Tag Archives: Didier Theys

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Reunion Dues

 A new year, a new beginning – we kick off 2019 with a fresh approach and a new contributor to our site, Martin Raffauf. Martin has been a familiar figure in the IMSA paddocks for well over 30 years working in a variety of teams. At the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1998 Martin was part of the Moretti Racing crew honoured by the ACO, being awarded the prestigious ESCRA Trophy. So a big welcome to Martin who brings us the behind the scenes story of the winning team from the 2002 Rolex 24 Hours. In a neat postscript to that tale he returned with the same guys and the sister car some 15 years later to Daytona International Speedway………..so enjoy the first of hopefully many pieces to enjoy.

Perseverance pays off – 2002 Daytona 24 hours > Replay 2017 (The reunion of car and team at the 2017 Daytona 24 Historics race)

2002 was a transition year for the 24 Hours of Daytona. It would be be the last season for the open cockpit sports prototype cars that had basically run in IMSA, USRRC and Grand-Am since 1994. In 2003 Grand-Am was switching to the new Daytona Prototype, a closed cockpit car built to a completely different rule set.

Doran-Lista Racing entered one car at this race, a Dallara SP1-Judd. The team was basically a partnership between Fredy Lienhard, the Swiss Industrialist, and Kevin Doran, who ran a race team out of his shops near Cincinnati, Ohio. The team was sponsored by Lista, Fredy’s company in Switzerland (with a US manufacturing plant). Lista was and is involved in the production of industrial cabinets, work shop equipment and office furniture. Fredy had started racing in IMSA in 1995 running a Ferrari 333 SP. For the 2002 season he purchased two Dallara SP1 LMP Chassis (#001 & #005). These were the cars built for the French Viper Team Oreca outfit with Chrysler and PlayStation sponsorship to compete at Le Mans in 2001. The SP1 was a descendant of the all conquering Audi R8, which was also built by Dallara. The engines used were the 4.0 liter Judd GV4 V10, which was a derivative of their earlier 3.5 liter F1 engine. Subsequently the GV5 evolution was also used. The engines ran under the ACO/FIA restrictor formula and horsepower in this restricted form was probably in the range of 610 hp, maybe a little more in sprint trim. Most of the cars we would run against were older designs, like the Riley & Scott Mk III, and Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 333 SP. In addition Riley & Scott had developed a new Mk III C, and would run this as a factory entry for Jim Matthews.   Most of these cars were well sorted and a known quantity to those running them. The Dallara was almost brand new to our team, and though we had raced it at the Daytona Finale in November 2001, the team was still learning the car and sorting out the setup.

The Major competition to us at this race would come from the Riley & Scott Fords entered by Dyson Racing, the Risi Competizione Ferrari, the Champion Racing Lola Porsche, Jon Field’s Lola Judd and the Factory Riley & Scott Mk III C.

The driver lineups were very good. We had Fredy, Didier Theys, Mauro Baldi and Max Papis. The Dyson cars would be led by James Weaver supported by Rob and Chris Dyson, Butch Leitzinger, Elliot Forbes-Robinson, Dorsey Shroeder, and Oliver Gavin. Jim Matthews’ team consisted of himself, Scott Sharp, and Robbie Gordon. The Champion Porsche was driven by Andy Wallace, Hurley Haywood, Sascha Maasen and Lucas Luhr.  The Risi car had Stefan Johannson, Eric van de Poele, David Brabham and Ralf Kelleners.  So the driving competition would be stout, plenty of winners and champions in that group.

The Dallara was very quick in Practice and Qualifying. Didier Theys duly took Pole Position, so we felt good about the car’s potential. However, we had no idea if it would run for 24 hours. It was nice to see the fax on the Doran Racing truck blackboard the next day, from the Dallara Factory in Italy, congratulating us on the Pole and wishing us success in the race.

That night Kevin (Doran) called a team meeting in our food tent which was behind the pits, down near pit exit. He thanked us all for the work so far, and remarked that we had a fast car, but he was not sure if we had a reliable car, as we had no experience with it over this distance.  He asked us to not lose hope or focus, as strange things had happened in the past in the various Daytona 24-hour races. I mentioned that I had seen several as I had been coming to this race since 1971. I witnessed things such as Pedro Rodríguez’ 917 losing a lead of over one hour in 1971 while his mechanics rebuilt his gearbox. He went on to win anyway. In 1992 the attrition rate had been very high, and a Dan Gurney entered Toyota won the race after spending more than two hours in the pits rebuilding the gearbox. So anything could, and usually did, happen, at Daytona.

The race started well for us, with Didier taking an immediate lead and we ran strongly for the first 10 hours. The Champion Lola Porsche came to the pits on the warm-up lap to replace a spark plug, and spent most of the first hour in the pits. The Risi Ferrari challenged for the lead during the first five hours but eventually dropped out with a broken transmission. Both Dyson Fords were out of contention early on and retired mid-race with engine failures. The race soon settled into one between us, the R&S factory car of Jim Matthews, the Ascari and the Field Lola B2K/10. After 10 hours the Ascari’s engine went bang and then we started having electrical problems, and the battery needed to be changed. This was an awful job on this car, as the smallish, lightweight battery was stuck in the bottom of the right front side of the cockpit underneath an electrical panel, so was hard to get at. The Matthews’ Riley & Scott then took the lead but was soon in trouble with its own electrical issues resulting in no headlights. This took a while to fix, as they could not figure out what the problem was. We watched each other closely, as we were in adjacent pits separated only by a break in the wall. This meant that through the night we would leapfrog each other for second place, depending on the timing of the various problems.

Meanwhile the Jon Field Lola was circulating at a slower pace, but had pulled out a lead of a few laps.  Around 4 am, the Matthews’ car pitted with a broken exhaust which had to be changed.  That was a messy job on a 6.0 liter Elan (Ford) engine while it was hot. We thought we had finally left them behind, when we had to change another battery. So, at daybreak we were about 7 laps behind the Field Lola-Judd and about 15 laps ahead of the Matthews’ car. Max Papis was driving and pushing hard to try and close the gap to the Lola. At around 8.30am, the Lola broke a drive shaft and was towed back to the pits as it was in a dangerous place on the track.  

After some work, it went out again, but stopped almost immediately with a broken input shaft in the transmission.  Max then took the lead as he made up the laps on the stationary car.  Tatiana Fittipaldi (Emerson’s daughter) was in our pit, as she and Max were dating at the time. So, we were giving her a blow by blow account of the race progress, as Kevin and Max discussed the race situation over the radio, and the rest of the crew listened in on our headsets.  At this time we were trying to slow Max down, as we had a large lead over the second placed Riley & Scott.  And since the Dallara was an unknown car at this distance, we did not want to push any harder than we had to.

At about this time with 6 hours to go, I asked John Judd Jr., our engine man, “Well the engine ran for 24 hours on the dyno right?”.  He said, “Actually no, we never got one to run for more than 20 hours on a dyno”. Great, I thought to myself.  I’d hate to come this far and have it blow up now. He said, “We just keep going and see what happens.”  Most of the other teams were surprised it was still running now after 18 hours. Jim Matthews told me later, he fully expected us to drop out with engine failure. In 2000 he had run a Reynard-Judd (the same engine we had) and finished the race, but he had spent some 5 hours in the garage changing gearboxes, so it was not a full 24 hours of racing.

Since about the 12-hour mark, Kevin had been having us check the rear wheel bearings on each pit stop. As again, we had not run this car for that long, and didn’t know what to expect. The right rear had started getting loose. If we were racing for the lead, we would have left it, but since we had a cushion, Kevin decided we would change it.  We just changed the whole upright, which caused us to lose about half our lead.  Luckily the car had no other issues as the clock ticked on. With about 20 minutes to go, we called Mauro Baldi in, to put Fredy in for the finish. It was his car and his team, so it seemed fitting, and the crew wanted him to finish the race. He took the Checkers and became the second Swiss to win Daytona after Jo Siffert some 34 years prior. It made front page news in Switzerland, so we were all happy for him. I had been fortunate to be on a team that won Daytona for the 3rd time (1981, 1998, 2002).

Fredy was a master at matching business to racing. He used racing as a marketing tool for his business and was very good at it. I asked him once how he related the two. He explained how business could learn a lot from racing.  Teamwork, preparation, determination, organization, and planning. Fredy was successful at both, and we were proud to be associated with him.

Fredy still owns the winning car. Today It sits in his museum/ automotive learning center, Autobau, in Romanshorn, Switzerland.

2017

Fast Forward to 2017, 15 years later. The winning Dallara from 2001 has been part of the collection in Fredy’s Autobau for years, while the backup car, #005, has sat in Kevin Doran’s workshop on display in Lebanon, Ohio since 2002. For 2017 Fredy Lienhard decided we should run the car at the HSR Daytona 24- hour historic races. It would be a reunion of sorts, 15 years later. Chassis #005 would be prepared and entered.

The HSR (Historic Sportscar Racing) sanctions various vintage races in the USA, one of which is run every  year at the famed Daytona International Speedway in Florida. It is a format very similar to the Le Mans Classic in France.  Groups of cars (6 groups) basically run four times for a little less than one hour.  For example, the Dallara, in group D (Sports cars from 1994-2003) would run at 4pm, 10pm, 4am and 10am over the course of the 24 hours.  Cumulative time would determine the finishing order. Although, this is not really a race per se, as a lot of the cars are not driven too hard, as they are of course, old.

Some of the old team were still around.  Fredy, his son Fredy Jr., and Didier Theys would do the driving, (Fredy and Didier were two of the race winning drivers in 2002, while Fredy Jr, did drive in some of the IMSA races he did not drive at the 24 hours that year) Kevin Doran’s organization would prepare the car.  A few of the old crew from 2002 were available including myself, Dave Doran, Don Caesar, Glenn Smith, Dee Drook and Russ Faber, and of course, Kevin Doran, the team leader.

The car was prepared, and gone thru, as it had been sitting for some years. A five-liter Judd V10 was installed (the engine we ran in late 2002, not at the 24 hours, which was the 4-liter version) A paddle shift system was installed to assist the drivers. This was a modification that was not used in 2002, as then the car had a regular manual transmission shifting system. The team had tested the car some weeks before, and all had worked perfectly. Didier had done a 1:42 lap at Daytona, a few tenths slower than his pole time of 15 years before.

We unloaded the car with high hopes on Tuesday of the race week. It looked pristine sitting in the garage.

Wednesday practice started, and so did the problems. Didier completed a few laps, turned it over to Fredy and then Fredy Jr.  Fredy Jr, noted there were some issues with gear shifting that just did not seem quite right. He attributed it to his lack of recent experience in the car, and not having driven the paddle shift system in 2002. We all agreed. Actually we should have paid attention to what he was saying. Usually when a driver tells you something is not “quite right”, it isn’t. The issues got worse, the car would get stuck in gear, jump from 4th to 2nd, that kind of thing. We returned to the garage and removed the gearbox internals, which on the Dallara is a side removal on the right, not a rear removal.  None of us really remembered the process for this, so the first time was a bit ragged, but we would get much better at it as the week went along!

The ragged shifting had destroyed several gear dogs and dog rings, and there were a few pieces broken in the paddle system. All this was replaced, and we went out again. A little better, but still the same issue, out came the gearbox again. More destroyed dogs, this time a bad sensor was found on the box, which may have contributed to the original problems. In the meantime the engine had started acting up. Didier reported that upon shifting into 6th gear in the Daytona east banking, the engine would seem to lose about half the cylinders. The Judd support guys, along with Kevin and Noah Bailey (team data engineer) pored over the data, and the determination was that one of the ECU boxes might have gone bad. This was replaced.

The new ECU fixed the engine issues, but the gearbox was still acting up. At this point it was Friday, and the race was starting on Saturday. We had already missed qualifying and would be starting in the back, so Kevin decided to just put the manual linkage back on, rebuild the internals once again, and we would go with that. Saturday morning in a warm up, all worked perfectly, engine and transmission. The team was very relieved. 

The race got underwayand we maintained competitive speeds.  Our main opposition was another Dallara, a later Oreca one, A Riley and Scott MK III C with a large engine, and some Generation 2 Grand AM DP (Daytona Prototype) cars.  There were of course many GT cars from that era running also.

In the first night session, Didier Theys had a scare when the right rear Avon tire disintegrated in the east banking in 6th gear.  Luckily, he got it back to the pits without major damage.  In the last stage at 10 am Sunday, Didier started, passed all 5 cars in front of him, and set the fastest race lap at 1:40.7. He came in for the mandatory 3-minute pit stop, and turned the car over to Fredy Lienhard Jr.  We looked like we may get a podium finish, but it was not to be as another Avon tire disintegrated. Fredy was able to get the car back to the pits without damage, but the loss of time due to extra stops and tire failures cost us and we ended up 4th overall, and 2nd in D-1 category behind the other Dallara of Flourent Moulin who won the D group race.

It had been a grand event. The team’s other car, a 2006 FIA GT3 Ford GT had won its class and finished 10th overall in Group E. It was driven by Brad Jaeger, Lyn St. James and Memo Gidley.

What would become of the grand old Dallara? The future is undecided. But for now, it was back to the showroom! It had been a great journey back in time bringing back all the memories of the Rolex 24 in 2002.

Martin Raffauf, January 2019

The Legend…………Prologue Part Two

The Audi R8C was far too new to stand a chance at Le Mans even if the field had not been as packed with contenders for victory as it proved to be in 1999. There is one certainty when running in the 24 Hours at La Sarthe, if there is a weakness it will be found out. The intense test programme post Pre-Qualifying did not reap much in the way of lap time improvements and the transmission still gave much cause for concern. The project needed months not weeks of development to realise its obvious potential, the speed was good on the Mulsanne at 217mph but handling issues elsewhere meant that time was lost.

One area that Audi had employed lateral thinking to get an advantage over their competitors was the ability to change the entire transmission in next to no time on the R8R. Dry-break couplings were fitted to engine, clutch and gearbox oil cooler fluid pipes. Special tools were made to facilitate removal of the bellhousing, all of which was possible because the R8R’s rear wing was part of the tail section rather than being attached to the gearbox. During the run up to the race a practice run was undertaken and the whole rear end of transmission and rear suspension was replaced ready to get back on track in around five minutes!

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this arrangement was that the press almost completely missed it. Even the doyens of the Le Mans’ Media Tribe, Paul Frère and Jean-Marc Teissedre, only noted the speed of the R8R transmission changes during the race but did not enquire as to how this was achieved. Perhaps they did and were fobbed off with bullshit. To be fair there was plenty of excitement going on with flying Mercs and crashing Toyotas and the BMWs. My source for this and other technical information is the excellent autobiography from Tony Southgate and he would know.

Another improvement to the transmission came with the adoption of the Mega Line pneumatic gearshift for the R8R. This system allowed the drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times, helping with cornering, and there was a dramatic reduction on the wear on the dog-rings in the gearbox, greatly improving reliability over a long distance race.

 

The 1999 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was something of a high water mark for the participation of manufacturer backed teams in pursuit of outright glory. No fewer than four other factories joined Audi in the hunt for victory, 15 cars in total. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota were all serious contenders for victory, only Porsche was missing and they would not be back for a generation.

 

Pole position was grabbed by Martin Brundle in the Toyota GT-ONE, scorching round in 3:29.930, meanwhile the R8Cs were struggling, the best that #10 could manage was 20th and 3:42.155, #9 was timed at 3:45.202 which meant a further three places back on grid.

No matter what problems the Audi Sport UK were enduring they were not as bad as some others were experiencing. Eric van de Poele destroyed his Nissan early on Wednesday injuring his back seriously. The following evening Mark Webber became airborne in his Mercedes-Benz CLR, a feat he repeated during Saturday’s Warm Up, scratch two contenders from the race.

The situation on the other side of the Audi pit boxes was far more promising. The R8R pair got on quietly during Practice and Qualifying with Capello’s 3:34.891 being good enough for 9th place, Biela just half a second behind. A good result seemed within the team’s grasp, though the message came down from the Board, a podium was the minimum that would be accepted or else…………………….

I have worked for teams at Le Mans that have had problems with the car right from the start, it is a nightmare situation that can only end in pain, with no prospect of redemption or salvation, so I can sympathise with the hard working crew of Audi Sport UK. #9 was in after half an hour to have the suspension checked, then, just before 20.00, the car stopped at the entry to Les Hunaudièrs, the differential had broken, the car was the third retirement.

#10 lasted but 20 minutes before stopping to change the gearbox, a process repeated around midnight. The agony continued till 8.20 on Sunday morning when the gearbox failed again stranding Perry McCarthy out on track, ending the Le Mans’ career of the Audi R8C.

The Audi R8C was never seen again in competition, all resources were focused on developing the new 2000-spec car, the R8. However, the R8C did contribute substantially to the next Volkswagen Group endurance coupé, the Bentley Speed 8. Also designed by Peter Elleray and built at RTN, the Bentley beat the rest, including the legendary Audi R8s, to win Le Mans outright in 2003.

The other side of the Audi operation ran much more smoothly with only minor niggles afflicting #8 R8R. All the misfortune seemed to flow towards #7 which had no less than four transmission replacements but with the quick change system paid off, with each new gearbox being fitted in around five to ten minutes rather than the 50 minutes taken each time by the R8C. #8 ran strongly in the top five for most of the race, things were going to plan.

Both Audis benefited from the retirements of other contenders, the two top Toyotas each had a big accident during the night and  engine failure accounted for the Nissan. As to Mercedes-Benz, the catastrophe forecast by many happened just before 21.00 when, watched by the world on television and endlessly replayed, Peter Dumbreck’s CLR somersaulted into the trees at almost the same point where Webber had crashed on the Thursday. Mercedes-Benz has not been seen near Le Mans since nor are they expected back anytime soon.

The race had one final twist in the tale. The BMW of Lehto, Müller and Kristensen had led from almost the first hour and the trio had a cushion of three laps over their sister car. Then the roll bar broke and jammed open the throttle pitching JJ into the barriers at the Porsche Curves and out of the race. This misfortune elevated the #8 Audi to 3rd and the #7 to 4th, which, considering the situation Mercedes were enduring, was a good performance. Could they hang on?

 

The answer was yes, to the relief of the Boss Dr. Ullrich. Third place went to #8 driven by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Didier Theys, they were five laps down on the winning BMW. Fourth, some 14 laps adrift of their sister car, was #7 with Michele Alboreto, Dindo Capello and Laurent Aïello on driving duties. The result was enough to get the green light for a new car in 2000, the Audi era was about to commence.

Third and fourth places at Le Mans was not quite the end of the story for the R8R. While a completely new car would be unveiled for the 2000 season, the R8R would act as a test bed during the rest of 1999 for proving the components such as engines and transmission plus work on aerodynamics. The engine had performed faultlessly during the race, as we have come to expect from the work of Ulrich Baretzky’s department. Detailed improvements in power and weight reduction would lead to a major development in 2001 with the introduction of FSI direct injection technology.

There would be two more races for the R8R in 2000 in the American Le Mans Series rounds at Charlotte and Silverstone, while the new R8 was kept in reserve for the Le Mans 24 Hours. A podium place in the UK for Allan McNish and Dindo Capello was an appropriate way to mark the end of the road for the R8R.

Audi’s course was set for the next 17 seasons, racking up titles and victories no matter who was the opposition. The pit lanes and paddocks of the endurance world will feel strange in 2017 with the Four Rings.

John Brooks, December 2016 

The Inauguration

2000 Rolex 24

It’s late January and a familiar yearning comes over me, there is a 24 Hour race about to happen but I am on the other side of the Atlantic. There are, of course, good reasons for this, mainly financial, as revenues fall and costs rise, so my current involvement with the Rolex 24 is confined to looking back over the years……………….

2000 Rolex 24

Now undisputed master of motorsport in North America, NASCAR entered the endurance arena just over a decade ago setting up the Grand-Am organisation to sanction and run its Blue Riband endurance event, the Daytona 24 Hours. This was of course the 2000 edition of Rolex 24 Hours held at Daytona International Speedway.

2000 Rolex 24

For most observers the first race was one of the high points in the whole story of Grand-Am, starting the project at the top level. There were big battles everywhere, in the various prototype and GT classes but nothing was more keenly anticipated than the fight in the GTO category between the Dodge Vipers and the Chevvy Corvettes.

2000 Rolex 24

Two full factory outfits pitted three French ORECA run Viper GTS-Rs against two American Pratt & Miller C5-Rs, each with top line drivers, it was a Detroit Heavyweight Championship of the World Contest. An automotive “Thrilla in Manila” – Beretta/Wendlinger/Dupuy/Donohue/Amorin/Archer/Belloc/Duez versus Fellows/Bell/Kneifel/Pilgim/Collins/Freon – enough to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

2000 Rolex 24

That would be more than enough excitement for most races but there was more. After a gap of some 50 years Cadillac was back in competition running a Riley & Scott built prototype with victory at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans the aim. Why, did this conservative marque feel the need to return to the tracks? While other automotive brands were at that time heading towards nostalgic retro-style designs like the Beetle, the Mini and Thunderbird, Cadillac had decided to march to a different drum. Under the rallying cry “Art & Science” the brand was launched on a path to develop their range to be the equal in every respect of the likes of Lexus and the German trio, Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz.

2000 Rolex 24

Another point of view expressed to me at the time was that Cadillac had to change and aim at a younger market, their existing customer base was dying off………..and fast.

2000 Rolex 24

The 2000 Rolex 24 also witnessed the debut of the customer version of the Porsche 911 GT3-R, there were 23 examples that would take the Green Flag at the Rolex, all that dot.com money was burning holes in pockets, or so we speculated. The 996 GT3-R would be the car that would carry GT Racing forward around the world for the next few years. It had the first water cooled engine in a Porsche 911 based racing model.

2000 Rolex 24

Another GT3-R was in the hands of of the youngest driver in the race, 17 year old Gunnar Jeannette and the oldest, Paul Newman. Newman was utterly charming as long as you confined the talk to racing, when at the tracks he just wanted to be another driver and not the movie superstar. Newman won the GTO Daytona 24 title on his last attempt in 1995 and he said at the time, “When we won it in 1995, when I was seventy, well, I’ll give it another five years and come back again.” When asked why he would enter such a gruelling contest of speed and endurance, the 75 year old actor responded, “Just for the hell of it.”

2000 Rolex 24

There were five classes of cars that were eligible to run in the 2000 Rolex 24, two prototype and three GT. The prototype rules were based on John Mangoletsi’s Sports Racing World Cup and had SRP and SRP 2 categories depending on power, engine size and budget. One of the most popular models with the fans was the Ferrari 333 SP, here the Risi Competizione example with Allan McNish on a bus-man’s holiday from Audi duties. There were three 333 SPs on the grid, the howl of the 4 litre V12 was worth going a long way to hear.

2000 Rolex 24

The Ferraris were outnumbered by six Riley & Scott MKllls powered by either Ford and Chevrolet V8 engines. This is the Philip Creighton Motorsports entry.

2000 Rolex 24

Also making a first appearance was Johansson Matthews Reynard 2KQ Judd. This advanced customer programme was a new departure for the then world’s biggest race car constructor. The year before Reynard had acquired Riley & Scott who, aside from providing the MKlll cars, also built and ran the Cadillac programme. A tangled web.

2000 Rolex 24

The prototype scene was finely balanced in 2000, the workhorses of the past five or six years, the Rileys and the Ferraris, were getting long in the tooth but were expected run reliably at the notoriously tough combined infield and banking layout of Daytona International Speedway. Both models had success in the past and would form the foundation of plans to run combined Grand-Am events with the Sports Racing World Cup. The plan was for John Mangoletsi to bring the cream of European prototype racing over to create a set of world class events. A truly Cunning Plan worthy of Baldrick at his finest.

2000 Rolex 24

In the background however was the the American Le Mans Series, running to ACO Le Mans rules, that allowed full factory participation, specifically outlawed in SRWC land. Well, not so much outlawed as price capped. The top class of the category, SRP, had an on the track price limit of $640,000 including engine, SRP 2 was pegged at $201,000. The logic being that no constructor such as Lola or Reynard would sell cars at a loss. However a  manufacturer like Cadillac could just factor any excess costs into their overall project budget and still sell cars under the price limit to any customers well heeled enough to afford them. A bit of a hole in the rules then.

2000 Rolex 24

After a promising first season in 1999, the ALMS was set to expand with Audi due to bring their latest car, the R8, to the tracks of North America to take on BMW and Panoz. Would that prove to be a bigger draw than watching privateers in Grand-Am? The attractions of keeping onside with the ACO, organisers of Le Mans, and the halo effect of the top class factory battle meant that both Viper and Vette would direct their attention to the ALMS.

2000 Rolex 24

Mention of the SR2 class? Well only the Pilbeam of Martin Henderson turned up, a bit disappointing but given that these cars were not originally designed or engineered to survive 24 hour races it was not wholly a surprise.

2000 Rolex 24

There were three GT classes, GTO translating roughly to the Le Mans LM GTS class. Top of the list were three Chrysler Vipers from Oreca, full factory supported entries. Based on the Viper GTS the GTS-R was one of the most successful GT cars in history. Oreca had achieved back to back domination in the GT world during 1998 and 1999, winning the FIA GT Championship, and taking class wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours plus the American Le Mans Series Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles in ‘99. The French team were going to be very difficult to beat.

2000 Rolex 24

The Viper had first appeared on the tracks back in 1994, powered by a V10 8 litre engine, which not surprisingly produced power and torque in abundance. The chassis had originally been massaged and built by our old friends, Reynard, but by this stage in the project, Oreca had taken things in house.

2000 Rolex 24
The main competition would be two Corvette C5-Rs run by Pratt & Miller on behalf of General Motors. During the 1999 season the Vettes had gradually got closer to the Viper squad, going into the Floridian classic they were quietly confident of coming out on top. The Corvette, first raced in 1999 at the Rolex 24, had 7 litres of Detroit V8 muscle to propel them along, it would be a mighty contest.

2000 Rolex 24

But if some disaster befell the factory squads then the out-gunned but still fearsome Porsche 911 GT2 would be around to pick up the pieces but that outcome was not expected.

2000 Rolex 24
The second rank of GTs, GTU was expected to be a walk over for the phalanx of new Porsches but they would face determined opposition from the successful PTG BMW M3 squad, previous class winners at the Rolex.

2000 Rolex 24

The ‘Run What You Brung’ brigade were catered for in the A-GT class. They were tube framed, home built specials, regarded by the leading lights as mobile chicanes and not expected to feature in the grand scheme of things.

2000 Rolex 24
Practice and qualifying dragged on through Thursday and Friday, giving everyone a chance to get back into the groove after the winter break and especially to get used to running in close proximity with 79 other cars.

2000 Rolex 24

Traffic on the banking was manageable but on the infield and at the Bus Stop chicane at NASCAR Three great care had to be taken to avoid problems arising out of speed differentials between the quick guys and the not so quick.

2000 Rolex 24

During the night sessions the problem was even more acute. Somehow the drivers sorted it all out.

2000 Rolex 24

Meanwhile down in the garage areas the teams were racing against the clock to prepare their cars for the struggle ahead. Here Dick Barbour and Tony Dowe try to fettle what was widely regarded as the leading Porsche GT3-R.

The European teams are always pleased to find that the strict curfew regulations enforced at Daytona International Speedway meant no all-nighters, no matter what sociopaths who tend to run teams wanted. The Shark Lounge and Molly Brown’s had their Siren Call……………

2000 Rolex 24

Pole position went to James Weaver in the old faithful #20 Riley & Scott MK lll Ford who rattled round in 1:41.002. Actually the Dyson team entered their No. 20 car as being Lincoln powered. The team’s Ford engines were prepared by Lozano Brothers Racing Engines. “We’re just trying to work with our engine builders and engine developers to see what we can create, and maybe we’ll create something,” said team owner Rob Dyson. “You never know.”

2000 Rolex 24
This was trying tempt the Ford owned brand to come and fight with their American rival, Cadillac. Perhaps Dyson should have painted that car black with gold piping and called it a Cartier Town Car………white-walled Goodyear slicks please for P Diddy Weaver……….Yo!

Dyson had run one of the new Reynards at the early January test sessions at Daytona but reverted to their Rileys for the race itself. “We were planning to have two Reynards,” said Dyson. “Due to a number of problems, we were not able to get even one chassis working. Right after our test here we had to make the decision to run the Riley and Scott. Our objective is to win races. We just felt that we had a better chance of winning the race with the Riley & Scott rather than the Reynard. This is the Super Bowl of sports car racing. This is a race where we’ve been fortunate to win it, and that’s our objective this time.”

“We’ve got high hopes for the Reynard, I think any new car takes three or four months to get sorted out. I think Cadillac need a little more time as do Reynard,” Weaver added.
The Ferrari of Alex Caffi was second on the grid just a tad slower than Master James. A battle royal was in prospect.

2000 Rolex 24

The Italian, nicknamed “The Disco Kid” during his F1 days was typically lyrical about his prospects, “This is a big event, I raced in Formula One, the top of racing cars, but this is a beautiful day in my life because Daytona is very famous, also in Europe. Especially in Italy, nobody forgets the finish of the three Ferraris in the late sixties. This is one of the most famous races and I’m very happy to be here.” A local newspaper reporter’s dream.

2000 Rolex 24

Also pretty content with the way things were panning out was the Reynard team, lining up fourth on the grid. They were confident of being on the race pace and felt that they could be dark horses in the hunt for victory.

2000 Rolex 24

The lead Cadillac was one place down on the Reynard, it was clear that there was plenty of work to do on these elegant cars.

2000 Rolex 24

GTO pole and first blood to Ron Fellows and the Corvette with a lap of 1:45.889. Ron, one of the smartest drivers you will ever meet, was pleased. “This is our first pole with the Corvette so we’re pretty happy. We really didn’t do much since the test. We found a pretty good set up there. This morning we made one little change to the back and off we went to qualify. Right at the end of the second set of tires, I had a perfectly clear lap. The guys sent me out exactly at the right time. I was able to maximize the grip we had with the tires for one or two laps right at the end.”

Corvette 1, Viper 0 but still all to play for.

Fellows was still realistic about the race, “We’re still the underdogs here at the Rolex 24, these guys have won two straight Le Mans’ titles and we’re still chasing them. But we’ve got the package together to race for 24 hours. It’ll be a long race and the fastest car doesn’t necessarily always win, anything can happen. You’ve got to be smart with so many cars. It really won’t thin out until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. The biggest thing is traffic, just staying out of trouble.”

Prophetic words, indeed.

2000 Rolex 24

1:52.028 was good enough to secure pole in GTU class with Dirk Müller on qualifying duties for Dick Barbour Racing’s GT3-R. The loudspeakers were ringing out Friday at 6.30pm telling the faithful all to leave “The World Centre for Motorsport” for the day and head off to get rested in preparation for the race day. What would the Green Flag bring?

2000 Rolex 24

Saturday morning and the Sun punched its way West across the Atlantic, for those of us with business at Daytona International Speedway it was time stop admiring the colours over the ocean and head to the track. The weather was forecast to remain dry but it would get cold, even by European standards.

2000 Rolex 24

There were three clear contests in prospect, SR1 prototypes would head the field and all things being equal win the race. GTO would be a vicious bar brawl between the Detroit duo but if the boys up front did not watch it the Viper-Vette combo could get close, a podium for the fast and reliable GTs was a distinct possibility. GTU was almost certainly a Porsche walkover, numbers and speed would see to that.

2000 Rolex 24
There were, and possibly still are, two schools of thought about how to approach competing in the Rolex 24 Hours. The question is simply, is this a race or an endurance? Flat out racing or stroke it round looking after the car and hope to finish?

Some driven by bitter experience favour the latter approach.

2000 Rolex 24

Take Mike Brockman, Paul Newman’s teammate in 1995, who was back to help his friend attempt to win again. “I’ve done this race a lot of times, I led it once for 13 hours, unfortunately it was the first 13 hours. It took me 15 attempts before I won it, and that was in 1995. Jack Roush, who we drove for in 1995 said it best, we were talking in the morning before the race, and we were talking about race strategy, he said, ‘there will be no racing here until the sun comes up, and not until I say so. ‘If we make it, and the sun comes up, and we’re still alive, then we’ll talk about racing.'”

Well that’s one way of going about things.

2000 Rolex 24

The other strategy is go flat out and devil take the hindmost.

James Weaver, who was as hard and fast a driver as ever graced the tracks, expressed it this way.

“The top sports cars, they’re more than strong enough to race flat out for 24 hours. There’s not much you can do to nurse one of these cars along. If you’ve got a good driver in it, you might as well drive it as fast as you can because you won’t break it. When you’ve got to race against people like Alex (Caffi), they’re going to be going flat out, we’ll take the fight to them, and they’ll be coming after us. It’s just a question of, don’t get too hot headed in traffic. That’s always the game here.”

2000 Rolex 24
Anyhow all the planning in the world usually goes out the window as soon as the Green Flag drops and the field of prototypes were soon flat out on the banking. The initial pace was set by the Lista Ferrari 333 SP driven forcefully as ever by Didier Theys. Almost from the start one of the main contenders for victory, the Risi Ferrari, ran into problems, Caffi spinning to the back of the field on lap 2, then within the hour there were transmission issues and fitting a new gearbox was the time consuming cure. Scratch one top prototype from the race victory.

2000 Rolex 24

With 79 cars starting from the grid, traffic, and how the leaders managed it, was always going to be a major factor. Given the disparity in speed and performance between the classes especially into the braking zones it was vital that the top drivers balance out ultimate pace with due circumspection. The best drivers really embrace the challenge of threading their way through the maze of cars in front of them.

Once again, James Weaver, explains things in his own, unique way. “Personally, the traffic element at Daytona, I find tremendously exciting and a real challenge. It’s like a high-speed video game or racing back from the pub through Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. It’s just tremendously exciting. You try to judge all the closing speeds, what the other guy is going to do, see if you can recognize the helmet, determine who it is. When a car goes off line in front of you, you see if it’s throwing up dust, so you can tell if you can go off line. There are a thousand and one tricks you can do to make the race work for you.”

2000 Rolex 24

The battle raged up front between the Lista Ferrari and the Lola Ford of Konrad Motorsports with the evergreen Jan Lammers leading the charge. This conflict continued for the first three hours until an oil leak delayed the Lola. The #20 Dyson Riley & Scott took up the challenge shadowed by the leading Cadillac.
The gradual erosion of the lead prototypes propelled the GTO class battle into the the top ten positions overall. The #3 Covette of Ron Fellows, Justin Bell and Chris Kneifel pushing the #91 Viper of Olivier Beretta, Karl Wendlinger and Dominic Dupuy very hard and in case they stumbled there were the three support cars from the the Detroit duo in close attendance.

2000 Rolex 24

The only sign of weakness in the ORECA camp was that Olivier Beretta was ill with the after effects of chicken pox, which meant that Wendlinger in particular would have to take up the slack. He rose to the occasion in a champion’s style.

2000 Rolex 24
GTU was, as predicted, a walk over for the Porsche 911 GT3-R armada with the head of the pack being the Barbour Racing example with Lucas Luhr, Bob Wollek and Dirk Müller behind the wheel.

2000 Rolex 24
Around 6.00pm, just before sunset the leader slowed up with smoke coming from the engine bay. The Doran-Lista Ferrari limped back to the pits but their race was run.

“We had an air box fire,” said team manager Kevin Doran. “It’s kind of a documented problem with the Ferraris. It’s happened six or eight times before with different teams. It happened to us once before, at Portland last year. In a downshift deceleration mode you get an over-run of fuel in the air box, and for some odd reason, you get a backfire out of an air trumpet, and it ignites it, and all that excess fuel burns, and it takes out the injection wiring harness.”

The engine had ingested some of the debris so even re-wiring would be in vain as there was damage to the pistons. Didier Theys reflected on a race win that had got away. “The engine caught fire. We had a backfire and the backfire burned the wire harness, it melted a couple of trumpets, it even melted one of the butterflies. Too much fuel was going into the engine. I don’t know what happened. We’ve had one problem like this in the past, but that was after a pit stop. When you do a pit stop and you don’t clean up the engine properly, too much fuel goes into the engine and it starts to burn.”

2000 Rolex 24
The misfortune that had struck the Ferraris meant that the #20 Dyson Riley & Scott Ford of James Weaver, Rob Dyson, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Max Papis assumed the lead but the big surprise was the pace of the #5 Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

Indeed at the 6 hour point the #5 car was at the head of the field with a 30 second advantage over the Dyson Racing Riley & Scott but it was not to last. A series of problems with transmission, brakes and suspension blunted the Cadillac challenge, but the team just kept repairing the cars and sending them back out, retirement was not even contemplated.

2000 Rolex 24

The head of the field was not the only place that problems were found. Porsche was having something of a nightmare with their new GT3-Rs. Water pumps and consequently engines were failing and in numbers. This was not the way that Porsche does things, “Excellence was Expected” was something of a company motto right from the early days, so to introduce the first water cooled 911 based racer and then have water pump failures caused extremely red faces throughout the paddock.

Bob Wollek summed up the situation ” There was no warning, no light, no temperature going up, it just went ‘BANG’ on the straight.”

2000 Rolex 24

The explanation was simple enough, sand that had been used in the engine block casting process had not been fully cleaned out and the residue was clogging the water pumps causing them to seize and then the engines to fail. In short order entries from Dick Barbour Racing, Larbre, MAC Racing, Racers Group, Skea, Seikel, MCR, PK Sport, Reiser Callas and Haberthur all retired as a result of engine problems. Not good.

2000 Rolex 24

During the long hours of darkness the race stabilised with the Dyson Riley & Scott having a ten lap lead over the chasing pack of Vipers and Vettes.

2000 Rolex 24
The 2000 Rolex 24 was run under unusually cold conditions with the temperature hovering just above freezing for most of the night. This put extra strain on the already exhausted crews who would take whatever rest they could between pitstops.

2000 Rolex 24

A routine stop for the leader, EFR out, Rob Dyson in. Behind the Dyson car and the factory Vipers and Vettes the privateer Chamberlain Vipers ran strongly, moving into the top ten overall as the Porsches failed.

2000 Rolex 24

The Corvette #3 ran flat out to keep up the pressure on the leading Vipers but could not quite close the gap. Here Justin Bell heads out for another stint in the dark.

2000 Rolex 24

Around 3.00am point the race changed course again. The #20 was 13 laps up on the #93 Viper but trouble was on the way as the leader started to slow. A pitstop to investigate led to the team removing the valve covers in order to find what has become a persistent but slight misfire. No broken rockers or valve springs were discovered but the restriction in pace and the unscheduled time spent in the pits cut the lead over the pack of GTO cars to 8 laps.

2000 Rolex 24

Another strong performer was the #6 Cadillac of Butch Leitzinger, Franck Lagorce and Andy Wallace. Early race problems had dropped them down the order to 69th but by 5.00am they were up to second place overall. They were seven laps down on the Dyson lead car and were scrapping with #91 and #93 Vipers. Then problems with the gearbox meant a complete change of transmission which cost them around 30 laps and any chance of victory for Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

The sun came up to a sick Riley & Scott up against a charging pack of Vipers and a lone Vette, would Dyson make it to the finish line and score a third win in the Rolex 24 Hours?

2000 Rolex 24

GTU class was firmly in the grasp of the G&W Motorsports GT3-R but shortly after 18 hours they too suffered the dreaded Porsche engine failure. Uwe Alzen was not happy, “We were more than 10 laps ahead and the car was running perfectly. The only problems we had were with a broken seat and something wrong with the jacking system.”

2000 Rolex 24
A surprise at sunrise was to see the Johansson Matthews Reynard still running. Four gearbox changes plus numerous other repairs had seen the crew exhaust themselves. However the warming rays of the Sun gave fresh hope to the survivors still running.

2000 Rolex 24

For the Dyson team the agony continued as the leading Viper and Vette chipped away at their lead till they slipped behind with just two hours of the race to go. The team could see this fate coming as they lost around ten seconds a lap to the GTO pursuers. Rob Dyson was philosophical about the situation, “Specifically, what happened was an exhaust valve had a crack in it starting about one in the morning. We had a high-speed misfire that was due to a crack in an exhaust valve, and those things don’t heal themselves.”
#91 held an advantage over #3 of around a lap but Pratt & Miller were not done yet. There would be a sprint to the finish.

2000 Rolex 24

The #3 Corvette got back on to the lead lap with an aggressive pit strategy and was really pushing in the final hour. Ron Fellows rung the neck out of the Vette but Karl Wendlinger was up to the task in hand and was 32.7 seconds in front when the Chequered Flag dropped at 1.00pm Sunday. Victory, the closest margin in the race’s history, for Viper and Oreca.

2000 Rolex 24

The team had remained calm even during the late onslaught from the #3, “Before I left the pits for the last half hour of the race, I knew the Corvette could be very fast, and that Ron Fellows was a very fast driver,” said Wendlinger. “But I also knew that throughout the race we’d learned how fast our car could run, and that we could win the race with the pace we’d set.”

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Celebrations then in Victory Lane for the French team and much later in the Shark Lounge………………….Hughes de Chaunac, Team Principal of Oreca, was ecstatic, “It is hard to imagine you can win a 24-hour race by 36 seconds. The entire Oreca team did a fantastic job all weekend, Dodge gave us a tremendous racecar and it was our job to perform. The Corvette proved to be a tremendous challenge to the Viper and we respect their programme. It sets up an epic battle for when we race Le Mans.”

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Beaten by the narrowest of margins, the Corvette team was disappointed but rightly proud of their performance, it was the first of many such displays in the following seasons.

2000 Rolex 24

Surviving the carnage in the Porsche GTU ranks was the Haberthur 911 GT3-R driven by Fabio Babini, Luca Drudi, Gabrio Rosa and Fabio Rosa. They finished 8th overall and were worthy class winners.

2000 Rolex 24
Adding to joy in the Dodge camp was the top ten finish for two of the customer cars run by Chamberlain Motorsport.

2000 Rolex 24

The top brass at Chrysler were very pleased, John Fernandez, Director of Engineering and Speciality Vehicles, had this to say. “This is a historical moment. An outright win in one of the world’s most prestigious endurance races by a production-based car like the Dodge Viper GTS-R is rare and hard-earned. In fact, the Dodge Viper GTS-R – now a Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour race winner – is remarkably like the Vipers that you can buy from your neighborhood Dodge Dealer. Not only does it look the same, but it uses the same basic engine, chassis, transmission and suspension. If push came to shove and we needed to, we could have gone out to the Viper Owners’ Club Parking Paddock in the Infield and swapped parts with our customers’ cars. The only significant differences are a full roll cage for safety, a carbon fiber body (versus composite plastic bodywork on the street cars), a dry-sump engine and racing slicks. But having a great production car to start with gives us the edge on the track. And conversely, having a great racing car makes our street cars better.”

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Grand-Am had kicked off their existence and what a way to start.

Grand-Am President, Roger Edmondson and his team were overjoyed with the first event, ” The Rolex 24 at Daytona was not just a great first race for Grand-Am, it was an outstanding motorsport event by any basis of judgement.”

Those of us who had shivered our way through the cold Floridian night would agree whole heartedly. Grand-Am was on its way.

John Brooks, January 2013