Tag Archives: Ferrari 333SP

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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.

 

 

Yellow Streak

2014 JB General

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

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

2014 JB General

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

John Brooks, November 2014

Rocket Ron

1998 Rolex 24

The first time I got to shoot the Rolex 24 was back in 1998, one of the better Floridian 24’s around the turn of the century. Ron Fellows is pushing into the First Horseshoe in Andy Evans’ 333 SP, the pair sharing driving duties with Max Papis, Yannick Dalmas and Bob Wollek. This heavyweight line up led the race for several spells but the transmission blew up in a spectacular manner after 610 laps with just a few hours left to run. Dalmas had recorded a 1:39.195 to grab pole position, Papis followed that up with the race’s fastest lap of 1:40.545, a small consolation for the end of the line for Andy Evans’ dream of victory on the banking at Daytona. His departure that season was not mourned by the enthusiasts, though it must be said that he was one of the saviours of endurance racing in the mid-90’s after the implosion of both IMSA and Group C in 1992. Credit where credit is due.

John Brooks, November 2013

View From The Top

2000 SRWC Magny Cours

October 1st 2000 at Magny Cours, pit stop for the JMB Giesse Ferrari 333SP, David Terrien out and Christian Pescatori in, on their way to the fifth victory of the season. They took podiums whenever they competed and were Champions by some clear margin.

John Brooks, November 2013

Eye of the Storm

2001 Rolex 24

Another image of the 333 SP, this time shot during the 2001 Rolex 24. I wrote a while back about this race and had this to say about this fabulous car.

Perhaps the Ferrari 333 SP of Risi Competizione was the most popular choice for the top step of the podium at the race’s end. A hotshot team running the car, a driver line up that consisted of Ralf Kelleners, David Brabham, Eric van de Poele and Allan McNish plus the beautiful, sonorous Ferrari seemed to be the obvious selection. McNish has had his eye on a Rolex since winning his class in 1998 at Daytona, the year before the watches were awarded to all class winners not just the overall victors. Of course we are all too gentlemanly to ever mention this small omission in his career, maybe this would be his best chance to get hold of one the fabled timepieces. Fastest lap in practice of 1:41.118, if not in Qualifying, seemed to support the argument. 

2001 Rolex 24

The race was run in conditions more often found at the Nürburgring than Daytona Beach, cold and grey to start then a deluge, most unlike Florida as we Brits imagine it to be sunny all the time.

More thoughts from the past…………

Most of the photographers showed good sense and stayed either in the warm, dry Benny Khan Media Centre or hid under awnings in the pits. Me? Well, Regis Lefebure and I headed out to the back straight, where we spent several hours trying make some sort of acceptable images in the murk. I reckon he got better results than I.

In this sort of dull stuff it is almost impossible to turn Chicken Shit into Chicken Salad. The 2001 Rolex 24 was a personal landmark for me, it was the last race that I shot entirely on film. By the time I crossed the Atlantic again to shoot the ALMS season opener at Texas I had acquired a Canon D30. Digital had arrived, that genie had escaped and things would be very different. Photographers would go on to be software operators, mind you the crap ones would still be crap.

2001 Rolex 24

On track things took their usual course, hard racing and hard luck.

Out at the head of the race #12 and #16 continued to swap the lead. Then Risi Competizione took their turn on the wheel of hard fortune. Out on the back straight McNish lost a front wheel due to lug nut seizing. Fixing this problem cost five laps and probably the race. This diagnosis was confirmed a few hours later, just before dawn. During a routine pit stop it was noticed the oil temperature was rising rapidly, it was suspected that head gasket had failed in the V12. The Ferrari was reluctantly retired, another leader down and no Rolex for McNish.

The race was a cold miserable affair, only the performance of the Corvette team gave any kind of pleasure, they were, and still are, a class act.

One pleasing aspect is that the top picture ran as a double page spread in European Car, I have to say it was a satisfying way to say farewell to exclusively shooting film.

John Brooks, November 2013

 

 

Spin the Wheel

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Continuing my look back at the fabulous Ferrari 333SP, here back in 1999 Max Angelelli blasts around the wide open spaces of Las Vegas Motor Speedway in one of a pair of Doyle-Risi Racing cars. It was the team’s last appearance in the ALMS with the open topped Ferrari, which was struggling to keep pace with the Panoz and BMW prototypes. Seventh and eighth places for the team was about all they could expect.

John Brooks, November 2013

The French Connection

1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

1999 and the last appearance of the Ferrari 333SP at La Sarthe………..by now this customer programme dating back to 1993 was overwhelmed by the big budget factory efforts from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota.

The JB Racing 333SP was a brand new chassis and was modified aerodynamically for Le Mans with both the engine cover and rear wing getting a make over. A new endurance gearbox was fitted with modifications to the pinions, strengthened shafts and selector forks. The engine also received attention to make it more durable.

1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

It was driven by former Le Mans winner, Mauro Baldi, teamed up with Christian Pescatori and Jerôme Policand. Young Jerôme qualified the car in a 3:38:468, which was roughly the same time that the 1998 winner, Allan McNish had qualified his Porsche 911 GT1-98 some 12 months before. It was a gain of around six seconds on the previous Ferrari best and proved the worth of the modifications. However it was still nearly ten seconds off Martin Brundle’s pole time in his Toyota GT-ONE.

The least said about the race the better. The endurance gearbox was anything but, lasting barely 40 minutes before Baldi had to pit for a replacement. Engine failure just after dark brought the curtain down on the story of the Ferrari 333SP at Le Mans.

The Power of Three

1999 SRWC Barcelona

Lap one of the Sports Racing World Cup in 1999 has just been completed and a sea of metaphorical red heads towards Elf (the French Petroleum company not the Nordic pixies). In 1999 the Ferrari 333SP was the weapon of choice in the SRWC until DAMS got their Lola fired up.

Long ago and far away.

John Brooks, October 2013

Max Mad

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

Trawling through the 1999 Sebring files I stumbled across this, Max Angelelli on fire in the Doyle Risi Racing Ferrari 333SP. Unfortunately this hot display did not translate into actual success on track, the 333SP getting the dubious honour of posting the first retirement. Engine failure the reason given, Icarus had flown too close to the heat?

Speaking of Max being inflamed, he seemed pretty fired up at the post race conference last week in Daytona. This performance confirmed what I had puzzled over earlier while watching the finishing stages of the Rolex on TV. The Speed coverage kept repeating “Pass of the Day” showing the eventual winner blasting past Max in a straight line speed duel, the main skill required for this would be keeping a straight face. On cars that were subject to balance of performance adjustments this looked a bit fishy and no wonder Max was pissed. If, as I hear, some of the German giants are considering building Daytona Prototypes Mark Two, Grand-Am had better get this aspect sorted or be prepared for some serious grief.

John Brooks, February 2013

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.

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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