Tag Archives: Dyson Racing

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Inside Job

The role of Team Photographer with a endurance sportscar outfit is a delicate one requiring tact, patience and perseverance, as well as skills behind the lens. It is a strange kind of hybrid position, not one of the bosses or drivers or sponsors but also not really one of the guys………the photographer does not do all-nighters mending the damage caused by the latest hero’s antics on track……..nor do they pull the seemingly endless long days back at the workshop preparing the cars in the first place. If you believe some of the others in the team they just point and shoot.

One analogy that springs to mind, it is like the position of the governess in a Downtown Abbey-style house, not family nor servant, neither upstairs or downstairs……….. Most of us who try to chronicle the progress of a team round the clock are tolerated at best.

Like any rule there are exceptions that prove matters. One such example around the turn of the century was to found at Dyson Racing, a no bullshit outfit with all feet firmly on the ground. If you could win the approval of Pat Smith and the guys and gals from Poughkeepsie then you were the real deal. Dr. Brian Mitchell was their bard, their recorder of memories, and as the years pass these recollections become more and more precious to remind those involved of the good times and the good people.

Brian was without question one of the guys, his commitment to the task was clear and unambiguous, the team certainly recognised it. On the odd occasion when I would show up for a Dyson pit stop in the middle of the night at places such as Daytona he would be on hand, part of the process just as much as the man with the tyre or the stopwatch.

So it is illuminating to see his work, a couple of decades down the line, a reminder of a tough week that ended in triumph as Dyson Racing took their second Rolex 24 victory in three years. The times were a-changing with a new century and a new approach on the way, progress they called it………….

Enjoy the view from inside the winners’ tent and share their achievement or at least their pride and joy standing on the podium…………we all know in our hearts it is transitory at best but the view from the top compensates for all that.

John Brooks February 2019

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.

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

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

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.”

2000 Rolex 24
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.”

2000 Rolex 24

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.”

2000 Rolex 24
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