Tag Archives: James Weaver

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Light Blue Touch Paper

The first rays of sunshine arrive from the East, over the Atlantic. For those still circulating at Daytona International Speedway it signals that they have made it through the dark………the Chequered Flag is almost in sight……

Not for everyone though, some will suffer the heartbreak of a late problem at the Rolex 24. Daylight is visible in the sky as James Weaver punches onto the Tri-Oval banking after the Bus Stop at NASCAR Three. Under acceleration the Ford V8 emits a blue flame, a signal confirming the damage to an exhaust valve, dramatically reducing power. A 27 lap lead over the pack would evaporate, as following the demise of the Cadillac SRP challenge, the Viper/Vette GT train gained a handful of seconds every lap. The clocked ticked away, the gap shrank, the maths played out and the inevitable happened, victory slipped from the Poughkeepsie team’s grasp. The only consolation to “the death of a thousand cuts” would come later in the season when the 45 points scored by James Weaver for staggering round to fourth place would give him the inaugural Grand-Am Drivers’ Title.

John Brooks, January 2018

The Legend…………Prologue Part One

“Audi to quit Le Mans and Sportscar Racing at the end of the 2016 season” was the headline that shocked the racing community when the news broken last month by Sport Auto’s Chief Editor, Marcus Schurig, in Germany. The impact will be felt far and wide as many in the business have depended on the huge budgets committed by the German giant, either directly or indirectly. The story of the 18 seasons at the top of the endurance racing tree will fill the history books but perhaps now it is time to have a brief look at the racer that created the Le Mans legend, the Audi R8. But first we should examine at how this journey started.

Like all great legends there was a prologue. Audi arrived at Le Mans in 1999 with not one, but two different race cars, one open, one closed, the rules of the time allowed for radically different solutions. The Audi R8R’s chassis was designed by Dallara and built by ATR, while Fondmetal assisted the German factory with the aerodynamics.

The R8R made its debut in March 1999 at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Two of the open prototypes were entered with the operation run by Joest Racing, four time winners at Le Mans, 84-85 with a Porsche 956 and 96-97 with the Joest Porsche.

#77 had former Ferrari Grand Prix stars , Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson on driving duties. This pair of former winners at Le Mans were joined in Florida by Dindo Capello, a multiple Italian Touring Car Champion with both VW and Audi.

#78 had Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Perry McCarthy in the driver’s seat. Pirro and McCarthy were both ex-Formula One men and Biela, another long time champion driver for Audi in DTM and BTCC.

The 12 Hours of Sebring is widely regarded as the toughest of all endurance sportscar events and Audi found out the hard way, making all manner of adjustments to the car that had not been necessary in pre-season testing.

Sebring International Raceway is notoriously rough on cars, this caused the R8R problems. Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Sport, explained the issues. “It’s so bumpy here that we’ve had to raise the ride height of the car by 15mm. Otherwise we destroy the front splitters every 12-15 laps. We’ve never tried the car this high before.”

Audi struggled in Qualifying managing only 11th and 12th places, over 4 seconds down on the pole setting BMW. The ride height caused handling issues that could not be fixed at the track, it was going to be a long race.

Race day was kinder to Audi who got both cars to the finish, in third and fifth places, as others failed. A podium for Alboreto, Johansson and Capello, albeit 3 laps down on the winning BMW, would be the first of many for Audi in North America, it was a solid start to the project.

The next appearance for Audi was in early May in Pre-Qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours. 53 cars chased the 46 spots on the grid, those who could not beat the clock would be eliminated, unthinkable for a factory-backed team. The sleek Audi R8C pair made their first competitive appearance. Designed by Tony Southgate, engineered by Peter Elleray and sharing the same engine (3.6 litre V8 with twin turbos) and rear drive train as the R8R. The handsome coupé was seriously underdeveloped having been commissioned too late (the project only started in the previous September) with the second car only just completed before Pre-Qualifying. The driver line up was certainly experienced with #9 crewed by former winners, Stefan Johansson and Stéphane Ortelli who were supported by Christian Abt, a late call up after Yvan Muller withdrew from the Audi squad. #10 was an all English affair with James Weaver and 1988 winner Andy Wallace sharing the wheel with Perry McCarthy, the original Top Gear ‘Stig’.

The R8R pair qualified for the race with relative ease, not far off the outright pace of the leading Toyotas and BMWs with the Panoz Roadster S also showing a good turn of speed. Both R8Cs struggled to get into the race, Wallace having his door sealed up with tank tape to prevent it flying off into the French countryside. When the Chequered Flag was finally waved both were in but it had been a nervous time in the Audi Sport UK pit.

Five weeks later the circus reconvened at Le Mans, this time it would be for real………come back later for the balance of the tale.

John Brooks, December 2016

BPR Blues – how we got what we wanted but lost what we had.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series













I have been at this internet blogging/posting/opinion lark for over 20 years now. I long ago accepted that most of my output will hardly be read, much less commented upon, bloggers write for themselves for the most part. Back in late 1996 I was following the BPR Global GT Series. For a season and a half it had been absolutely fantastic, great cars, great racing but by the last few races in ’96 it was clear that it was doomed. The arrival of the Porsche 911 GT1 run by the factory had changed the landscape irrevocably, those of us who enjoyed the congenial atmosphere of the BPR howled in protest, those who were really in the business made more pragmatic plans for 1997.

The sense of frustration that I felt was articulated in the following piece, posted on, I think, Club Arnage (actually it was the lamented P9.com), but I could be wrong, time does that. It had not long been up when I received a short, sharp, phone call from BPR, explaining that I was no longer welcome at their races and that my invitation to Zhuhai had been withdrawn. Perhaps I deserved that, you can’t take The Man’s shilling and expect not to be considered bought and I was more than a bit direct in my piece. In any case I was just a minnow, easier to make an example of me than Michael Cotton or Jean-Marc Teissedre, a ‘pour encourager les autres’ sort of gesture, not that I would compare myself to those two giants of the sportscar media tribe.

I had severely pissed off Jürgen Barth, the B in BPR and re-reading the piece at the time I saw why, though these days we are reconciled and he later had the good grace to admit that most of what I written was on the money. Well it should be, I had good sources. So I stumbled across this document while looking for something in the archive and felt it was time to give it another airing…………somehow I don’t think that there are any invitations left to cancel these days…………….

John Brooks, February 2015

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Since the summer recess and the trip to Suzuka we have had three rounds of the Global GT Championship organised by the BPR.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Four events have dominated the past six weeks. Ray Bellm and James Weaver have secured the title in their GTC Competition Gulf Racing McLaren by scoring victory at Nogaro, while similar results for Porsche Motorsport at Brands Hatch and Spa have threatened the very future of GT racing in Europe. The Harrods backed McLaren, victors at five races in the past year, withdrew from the series amid a welter of speculation of family disagreements and financial problems. At Nogaro, the talented and popular GT2 driver, Soames Langton sustained serious head and neck injuries and still lies in a coma as this article is being written. This dreadful situation makes all the political posturing and wrangles witnessed over that weekend pretty dam irrelevant.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

The general feeling of well being and contentment that was so evident at Silverstone back in May has evaporated in the face of the performance of the GT1 Porsche. Disbelief at Brands Hatch was followed by depression at Spa and last weekend discord and dissent at Nogaro. The series itself is in danger of falling apart with the three organisers at loggerheads with each other and with the teams.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

How has this state of affairs been allowed to develop and is the situation beyond redemption?

The teams are almost unanimous in their opposition to the decision to allow the works Porsche 911 GT1 to run in the latter part of the season. The objections are based on the fact that the car is not yet for sale in a road going form and is a brilliantly conceived racing car which COULD be adapted for road use – much like the Dauer 962 which won Le Mans in 1994. The guiding principle behind the concept of GT racing as set out by BPR was to take road cars and adapt them to race on the track, like the F40 Ferraris and F1 McLarens . About the only person who can hold this view of the Porsche GT1 with a straight face is Jürgen Barth who, aside from being the B in BPR, is also a manager in Porsche Motorsport. He is also a former Le Mans winner for the brand. While Barth sees nothing wrong with this conflict of interest others are not so generous.

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The main objections to the newcomer are not based wholly on the crushing superiority displayed by the 911 at Brands Hatch and Spa – though this must feature somewhere, no one would care if it were slower. The objections raised by the more articulate existing competitors are firstly that the Porsche is outside the letter and spirit of the regulations as currently exist, whatever anyone cares to say about it. Secondly the appearance of this kind of prototype will drive away the gentlemen drivers on grounds of performance and cost. Cars that develop shed-loads of downforce and have ABS on their carbon fibre brakes will be outside of the current driving abilities of the amateur drivers, until recently the raison d’être for the series and certainly forming the backbone of the entry. As to cost, it is said that the Porsche engines will only run for a maximum of 30 hours. That means a rebuild every two to four races against, for instance, the V12 BMWs which are unchanged throughout the whole season excepting a quick check prior to Le Mans. The team overheads would rocket with additional “spanners” required for the ABS system, the turbos, the engine itself and also for data logging; this could amount to 3 or 4 extra guys per car which would put maybe £600,000 plus on to the operating costs for a two car team. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Another consideration with finance is that if the running budgets get much above the £1-£2 million bracket that the top teams spend each season, then there is a little man in Prince’s Gate who has the opinion that such wealth should be going into Formula One and not be wasted in sportscars or anywhere else. As history shows he is not beyond manipulating circumstances to ensure that this becomes the case. In addition manufacturers only involve themselves in racing when there is some commercial payback so will not hesitate to up the ante financially till they are winning, driving away the private teams and drivers.

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It must be acknowledged that, after Formula One, only Touring Cars provide an adequate TV audience and exposure for the investment required. Peugeot went into the Grand Prix arena in 1993/94 and reduced it’s outgoings from the stratospheric levels required to run a pseudo-F1 car at Le Mans for 24 hours. It was reported at the time that over £50 million was spent in 1992/93 which really is commercial lunacy, even for those receiving state subsidies on a French scale.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Those of us who witnessed a strong sportscar championship, Group C, disintegrate in 1991 and 1992 will feel an uncanny parallel with the circumstances that are unfolding around us. Porsche indeed may regret their approach if they succeed in remaining eligible for the 1997 Championship. With the demise of ITC there are a number of teams and manufacturers looking to find an outlet for their sporting ambitions. It would not be beyond the bounds of reason that a Mercedes or an Alfa Romeo could commission Zakspeed or Dave Price Racing to build a two seater Grand Prix car which would blow the doors off the GT1 Porsche much like Jaguar, Sauber and Peugeot did to the 962 in Group C after 1987.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

The row over the eligibility of the Porsche has given a focus to the general discontent with the BPR Organisation. The teams have had problems with the way that the series is run. The proposal (made in June) to introduce two rounds to be staged in Brazil during mid December angered those who had already finalised their plans and budgets. Even when these events were no longer to be points-scoring, they seemed to be symptomatic of management that acted on day to day reactive basis, without any strategic considerations or appreciation of the obstacles faced by a team in running a race programme.

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During the Nogaro weekend the ire of the teams was further inflamed when Barth brought round representatives from Enna-Pergusa, which has been touted as the location of the first round of next year’s championship. No one wants to visit Enna (and this has been made pretty clear in the past two months) or indeed any circuit which does not have proper facilities for the teams and media (such as Anderstorp, Nogaro, Paul Ricard, Brands Hatch or Moscow). The teams contend that there are plenty of locations with modern facilities that are crying out for the great package that is GT racing and that there is no need to return to any backwaters, no matter how friendly the locals. Sometimes it is held that this is not the fault of the clubs but of indecision on the part of BPR. At Anderstorp the organising committee put forward a proposal to alter the layout of the pits which would ease the problems faced by the teams but this went largely unheeded by BPR.

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Where all this will go is anyone’s guess but the status quo will not be maintained. The three BPR founders, Jürgen Barth, Patrick Peter and Stéphane Ratel, are having a summit this weekend and the word on the street is that only B and R will be around to meet with Bernie Ecclestone next week. The FIA is expected to take over the TV rights, and possibly the series, which will leave the survivors out in the cold. Even if this does not happen then there are serious threats from the proposed German GT series which is being set-up out of the wreckage of the ITC failure, with big funding and the backing of manufacturers which will dilute support for the European series. There have also been rumbles from other parties who have threatened to do a BPR and arrange an international championship, properly funded and run through the FIA.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Meanwhile, Andy Evans was at Spa, having allegedly purchased IMSA (I lost track of THAT story while on holiday), and he was courting teams to go to his new GT based championship in the States. He had the fervour of born-again Christian when talking about GTs and sportscars, declaring that we have to get the young people involved (God not them again, can’t we just have a series for old farts like me, somewhere safe for us to dribble on about the good old days, when Oasis was something that Omar Sharif shot people over). Evans, it is said, has the ear (and pocket) of Bill Gates of Microsoft and has to be taken as a heavy shaker and mover. Some of his pronouncements were a little hard to understand such as the assertion that he had agreed the take-over of TV rights on sportscar racing from Bernie…..as this is the real substance of the “Bolt’s” control over motorsport I found it hard to accept that this asset would be transferred but Bernie is almost always ahead of the pack, so it COULD be true for some arcane reason – perhaps it is the final expression of his contempt for this form of competition.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

While all this wretched politics has been going on what has the action from the tracks been like?

Well, the three locations of Brands Hatch, Spa Francorchamps and Nogaro gave an interesting contrast. Brands Hatch is a fantastic place to race and spectate but is dated in terms of ’90s motorsport with a lack of run off areas and cramped pits, it has the air of a faded ’60s rock star trying to live off former glories when in fact the show has moved on.

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Spa offers Brands Hatch a vision of what is possible as it is probably the greatest circuit in the world, magisterial in scope and setting. It arose out the ashes of the original Spa public road course, which by the early ’70s was outdated for modern motorsport, though admittedly the Belgian alternatives were pretty grizzly, Zolder or Nivelles. Nevertheless the old Spa was a place of dreams and nightmares, representing the brighter side of the traditional track at the weekend were those sportscar icons backed by Gulf Oil, the Ford GT40 and the Porsche 917. This raised a sparkle in the eyes of those who witnessed Pedro and Seppi door handling their 917s into Eau Rouge in the 1970 edition of the 1000Kms. The revised circuit has distilled the essence of the great original in a way that the new Nürburgring has signally failed to do. The drivers love it as if you achieve something in the Ardennes it gives a sense of intense satisfaction, a job well done. On Friday night at the BPR dinner Lindsay Owen-Jones was bursting to tell someone (in this case me) that he had managed 2:22 on a track that was still drying off and from the look on his face and the emotion in his voice he had conquered his own personal Everest.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Nogaro was somewhat less grand than either Spa or Brands Hatch and epitomised the problems of racing at these upmarket club circuits. First it should be recognised that there is great enthusiasm and passion shown by the clubs at places such as Nogaro, indeed most of us would go back just for the food and wine, especially the wine…… but the pits were wholly inadequate for international racing with all the equipment having to be transported under a tunnel from the transporters and then back for each session. The accident which befell Soames Langton was handled in an exemplary fashion from the medical side. However one would have to question the judgement of those who did not bring out the pace car when the full extent of the incident and the length of time that it would take to extract the stricken driver became evident. (I have subsequently learnt over the years how easy it is to be an armchair critic of Race Control and generally how wrong most of such criticism is and how easy it is to be wise after the event. I have no doubt that this falls into that category.) This is highlights one of the biggest problems facing the BPR series in the difference in attitudes and approach between those who go racing for a living and those who do it for fun and reconciling these two philosophies has not proved easy.

BPR Global Endurance Series

During the track action at both Brands Hatch and Spa it was as if a third class had been introduced above GT1 and GT2 with the appearance of Stuck and Boutsen in the Porsche. At both circuits the car was in a completely different race to all the others. It had more power, had better fuel economy, had more downforce, ABS brakes and in Stuck and Boutsen really experienced, very quick drivers, in short it had everything. The team had a vaguely embarrassed look on their faces when the car crossed the line for victory at Brands Hatch and then Spa.  Thierry Boutsen managed to introduce a Formula One-style bullshit press statement with some lame swill about how hard it had been and that something could have gone wrong at any time, blah, blah, blah. The Belgian got out of the 911 at Brands Hatch looking like he had taken granny for a trip to the shops, not been in a two hour stint behind the wheel of a racing car, Boutsen is not demonstrative at the best of times but here he was almost asleep. I don’t mind Porsche building a better car within the rules, but I do feel insulted when they try to convince me with PR gibberish that my eyes and brain are deceiving me as to the real action on the track.

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Ray Bellm and James Weaver took the title at Nogaro and most in the pit lane would say that they deserved it. Ray is far and away the best of the non-professional drivers.  He can be a little prickly to deal with but he has earned the Championship with five wins in ’95 and five more in ’96 (if you ignore the Porsche at Spa). The partnership with James had the right combination of speed and pragmatism that title victories are made of. GTC Competition took a long hard look at why they were pipped at the post in 1995 and put these minor problems right and the result is there for all to see. Congratulations are due…..

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Both at Brands Hatch and at Spa first lap indiscretions led to great comeback drives which ultimately did not get their just reward. John Nielsen tripped up at Druids and then he and Thomas Bscher drove the West McLaren on the limit for three hours but ran out of petrol within sight of the line, losing third place to the second Gulf F1 GTR of Lindsay Owen-Jones and Pierre-Henri Raphanel. At Nogaro a Touring Car-style attempt to win the race at the first corner by Peter Kox (substituting for a Japanese-bound John Nielsen) led to Jean-Marc Gounon in the ENNEA Ferrari F40 and Jan Lammers in the Lotus taking a trip into the barriers. Gounon got pushed back onto the track and appeared to wait for the race to be restarted by blocking the racing line, when that did not work he set off in pursuit already a lap and a half down. He drove the doors off the F40 and was visibly quicker than anything else out there. With 20 minutes to go he came in for a splash and dash while just 20 seconds behind the leading McLaren, Jean-Marc gave the clutch death by dropping it on the rev-limiter, braking a driveshaft or so it seemed from my angle. A poor reward for such a epic drive. He kicked the car in frustration………

BPR Global Endurance GT Series

Down in GT2 the decision of the Konrad and Roock teams to dispense with any further attempts to make the EVO 911 GT2 work and concentrate their efforts in GT2 has upped the ante for all the competitors in the class. At Brands Hatch and Nogaro Bob Wollek and Franz Konrad emerged triumphant after a long battle with the Marcos of Cor Euser and Tommy Erdos and the Roock Racing 911 driven by Ralf Kelleners, Gerd Ruch and Bruno Eichmann. The class victory for the season will now go to Ruch and Eichmann which, like their GT1 counterparts Bellm and Weaver, is thoroughly deserved, a solid performance from team and drivers, always on the pace.

Soames Langton, Rest in Peace

Soames Langton, Rest in Peace

Further back on the grid if any illustration was needed of the great highs and terrible lows that involvement in motorsport will inflict on you the Lanzante Team will serve as a good example. Last year as a private team (with some help from the factory) they triumphed at Le Mans. Since Suzuka at the end of August it has all been downhill. Soames Langton wrote off the car in practice at Brands Hatch. Then a struggle with engine maladies at Spa appeared to end with a podium finish, till they were disqualified for Paul Burdell not doing the required time behind the wheel. Then came the accident at Nogaro last week with Soames suffering grievous injuries. Those of you waiting to read on your Ceefax of Damon Hill’s triumph in Japan (hopefully) will also get a message (page 366) that Soames is out of his coma and on the way to full recovery, at least that’s what will happen if there is any justice in this world.

Next it is off to China if there is still a series.

“It’s a funny old world” as someone once declared.

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Well I got the China bit wrong and tragically Soames never did wake up. He finally passed away in 2011, a blessed relief for his family and for him. I paid tribute to him back then HERE

The photos are from the 1996 season and give a small reminder of a time when GT Racing was flourishing. Indeed Stéphane Ratel celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of his SRO outfit in 2017, bulging grids and great racing in his flagship Blancpain-backed GT3 series illustrate perfectly that he learnt the lessons from the problems encountered in 1996 to 1998 seasons. We are lucky that he did not allow the ship to founder.

John Brooks, February 2015 

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 brand 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 drummer. 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 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 grueling 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 busman’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 MKlll 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 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.

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 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 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 had its siren call……………

2000 Rolex 24

Pole position went to James Weaver in the old faithful #20 Riley & Scott MKlll 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 hard 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.

2000 Rolex 24

With 79 cars starting the race, traffic, and how the leaders manage 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 #31 car. 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 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 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 pit 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 second 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.”

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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

Over the Hills and Var Away

The second year of the BPR Series saw more victories for the McLaren F1 GTR, this time GTC Competition would not throw the title away. From the outset, Ray Bellm and James Weaver were on the pace. On a chilly, crisp day at Paul Ricard during the opening round they had the measure of the field, even the Ferrari F40 GTE.

John Brooks, December 2012