Tag Archives: Daytona International Speedway

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Light Blue Touch Paper

The first rays of sunshine arrive from the East, over the Atlantic. For those still circulating at Daytona International Speedway it signals that they have made it through the dark………the Chequered Flag is almost in sight……

Not for everyone though, some will suffer the heartbreak of a late problem at the Rolex 24. Daylight is visible in the sky as James Weaver punches onto the Tri-Oval banking after the Bus Stop at NASCAR Three. Under acceleration the Ford V8 emits a blue flame, a signal confirming the damage to an exhaust valve, dramatically reducing power. A 27 lap lead over the pack would evaporate, as following the demise of the Cadillac SRP challenge, the Viper/Vette GT train gained a handful of seconds every lap. The clocked ticked away, the gap shrank, the maths played out and the inevitable happened, victory slipped from the Poughkeepsie team’s grasp. The only consolation to “the death of a thousand cuts” would come later in the season when the 45 points scored by James Weaver for staggering round to fourth place would give him the inaugural Grand-Am Drivers’ Title.

John Brooks, January 2018

Analogue Racing

Twenty years ago this week I jumped on a plane and headed for Florida, destination Daytona International Speedway, It was the first phase in what I laughingly now refer to as a career in motorsport. Since the early ’80s I had combined a real paying job with the weekend vice of shooting races as a member of the media. I had witnessed the final stages of Ayrton Senna’s pre-F1 career, watched with awe as Group C flowered and was eventually destroyed by dark forces and followed the re-birth of endurance racing in the ’90s. I was hooked.

Now it was time to leave behind the comfortable existence of a monthly salary, an chunky bonus most years and a new BMW 7 or 8 series every four to six months. I was going to be a full time motorsport photographer following in the footsteps of those guys I knew in F1 who had made it to the Majors. They were doing very well, better than me or so they would have you believe. What they did not tell me was the the bit about the pain and penury, the uncertainty of where the next job or cheque would come from and the sheer grind of endless travelling for a living. All this while trying to keep clients and the bank manager happy.

No matter, I was gung-ho on my way to Daytona. My flight and a fee were being paid for by the charming Laurence Pearce of Lister Cars fame, it was always going to be like this I told myself…………roaming the planet on someone else’s dollar, creating art………Terry Donovan eat your heart out………..

I had shot in the USA the previous year when following the FIA GT circus to Sebring and Laguna Seca, now I was about to find out how things were really done in America.

The 1998 Rolex 24  was a race run in a time of great upheaval and transition, both on and off the track. On a broader scale the world was shifting on its axis from analogue to digital, the new-fangled internet and email was here to stay, and old farts like me would have to get used to it, embrace it even, Dot-Com was the buzz word on everyone’s lips. A new century beckoned and a totally unjustified optimism was all around, as if we had all bought into Donald Fagan’s vision:

A just machine to make big decisions,
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision,
We’ll be clean when their work is done,
We’ll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young

On the tracks the world was also going through a revolution, especially in the rarefied arena of endurance racing in North America. In the post-Andy Evans era, Daytona in 1998 was the first battleground in the looming conflict between the traditional powers, aka the France family, and the new broom, Don Panoz, controller of three tracks, and his plans for sportscar racing in North America that would evolve into the American Le Mans Series. We all know how that turned out in the end.

For a foot-soldier such as I this all seemed remote, all I could see was the beautiful Florida sunshine, a real contrast to the grey, soggy conditions back home. At the track there was the amazing banking, there were also a lot of fences and gates to negotiate and even more security guards to deal with, all dressed in blue, seemingly  with an agenda all of their own.

On track the cars were something of a throwback, the favourites for victory came from the various Ferrari 333 SP teams or the Ford-powered Dyson Racing Riley & Scott MK III pair. These fine cars would have been nowhere if faced by the top practitioners in Europe such as the Mercedes-Benz CLK LM or the Toyota GT-One who were in a different league of performance and, of course, budget.

Indeed from the European scene three Porsche 911 GT1s, a brace of Panoz GTR-1s and a Lister Storm GTL were on the Rolex 24 GT1 entry list creating a problem for the local officials who wished for the top step of the podium to be the property of the prototype class, cunningly renamed Can-Am. What relationship these cars had with the Group 7 legends of yesteryear was unclear but it made the PR guys feel warm and everyone pretended that it was absolutely logical.

Another PR canard doing the rounds at the race was the insistence that the 1998 Rolex 24 would be a re-run of the Ford v Ferrari battles of the ’60s, Phil Space and his mates in the old press rooms would have been proud. Like the Can-Am non-connection no one was fooled but we were all too polite to mention it.

Perhaps the whole paddock that year would have wanted to see Gianpiero “Momo” Moretti finally achieve a win at Daytona. He had first raced the 24 Hours at the tri-oval in the 1970 edition driving a Ferrari 512S no less. 28 years and fourteen attempts later he knew that time was against him but 1998 was as good an opportunity as ever. As Momo put it at the time, “With all the money I have spent at Daytona I could have bought a thousand Rolexes easily, but I wanted to win this race.”

His Ferrari 333 SP was run by the vastly experienced Kevin Doran and he had a stellar line-up with Mauro Baldi, Arie Luyendyk and Didier Theys, it was now or never.

Joining Momo on the grid, though a few rows back was another driver who had raced in the 1970 Daytona 24 Hours, Brian Redman. Back then Redman was a key part of the JW Automotive squad and the 1970 race was eagerly anticipated as it would see the first full contest between the Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s. Brian achieved the bizarre feat of finishing both first and second in that race as he drove the winning car of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen for a couple of stints while waiting for his own 917 to have its clutch replaced. The Finn was placed on the naughty step for ignoring team orders to slow down while enjoying a huge lead, his punishment was to witness Redman pounding round in his car.

In 1998 Redman joined 1990-Le Mans winner Price Cobb in a Porsche 993 Carrera RSR but there would be no fairy-tale for the veteran Brit, a broken gearbox on Saturday brought his career in 24 hour races to an end.

 

Opposition in Can-Am Ferrari ranks came principally from the Scandia Racing example crewed by Yannick Dalmas, Bob Wollek Max Papis and Ron Fellows. Dalmas took pole with a 1:39.195 lap, just shy of 130 mph average speed, this was a serious effort at winning outright.

Doyle-Risi Racing had left their 1996 Daytona-winning Oldsmobile-powered Riley & Scott behind in favour of a 333 SP, backing up Wayne Taylor behind the wheel were Fermin Velez and Eric van de Poele, another serious contender for overall victory.

There were arguably five serious Riley & Scott contenders, all Ford powered. Two from Rob Dyson’s crack outfit based at Poughkeepsie. #16 for James Weaver, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Dorsey Schroeder as well as the Guv’nor, seen here at the wheel.

In #20 Rob was joined by Butch Leitzinger, John Paul Jr., and Perry McCarthy. Rob was keen to repeat his Daytona triumph of the previous year, his cars were always in contention down in Florida, in 1998 they started from 4th and 5th places.

Henry Camferdam enlisted Scott Schubot and Johnny O’Connell in his R & S MKIII, they started at a respectable sixth spot.

Michael Colucci ran a pair of Rileys in association with turkey-magnate Jim Matthews. Matthews was partnered in #39 by the ‘dream team’ of multiple champions Derek Bell and Hurley Haywood plus David Murry.

#36 had Eliseo Salazar, Jim Pace and Barry Waddell on driving duty with Matthews hedging his bets as an entry in both cars.

Back at the turn of the century some frankly weird contraptions would show up and ‘race’ at Daytona during the 24 Hours. This pioneering spirit was very much in the ‘run what you brung’ tradition and is somewhat missed in these politically and corporately correct times. In 1998 the Chevrolet Cannibal was oddball of the year, in fact there grounds for thinking that it would be oddball of any year.

1998 also saw the Mosler Raptor take to the tracks, designed it would appear by Captain Nemo, with the distinctive split screen. At home at Turn Three or 20,000 leagues under the sea…………….

Other left field entries would include the Keiler KII which was a development of a Chevron B71. Powered by the ubiquitous Ford V8 it was a good example of the can-do engineering spirit that ran through the North American racing scene in the last decade of the century.

As mentioned earlier the GT1 class should have provided stiff opposition to the leading prototypes. However the powers that be decided that a Can-Am car would triumph, so the regulations were changed, not for the first, or the last, time in Volusia County. The Panoz pair with an all-star line up of Eric Bernard, David Brabham and Jamie Davies in #99 and Andy Wallace, Scott Pruett, Doc Bundy with 1987 World Champion, Raul Boesel, in #5 should have been rattling the Ferraris and the Dyson squad in the speed stakes. However………….

The Porsche 911 GT1 trio should also have been there or there abouts, but USRRC, no doubt under instructions from above, had other ideas. Ballast was added and there were smaller restrictors if the GT1 had carbon brakes or electronic engine management – hello the computer age! – the final cut was reducing the fuel tank size from 100 to 80 litres to match the Can-Am cars. It was all a bit farcical and it fuelled the rivalry between Panoz and what was to become Grand-Am. The ‘not invented here’ attitude was alive and flourishing.

There was the usual pre-race ballyhoo, speeches, songs, prayers and parades. Former heroes rumbled round the track at a dignified pace, provoking this cop to bellow incomprehensible instructions to move which were largely drowned out by the engine noises, this despite being in a place that was allowed by our passes……….my way or the highway…………..it was easier to leave than try and argue.

 

A full grid of 74 cars took the start under blue skies. As I have learned with 24 Hour races, and the Rolex in particular, everyone heads off for the first corner with optimism in their hearts but it does not take long for the cracks to appear in even the best racers. One by one the favourites are hobbled to a greater or lesser degree, Daytona International Speedway has a deserved and hard earned reputation for being cruel to the aspirations of racers and their teams, the 1998 Rolex 24 would be no exception to this rule.

The race ran to plan for the leaders till the second hour. A Full Course Caution was spotted by Andy Wallace in the Panoz as he headed into Nascar Four and he lifted off just as James Weaver’s R & S was following him a full pelt, the resulting collision effectively ended both cars chances though both plugged away after extensive repairs, neither was running at the finish.

Doyle-Risi was next to stumble. First a pit official waved Eric van de Poele out of the pits even though the exit was closed, then the mistake was compounded by neglecting to inform Race Control, a two lap penalty was the consequence. Shortly after night fell the Belgian crashed out at the West Horseshoe, knocking out both himself and the Ferrari from the race.

The lead was taken on by the Scandia Ferrari with the #20 Dyson car giving chase. Around 04.00 on Sunday advantage switched to the latter as the 333 SP suffered first a sticking throttle, then the transmission caught fire, another leading contender was out.

This left Dyson on target for a successive victory but the Racing Gods had other ideas. The engine started to give concern and with about three hours to go matters came to a head with the car being forced into the pits while smoking and leaking fluids………..another dream dashed.

While Dyson were suffering despair the Moretti Ferrari was now in a lead that it would not surrender. Momo took the final stint, he had earned that right the hard way.

There were emotional scenes on the podium, a dream had come true, Momo had his Rolex. The Italian veteran would have an Annus Mirabilis in 1998 taking victory at both the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Watkins Glen Six Hours, throw in a top ten finish at Le Mans and it was time to leave the stage.

What of the other places? In spite of the best efforts of the USRRC to slow the GT1 entries they were there at the Chequered Flag, surviving the carnage that had engulfed the Can-Am runners. The Porsche 911 GT1 Evo of Rohr Motorsport finished second some eight laps down on the winner.

This was despite an all-star driver line up, almost an embarrassment of riches: Allan McNish, Jörg Müller, Danny Sullivan, Uwe Alzen and Dirk Müller enjoy the applause but no Rolex watches despite the podium and the class win, still rankles with a Wee Scot or so I am told. Not that any of us ever remind him, oh no sireee…………

Third spot was occupied by another Porsche 911 GT1, the Larbre Compétiton entry of Christophe Bouchut, Andre Ahrle, Patrice Goueslard and Carl Rosenblad………….a top class effort, much as we have come to expect from Jack Leconte’s outfit.

Porsche also took GT2 honours with the evergreen Franz Konrad guiding his squadron of gentlemen drivers to victory in the 911 GT2. Toni Seiler, Wido Rössler, Peter Kitchak and Angelo Zadra all did their bit in this fine result.

The final class winners were PTG and their BMW M3. Bill Auberlen, Boris Said, Peter Cunningham and Marc Duez climbed the top step of their podium at ‘The World Center of Racing’ to receive their trophies, no false modesty at DIS.

The eternally youthful Bill will line up for the factory BMW outfit this weekend, as will his fellow class winner from 1998, Dirk Müller. Dirk will be hoping that his Ford overcomes Munich’s finest.

What did I learn from the experience of my first Rolex? Well like most Europeans who go racing to North America I had the idea that we were more professional in Europe, with our F1, our Le Mans, our traditions. I soon realised that was complete bollocks, the driving, engineering and every other aspect of motor sport on that side of the Atlantic was the equal of anything over here. Just look at the record of Penske, Pratt & Miller, Chip Ganassi and see the facts as they are.

If some of the officialdom was dodgy or the decisions were difficult to understand then consider some of the horror stories perpetrated over here. If security was inclined to make things up on the hoof, then recall dealing with Belgian police, the CRS or any of the private security firms now involved……….I rest my case. It certainly opened my eyes and made my decision to follow the ALMS in the early years a certainty.

Did I learn anything else? Well don’t go drinking with Julian Bailey in an airport bar, we almost missed the flight home as we got well refreshed. We picked up the last call and boarded the plane to jeers of those who knew us, I think I slept well that flight. It was the first chapter in a grand adventure…………..maybe I am due a new one soon.

 

John Brooks, January 2018

The First Steps

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Most of you will know that Petit Le Mans runs this weekend, bringing down the curtain on the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It is also the final performance in the career of the Daytona Prototype class.  Who could have imagined back in 2003 that we would still have evolutions of this class of car racing for victories and titles?

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The DPs, as the more polite members of the racing community referred to them, made their début at Daytona International Speedway running in the 2003 Rolex 24 Hours.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

There were just six cars entered in the class with four chassis types and five different engine suppliers. Three of these were Fabcar FDSC/03s and two of these were entered by Brumos Racing and were, naturally, Porsche powered. #59 in the famous red, white and blue livery had Daytona 24 Hours legend, Hurley Haywood, leading the driving squad, with J. C. France and Indy Car hired guns, Scott Goodyear and Scott Sharp in support.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

#58 had David Donohue, Mike Borkowski, Randy Pobst and Chris Bye behind the wheel. Brumos had an air of quiet confidence having had an extensive test program and a recent 27 hour test that all went as well could be expected.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Cegwa Sport entered a Toyota powered Fabcar for Darius Grala, Oswaldo Negri, Josh Rehm and Guy Cosmo.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Lined up against this trio were the Italian built Picchio BMW DP2 for Boris Said, Darren Law, Dieter Quester and Luca Riccitelli, entered by G & W Motorsports.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

A familiar face at the Rolex was Kevin Doran and, although his team was not there to defend their 2002 crown, he had built the Doran Chevrolet JE4 for Bell Motorsport. It would be driven by Terry Borcheller, Forrest Barber, Didier Theys and Christian Fittipaldi. The team was on the back foot from the start as the project was late in completion and had virtually no testing, not the way to approach the Rolex 24.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The final DP entered was the Multimatic Ford Focus MDP1 from Larry Holt’s Canadian outfit. He had regular  team drivers Scott Maxwell and David Empringham with David Brabham completing the line up.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Just six cars in the “top class” and they were not even the fastest round the track at Daytona, that honour fell to Justin Bell and the Denhaag Motorsports Corvette running in the GTS class who posted  a 1:49.394, over a second faster than the class leading Multimatic.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Let’s consider the situation, short of numbers, slower than the previous top prototype class, visually challenged and despised by legions of internet forum heroes, why did Grand-Am persist with this exercise in motor sport time travel? Tube frames in an era of carbon fibre, mocked as Proto-Turtles, what was the point? Indeed why did the mighty NASCAR empire devote time and resources to endurance racing when the core business was so successful and all consuming?

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The final question is easiest to answer. Bill France Snr. had launched the Daytona sports car events back in 1962 and by 1966 that had morphed into a 24 hour that attracted a top international entry, Ferrari even had one their most famous Gran Turismos nicknamed after Daytona. So it has become part of the Daytona tradition to kick off the Speed Weeks with an endurance sports car race and by continuing the tradition it is honouring Bill Snr.’s legacy and memory. There is also the practical point that the Rolex 24 acts as a rehearsal for the Daytona 500 in getting the Speedway staff and other interested parties up to speed before the huge crowd arrives on race day for the opening event in the NASCAR calendar.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

OK, why did the folks on West International Speedway Boulevard take the route of Daytona Prototypes? The answer is simple; cost, control and safety. Grand-Am was born out of the vacuum created by the demise of IMSA as run by Andy Evans and the subsequent rise of Don Panoz’ American Le Mans Series. This was perceived as a threat to hegemony of Daytona Beach in North American motor sport circles. Don owned Road Atlanta and Mosport and had manufacturers such as Audi, Porsche, Corvette and Viper beating a path to his door. He was serious and had the resources to match his ambition. The link with the ACO and Le Mans 24 Hours gave him and the ALMS instant credibility.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Something had to be done. In 2000 Grand-Am kicked off in the best possible manner with a great edition of the Rolex 24. Anyone interested in reading about that race might enjoy THIS

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

For the 2000 season Roger Edmondson, President of Grand-Am, attempted to forge links with John Mangoletsi’s Sports Racing World Cup from Europe to increase the number of prototypes available to populate the grid. This initiative failed, “Mango” could not deliver his side of the bargain, only a few cars made the trip across the Atlantic to the mid-season races at Daytona and Road America.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Audi R8 prototype was rampant in the ALMS and at La Sarthe and would run at astronomical speeds if let loose on the banking at Daytona International Speedway and the consequences of something going wrong were only too easy to imagine. The open cars also had a potential safety issue, highlighted by the fatal accident of Jeff Clinton at Homestead early in the 2002 Grand-Am season. The flurry of legal action that followed that accident focused minds in Volusia County.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

 

Cost was also a problem, even manufacturers of the size of Cadillac realised that they could not outspend Audi in the spiralling arms race that motor sport has always been. Detroit would not sanction such expenditure that had little return on investment and in the face of a declining financial situation that would eventually require a US Government bail out. There was very definitely a finite limit of what competitors could be expected to spend.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The only realistic solution to the issues of cost for Grand-Am was to write the rule book themselves giving them total control over all aspects of their series and not being dependant on outside parties building cars to others’ regulations and also not having manufacturers dominate proceedings.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The high tech and costly solutions involving carbon fibre, Kevlar and electronic wizardry were out except on bodywork and ancillaries. The traditional tube-frame construction would the basis for all the cars. Seven different chassis were approved, along with engines that were also tightly regulated. Another benefit to Grand-Am was to lock in those teams that invested in Daytona Prototypes, there was nowhere else to race these odd machines.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Well that is how members of the media like myself and the fans that flock to DIS in late January first encountered the Daytona Prototypes in the flesh. They looked awful, especially compared with the Audis and Bentleys that would run at Sebring a few weeks later but they were affordable and a business could be made running them. In any case no one at Grand-Am was going to pay any attention to a bunch of whiny Europeans that only showed up once a year to enjoy some Floridian sunshine.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

 

Mind you it was not just us Aliens that did not care for the first iteration of the DP. I have been in recent correspondence with one of the drivers who lined up at the sharp end of the grid on February 1st. His verdict was “Damn, that’s an ugly car!”

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The half dozen Daytona Prototypes were stationed at the head of the 44 cars that started the Rolex 24 in 2003. Flags were at half-mast around the track as news came in that morning of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia over Texas as it headed for for its base at Cape Canaveral, it was a sobering moment.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The early laps were led by Maxwell in the Multimatic with the Brumos pair keeping a watchful eye.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Then the problems began as the Doran headed for the pits suffering with all manner of issues, it was too new to be racing at a place as tough as DIS. Retirement was the fate after 67 laps.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Picchio ended up behind the wall with overheating issues that plagued it for the rest of the race.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Then the Multimatic suffered a broken throttle cable which was repaired but cost the team many laps that they struggled to make up, the days of a big speed differential of the prototypes over the GTs were over.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Fabcars were leading as the sun set with the Toyota powered car following the Brumos entry.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Disaster struck the #58 as the normally bullet proof Porsche engine suffered a failure, perhaps the bit that was most expected to last. Two DPs out as the long dark night arrived.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

More throttle problems for the Multimatic during the night ended their challenge for overall honors.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The best of the DPs was the #59 but a trip off track to avoid contact with a stationary, stranded GT caused all manner of issues that dogged the car for the rest of the race.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

All of this misfortune handed the Rolex 24 to the Racer’s Group Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the hounds had outlasted the hare.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The best result for the Daytona Prototypes was a fine fourth overall for Multimatic, always playing catch up after their unplanned pit visits. The drivers had the consolation prize of new Rolex watches.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Daytona Prototype era had got off to a shaky start but they would assert their authority over the GT classes in the future and by the Gen3 they looked like proper racing cars. They have provided the foundation for Grand-Am and now the IMSA championships. Few would have bet on that back in 2003 but they have earned their place in the history books.

John Brooks, September 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daytona Diversity

1999 Rolex 24 Hours

One of the many attractions of the Rolex 24 Hours around the turn of the century was eclectic nature of the entry list, you never could tell what would show up next. So here high up on NASCAR Four in 1999 we have the Intersport Lola leading the Spirit of Daytona Mitsubishi Eclipse, while a Ferrari 348 tours along presumably heading for the pit lane.

The Ferrari was the slowest of the trio, nearly 8 seconds off the local Japanese GT with the prototype a further 20 seconds up the road. Another difference to most other races was the driver line up, six for the 348, 3 in the Eclipse and four in the Lola. Only the Eclipse finished the race, 253 laps down on the winner, good enough for 39th place after posting 455 laps

John Brooks, August 2016

All the Stars Come Out at Night

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The Rolex 24 is back to its former glory, at least that is the conclusion that any savvy observer would draw from the action on the banking last weekend.

Not all the fireworks were fired into the Floridian sky on Saturday, some were constrained by a Nikon body, like this stunning image created by my old mucker, Dave Lister. Great photography is a combination of talent, hard graft, opportunity and the often-overlooked imaginative client, that alignment of planets was to be found in Volusia County last week.

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Speaking of stars, Pipo Derani stood out on track and was major factor in the overall victory for ESM, Ligier and LM P2, so bravo!

Another element that brought a smile were the grumbles from the DP clan about Balance of Performance. In fact IMSA should be congratulated in this respect, they achieved a pretty good score throughout the field.

news-2016-audi-rolex-24-daytona-16-1

The new GTD class was a great success; close, competitive racing as one former promoter used to declare when two cars finished at the head of the field on the same lap. Victory fell at the last gasp to the Magnus Racing Audi – how odd that sounds. Their photographer caught this colourful shot precisely at the point when the tectonic plates shifted in Florida, missed that on the telly.

CorvetteC7RWinsRolex2403-1

The Jewel in IMSA’s crown is the GTLM grid and the class of 2016 is set to shine brighter than ever. Corvette had the legs of the others, so the win was well deserved. But, and you knew there was a but coming, am I the only one who thought Ollie Gavin deserved some form of sanction for punting Earl Bamber’s Porsche out of the lead?

Rubbin’ is Racin’  I suppose.

John Brooks, February 2016

Day For Night At Daytona

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Winning Ford Mark II (#98) leads two other Ford Mark II cars (#95 and #96). CD#0777-3292-0443-10

The presentation recently of the Ford GT program to race at Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the confirmation of the drivers for the upcoming Rolex 24 Hours invited comparison with a similar set of circumstances some 50 years ago.

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Race winning Ford Mark II driven by Ken Miles/Lloyd Ruby makes a scheduled pit stop. CD#0777-3292-0443-3

In 1965 Ford had suffered public humiliation at the Le Mans 24 Hours when all six factory cars retired before the halfway point. What is often overlooked is that the four Maranello-entered Ferraris also fell by the wayside leaving Italian honour to upheld by the ageing privateer NART-entered  Ferrari 250 LM driven by the unlikely combination of veteran American, Masten Gregory, and the mercurial Austrian, Jochen Rindt.

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Bruce McLaren in the cockpit of a Ford Mark II. CD#0777-3292-0443-7

In 1966 there would be no repeat of this debacle, Ford would dominate endurance racing in a manner rarely seen, the Board and, more importantly, Chairman Henry Ford ll had decreed it, Ferrari were to be crushed. There was an expression popular at the time “You can’t beat cubic Bucks!”, Ford would prove that conclusively. The first shots in the campaign would come in early February at Florida’s Daytona International Speedway with the first running of the Daytona 24 Hours.

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Walt Hansgen/Mark Donohue Ford Mark II makes a pit stop. CD#0777-3292-0443-2

The Ford GT40 had been superseded by the Ford MK ll, which had been thoroughly tested and improved after tripping up in 1965. Five examples were entered, three by Shelby American and two for Holman and Moody. Ferrari decided to give the race a miss, persistent labour relations problems, a new set of regulations for Formula One and the prospect of a drubbing all contributing in some measure to this course of action. A Ferrari 365P2 was entered by Luigi Chinetti’s NART outfit, the same folks that had humbled Ford at La Sarthe the previous year but even with drivers of the calibre of Pedro Rodriguez and Mario Andretti this was not expected to be competitive in the face of the Detroit armada. The other speedster in the paddock was the brand new Chaparral 2D with backing from General Motors but this project was too new and untested to pose a serious threat to Ford.

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Privately owned Shelby GT350 Mustang driven by Roger West/Richard Macon. CD#0777-3292-0443-9

The race wasn’t much of a spectacle for the reported 22,000 crowd, Ken Miles in the leading Shelby American Ford overtook Jo Bonnier’s Chaparral on lap two, motored off into the distance, and that was that. Florida in January can provide great contrast in the weather and in 1966 the daytime was pleasant enough but frost was reported on the banking during the long hours of darkness.

Just over 2,500 miles later Ford would monopolise the podium with 1-2-3-5 places, the only blot on the copybook coming with the second Holman and Moody Mk ll suffering a failure of its experimental automatic transmission.

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Ken Miles in the cockpit of a Ford Mark II. CD#0777-3292-0443-6

Ken Miles was a key part of the Shelby Cobra and Ford GT40 programs. He had served in the British Army during the Second World War as part of a tank crew. He left Britain for California in 1952 and soon immersed himself in the growing sports-car competition scene on the West Coast. A succession of wins and a growing reputation for engineering and developing racing cars brought him to the attention of Carroll Shelby.

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Dan Gurney (#97) in his Ford Mark II leads two Ferraris. CD#0777-3292-0443-1

Miles is widely credited with the eventual success of the Cobra, I looked at that Here and here. He was also a major contributor to turning the Ford GT40 and its successor the Mk ll into truly great racing cars.

Daytona 24 Hour Race, Daytona, FL, 1966. Lloyd Ruby (left) and Ken Miles (right) in victory circle after winning their second consecutive race. CD#0777-3292-0443-5

Miles shared victory at Daytona in the Ford MK ll with Lloyd Ruby, a veteran of many Indianapolis 500 campaigns and a fast, safe pair of hands. They would share further success at the 12 Hours of Sebring a month or so later but that would be the high point for Miles. In August 1966 while testing an experimental Ford J Car at Riverside Miles was killed in an unexplained accident, the entire Shelby American team were devastated at the loss of their charismatic driver.

Photography copyright and courtesy of the Ford Motor Company

John Brooks, January 2016

 

Yellow Streak

2014 JB General

Delving into the archives on another project I stumbled across this attempt at ‘art’ in the bygone era of film…………such shots were almost always a leap in the dark with no idea till later as to how they would turn out, if they worked you were a genius, if not quietly slip the slide into the bin and say no more. All you could do is check the light meter, the aperture, the shutter speed and take a deep breath.

This 333 is headed for the back stretch chicane at Daytona International Speedway on route to 4th place in the 1999 Rolex 24.

2014 JB General

It was driven by the non pro crew of Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari, Carl Rosenblad and Angelo Zadra, a pretty good result for the Europeans in this tough race.

John Brooks, November 2014

I have no good answer to that question……………

1998 Rolex 24

The first trip to the Rolex was back in ’98. I was invited by the charming Laurence Pearce of Lister Cars fame. Back then the WSC rules allowed for some pretty strange contraptions, certainly The Cannibal was right right up there in the Wacky Racers stakes.

1998 Rolex 24

Then there was this Sci-Fi effort from Mosler, the Raptor…………they missed Captain Nemo’s name off the roof.

Rather than plagiarise anyone else’s work I suggest that if you want to know more about these unusual racers you could do worse than read this excellent piece on the Daytona International Speedway website;

HERE

I somehow doubt that we witness anything quite like this pair on the banking in the next week, but you never know…………

John Brooks, January 2014

 

The Stig Prowls the Infield

1998 Rolex 24

1998 Rolex 24 saw the original Stig, Perry McCarthy, as part of the line up for Dyson Racing. As usual the Daytona International Speedway was not kind to guys from Poughkeepsie with both of their Riley & Scott MK111 prototypes going out late in the race. For #20 it was especially cruel, they were cruising towards Victory Lane, with a handy lead over the Momo 333SP, then the Racing Gods decided otherwise…………..

John Brooks, January 2014