Tag Archives: Elliott Forbes-Robinson

image_pdfimage_print

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 One

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

I wrote the majority of this post ten years ago this month, some of it came to pass, some did not. Who could have predicted that a decade later the business models of both Formula One and NASCAR would be under threat, both suffering falling audiences and both appearing to lose connection with the younger generations? In F1’s case, the sheer amount of revenue that is leaving the sport is undermining the very existence of half of the grid, that is not sustainable. The lack of an obvious successor to Bernie Ecclestone is another issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later, even BCE cannot turn back the clock, there will be no settling a $100,000,000 deal with Father Time.

2014 Le Mans 24

Endurance Racing has more hopeful signs than it did a decade ago, the rules package for the LM P1 category is a reflection of the technology driven solutions that we will all have to use in this era of reduced energy consumption and emissions. The FIA World Endurance Championship now has four manufacturers in its premier category, with others supposed to be in the wings, all pushing different solutions to the hybrid technology question. The Le Mans 24 Hours remains the pre-eminent event in motor-sport and the alliance between the ACO and FIA is working as well as can be expected. The question of how to fuse GTE and GT3 remains tricky, with a few vested interests keen to maintain the status quo and therefore undermining any progress, but the day will come, driven by budgetary considerations as much as common sense.

2014 Spa 24 Hours

GT3 in Europe, under the leadership of Stéphane Ratel, continues to grow, with the Pirelli World Challenge in North America rivalling the Blancpain Endurance Series in terms of numbers of competitors.

2014 Rolex 24 Hours

The Tudor series endured more than a few hiccups in its inaugural season but in the longer term it was the only possible solution to the ALMS/GrandAm schism, I remain optimistic that the problems will be ironed out.

2000 ALMS Texas

So let’s go back in time, when we were anticipating the Le Mans Series and reflecting on a cul-de-sac that the American Le Mans Series took in their early days. I have updated and corrected the text where necessary.

But before we do, I would like, on behalf of my loyal correspondents and myself, to wish all the readers of this little blog, Compliments of the Season. Roll on 2015.

John Brooks, December 2014

2001 ALMS Texas

Do you remember the time that we sports-car folks were sampling the delights of racing at Super Speedways or Rovals, as they became known? Seems like another era.

2014 Rolex 24 Hours

OK the first flaw in this statement is that we still go down to Florida every January for the Rolex but that somehow feels different, nearly 50 years of 24 hours races on the Tri-Oval will do that. Frankly during the era of Daytona Prototypes the race was largely irrelevant in the eyes of the endurance community. Now, since the take over of the American Le Mans Series by NASCAR, there appears to be a way forward to bring some form of unity in regulations, technical and sporting. There is a way to restore the Rolex to its former glories.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The ALMS visited these temples of NASCAR/CART (remember them?) Korporate Racing some five times over the 1999-2001 seasons. This odd direction for a pure road racing series was part pragmatism, part opportunism. Pragmatic in that some of the traditional arenas for endurance racing in North America (Road America, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock and Mid Ohio) were signed up for the successor to the defunct USRRC Championship, Grand-Am. Opportunism came from two rich and powerful barons of motor-sport, Don Panoz and Bruton Smith; Don needed venues to give the ALMS credibility with the manufacturers that had embraced his series, back in 99 they already comprised of BMW, Chrysler, Corvette and Porsche with plans for others such as Audi, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz to tap into the wallets of the North American sports-car fan base. The ovals with their vast capacities and demographic friendly locations seemed to be a ready made answer. For Smith it was a potential revenue goldmine getting into the wine and cheese crowd at no risk (Don no doubt underwrote the affair).

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

This sequence of races kicked off with the final round of the 1999 ALMS season when we headed for the Nevada desert and the city of Fear and Loathing, Las Vegas. At the time some of us expressed the hope that when aliens finally land on this planet that do not commence their exploration by starting at The Strip……..others felt that the aliens were here already and Area 51 is just down the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ and that is how Vegas came into being, but I digress.

I remember making the trip down to Las Vegas via LAX, as there were no direct flights back then from London. Picking a Ford press car courtesy of Morse I headed out into the desert, destination Barstow of HST fame, I would spend the night in some grubby motel. It became clear why Thompson kicked off his masterwerk thus:

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Well none of that kind of misbehaviour for me, no siree,  I was on my way to the races, this was serious business. There was a title to be won or lost, and that was the main story. Veteran Elliot Forbes-Robinson in the Dyson Riley & Scott versus David Brabham and Eric Bernard in the Panoz. E F-R had ‘retired’ several seasons ago and was driving a car that had completed over 45,000 racing miles, at least that is what the press were told, who knows, Pat Smith might have been pulling our legs.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There should have been another contender in the shape of JJ Lehto in the BMW V12 LMR but a failure to complete the necessary paperwork at Sebring back in March meant no points from that victory and no possibility of the title. The Finn was not happy, grumbling to anyone who would listen.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There was an end of term feeling with many teams running their cars for the last time, Wayne Taylor would be leaving Doyle-Risi Racing and the Ferrari 333SP behind, bound for the factory Cadillac project.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The DAMS Lola would also be having its final outing as the French team would represent the European arm of the Cadillac deal.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Champion would run its Porsche 911 GT1 EVO in Las Vegas but was planning for a Porsche-powered Lola in 2000. 

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Lola was also the chassis that Team Rafanelli would adopt in 2000, though with Judd engine, similar to the power-plant they used in their modified Riley & Scott Mklll. 

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There were two other titles to be decided at Las Vegas Motor Speedway GTS was almost in the hands of Viper and Olivier Beretta.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

A late season charge from Cort Wagner in the Alex Job Porsche GT3-R had left him with the GT class title almost in his grasp.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The Panoz team looked to be strongest, especially after Steve Soper destroyed a BMW while testing and the two Braselton-based roadsters monopolised the front row.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The title looked to be heading the way of the Panoz lead pair but with under 30 minutes to go their engine cooked itself and that was the end of their hopes. E F-R was Champion.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

David Brabham reacted in a sporting fashion, congratulating his rival despite his own disappointment, typical of the man. The race was won by the BMW of JJ Lehto and Steve Soper from their teammates Bill Auberlen and Jo Winkelhock………..Beretta and Wagner took their crowns as expected, the American Le Mans Series first season had come to a close. Everyone agreed it had been a roaring success.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Las Vegas Motor Speedway was better than anticipated, even if from a photographer’s perspective it was crap location to shoot at. That would be a common thread running through the ALMS’s visits to these stadiums. However the tiny crowd lured from the flashing lights of the slots meant that the event was on balance a failure. The lack of interest shown by the punters in the ALMS was illustrated by the findings of noted chassis plate fondler and author of the legendary endurance racing encyclopaedia, Time And Two Seats, Janos Wimpffen. During the race he ended up sitting with the few spectators that did show up to the facility on the day and discovered that most of them were patiently waiting for the sports cars to finish so that they could enjoy a ride in the Richard Petty Experience……..

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Morse and I agreed they would have done better with the Steve Soper Experience…………

More later in the week.