Tag Archives: Don Panoz

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Party Like it’s 1999

Malcolm Cracknell was one of the pioneers of sports-car racing media on the internet as the World-Wide-Web was known in those innocent times. SportsCarWorld,TotalMotorSport and finally  DailySportsCar  were the introduction for most of us to the concept of paperless information in real  time rather than on a weekly cycle. I joined Crackers on this journey at the start and now as we head  for the winding down laps we spend time looking back as well as forward. 

1999 is the target this time round for the Tardis……….

John Brooks and I are quite proficient at nattering away on the telephone.  We call it “living in the past”, because we always return to discussing racing in a previous era.

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking about 1999 recently.  Conveniently that’s two decades ago, but with the state of my brain, I’ve inevitably forgotten things that I wish I could remember – so I’ve had to consult the reference books (and video highlights).

What I do remember is that in late ’98, I was planning a trip to the season-opening Rolex 24.  Presumably, finances dictated that it was either the Rolex or the Sebring 12 Hours (in early ’99). I have no idea why I chose the first of the two endurance classics): perhaps it was simply a desperate desire to escape the British winter for a few days?  I’m guessing that I hadn’t absorbed how the maiden Petit Le Mans in ‘98 was going to set the tone for US endurance racing in years to come.  Had I had any clue, I would have undoubtedly chosen Sebring.

But I certainly didn’t regret going to Florida in January.  The first person I met after stumbling into the Speedway was Andy Wallace.  Oddly, I’d not yet met Andy: our paths simply hadn’t crossed.  But I was encouraged to find that he knew who I was and that he’d seen the last news item I’d posted, before dashing to Gatwick.  That was an image of the new BMW prototype, which would make its debut at… Sebring.  Andy and I were both a little perplexed by the BMW’s single, pointed roll hoop: the governing body was trying to mandate full width roll hoops, but BMW (and others, subsequently) had presumably found a way round the wording.

I loved Daytona!  It was relatively straightforward to cover the race, live and single-handed, on the internet – by dashing to the nearby pit-lane every hour or two to grab a pitstop photograph and, hopefully, a comment from a competitor, then rushing back to the media center, to pick up the threads of the race.

I was delighted when Dyson Racing took the overall win (AWOL, Butch Leitzinger and, appropriately, the way the season would evolve, EF-R) – and also with Brit David Warnock being part of the winning GTS crew in Roock’s Porsche.  This was the event that saw the debut of the Corvettes, and thanks to a fortuitous bit of timing, I managed to grab 15 minutes with Doug Fehan, before the track opened.  He talked me through the technical aspects of the car – and immediately planted a soft spot for the Corvettes in my brain.  They weren’t race winners yet, and anyway, I always liked to see privateers beat the factory cars, which is just what the Roock Porsche managed.

Years later, James Weaver told me what he thought of the power output of the (restricted) Ford V8s in the Dyson R&Ss.  ‘You can come past the pits (at Daytona) flat out, take your seat belts off, stand up, turn through 360 degrees, sit down, do your  belts up – and still have time to brake for Turn 1’, was the essence of his complaint!

170mph+ was nowhere near fast enough for James.  He wanted to reach at least 190.  My only conversation with James during that Rolex meeting was a snatched “Stu Hayner has binned it (the #16) at the chicane,” at some point during the night.

Right, I’m getting near to the point of this piece now: the 1999 ALMS season, and the influence of one (great) man.  I’m not about to review the whole ’99 season: I’m just going to refer to Sebring, the Road Atlanta sprint race and the finale at Las Vegas.

I think I’ve already told you that I finally ‘discovered’ youtube last year: I moved house, had to buy a new TV decoder thing, and really by accident, found that I could watch youtube on the TV (I can’t look at a laptop for any length of time, because of my illness).  And there on youtube are highlights of all the ALMS races!  Brilliant!

Sebring in ’99 was clearly an epic event, and I should have been there.  A huge crowd, a fantastic entry (58 cars) – including van de Poele / Enge / Saelens in that gorgeous Rafanelli R&S Judd, a car that Eric vdP described somewhere (at the time) as, paraphrasing here, ‘the best car I ever drove’.

The admirable Belgian leapt into the lead at the start, and kept the BMWs at bay for 11 laps, before pitting with a misfire (it eventually retired after 185 laps).   BMW tried to ‘shoot themselves in the foot’, which enabled the EF-R / Leitzinger Dyson R&S to stay in touch with the surviving factory entry of Lehto / Kristensen / Muller – which set up a great finale, with Weaver plonked in the R&S to try and chase down TK.  He came up short by about 17 seconds at the flag.  Great race!

Audi finished third and fifth with their original R8s – and a year later, the ultimate R8 would transform prototype racing.  Porsches took the GTS and GT classes – as Corvette Racing continued to develop the C-5Rs.

I’ve no recollection of how (as it was then) sportscarworld.co.uk covered that Sebring race, but for the Road Atlanta event in April, the site had the benefit of Philip XXXX’s reporting skills.  Alas, I can’t remember Philip’s surname, even though we have since been in touch on Facebook.  How frustrating!  Sorry Philip.  But what a classic race you saw that day!

Andy Wallace led from the start for Dyson (the BMWs were absent as they prepared to win Le Mans), but was called in during the first caution period, which turned out to be the wrong move. vdP and David Brabham (this was the debut of the mighty Panoz roadster) started well back, after some kind of ‘qualifying times withdrawn’ nonsense – and while the Panoz was a handful during its first run ever on full tanks, the Rafanelli entry was going like a dream.  vdP picked his way through virtually the whole field and took the lead, which set up a conclusion in which partner Mimmo Schiattarella saw off Didier Theys in the Doran Lista Ferrari, to win by 25 seconds.

The V12 Ferraris seemed handicapped by their restrictors in ’99, in ways that the V10 Judd-powered R&S wasn’t.  The commentators (rather unfairly) suggested that the V10 might fail in that last stint – but it was as simple as an over-filled oil tank blowing out the excess.

I wonder if Dyson Racing ever considered converting their cars to Judd power?  Kevin Doran eventually did just that with his 333 Ferrari, creating the famous ‘Fudd’.

EF-R / Leitzinger finished third, as their points tally grew steadily, while Don’s LMP Roadster S finished a fine fifth on its debut.

The Schumacher and Snow Porsches had a great race in GTS (the former just winning), while PTG won GT – with none other than Johannes van Overbeek partnering Brian Cunningham.  Is Johannes the longest serving driver in the series?

Don’s series.  That was a sad day, back in September last year, when we learned that Don had passed away.  The greatest benefactor that any series has ever had?  Did he ever get annoyed if his cars didn’t win?  To my knowledge, he never did.  He genuinely seemed to simply love a great event, his event, attended by huge numbers of fans.

I know how much he loved it when the orange, Lawrence Tomlinson, Panoz Esperante won its class at Le Mans: when his bellowing (prototype) monsters beat the Audis, he was clearly thrilled – but he didn’t seem to demand race wins, the way others might.

My Don Panoz story came a few years later, in the spring of 2004.  For the full story, you’ll have to wait until my book is launched (I think enough years have elapsed for the tale to be told), but in essence, Don was grateful for a story that I didn’t write.  Don and Scott Atherton approached me in the Monza press room (it was the ELMS race), and Don expressed his personal thanks to me.  I was touched!

Incidentally, I’m hoping the book will be launched at Brands Hatch on May 25.  Anyone who reads this is invited to attend – and I’m sure you’ll announce it on DDC nearer the time, once it’s confirmed.  Thanks in advance for that!

Right, back to 1999.  Don’s cars took a 1-2 at Mosport (Tom Kjos had taken over reporting duties – and what a great job he did over the years), won again at Portland, lucked into the win at the second Petit Le Mans (that man Wallace joined regulars Brabham and Bernard), lost out at Laguna Seca – and all the while, EF-R had been racking up the points.

The proposed San Diego race didn’t happen, replaced by a fanless Las Vegas – and I was determined to be there.  With the help of Brooksie, Kerry Morse and Cort Wagner, the trip was on.

The TV highlights of that race don’t match my memories in one, significant respect… Having qualified eighth and ninth, the Dyson entries experienced very different fortunes.  AWOL and Butch in #20 were out after just 22 laps with gearbox trouble, but James was EF-R’s ‘wingman’ in #16.  In the opening exchanges, my memory is James really going for it – but the highlights on youtube don’t really show that.  I can still picture the Riley & Scott on a charge, its driver all ‘elbows out’ as he battled to give Elliott a chance of the title later on.  Jean-Marc Gounon was almost as boisterous in the DAMS Lola: it was fantastic entertainment.

But #16 then suffered with a fuel pressure problem, and it looked as though the Panoz drivers (B & B) would be title winners – until their engine failed with 17 laps left. BMW finished 1-2, but EF-R limped home sixth and he was the drivers’ champion.

I surprised James Weaver by appearing in the pit-lane wearing his old, ’96, BPR Gulf overalls (lent to me by Kerry Morse – I’ve no idea how he got hold of them).

“You’re wearing my overalls!” said an otherwise speechless James.

Oh, the Rafanelli R&S was first retirement, unfortunately, with overheating.  Was it the right move to park that car and race a Lola in 2000?

Cort Wagner was the champ in GT, while Olivier Beretta took the honours in GTS, in an ORECA Viper, a car that I haven’t mentioned in this tale (Le Mans was the initial priority).  Wagner and Muller won their class at Las Vegas, with the red and white Vipers 1-2 in GTS.

My last thought here is connected to youtube, again.  Something I’ve been getting interested in is the whole 9/11 thing.  I’m not going to ram my thoughts down your throat – but I would like to suggest that you look up Rebekah Roth, Christopher Bollyn, Barbara Honegger and / or Richard Gage, and listen to some of their views on what really happened in September 2001.  The more you find out, the more extraordinary that tale becomes.  If you find that lot interesting, you might also consider looking up ‘Operation Mockingbird’.

Now, I’ve got to go and look up my favourite ALMS race on youtube: Laguna Seca in 2005.  I think that was the one when John Hindhaugh ‘did his nut’ when the overall leaders came up to lap the scrapping Corvettes and Aston Martins.  Great memories (or just plain “living in the past”).

Crackers out.

Going Round and Round – Part Four

2002 ALMS Washington

In August 2001 plans were announced to once again take the races to the fans, nothing if not persistent were the ALMS in this direction. The venues were to be a street race round the financial district of Miami and the Washington Grand Prix at the RFK Memorial Stadium Circuit in Washington DC, or rather in the car park of this former home to the Washington Redskins.

2002 ALMS Washington

A long-term contract was drawn up, ten years duration, between the ALMS and the promoter, with the City underwriting the whole affair. The benefits, or so we were told, would be tourism, prestige and anticipated revenues of $350 million, and these noble aims were much trumpeted. One element that encouraged the staging of the race was the potential bid for the 2012 Olympiad from the combined cities of Washington and Baltimore or such was leaked to the media. However this being Washington DC, the downsides soon began to surface. As was reported at the time, in the media  “On September 5 neighborhood residents shared serious concerns regarding safety, the environment, cost, and the livability of the neighborhood during the event. No environmental authority — not COG, nor the DC Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Health, not the Mayor’s Special Assistant for Environmental Issues, was consulted prior to the August 9 press conference, although planning for the project began in 1999. July, according to the Council of Governments (COG), is the worst month for air quality in the metropolitan region, with the most code-red health advisories because of high ozone levels. On code-red days, COG discourages all daytime driving and refuelling.”

2002 ALMS Washington

These legitimate concerns were amplified by the apprehensions of local residents about noise and the sheer inconvenience of the event and the proximity to their properties, as little as 100 yards in the worst case. Furthermore there was unease about the financial arrangements which involved public funds and were opaque to say the least.

Robert D. Goldwater, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission’s President and Executive Director, said those details will not be made public because the Commission considers the information proprietary. The only cost he has revealed is that of building the temporary 1.7-mile racecourse: $3 million, which will be split with the Grand Prix organizers.

“The policy we had is the policy we are following: We are not releasing financial information. . . . We need to negotiate private agreements,” he said. “The understanding we have with each of our promoters is such that the expectation they have is that we are going to keep financial information private.”

2002 ALMS Washington

That declaration was soon undermined as the Washington Post dug deeper into the affair.

“The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the promoter of this month’s Grand Prix auto race are splitting the estimated $3.5 million cost of constructing a track, but the Commission is assuming the risk by putting up all the money — a contrast to Grand Prix deals in other U.S. cities that generally have avoided using public funds to finance the events.

The North Carolina-based promoter has the duration of the 10-year race contract, and possibly longer, to repay its share of the cost of the temporary track, receiving what amounts to an interest-free loan with no guarantor, according to interviews and documents obtained under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. The promoter is supposed to make annual payments, the amounts of which have not been disclosed.”

2002 ALMS Washington

The rows over the event rumbled on with a great deal of band-wagon jumping by local politicians, community leaders and ‘activists’. A sound absorbing wall was promised and other environmental issues were declared as having been addressed. The promoters apparently offered free tickets to the locals and other incentives were suggested, some accepted, some rejected. Cadillac were persuaded to be the title sponsor and the United States Mint got in on the act announcing that the Golden Dollar would be the Official Coin of the Cadillac Grand Prix. Whatever anyone said as 2002 rolled by the tarmac was laid in the stadium car park and the track gradually took shape.

2002 ALMS Washington

So in July 2002 the ALMS circus assembled in the shadow of the RFK Memorial Stadium, along with the Speedvision World Challenge, Trans-Am and a celebrity support race, this felt like a proper motorsport event. The track, sinuous and short – 1.7 miles – was wide with passing opportunities and it would be possible to race even in these confines. July is not the optimal time to enjoy the banks of the Potomac, or the District of Columbia, being both hot and humid, no wonder everyone was so grumpy.

2002 ALMS Washington

Thirty-two cars would line up on the grid and it was clear, that barring unforeseen incidents, victory would be a contest between the two factory Audis and the lead Panoz, the latter now in a revamped EVO 2002 form. Embracing the patriotic spirit in the post 9-11 USA, the livery was composed of Stars and Stripes, and titled ‘Spirit of America’.

2002 ALMS Washington

The Cadillac team were a vast improvement on their 2001 effort but in the background the long-term viability of the project was in doubt as GM management were starting to grasp the realities of engaging in a technological and budgetary war with Audi.

2002 ALMS Washington

Corvette was a happier GM ship, successive GTS wins at Le Mans will do that for a team. This project made more sense in achieving the marketing, brand building and fan satisfaction aims of Corvette than Cadillac’s venture into Prototype Land.

2002 ALMS Washington

In GTS the Vettes had some serious opposition in the shape of the Olive Garden Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello, they could not afford to relax their efforts.

2002 ALMS Washington

The GT class was an almost exclusively Porsche affair, as BMW had packed up their E46 M3 GTR campaign in response to rules on homologation being changed without notice by the ACO. The ALMS were furious, they had not been consulted, and this destroyed competition in the class and also hit revenues substantially. The BMWs ended up at the 24 Hour races at Nürburgring and Spa in the following years. So a solitary Bimmer was on hand to potentially disrupt the Porsche Parade – it did not.

2002 ALMS Washington

One major difference that the DC race had over the other expeditions into Oval Land was spectators, and in numbers. So when the Audis blasted off at the start there were plenty on site to witness the enthralling contest between them and the Panoz. Post race claims of 70,000 attendees over the three days were perhaps true, certainly it was busy. Maybe for a while the ALMS thought it had enjoyed its “Garlic Bread” moment, post event criticisms would cause any such feelings to evaporate.

2002 ALMS Washington

The adjacent Stadium-Armory Washington Metro station no doubt contributed to this popularity, not that I got to experience it personally. The top notch photographer, world class pfaffer and local resident, Regis Lefebure, generously provided a chauffeur service during my stay in his nation’s capital. His technique behind the wheel was certainly different, probably more suited to the roads in the proximity of the Tiber or the Yangtze than the Potomac.

Whatever…………….

2002 ALMS Washington

The Champion Racing Audi struggled to match the pace of the factory cars, not helped when it was hit by the Capello car while being lapped, Dindo got a stop/go penalty for that indiscretion. Neither Johnny Herbert nor Stefan Johansson were happy with the R8 all weekend, this was not a normal state of affairs, quite puzzling.

2002 ALMS Washington

The Audis and the Panoz traded the lead, rarely more a few seconds gap from first to third, the crowd were certainly getting their money’s worth. Which was than could have been said by me. Looking back into the archive there is a big hole in the race, then it clicked, I remembered a microdrive had failed, as they regularly did, and I had not been bright enough to make a back up. Mind you from what remains on file it was clear that I lacked inspiration at Washington, a rather lacklustre performance all round.

2002 ALMS Washington

All three pit and engineering crews worked flat out to optimise their car’s performance, trading off taking new tyres against shorter pit stops and track position, gambles on Yellow Flag periods and fuel consumption. In the end fresh Michelins on the Panoz versus used ones on the Audis was the critical difference. When the Chequered Flag dropped the gap was .766 of a second, in the favour of Magnussen and Brabham, they had won!

2002 ALMS Washington

For Don Panoz it was his day of days, a car bearing his name winning in Washington, it really does not get any better than that. It was the final triumph for the rumbling mid-front engined car. Audi, as they always are, were gracious in defeat. They have learned that the value of their own victories is, in part, measured by the respect that they show and receive of the opposition.

2002 ALMS Washington

GTS went to the #3 Corvette of Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell while Alex Job Racing’s Porsche driven by Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr scooped the prize in GT.

And that pretty much is where the fun stopped, though I did get to buy Regis dinner as a thank you after the race and we were joined by the Great Dane, TK. A thoroughly agreeable way to end my only visit to the District of Columbia.

Ah yes, the hair pulling and name calling started almost before the engines went silent in the paddock. The media reported the antics:

“Cost overruns spilled into the millions, the promoters were fined for noise violations, and allegations of abuse of power were bandied about in the City Council.

City Inspectors found the sound wall constructed in the Kingman Park neighborhood measured only 584 feet long with sizeable gaps between some sections, and over the weekend, at least nine large panels were removed, in some cases for photography reasons.(My experience would suggest that this would be for TV rather than us humble snappers, as ever access was a big issue for us.)  District tests recorded during the event registered 93 to 105 decibels, far exceeding the city’s 60-decibel limit for residential areas.”

In August 2002, Washington Post columnist Colbert King blasted then-D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams for “the noisy, noxious-fume-spewing Cadillac Grand Prix that was insensitively and stealthily imposed on a stable, predominantly black North-east Washington neighbourhood over the residents’ strong objections.” Considering that I recall the Post being a partner to the event this was strong stuff.

In the face of all this controversy the race was cancelled in 2003 and there have been no attempts to revive it. How the money situation played out is also not clear, my guess is that the taxpayer got hosed and the lawyers got richer, plus ça change……….

The city race experiment has had limited success over the years, for every Long Beach there was a Miami or Baltimore, perhaps motor sport and metropolises do not mix.

That concludes my look back into ALMS history for now, more soon.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

 

 

 

Inside the Beltway

2002 ALMS Washington

Continuing with the theme of witnessing great performances, a high ranking must go to the ALMS race held in the parking lot of the RFK Stadium, Washington DC, an unlikely venue for a motor race, let alone a great one.

2002 saw the Audi R8 at the height of its powers in North America with two cars from Audi Sport North America backed up by another example from Champion, set against two of the aging Panoz LMP01 Evos. The Panoz outfit operated on a fraction of the Audi budget but pushed the Germans hard at every opportunity. One of the most potent weapons in their armoury was their leading drivers, David Brabham and Jan Magnussen.

2002 ALMS Washington

The race was held in very hot and humid conditions, a late strategy call to change tyres and stick the Dane back in the car towards the end of the race cemented an unlikely victory but the Panoz had been competitive right through the race. I recall in Brab’s stint him being threatened by both Capello and Biela on either side of the Panoz for several laps. I remarked to him later that he must have looked like Marty Feldman trying to see what the Audis were up to in his wake.

It was the final win for the Panoz and the race was a one off as the locals complained about the noise, pity the track actually worked as a street circuit. And for Don Panoz victory in DC with a car in a Spirit of America design must have been one of the sweeter moments in the decade of the ALMS.

John Brooks, December 2012