind was why had we spun out? I’m sure some of you car fans can hazard a guess. My own little thought on it would be a grab for 3rd gear ended in a grab for 1st. That would have certainly caused the immediate spin.

Did we ever talk about it specifically, no? Am I sure Big E found 1st gear, pretty sure? Do I think he might have done it on purpose to bust my chops? From the mischievous look in his eyes after the spin, a distinct possibility ladies and gentlemen, a distinct possibility.

That is my most cool Sebring moment for sure. It is a different story and feeling than winning the 12 Hours but I thought you might like a story a little off the racing line.

Serge Van Bockryck

When friends in Europe ask me about Sebring, I refer to it as being a bit like Woodstock, but for sportscars. Coming from the sanitised world of European race tracks it is always a great joy to each year start the season in the relaxed and down-to-earth Floridian atmosphere. The guys running the Sebring event are just as professional as their counterparts across the pond, but that week in March they sure try to make everybody’s life as easy and enjoyable as possible, as do the fans.
One afternoon after testing, early in the “Sebring week” in 2001, while standing on the pit lane terrace, our Corvette team photographer and I noticed a scantily clad lady tanning on the roof of one of the RVs, right in front of the Corvette pit. She was wearing little more than a postage stamp-size bikini and, obviously, drew some healthy attention from the Corvette crew (and indeed most other crews who had a view).
As the week progressed, the girl got more daring, the bikinis got smaller and our crew got more and more enthused by the unexpected moral support from across the road. On Thursday morning before practice, a senior Corvette Racing team member donned his shades, hopped on a golf cart and made his way to the other side, armed with his usual convincing charm and a “Corvette Racing – Welcome Race Fans” banner which was neatly tied to the fence in front of the lady’s RV. When later the crew arrived to set up the pit for the practice session, they immediately noticed their new #1 fan and certain requests were hollered across the track. Soon enough, the lady fulfilled their wishes and off came the mini-skirt to give the boys a 360-degree view of a tiny professional g-string contraption which briefly silenced her fans all along pit road. The banner unfortunately disappeared the next day, and apparently the lady was arrested on Friday while strolling through the paddock in a short, fishnet dress and little else.
Oh, and Sebring also has the best coffee trailer in the business, conveniently parked right outside the media centre. Helps cure the jet-lag.

Dindo Capello

I have many good memories about Sebring , I have four victories to my name, for sure a very good score :-). (Now Five)
But what will be forever my best memory about Sebring, is the the podium of the 2001 race.
The smile of Michele Alboreto, my co-driver, next to me.
It was his last race and last victory before the terrible crash at Lausitzring.
Graham Goodwin.

I was co-commentating with John Hindhaugh at Sebring in 2007 in the final stages of the race – John’s attention, correctly, was on the overall winner but I’d been watching the developing GT2 battle between Jaime Melo and Jorg Bergmeister – I got Hindy’s attention to what was going to be a grandstand finish just as the TV turned their attention to the Ferrari vs Porsche shenanigans.

From that point on there was no point in saying a thing as Hindhaugh went into overdrive, gripping both sides of the sound desk and nailing it with an emotionally charged but perfect commentary on one of the epic finishes to a classic endurance race – I swear he didn’t take a breath – or pause – for a full two minutes.

The film of that last lap became an internet classic of course and laid the foundations for one of the great needle matches in the ALMS – Risi vs Lizards, Ferrari vs Porsche, Melo vs Bergmeister.

 

Mike Garton was a factory driver for British Motor Corporation (BMC) during the 60’s. He recalls the 1968 Sebring 12 Hours.

It was March 1968 and I was with the BMC mob on our way to Florida. We tried to leave London Heathrow in a VC10 bound for New York but had to taxi back for few hours’ delay. We found out that a fuel pump actuator was changed – not a good omen !

The flight was then diverted to Canada as we ran short on fuel.  So we had to spend the night in New York as we missed the connection, eventually arriving West Palm Beach the next day.

We found Geoff Healey was not best pleased as the dockers had left the imprint of their size 12 boots all over the alloy bodywork of our Sprite Coupe.  Before the cars could be released from US Customs they all had to be steam cleaned.  Warwick, where our factory was based was subject to quarantine as that winter there was a major outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease that devastated the farming community. At Tech, the officials objected to my race gloves, they felt that the soft leather gloves with pin holes were unsafe. I was told that I must buy the official gloves, but on seeing them I pointed out they had larger holes than mine and said no thanks. Eventually they agreed with me and I kept my gloves.

Then we finally got out on track, I was totally awed by the size of it all.  However the pits were from the Dark Ages with fuel drums on scaffolding. I remember the Howmet TX Turbo especially, it caused much excitement. BMC had entered our Sprite prototype, a Group 4 Midget,  Group 3 MGB and the MGC prototype. During practice I tried different cars while learning the circuit and trying not to get lost.

We had a good start by Clive Baker, my co-driver, who reappeared early in the race with overheating, we sent him back out again and  promptly disappeared. He returned on foot reporting that the fuel is contaminated with water.  Actually that’s not what he said, but I cannot repeat the exact expressions here! Clive was sent back to car with some tools accompanied by Geoff Johnson, the Lucas Fuel Injection boffin, to advise over the fence. After a while Clive got the car back to the pits and the boys cleaned out the system. We found that the fuel drum had over a gallon of water in it. Once that issue was fixed we found that our pace was good. But our fuel stops were interspersed by stops to top up the coolant as car was continually overheating. These extra calls into the pits were really annoying, considering  how well the little 1.3 litre ‘A’ series ran. We managed around 120bhp with the experimental Lucas fuel injection, hitting 7400rpm continually on the straights. The car also had experimental four wheel brake discs which were fantastic. The only problem was the pedal disappearing on the straights due to the pads being knocked back, you learned to tap the pedal with your left foot so there was a hard pedal for the hairpin. On the last session of the race a Javelin tried to side swipe the Sprite and to miss him I had to leave the track at the hairpin, I hit the sand but kept foot down and just managed to get out and back on track.

At the finish we were classified and we won the class!

Funniest memory – Paul Hawkins, coming into pits with a badly damaged car, as a result of contact from a car that pulled across him, driven by a well known lady driver who favoured pink. As he got out of car a media guy shoved a microphone in his face and asked for a comment. As this was then broadcast over the track live he probably wished he hadn’t asked, as Paul replied in typical Aussie fashion.
“There’s only one f——— place for f——— women and that’s the f——– kitchen or bed !!”
Oh dear. After the race was run I flew back to New York for the Motor Show and worked on the BMC stand where that wonderful ‘car’ the Austin America’ was introduced.
Great Times.

Nic Minassian

I have now raced at Sebring three times, always with Peugeot. Although I finished on the podium in 2010, I think my favourite memory of the race comes from 2008.

It was Peugeot’s first trip outside of Europe with the 908. We knew that Sebring has a reputation for testing the limits of the car and also the drivers. We needed to finish to learn about the car and gather information for the future.

We were on the front row, with the #1 Audi on pole position but we felt that we had the faster car and were determined to prove it. I was nominated to start, so my team mates, Stéphane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy discussed strategy with me. This happened while on the grid and I think they may have been joking, telling me to go round the Audi on outside on the first corner, a completely crazy risk with 12 hours of racing to go.
Then I was in the car on the warm up lap and it was one of those days where you feel invincible, that you can do anything you want with the car, so I decided to follow their advice. I went for it, absolutely flat around the outside of Dindo’s Audi into Turn One and it stuck and I was into the lead and pulling away, fantastic,

It felt really great, I really loved it, why I went racing in the first place. We had a few problems in the race and did not keep the lead but we did finish. That move will stay with me forever, when someone says Sebring it is what I remember the most.

Marty Kaufman

John….I have so many fond memories of the Sebring 12 Hour events from the 20+ years that I was there as IMSA’s Race Director, and the history that it brings, it is really impossible to single out one….but there was one event that truly stands out in my mind and, I am sure, in the minds of a few other folks who worked in Race Control.

 
The Race Control office was remodeled in the late 80’s or very early 90’s and was nicely done in that there was more room, better lighting, and an outside stairway that provided access.  During the 12 Hour race, a power transformer that was located on a new power pole very close to the new outside stairway began releasing a significant amount hot, poisonous liquid of some sort.  The order came from the Fire Department to immediately evacuate the Tower as this substance was really bad news (contained PCP’s or some other really ugly agent) and would eventually cause the transformer to blow up and cause significant damage to anything around it.  Only problem with this order from the Fire Department was that this stuff was showering down on the only stairway to exit the facility.  We all decided, the Race Control staff, we would stay the course and wait it out and continue running the race.  About a half an hour later, that shower of liquid stopped and the Fire Department folks cleaned up the mess and all was well.
 
Just kind of one of those things that sticks in your mind…..for a long time.

 

Allan McNish

I have many memories of Sebring, good and bad, but that is only in terms of the racing. That usually tends to go by race results. From my point of view Sebring 2009 is probably one of my best races in my career, it was fighting all the way to the end against Peugeot. The last two hours I had to pull everything out of the bag to make sure that the R15 won its first ever race. I could also look back to 2006 and the pole position with the first diesel, the R10, and to give the car its first victory, with Tom, Dindo and I, it was really incredible.
But the biggest impression Sebring has made on me is the crowd, the 180,000 or so fans that turn up. The way they create such a carnival, they make this an annual event. The way they get into the spirit of this unique race is just………..fantastic. there is no other way to put it.

I do love that at the autograph session you see the weird and the wonderful; someone dressed as The Stig’s very fat brother, then there are the lawyers dressed up as cows, everyone coming along with their families and friends, all being part of this great event.

As a single story, probably the biggest thing that has brought me into this scene was going to Turn Ten, for a photo shoot with Mr. Brooks, one year (2004). To see that there is a club at Turn Ten, where they have made their own grandstands, they have made their own bar, their own restaurant, in effect they have cornered a section of the track as their own territory. They return there every year, like a pilgrimage. They have their own entrance ticket effectively, which is a key ring and I am pleased to say I have been able to build up a collection of Turn Ten key rings over the years. To see the commitment that these guys have put into enjoying the 12 Hours of Sebring certainly matches the commitment that AudiSport and every other team makes to win the race, that makes Sebring special.

Andy Wallace

I had been testing the Toyota TS010 in Eastern Creek, Australia a few weeks before (Sebring ’92). We had been doing a marathon test, which lasted for nine days straight! Eastern Creek is a great racetrack, but there is a monster bump in the middle of turn one, which is taken flat-out in sixth gear at about 190 mph. Fantastic corner, but each time you go over the bump you get bashed about quite badly in the cockpit. Well after nine days of endurance testing I went over the bump one more time and, CRACK, two ribs decided they’d had enough of that! Within an hour Hitoshi Ogawa had also broken his ribs for the same reason. As you can imagine, the flight back from Sydney to London was interesting… If I got up for a walk around the plane, I remember having to tell anyone who was thinking of passing me going the other way in the aisle, DON’T TOUCH ME, as you pass me. Sneezing was another very painful experience.

Anyway, back to the point of the story; my ribs broke on February 29, 1992, and the race day at Sebring was on March 21, 1992. I didn’t dare tell Dan Gurney what had happened, as I knew he would find another driver. I remember the worst part for me was the driver changes and also, strangely enough, under yellow. Behind the pace car the stiffly sprung Toyota was running too slow to compress the springs and the car bounced all over the place – not pleasant. Anyway, we won!

Timo Bernhard

The 12 Hours of Sebring is one of the hardest races in my point of view, all over the world, for a driver and the team. I have competed in the race nine times between 2001 and 2011.

2001 Sebring was the first race for me in the US, that’s why Sebring has a special place already for me. With the Alex Job Racing Porsche we finished 2nd in GT, a great result. The heat, the roughness of the track, the humidity, the corner speed, the bumps, the track layout and all the traffic makes this race absolutely tough but also challenging. You want to beat it, to win it.

My best Sebring memory was the overall victory with the “small” LM P2 Porsche RS Spyder from Team Penske! It was a dream come true! We had a perfect race. The years before, Romain and I always had a difficult Sebring as not only a single race but also as a start to the American Le Mans Series. So it was vital to finish this race and to score the points. But also there was the glory to try to win it overall and be part of the “Heroes’ Wall” at the entrance of the paddock. In 08 everything came together!

And also we made Roger Penske very proud, it was his first overall Sebring win as a team owner. For Porsche it was the first overall Sebring victory since 1988.

Michael Keyser

Between 1970 and 1980 I raced eight times on the old 5.2 mile Sebring circuit and there are two words that come to mind: hot and rough. In 1971 and 1972 when the race was still a part of the Manufacturer’s Championship Series the cars I drove, 2 liter and 2.5 liter Porsche 911s, were some of the slowest in the field, mixed in with Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s. This meant I spent almost as much time looking in my rear view mirror as I did out the windshield. In 1973 when the race came under the auspices of IMSA and was limited to the GT and Touring classes I was one of the fastest and cared little about what was happening behind me.
As is the case today the old circuit was a combination of concrete and asphalt. Although the concrete portions were referred to as “runways,” in fact they hadn’t been used for that purpose for many years. The actual runway planes used was adjacent to the section of track known as the North-South Runway, and you’d often look off to your left and see planes taking off and landing.
When the airport was first built, the concrete had been laid in slabs, which required seams between each one. As a result you felt as if you were driving on a washboard. With wear and tear over the years and the effects of weather and general deterioration, the concrete had inevitably shifted; fallen, risen and broken up. Although track maintenance was carried out each year prior to the race, weeds scraped away and concrete chunks removed, parts were bound to degrade and break up during 12 hours, so unexpected surprises were to be expected.
We’ll begin our lap of the old circuit at the start finish line, midway down pit straight where we’d probably shift into 4th gear. I may have hit 5th just before entering the very fast left-hand sweeping turn #1, bearing in mind this is some 40 years ago and my memory is not crystal clear. Depending on traffic, which is something I’ll repeat, you’d swing to the right just after pit out in order to make the widest arched turn possible, clipping the apex on the left and drifting out to the far right, close to the edge of the concrete surface. This was one of the fastest turns on the circuit and could be taken flat out…or not, depending on who you talked to.
If you were unfortunate enough to run out of room and slide off the concrete, a weed-covered expanse awaited you. The ground was not somewhat sandy here, which insured an explosion of dirt resulted. If you were lucky, it was nothing but a spin. If you were unlucky you might collect an errant chunk of concrete, a rusted piece of rebar or some other nasty bit of busness.
Between turn 1 and the fast left-hand turn 2 was a short straight. Still in top gear you’d fly through turn 2, then almost immediately brake and downshift for the ninety-degree left-hand turn 3. Immediately after the apex the road surface changed from concrete to asphalt. I believe that originally this was one of many service roads that crisscrossed this part of the airport. You immediately felt the smooth surface under your tires which was welcome each lap.
From 3rd gear you’d shift up to 4th for the short run up to the Esses, then back to 3rd for the quick left, right, left flick under the MG Bridge. I seem to remember the track sort of undulating a bit through here. When taken properly it was a nice little section. Unfortunately, it was where my race ended in 1975. I believe I was running 2nd in a Porsche RSR in the latter stages when another RSR spun ahead of me, flew back across the track and I promptly T-boned it. I made it back to the pits on the front rims in a shower of sparks, but the front left wheel nut had been smashed onto the hub and the chassis was badly twisted, not the mention extensive body damage.
After the Esses, it was up to 4th gear and into the long sweeping right-hand Big Bend and under the vehicle bridge. Depending on traffic, you either drifted out to the left or hugged the right side. In 1973, driving a Porsche RS with Milt Minter, I was on my first lap after taking over early in the race when, in the middle of this curve, the car suddenly burst into flames with a loud WOOOMPF. I later learned fuel had surged up the vent tube onto the left-front disc and ignited. I pulled to the side of the road, where thankfully emergency crews arrived quickly and extinguished the fire. I drove back to the pits where the crew cleaned up the car and we went on to finish 2nd. Who’d a thunk.
I may have shifted to 5th on the exit to Big Bend, but the Hairpin was fast approaching. If you were on your own, it was a mechanical exercise of braking and downshifting, at least to 2nd gear and in some cases 1st, clipping the apex of the turn and accelerating away. All neat and easy. If you were in traffic, there was always the potential for disaster with faster and slower cars jockeying for position. If there was one place where body to body contact was insured numerous times during the race, it was the Hairpin.
In the 1971, Gregg Young was driving a Ferrari 512M and overcooked it in the hairpin. There was an exit road to the left of the turn, but if you slid across it, as Gregg did, there was a large sand bank waiting. His car climbed the bank and flipped onto its roof, and since the doors on the Ferrari opened up, not out, he was trapped inside. Luckily the corner workers were on the scene quickly and a group of them lifted the car up just high enough for Gregg to crawl through the door. The second he was out, the car burst into flames. I recall a two-page spread in Sports Illustrated showing the corner workers dropping the car, Gregg scrambling away and the Ferrari, “fully involved,” as firemen say, behind them.
The Hairpin was a place where many photographers congregated as they could get quite close to the track. Of course a bonus was that there was always the possibility of drama, as evidenced by Mr. Young’s conflagration. It was the one place on the circuit where I remember seeing familiar faces of photographers I knew. Sometimes I’d give a little wave if it was a close friend.
Accelerating out of the Hairpin, it was a drag race up the short straight to the Green Park Chicane, then stand on the brakes and downshift, followed by a quick right and left turn of the wheel. Taken alone it was an enjoyable section. Traffic could make it “interesting.”
In 1971, during night practice in my 911S I recall being followed closely by a set of lights through Green Park. On the exit I clung to the right as a car pulled alongside. Looking over I saw it was Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari 312P. He hesitated a moment, shook his fist and then blasted off into the distance. It was only my second FIA race, so I was somewhat mortified. The following year when I was making the documentary film, The Speed Merchants, I got to know Jacky quite well. At dinner one night I related the story of his fist shaking at Sebring the previous year. “I would never have done that,” he said, with a guilty grin on his face.
After  Green Park there was a long section that may have been called the Warehouse Straight where you got up to 5th gear and the asphalt changed back to concrete. Fast approaching was a very quick right hand sweeper, taken flat, or close to it, after which you were all over your brakes and down shifting for the 3rd gear right hander that led onto the 4,700 ft. North-South Runway.
This long section of the track was sort of like the Wild West, ie: anything goes. It was so wide that cars would often run three and four abreast. There was always the chance a car ahead of you running the same speed would throw up a piece of concrete, so you’d pick another lane. In the meantime you might be passing slower cars on one side and being passed by faster ones on the other. Some sections of the track were smoother than others, and you quickly learned where those were, sometimes drifting back and forth to weave around the rough bits. Maybe you’d look over and wave to a fellow driver you knew.
At the end of the North-South Runway was a 90 degree turn that led onto the Backstretch, but because there was a wide expanse of concrete on both the entrance and exit you were able to take the turn at a very high speed, 4th gear or even 5th. To turn a fast qualifying time, swinging out wide to the left before turning into the apex and drifting out obscenely wide to the left on exit was a prerequisite. If you were going to perform this maneuver you were forewarned to keep an eye out for another car diving on your inside otherwise there could be a nasty incident.
The Backstretch was smoother than the North-South Runway and not quite as long or wide. At the end was the double-apex left hander that has changed little from its present configuration. If you were going into the pits, you clung to the inside right, and if you were continuing for another lap you’d swing out to the left and climb through the gears back to the start/finish line.
Since its inception in 1952, Sebring has always been a unique venue in which to hold a race. The lack of decent accommodations near the track in the 1970s was always a challenge and I did my time at The Kennelworth and Harder Hall, the pink stucco whales from the 1920s near the town. There were fairly massive crowds during this time, with spring break providing its fair share of college fans. Much like today, they were probably there more for the party than the racing, but in the 70s things were considerably wilder than today, if that’s possible.
At one race I remember driving through the infield with some friends between stints to check out the “zoo” as we called it. It was a radical juxtaposition. To be sweltering in the hot noisy car, racing around the circuit one minute, and idling through the infield the next with the air conditioner blasting, the smell of pot wafting through the air and young ladies flashing their wares.

Oh, to be young again.

John Brooks, March 2012

New Millennium, Sir? Part Three

Running on Rails

The engine failure of the #12 Ferrari appeared to hand victory to the #16 Dyson Riley & Scott Ford. As daylight broke they had a 23 lap advantage over the #2 Corvette, OK there were seven hours to go, but this was Dyson we were considering. That should have been enough but there were worried expressions in the Dyson pit. It was reported that the leader had taken on water to counteract overheating at their first pit stop some 16 hours previously. During the night the problem went the other way as it emerged that the engine was running at 120 degrees C not the normal 200. Something was amiss and even a crew chief as experienced as Dyson’s Pat Smith was unable to figure out a quick fix. Could they hold on?

A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

The other Dyson car, #20, lost two hours having the input shaft to the transmission replaced, so was well out of contention.

Up Front

Third overall was the GT Class leader, Jet Motorsports BMW M3. They were three laps up with five hours to go when the engine failed after an oil leak, another car gone.

Both Of The Crowd Were Entertained

The miserable conditions continued, making everyone rather grumpy, just wishing for this damn race to be finished. Even at Corvette things got a little tense. Well known, and sometimes respected writer, Andrew Cotton, popped his head into the Pratt & Miller pit to catch up with Andy Pilgrim and file some copy for the Daily Telegraph back home. There were a couple of off duty local cops acting “security” for Dale Senior and one decided that Andrew’s presence was superfluous and told him to get lost. Like any Brit abroad, Andrew ignored the cop and tried to help matters by declaring that he was not interested in Senior. He only wanted to speak to Pilgrim. The next step was that Andrew was threatened with arrest if he did not leave immediately, a plain dereliction of duty. The cop should have tasered and cuffed him there and then for ignoring an instruction from an Officer of the Law. It would not have happened in Sheriff Bill Gillespie’s time.

Of course when this incident reached the ears of GM PR, they had a collective heart attack, but all was eventually smoothed over, the Telegraph got their copy and Andrew, I think, got a free breakfast.

The Cruel Sea

As the race trundled on the leading R&S extended the gap to #2 Corvette to over 28 laps. Then at around 9.30am, and with less than 4 hours to go, the call came. Butch Leitzinger parked the Riley & Scott at the East Horseshoe with an engine failure. I remember seeing the crew as they struggled to come to terms with this cruel fate, it was hard to witness, like there had been a death in the family. Rob Dyson could only say “I am not sure I want to come back to this place”. He did.

Double Dutch

The Rolex is about more than the struggle for the lead, each team has its own story to tell. Cor Euser brought a brace of Marcos from Holland, both got to the finish.

GT1?

Embracing the original “Run what you Brung” philosophy was the Canadian Porsche 911 GT1 entry, it ended up third in class.

Rocket Ron

The clocked ticked on, eventually it was 1.00pm, the race was run and we all gave thanks. The #2 Corvette had scored an unlikely win, but fully deserved none the less. It was the early stages of what would turn out to be long series of wins and championships for the Pratt & Miller team. Anyone interested in reading more about this should consider THIS. The disappointment of seeing good guys like Weaver, Brabs and Nishy robbed of their races was offset by the celebrations of the Corvette guys, who could resist such passion?

Lightning Performance

The decimation of the prototypes promoted the White Lightning Racing Porsche 996 GT3 R,  driven by Christian Menzel, Lucus Luhr, Mike Fitzgerald, Randy Pobst, to second place overall.

GT Winners

They were also GT class winners.

Manfred’s Wagen

Third overall were Wolfgang Kaufmann, Cyril Chateau and Lance Stewart in the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3 RS. Another great result.

The Final Podium

Next up was the crew of #3 who scored second place in GTS. Hard to imagine back then that this was Dale Earnhardt Snr.’s final podium. He would be fatally injured two weeks later on the final lap of the Daytona 500. His plans to leave NASCAR and come into endurance racing never came to fruition but had he lived the shape of Le Mans and the ALMS in the following years would have been very different.

L’Intimidateur

This would have become a familiar sight.

Downing’s delight

In the end the SRP1 class went to the Kudzu Mazda, here advertising the HANS system that owner/driver Jim Downing was advocating to all. Had Earnhardt been wearing one of these devices in the 500 he might well of survived his accident. They are mandatory now.

Archangel Motorsport

SRP 2 was won by Archangel Motorsport.

Hamilton Safe Motorsports

The final class winner was Hamilton Safe Motorsports who came out on top in AGT.

Champions All.

24 Hour races at Daytona International Speedway are regarded as amongst the toughest around, any of the 310 drivers who competed at the 2001 edition would have agreed and so would their crews. So the celebrations go on into the night, it is a Daytona tradition.

John Brooks, January 2011

New Millennium, Sir? Part Two

Daytona Dawn

Saturday 3rd February 2001, the 39th edition of the Rolex 24 Hours got underway with the usual pomp and ceremony. The first few hours saw a few cars fall by the wayside but most of the 79 starters were still circulating. Then came the rain.

There is some sort of expectation from those who stay back in Europe while the Rolex 24 takes place, that the whole affair is conducted in Miami South Beach conditions. My experience has been somewhat different, 2000’s race was absolutely freezing, below zero when the wind chill was factored in.  2001 was marginally warmer but the rain was horrible. It was cold, wet and dark prematurely.

Rally Cross?

Most of the photographers showed good sense and stayed either in the warm, dry Benny Khan media centre or hid under awnings in the pits. Me? Well, Regis Lefebure and I headed out to the back straight, where we spent several hours trying make some sort of acceptable images in the murk. I reckon he got better results than I.

NASCAR 4

In this sort of dull stuff it is almost impossible to turn Chicken Shit into Chicken Salad. The 2001 Rolex 24 was a personal landmark for me, it was the last race that I shot entirely on film. By the time I crossed the Atlantic again to shoot the ALMS’ season opener at Texas I had acquired a Canon D30. Digital had arrived, that genie had escaped and things would be very different. Photographers would go on to be software operators, mind you the crap ones would still be crap.

Racing in the Rain

The switch from analogue to digital robbed the Daytona Infield spectators of the Grand Prix that would take place at the end of each track session. The Pro and not so Pro photographers would lumber towards their vehicles, jump in and try to beat the others to the Tunnel at NASCAR 4 and across West International Speedway Boulevard to the photo processors, Speedway Photo as I recall. Their service was magic, unlike most of the nonsense that we used to endure back then. The quicker you got to the store, the higher up the queue you would be, though what we were hoping to achieve by this is not clear. Even a small scanned image would takes ages to transmit down those 14.4k phone connections and broadband had not reached the Speedway yet. Still it all seemed very important to us. It showed our competitive spirit, ‘How the West was Won’ sorta thing.

First of Many

The dubious honour of being the first retirement fell to the TRV Motorsports outfit, five minutes into the race.

Unique

The Crawford had transmission problems and despite replacing the entire mechanism, they too fell out early in the proceedings.

Intersport Lola

The Intersport Lola led during the first hour but hit clutch problems, dropping them down the order. It was a rough Rolex baptism for 17 year old Clint Field.

A Big Target

Another early contender, the Robinson Racing Riley & Scott, was yet one more prototype to have problems, losing an hour behind the Wall trying to sort an engine malady.

The Old One Two

So as the light faded it was the Risi Ferrari and the Weaver Riley & Scott scrapping for the lead with #20 Dyson car and the Champion Lola hanging on…………then came #2 Corvette, this one would run and run.

Mad Mike

Of course it was not only the front runners that were suffering in the poor conditions. My old pal, Mike Youles, was having his own brand of problems out on track. PK Sport had only just taken delivery of the 996 GT3 R and were not fully prepared for the copious amounts of rain that fell unexpectedly in Volusia County. Somehow the water was all over the inside of the screen, so Mike drove along trying to work out where he was by looking out the side windows.

I’m Sorry, I’ll Feel That Again

In addition to this he was driving double and triple stints as co-driver Geoff Lister was unwell. Of course Mike took it all in his stride, “Racing by Braille” he called it at the time. with a big grin on his face. Utter madness but very PK Sport we all agreed, very much the spirit of how they went racing.

Hot Laps?

Even the Corvettes were having some difficulties. Dale Junior was sent out for his first stint as the conditions got worse, this was not great timing from the team, as he said at the time.

“When I went out there in the car it was a little slick. I spun out a few times trying to get going. The track’s drying up a lot and it’s really gotten quick. Hopefully we can get buckled down here and catch up.”

“I asked them if I could do a double, but they said later on man, save your strength. I’m ready to go when they are.”

“I had zero experience in the wet. I’ve never driven on it, so I was out there learning. But the track dried pretty quick and I felt pretty comfortable and fell into a good rhythm.”

“They kind of saved me from sending me out earlier because it was raining pretty bad. When I got to get out there the track was relatively dry, so I was OK. (On his first lap) The tires were so cold, and your adrenaline’s pumping, and I kind of screwed up. But once I settled down, I felt good.”

Junior had further problems when a half shaft failed, there was a mistake in communication and the whole transmission unit was changed but the #3 was soon back on track only losing around 30 minutes.

The next top runner to hit the rocks was the Champion Lola Porsche, a sudden drop in oil pressure causing engine failure.

The 24 hours of pounding around the Daytona International Speedway is regarded as being tougher than any other similar contest, and that is when the weather is good. The conditions that prevailed in 2001 meant that most folk were clinging on, hoping to see daylight.

 

Out at the head of the race #12 and #16 continued to swap the lead. Then Risi Competizione took their turn on the wheel of hard fortune. Out on the back straight McNish lost a front wheel due to lug nut seizing. Fixing this problem cost five laps and almost certainly the race was lost. This prognosis was confirmed a few hours later, just before dawn. During a routine pit stop it was noticed the oil temperature was rising rapidly, it was suspected that head gasket had failed in the V12. The Ferrari was reluctantly retired, another leader down and no Rolex for McNish.

The Speedway

The darkness went on and on, as long in Florida as it is short at La Sarthe.

Final Part of this tale of misfortune and endeavour tomorrow.

John Brooks, January 2011

 

 

New Millennium, Sir? Part One.

Horologists celebrate!As with most things that the last lot in power (the Blair/Brown Cabal) here in the UK touched, the Millennium Celebrations got screwed up. The Dome became a byword for the kind of badly executed, wildly over budget, grandiose gesture projects that were supposed to keep us all dazzled. Fiddling while Rome burned, they even got the date wrong, as us Gregorians reckon that the new era starts in 2001 not 2000. Whatever.

In many ways the first major motor sport event of this Millennium, the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours, marked a more significant point than the 2000 edition held the previous January. Sure that had kicked off the Grand-Am set of races, and with a bang, but as those of us who have been around the tracks a while will tell you, organisations and their acronyms come and go. Yes, there had been a major battle between the factory teams of Viper and Corvette, eclipsing the supposedly faster prototypes, even the debuting Cadillac, but if Grand-Am represented anything it was not factory based competition.

As if to emphasise this point, by the start of 2001 both Dodge and Cadillac were gone, leaving Corvette’s team, Pratt & Miller, to try and beat the faster hoards of prototypes.

The Intimidator

The big news from the Corvette camp was that NASCAR superstar, Dale Earnhardt Snr. was joining the line up in the #3 car (what else?). And that his son, Dale Jnr. would be with him plus regulars, Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins. The #2 Vette would be the insiders’ favourite though, whatever the fans thought, the combination of Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell, Franck Freon and Chris Kneifel would be amongst the best in the field.

Despite the lack of experience in driving endurance cars (or in the rain or at night) Earnhardt applied himself to the task in hand, really impressing his fellow drivers and the whole team.

That should have surprised no one, sportsmen do not reach the Olympian heights that Senior had over many years in NASCAR, without being both bright and hard working.

Andy P and Junior

The process of adjustment to the new scene was greatly helped by the advice and friendship shown to the stars by Andy Pilgrim and Chris Kneifel, who talked through the areas of concern like the completely alien braking processes, the driving at night, the running in the rain. In return Earnhardt was able to bring his intimate knowledge of the Daytona banking to assist his team to be even quicker along the famous pavement.

E Additives

Another big change from the NASCAR environment was that of being part of a squad of drivers but the Father and Son combo adjusted well to this aspect. I was on the fringe of the team due to friendly GM PR guy who kept me appraised of any happenings. He even introduced me to Dale, who considering our relative status, was extremely gracious, not a reaction I always encounter from some in the game.

Night Time in the Switching Yard

The attention of the media was focused on #3, this was, after all, the heartland of NASCAR and Senior was their transcendent Super Star. This left the crew of #2 to get on quietly with preparations for the battle with the prototypes in the search for overall victory. There were stories at the time of Senior’s ambitions to race with Corvette in the following years, especially at Le Mans, he was a serious racer. I wrote about this later HERE

Red Line

Perhaps the Ferrari 333 SP of Risi Competizione was the most popular choice for the top step of the podium at the race’s end. A hotshot team running the car, a driver line up that consisted of Ralf Kelleners, David Brabham, Eric van de Poele and Allan McNish plus the beautiful, sonorous Ferrari seemed to be the obvious selection. McNish has had his eye on a Rolex since winning his class in 1998 at Daytona, the year before the watches were awarded to all class winners not just the overall victors. Of course we are all too gentlemanly to ever mention this small omission in his career, maybe this would be his best chance to get hold of one the fabled timepieces without parting with actual cash. Fastest lap in practice of 1:41.118, if not in Qualifying, seemed to support the argument.

What Might Have Been

Another notable contender was the Porsche powered Champion Racing Lola B2K/10.  Bob Wollek, Hurley Haywood, Dorsey Schroeder and Sascha Maassen would bring experience and speed to job in hand. The standard of the Champion Racing outfit was top line and with some assistance from Weissach this was more than a dark horse.

EFR on a charge

There were two Dyson Racing Riley & Scott Mklll Fords, that were always contenders for victory when they entered a race. They had won the Floridian classic in ’97 and ’99 and were looking for a hat trick.

Saint Crispin’s Day?

Any team that could count on the talents of James Weaver, especially if joined by Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger, was going to be there or thereabouts. No Question.

So the question would be could the faster prototypes run reliably enough to beat the Corvette pair? Or would there be a repeat of the 2000 race that fell into the hands of the GT1 machines after the prototypes imploded?

Lap One and Carnage

Weaver got the jump on Jon Field’s Intersport Lola at the start and as the competitors made their way into the infield all hell broke loose. Norman Simon in the Bob Akin Motorsports Riley & Scott pirouetted, he reckoned he was tapped into the spin, others felt that too much aggression on cold tyres a more likely explanation.

Grosse Scheisse!

Ron Fellows nearly ran his Corvette into Broward County trying avoid any possibility of contact, it was no way to start a 24 Hour race.

Master James

The race settled down after the indiscretions of the first lap, Weaver lead from Kelleners and Field and others in SportsRacing Prototype class all took spells in front during the opening stint.

Grand-Am was itself about to embrace a period of change, trying to find a formula that would give their competitors stability of rules and some form of cost capping to try and rein in budgets and keep the ALMS,  ACO and FIA at bay. In 1999 the Grand-Am President, Roger Edmondson, had formed an alliance with John Mangoletsi and the European based Sports Racing World Cup with a plan for to run two races in 2000 at US venues with a combined grid of prototypes. Problem was that most of Mango’s Barmy Army, as we were almost affectionately known, did not want, nor could afford, to race on two continents. So only a handful of SRWC entries made the trip to Daytona and Road America that summer, so the concept was quietly dropped.

Grand-Am did not want to allow in the likes of Audi and similar factory teams to race in their series, they would destroy the opposition and lead to a dependence on their revenue streams, just ask the ALMS how that one worked out. However the technology that they and other manufacturers had introduced to prototype and GT competition could not be unlearned. The likes of Lola and Riley & Scott were forced by the demands of customers who wanted to race at Le Mans to follow in the escalation of technology and, of course, budget. It is around this time that the concept of the Daytona Prototypes began to appear in the thinking of the Grand-Am top brass as the answer to the conundrum. The final designs were still some time away but it was clear that Grand-Am and its showcase 24 hour race would operate to different rules and specifications to the rest of endurance racing. With the financial muscle of NASCAR and its allies behind the project, in particular Sun Trust Bank, it was possible to march to a different drum.

Class Acts

Dale Earnhardt Snr. was not the only star to be seen at Daytona that year. Paul Newman or simply PLN when racing, was an enthusiastic part of the Gunnar Racing Porsche team.

All The Stars Come Out At Night

Unfortunately the 911 GT1’s performance did not match its looks and the elegant GT was an early retirement.

Disappointment

Another competitor getting an early bath was the Saleen S7-R of Paul Gentilozzi, a suspension failure led to retirement. The GTS category was thinning out.

Part two of this Retrospective tomorrow.

John Brooks, January 2011