Tag Archives: Ferrari 333SP

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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

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

 

 

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

Midnight at Misano – Send Your Camel to Bed

1998 ISRS Misano

1998 saw the ISRS develop into a potentially top line sportscar series and the schedule included a night race at the charming Italian circuit of Misano, down in the Province of Rimini. Naturally I took the opportunity to have an Italian Riviera holiday in the lovely resort of Cattolica and, as ever, had to sing for my supper. Saturday night was spent trying to shoot cars in the dark, and being in the  pre-digital era there was no clue about the likely results except what little I had learned in the past.

The 333SPs were very expressive that night, adding to f-stop confusion. To my surprise some images were almost OK. Here is the Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari, and Angelo Zadra example.

A warming thought in December.

John Brooks, December 2012

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…………….

March 1999 and the first round of the American Le Mans Series, also by happy coincidence the 47th edition of the Sebring 12 Hours. No one present could have imagined that the gig would go on as long, or be as successful, as it eventually turned out. Well the party is coming to the end, so let’s all head on down to Hendricks Army Airfield for right old knee’s up next March. It may be the final opportunity to see real sportscars on the runways.

Here from the last century is a proper Ferrari Porsche challenge, a Doyle-Risi Racing 333Sp and the Champion Racing 911 GT1 EVO, classic and timeless……………….Play It Again, Sam…….and if I had been on my third coffee of the day I would have noticed that the headline I apprehended from Casablanca also involved an alliance between the French and the Americans, can’t say that I see much of Bogart in Don though………………

John Brooks, December 2012

Gone With The Wind…………………….

Last month the news came down the Mojo wire that Doctor Don had sold the whole American Le Mans Series shebang, lock, stock and barrel, to the Good ‘Ole Boys on West International Speedway Boulevard. Predictably this transaction was spun as a merger with NASCAR, but the money went in one direction, the control in the opposite. Well all things must pass and this unification has been a long time coming and certainly makes commercial sense. That is one area that you can be sure that the France family will have done their homework on, the deal will make money.


There have been the predictable howls from the ALMS/IMSA crowd, the true believers, the Jedi Warriors of sportscar racing in North America, that the Force has deserted them and the Empire aka NASCAR/GrandAm has triumphed and maybe that is so. From my distant perch, and no longer chasing the circus as I had done ten years or more ago, I am perhaps less concerned with the future. Considering the present situation my thoughts drifted back to the beginning of the adventure, when the possibilities seemed boundless.

George Canning, a Britsh Statesman back in the time when we had such Ministers in power, famously said “I called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old.” And so it seemed with the birth of the ALMS in 1999. We had somehow stood by and allowed the odious FIA politicians and money men to destroy the World Endurance Championship and Group C at the turn of the 90’s.

The great GT revival that was the BPR Global GT Series ’94 to ’96 morphed into FIA GT Championship and burned briefly and brightly in 1997. History repeated itself and the usual suspects were rounded up for another hatchet job. The whole edifice crashed back to Earth in 1998, why and how is a story is for another time and place. We were in the final stages of that fall, on the US trail leading us to Homestead and Laguna Seca, that was a contrast.

The week before we were presented with a vision of the future when we rocked up to a charming, if somewhat rustic, Road Atlanta. The event was billed as Petit Le Mans and was run on October 11th 1998, over a distance of 1000 miles or 10 hours, whichever came first. For those of us who loved this aspect of the sport it was to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Those of us arriving from Europe were in for a real culture shock, veterans of Le Mans we may have been but the rules, though apparently the same, were interpreted in a completely different way. A bit like the difference between English as spoken in the Mother Country and how it is mangled on the other side of the Atlantic. Then throw in the antics of the ACO trying to infuse their singularly Gallic approach to motorsport into this already spicy mix and a rare old carambolage was in prospect, And yet, right from day one, when the first engine coughed into life, the whole thing just gelled, this mix of New World and Old World turned out to be something special.


Today, sitting on a flight bound for Maynard Hartsfield International, I look back and give thanks that I had a small walk on part as an extra at the birth of this great adventure. Sure, like most folks in the business who are realists, I think that this weekend coming will see the penultimate Petit Le Mans and that this instant classic will disappear in the 2014 DP-fest, when we will engage in a form of automotive time travel back to the latter part of the last century, still we are all dead in the long run.


Road Atlanta in the fall of 1998 was a very special time and place to be in, I doubt that I recognised it at the time, but a week later the contrast when down at Miami-Homestead Speedway, was all too evident. I knew which one I preferred. There was a prospect of hope, the promise of of titanic battles in the years to follow of the automotive greats. Brands such as Audi, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Toyota and Viper were all whispered as being just round the corner, some actually were and did eventually show up.


Dynamite was in the air as Panoz’ men blasted away a huge area to create the new pit lane on driver’s right, opposite the traditional spot. Of course like all major infrastructure projects this one ran a bit late, so things were not quite finished. The major effect of this was for us all to be tinged reddish brown from the Georgia clay, it never did come out of my boots or firesuit. The media centre was a huge tent, probably dating from the Civil War, it was hot and noisy during the day and cold and damp first thing in the morning, the condensation fell on to our heads like the first heavy drops of the Monsoon in Bombay. The phone lines that we connected our modems to worked intermittently, if at all, but that was par for the course back then. On the other hand the track was perhaps at its annual best, with the fall colours complimenting the ubiquitous mud and the whole place having a healthy glow about it.


Down off the junction with I-85, Chateau Elan had recently been unveiled and certainly looked impressive, though a lunch there one day revealed that the local vintage was not Grand Cru. It might have been better applied to remove rust from old trenching tools but that meant there would be no glugging the stuff, and at the price on the menu that was a good thing. One bright star on the estate was the Irish Bar, Paddy’s, but more of that later. I was booked in with David Price Racing at a local Braselton hotel, next to the Interstate it was noisy, and on the first night a continously faulty fire alarm scared the bejaysus out of me. I was convinced that the locals were taking random shots at the hotel, and only the absence of banjo music prevented me from fleeing into the night. Of course in the cold light of dawn I merely looked foolish……plus ça change.


The entry for the first Petit Le Mans should have been mega, the winners in each class would receive automatic invites to the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours, always the pinnacle of endurance racing. Add that to the fact that the FIA GT circus was in Florida, a hop over the State line and the grid should have been bursting. Of course this being sportscar racing things are never as simple as they seem, politics are always just around the corner. The story was that the planned FIA International Prototype Championship would not appreciate the competition in 1999 that a strong North American endurance series, the ALMS, would bring. All those dollars chasing the biggest market on the planet, particularly for the luxury brands involved, would certainly made the ALMS an inviting choice. So the word came down from the FIA GT to avoid the opening event, or so the conspiracy theorists amongst us believed. To be fair, a contract had been drawn up between the FIA GT and the promoters at the two final events, so a demolition derby in the backwoods North of Atlanta would have been a major headache, especially financially. Maybe it was more a case of Deep Pockets rather than Deep Throat.

Porsche AG ignored these entreaties, sending one of their 1998 Le Mans-winning type 911 GT1 98 rockets, with Allan McNish, Yannick Dalmas and Uwe Alzen on duty in the cockpit.

Another Le Mans winner (’96 and’97), the Porsche LMP1 98 was on hand as back up to the GT1 racer, Michele Alboreto, Stefan Johansson and Jörg Müller were the crew.

Down in GT2 Larbre and Freisinger also broke ranks with their Porsche 911 GT2s plus Cor Euser’s Marcos LM600, but that was it from the FIA GT Championship.


There had been anticipation that some of prototypes from the International Sports Racing Series might make the trip, but at the last minute the factory backed BMW Riley & Scott pair withdrew, following a string of catastrophic engine failures. The project would be quietly throttled following a surprise win at Laguna Seca later in the month, not BMW’s finest hour. In the end Solution 24 sent their Riley & Scott but engine failure in the warm up ended their race before it began. Mangoletsi’s Barmy Army had a date in Kyalami the following month so most of the rest of his grid opted for that course.


The native prototype entry was led by a trio of Ferrari 333 SPs entered by Doyle/Risi, Fredy Lienhard and Bill Dollahite.

Absent as a result of a squabble with the organisers were the pair of Dyson Riley & Scotts, one surfaced later at the ISRS Kyalami event. Four other Riley & Scott entries took the start (Henry Camferdam, Jim Matthews and Intersport (x2)).

A brand new four rotor Kudzu was finished in the paddock for Jim Downing to swell the numbers.

Then there were the pair of factory Panoz GTR-1s, reduced to one, after Jamie Davies clouted the wall in practice, damaging the tub beyond immediate repair.

Perhaps the most interesting, and ultimately significant entry, was the Panoz Q9, this being the racing debut of “Sparky”, the electric hybrid car. An attempt to run at Le Mans foundered on the Pre-Qualifying Weekend, the car was too new to be competitive, six months development would make all the difference.

Also in the GT1 contingent was the Champion Racing Porsche 911 GT1 Evo, with Porsche stalwarts, Bob Wollek and Thierry Boutsen joined by Ralf Kelleners on driving duties.

The local GT battle was largely a Porsche v BMW affair. So the final score card showed 33 entries, 31 Qualified and 29 to actually take the Green Flag, the quantity and quality would be enough to ensure the future of the American Le Mans Series.

There were a few oddities in GT, at least to this European eye, the Nissan 240SX being a typical member of “run what you brung” genre. Whatever floats your boat………..


The race had an unsteady start after Kelly Collins’ Porsche dumped all its engine oil on to the first corner during the pace lap, so eventually after much spreading of cement dust or whatever they use in Atlanta, the mad rush for the first corner commenced. The McNish GT1 Porsche ran away from the field, being way faster than the Ferraris plus having the Wee Scot at the wheel.

The first significant casualty was the Lienhard Ferrari 333 SP after running out of fuel, the race settled down to being a battle for second between Doyle/Risi’s Ferrari and the sole surviving Panoz, with the delayed Porsche LMP1 98 a lap or so down.


McNish completed his stint with a commanding lead, Dalmas jumped in and continued the strong pace and just before the conclusion of his spell at the wheel came the moment that crashed You Tube’s servers, metaphorically speaking. Following the other werks Porsche closely over the notorious back straight hump, the GT1 98 suffered a total loss of downforce in the turbulence and the Frenchman joined the ranks of the Road Atlanta Aviators’ Club.

I was in Porsche’s pit awaiting the impending stop, next to a suited and booted Uwe Alzen. Pandemonium descended as the ancient television set that acted as a monitor showed endless slow motion re-runs of the Porsche’s flight. Norbert Singer and the other Porsche crew and management struggled to make contact with the stricken car but soon word filtered through the driver was OK. Amazingly so was the car, the gearbox and engine were swapped out and it was back on duty six days later at Homestead.

That was quite enough excitement for one race but this event still had a few twists and turns both on and off the track. During a stop to change brake pads on the surviving factory Porsche I was over the wall snapping away furiously when I became aware of a voice yelling at me to get clear of the car as it was going to leave, Given that the mechanics were still struggling with the red hot smoking pads and the car was on the jacks I shouted back that this machine was going nowhere fast. The yelling had come from Dick Martin, who ran the pit lane for IMSA, a man unaccustomed to having to debate his calls, particularly with a gobby Brit. Next thing I know he is having me chucked out of the pit lane, much to my amazement. A swift intervention from the then hirsute Regis Lefebure, the famous small, but perfectly formed, photographer and world class pffafer calmed us both down. Peace was restored and apologies, mainly from me, were proffered. Later I came to appreciate the efforts that Mr Martin and his officials would make on our behalf, despite the overwhelming evidence that most, if not all, photographers were a bit slow when it came to self preservation. Now retired, he will be missed this weekend coming, not least by me. I have to say that IMSA Officials set the bar high when it comes to assisting the media, especially the PITA snappers, others might watch and learn with profit.

One of the features of the first PLM was getting to know a bit better the band of American photographers. These guys would become my companions in the next four seasons as I tramped around from track to track in the USA and Canada, a camp follower of the ALMS circus. Some are still friends, some have left the scene and some I still don’t want to think about, so Regis, Rick, Pete, Hal, Bob, Rich, Tim, Martin, Andy, Richard and Dennis take a bow. I am sure there were plenty of others but these guys were around that fall of ‘98 and my memory is getting a little hazy.


Back on track it looked as if Doctor Don would celebrate a famous victory for the car and team bearing his name in the race that he created, however the engine went bang with the Chequered Flag almost in sight. Motorsport is often a cruel past time and this was almost too much to bear for Tony Dowe’s crew.


After 9 hours 48 minutes of track action the Doyle/Risi Ferrari 333 SP, driven by Wayne Taylor, Eric van de Poele and Emmanuel Collard crossed the finish line just over a minute in front of the factory Porsche LMP1 98. Third was the Champion Racing 911 GT1 EVO.

GT2 honours fell to Michel Ligonnet and Lance Stewart in the Freisinger Porsche 911 GT2, while the local GT title went to the Porsche of Pete Argetsinger, Richard Polidori and Angelo Cilli. It had been a race to remember and an event to celebrate.


Celebrations……….yes celebrations, There was an touch of madness in the air that Saturday, the first example I observed was Luigi Dindo, the main man at Michelotto, who had built the winning car, singing, if you could call it that, after enjoying a good quantity of the victor’s Champagne. “Daaytonaa, Seeebring, Petit Le Mansss” he chanted, as pleased as punch with the 1998 record of the glorious sounding but frankly outdated Ferrari, we still laugh about his operatic skills. Certainly the V12 had a better song.

More celebrations were to be found in Paddy’s a little later. Remember this was the time before digital cameras, so no endless nights pumping out dross on to the World Wide Web as happens these days. No, we packed up our gear, threw the film canisters into a bag and headed out to the bar, oh happy days.


I spent a considerable amount of time while in Atlanta in the company of Porsche guru, writer and historian, Kerry Morse, so much so that we developed something of a reputation for……..well I’ll leave that to your imagination but we usually inspired a reaction from the other denizens of the Paddock. Somehow, as if by magic, we ended up after the race at Paddy’s with the DPR crew led by Dave Price himself. I recall much tall tales and laughter and the bloody bar running out of beer, they had little experience of the British and German motorsport community and had grossly underestimated our capacity for getting refreshed. After a few hours of merriment Morse and I repaired to a local establishment called The Waffle House. It was my first encounter with this chain and certainly it was an eye opener, queuing at around 2.30 am for a breakfast with what seemed half the population of Braselton. If I recall Morse was decidedly uncool and asked the waitress for separate checks.


For the next day a vague plan had been hatched to roll over with McNish and a few others to Talledega to see the NASCAR race, till the locals laughed at us for thinking that we could just rock up without tickets and get in. The lateness of the hour that we got back to the hotel also contributed to our decision to change plans and take things easy. So Morse instead headed for the airport to return to SoCal, I had Homestead on the radar, to be followed a week later by the Monterey Peninsula.


The premier Petit Le Mans had been a great event, we had witnessed a star being born. The shockwaves generated by this new kid on the block resulted in a tsunami of top quality racing down the years cresting with the 2008 ALMS season, arguably the finest motorsport on the planet that year, of any shape or size.

Perhaps this ramble should conclude here with a touch of class, God knows it needs it, so I leave you with this.

In a passage in his master work “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, one of my literary heroes, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, caught that sense of ache and regret in looking back and knowing that the land of lost content was gone forever. He was referring specifically to the scene surrounding San Francisco in the middle 60’s but this condition is universal amongst mankind as they follow their course from beginning to end.

“Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

John Brooks, October 2012

Ps Apologies for all the tilt and shift attempts at “creativity”, I put it down to prolonged exposure to Morse, that and Moonshine.

Beyond the Bomas

Under the spectacular African sky, Eric van de Poele speeds the Doyle Risi Ferrari 333SP towards Kyalami’s final corner. Chasing him is Jean-Michel Martin in the Elf La Filiére Courage-Porsche C36. It is late in 1998, the final shots in the campaign that year. The time of Mango……………….

John Brooks August 2012

Missing In Action

V24 Goodness

The news that came down the mojo wire yesterday was not good. An announcement that Risi Competizione would not be racing at Sebring was exactly what we did not want to hear. The press release went on………..

Team Principal, Giuseppe Risi, spoke of the difficult decision:  “Unfortunately the current economic climate has not allowed us to approach the 2012 season as we would have wished.  None of us want to go into an event such as Sebring feeling less than 100% ready and prepared, and we aren’t at that point.

 

“Risi Competizione, racing with Ferrari, has been a stalwart of the Series for the last decade and we fully recognize the extremely high level of competition it supports.  To race a Ferrari is to enter into a partnership with history and legend.  The standards are so high that commitment must be total and complete.  Risi Competizione knows better than many what it takes to win the 12 Hours of Sebring, and I feel that, right now, we wouldn’t be representative of our best.”

The 2012 12 Hours of Sebring will be a poorer place without the Team, Giuseppe, Beaky and the Contessa, come back soon.

Happier Times in 1999 with a brace of fabulous 333SPs.

John Brooks, February 2012