Tag Archives: Laguna Seca

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Monterey Magic

Autumn or Fall as the locals would say is a very agreeable time to be in California’s Monterey Peninsula. This weekend the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge will reach its climax after a season of classic endurance GT races. SRO has history at the fantastic Laguna Seca track dating back to its earliest days. Some 20 years ago the final round of the 1998 FIA GT Championship, was held at Laguna Seca. In the top GT1 class it was scheduled to be a classic encounter between the veteran champion, Klaus Ludwig and the bright star emerging to ascendancy, Bernd Schneider. Yes of course they had co-drivers, Ricardo Zonta and Mark Webber, but despite the obvious talent and potential of that pair all eyes were on the two Germans of different generations. Schneider had taken the title in 1997 and had looked favourite to repeat this for most of the 1998 season.

What added spice to the contest was that they were both driving for the AMG Mercedes team, for the majority of the season in the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM. Approaching the decisive race, the score sheet showed Ludwig and Zonta ahead of their rivals by four points, the margin between first and second place on track. However, Schneider and Webber had racked up five wins to four, so if the points tally was equal after Laguna Seca they would be champions on the basis of more race wins. It was a case of the winner takes it all and second place would be nowhere.

The GT2 class was a complete contrast to this close contest in GT1.  The Oreca Chrysler Viper team dominated proceedings, winning eight out of the nine rounds already run. Olivier Beretta and Pedro Lamy had grabbed the Drivers’ Title with seven victories, Monterey was expected to be more of the same. Could either the Roock Racing Porsches or Cor Euser’s Marcos challenge the Viper’s hegemony?

1998 was an almost perfect season for the AMG Mercedes squad. The only hiccup had come during the Le Mans 24 Hours when both cars went out early after suffering engine failure. A seal in the power-steering hydraulic pump failed and that trivial fault fatally damaged the engine. It was a most un-Mercedes moment as otherwise they were in a different league to their closest and only serious competitor, Porsche AG’s 911 GT1 98.

In reality the Porsche was only a threat at certain kinds of circuits where the disadvantage of their turbocharged engines as regulated under the FIA GT1 rules package was not a factor. And even then, it was almost always Allan McNish who was able to challenge the Mercedes duo, we would grow accustomed to the electric pace of the Scot in the following decade, but it was something of an eye opener in 1998.

Adding even more spice to the contest was the announcement by Ludwig that he would retire from motor sport after the race in Monterey. His career had included three victories at Le Mans and five DTM titles, could he add the FIA GT Championship to the list? Klaus certainly was motivated, and said before the race, “Laguna Seca is one of the tracks I love the best. It’s a demanding track and an exciting track – the Corkscrew, in Europe, impossible! To win there would be very special for me.”

Ludwig was not the only one departing the GT scene, Ricardo Zonta was bound for Formula One, another Brazilian on the conveyor-belt of talent that started with Emmerson Fittipaldi and continued through Piquet, Senna, Barrichello and Massa amongst many others.

However, there was still a Championship to be decided. Most Europeans like myself imagine that California is a place of sunshine and beaches, blondes and brunettes of either sex, all tanned, forever young. So, it was something of a shock arriving at the track in anticipation of Saturday Morning’s Qualifying session to conditions usually found at the Nürburgring or Spa, torrential rain. The first session was stopped after 15 minutes as a river of mud was blocking the Corkscrew, not quite how I imagined the weather would be on the West Coast.

The afternoon’s conditions were much better and the advantage swung Ludwig’s way courtesy of Zonta. The Brazilian’s pole position lap of 1m16.154s was 0.434 seconds faster than Schneider’s best.  Afterwards Ricardo explained. “My qualifying lap was really good but not without a problem. Because I experienced a little brake balance problem, I got off-line in the last corner where it was a little wet. That might have cost me some time.”

In GT2 the Viper effort was reduced to one car after David Donohue crashed out on Friday. He hit the wall hard as a result of brake failure, the car caught fire and was too badly damaged for any immediate repair.

Class Pole was grabbed by a very determined Stéphane Ortelli in his Roock Racing Porsche 911 GT2 with a 1:24.851 lap, less than a tenth of second advantage over Cor Euser’s Marcos LM 600 who was fractions faster than Beretta’s Viper. This could be a race to match the GT1 battle, or so we hoped.

After the traditional end-of-term drivers’ photo Klaus was presented with a lump of the track as a memento of his final race, it seemed a very Californian thing to do.

AMG Mercedes had the front row to themselves, who would emerge from Turn One in the lead, Schneider or Ludwig? Everyone held their breath but in the end the veteran got the best start and quickly pulled away from his rival.

In any case Bernd had his mirrors full of a Porsche with McNish making a nuisance of himself, even passing the Mercedes after a few laps.

GT2 also saw a fierce tussle for the lead in opening laps before the natural order of things asserted itself with Beretta grabbing the lead. Two of the major challengers to the all-conquering Viper both retired with gearbox failure after just seven laps, that was the end of Jan Lammers in the Konrad Porsche and also Claudia Hürtgen in the 911 she shared with Ortelli. A few laps later and the Marcos was out. Also with transmission woes.

Ludwig had his own dramas to contend with while negotiating his way through the traffic. William Langhorne in the Stadler GT2 Porsche was having a spirited contest with Michel Neugarten in his Elf Haberthur example, swapping positions round the sweeping track. The American was fully concentrating on the car in front so did not see Ludwig dive underneath him at Turn Three. The result was a heavy side impact that nearly put Klaus off the tarmac but somehow, he gathered himself together and raced on at full speed. Langhorne crashed out the following lap at the Corkscrew, something broke he maintained.

Schneider also got rid of the McNish problem around this point, the clutch failed on the Porsche stranding the Scot out on the far side of the circuit. It would be a straight fight for victory for the #1 and #2 Mercedes. Schneider then dived into the pits, fuel only, no fresh Bridgestones.

A lap later Ludwig was in, then out of the car, Zonta taking new rubber. He managed to stall the CLK-LM as he left the pits, all of which gave a handy advantage back to Schneider.

Bernd was looking certain to take the title but then lost a load of time stuck behind Jörg Müller in the other factory Porsche 911 GT1 98. Müller was determined to not go a lap down on the leader, hoping that the deployment of a Safety Car would give him the chance to catch up to the front. Eventually Müller ran wide at the first turn, allowing Schneider to pass, though he was furious at his fellow German. The gap was around the 12 second mark but this might not be enough to guarantee victory.

The second stints ended and into the pits came Schneider to hand over to his Aussie co-driver who also received a new set of tyres. This would put Webber behind Zonta on the road as it was expected that his stop would be a fuel only affair and so it proved. The AMG Mercedes management had anxious moments after both of their cars left the pits for the final time. Both fell off the track at Turn Three where oil had been deposited by a back marker, both cars just missed hitting the wall by a fraction, it could have been a disaster.

Zonta had a lead of 16 seconds but Webber got his head down and chipped away taking a second here, a second there. The #8 Porsche intervened again, this time it was Uwe Alzen’s turn to hold up the #1 Mercedes for a lap or two. Eventually Weber dived down the inside at the first turn and once again the was contact as the Porsche was muscled out of the way but he was through and the chase was back on.

Webber posted a time of 1:19.094, setting a new GT record, would it be enough? The gap came down to ten seconds but the time ran out for the chasing Mercedes and Zonta crossed the line 10.8 seconds ahead – Ludwig and Zonta were Champions, the fairy tale had come true.

There was no fairy tale in GT2, in fact the whole affair was something of a damp squib. The race was a walk over for Beretta and Lamy, who scored their eight class win of the season, ending up over a lap in front of the second Roock Racing 911 GT2, driven by Bruno Eichmann and Mike Hezemans. The final spot on the podium want to another 911 GT2, driven by Michael Trunk and Bernhard Müller.

Schneider showed grace in defeat, he is, and always was, a class act. “Failing to win the title after 10 races by just 10 seconds shows how tough we raced for the Drivers’ Championship this season. Although Mark and I didn’t manage to win the Championship, I’m glad for the team. Congratulations to my old friend Klaus, who deserves to end his career as Champion.”

Mark later reflected on the result in his excellent autobiography ‘Aussie Grit’. “So, the end result was second place in the FIA GT Championship by a margin of eight points. My disappointment was tempered by happiness for Klaus, since that was his last year in racing, but I also felt it had been a little unfair on Bernd. His partner came from Formula Ford and F3, whereas Ricardo arrived as the new F3000 champion to partner Klaus and was already getting test drives in Formula 1. I could go toe-to-toe with them most times but sometimes I struggled, partly because it was Bernd’s car, basically, and he had it set up as he wanted it, and partly through sheer lack of experience.” Zonta had this to say after the race.   “This was a real tough title fight. I had to give it my all to keep the gap to Mark Webber wide enough to make it. The fact that we both went off because of oil on the track shows how close to the limit we were. I’m really happy about the title and that I could win it together with Klaus.”

The retiring Champion had the last word. “I’m extremely happy about the Championship. This was a sensational achievement by the team, and my co-driver Ricardo is the best I could have asked for. I want to thank especially Norbert Haug and Hans Werner Aufrecht, who brought me back to AMG Mercedes.”

Of course, the old stager did not ride off into the sunset, the lure of motor racing proved too strong. In June 1999 Klaus scored a third win in the Nürburgring 24 Hours driving a Zakspeed Viper. In 2000 Ludwig raced a full season in the revived DTM, scoring a pair of wins at Sachsenring in his Mercedes. Now at the age of 50 he decided to retire as a professional driver. Then, being Klaus, he raced on for a few more years just for fun, notably finishing second overall in the 2006 Nürburgring 24 Hours. It was a helluva career………….

John Brooks, October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Evermore

I have only a few rules in this house, not reposting stuff is one, but here I am breaking it. This piece deserves a second airing……..40 odd years gone and still burning brightly………….

All things considered I have been a lucky man, perhaps not in a financial sense, I have been too slow to really make more than a buck or two, but I have met many fine folks along the highway of life and I have been enriched by them in other ways. My old friend David Soares has brightened up my (and hopefully yours) day with this peek into that lost continent, the past. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Wealth is not only measured in monetary terms………….

Can Am 1972 Start

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again has launched a thousand journalistic ruminations about the futility of searches for times lost but perhaps, like other ruminants, they’re simply contributing to climate change.  In opposition to this popular view, the Romans saw history as man’s long downfall from a past Golden Age and they aspired to restore the past, not to dismiss it.  This month I saw two tributes to our own past, which served to remind me that maybe we ought to stop re-inventing the wheel and just maybe aspire to revive our own Golden Age.

Paddock Pair Morning

The first was the recent Kennedy Center Honors for the boys who recorded at Bron-Y-Aur cottage forty years back.  After a pathetically American introduction by Jack Black, the now gray-haired Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones nodded politely at a few lame attempts at impossible covers.  It seemed as if the ghost of Keith Moon was in the room and that things were going over like the lead gas-bag he famously predicted.  Then Ann and Nancy Wilson (who long ago performed as a Led Zeppelin cover band before calling themselves Heart) took the stage accompanied by an orchestra and full chorus, along with the only man who can truly lay down a Bonzo percussion line, his son Jason Bonham.  From Ann Wilson’s first notes, their rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” was better than perfect.  By the climax of Shayne Fontaine’s note-perfect tribute to Stairway’s soaring solo, Jimmy Page was mouthing the cord changes and smiling beatifically while Robert Plant openly wept.  You can go home.  (See their performance here: http://youtu.be/JK_DOJa99oo)

Can-Am Rev 4

Ten days after, I went home to 1972 once again.  The proprietor of this website, Mr. Brooks, has been after me for years to purchase a decent scanner to digitize my trays of Kodachromes from the amazing early-‘70’s Laguna Seca Can-Am races that I’ve been carrying around since my boyhood.  There is no sight or sound like a field of thundering Group 7 cars taking the green on the front straight at Laguna, driven by the likes of Revson, Hulme, Donohue, Follmer, Siffert, Stewart, Andretti, Oliver, Cevert, Scheckter, Elford, and Redman.  I freely admit to having been warped for life by the experience by a monkey that I will never get off my back.

Can-Am Rev 5

My neighbor down the road, Bruce Canepa, recently began fettling George Follmer’s 1972 Can-Am championship-winning Porsche 917/10, chassis -003, for the new owner after handling the $5.5M sale this past August at Mecum’s Monterey auction.  The crew of his state-of-the art facility in Scotts Valley, California is handling several cars for the same enthusiast owner, including Peter Revson’s 1970 L&M Lola, Denny Hulme’s 1970 Can-Am championship McLaren M8D, and the ex-Jackie Oliver 1974 champion Shadow DN4 recently purchased from Don Nichols.  Bruce is no stranger to the mighty 1000-horsepower 917/10, having owned and raced the ex-Georg Loos chassis -017 for the past decade.  The car was to be rolled-out shortly after New Year’s at a private track day at Laguna Seca, where I had seen the car raced over 40 years ago.

Mark in 9 1972

Much has changed at what is now known as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the four decades since the original Can-Am, but in many ways the start-finish straight is like it was when I was a teenager with hair hanging down below my shoulders and a borrowed range-finder camera.  The day began wet, just as the weekend did back in ’72, but in the afternoon the clouds parted and the track dried.  Mr. Canepa took -003 out for a few laps to warm the fluids and conduct a final systems check before turning the car over to its new owner.  Bruce came around for his final lap and I stood at the pit wall as he properly opened-up the throttles the way George Follmer did back in the day.  Suddenly, I was transported back in time by the whoosh of 12 air-cooled and turbocharged cylinders making a big chunk of their Metzger-designed 1000 horses.  The sight and sound of a 917/10 returned to its stunning white, red, and black L&M tobacco livery literally made me weak in the knees.

Follmer 72

What was special about those Canadian-American Challenge Cup races?  The races were, after all, just races.  The reason that we turned up every year was to see what was going to come off the trailers.  The fields of Group 7 were incredibly diverse.  Jim Hall introduced wings and sucker-cars for Hill and Elford; Gordon Coppuck’s papaya-orange Big Macs driven by Bruce, Denny, and Revvie were different every season and always better than the Trojan customer cars; Don Nichols’ AVS Shadows were truly innovative; Eric Broadly’s Lolas gave drivers like Surtees, Stewart, and Donohue something new and different; and Hans Metzger and Helmut Flegl changed the game with their 917 variants for Siffert, Donohue, and Follmer.  The amazing cars were reason enough to turn up, and in those days before Led Zeppelin performed at Bill Graham’s first stadium show, thousands did.

Mark D 1972

Most pundits have wanted to place blame for the demise of the Can-Am at the feet of Roger Penske and Mark Donohue, who with Metzger and Flegl developed 1972’s 917/10 into the amazing 1200-horsepower 917/30, but I will have none of it.  The year 1973 was the beginning of a long global economic crisis linked to oil.  Nobody had the budget to go racing in the unlimited class, and gas-hog 8-liter Chevy’s and 5.4 turbo Panzer’s were far from politically correct when most Americans were lining-up for hours to simply pump gas into their Pintos.  The result has been decades of spec and consumption-based sportscar formulae which lack the pizzaz and diversity of the Golden Age of the Can-Am.

Papaya Orange

Today, with the takeover of the ALMS by NASCAR’s Grand-Am subsidiary, we are again being fed more spec-formula pablum.  Close racing is promised, between the same cars and teams year after year.  No diversity.  No anticipation of seeing something new, different, and better.  The racing will be good, but if I want to see good racing I can watch the shit-boxes of the WTCC.  This is why Rich Guys lined-up transporters at Laguna to run a bunch of old cars rather than invest in spec-racers.

Can-Am Rev 2

As Robert Plant crooned 40 years ago in Stairway to Heaven, “Ooooh, it makes me wonder.”  Why can’t we go back?

Paddock Pair Left 1972

Kremer

LMB

Howmet

 

Follmer in 9

David Soares, January, 2013

 

Corkscrewed

1998 Petit Le Mans

Bill Auberlen leads JJ Lehto down Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew in their BMW V12 LMRs. It is October 1999 on the Monterey Peninsula, a very agreeable time and place as I recall. Their main opposition came from the Panoz Roadsters, those rumbling beasts who have passed into legend.

1998 Petit Le Mans

The Williams-built V12 LMR prototypes raced during 1999 and 2000, racking up a Le Mans triumph in the first year but they failed in their quest to win the drivers’ or teams’ or manufacturers’ titles in the American Le Mans Series. A paperwork snafu at Sebring and the team’s withdrawal from Mosport on safety grounds let others slip in front the first season. Audi’s arrival with their new R8 accounted for the following one. Then Munich set sights on Formula One, their endurance prototype campaign was dropped and we all know how that cunning plan panned out in the long run.

John Brooks, November 2013

Classical Gas and Thunder Road

The Professional

No it is not a call for Mason Williams or Ryland Cooder, however timeless they are, but it is mid-August so the Monterey Peninsula is buzzing with automotive gold. Whether it is down on Pebble Beach or up at Laguna Seca there is something for every kind of petrolhead and I hope to bring you more during the coming weeks. Here is a bit of the real stuff. Jürgen Barth in a 911 sporting Catalan colours, courtesy of our friend David Soares.

2013 Brooklands Mustang

Meanwhile on the other side of the world I popped over to my local track, Brooklands. The reason was to see the Mustang and other Americana event and well worth the time it was too. More from that later……………OK it was not The Quail but the same spirit is found here around the Byfleet Banking, Percy Lambert’s ghost still races his Talbot and with the right kind of imagination you can feel that Certain Sound.

John Brooks, August 2013

GT One

More from the archives, this time back to 1999 and the finale of the first season of the American Le Mans Series. No problem with car counts in the last century, 43 racers took the Green Flag at Laguna Seca. Making a one off international appearance was the Sintura-Judd S99 in the hands of Richard Dean and Kurt Luby. The designer, Phil Bourne, is still active at the races but the car disappeared into the ether when GT1 was killed off. A 9th place finish on the Monterey Peninsula gave a hint of the car’s potential.

John Brooks, December 2012

A Trick Of The Light

Corkscrewed

The combination of Laguna Seca in the fall, Rennsport IV and David Lister is irresistible. This gallery of images from last weekend is inspirational, shows how the job should be done, from composition to post-processing.

A MasterWerk.

John Brooks, October 2011


The Old Meets The New

It has become a tradition.  Every three or so years, since the start of the new century, the Porsche faithful gather to celebrate Porsche’s legendary competition record with a one-marque version of Goodwood’s Festival of Speed. This time around Rennsport IV was staged at the famous mountain top Laguna Seca course overlooking the Monterey Peninsula on the Central California coast, where no less than 400 racing Porsches turned up; many of them truly historic, and some of them from Porsche’s own museum.
And, while an undertaking such as Rennsport is the product of many people, its birth was due to the passion of a single man; the late Bob Carlson. Porsche Cars North America’s longtime PR representative, he had a vision of encapsulating Zuffenhausen’s motorsport history through an event that was nothing less than a living museum, where the cars could not only be seen, but could be seen being driven hard on a race track, they way they were intended to be.
In a way, Rennsport was, for the American historic and vintage community, an intellectual departure from the norm, in that it didn’t so much revere the Porsche racers as “works of art,” but rather celebrated their careers as “tools” intended to boost Zuffenhausen’s image (and that of their owners) at the tracks, in hillclimbing and on the rally stages of the world.  Put another way, what Bob Carlson did was to remind us of their true purpose, something all too often forgotten in the bidding wars found at auction houses today, where these vehicles have become trophies of a rich and successful life.
After Carlson’s death, there were fears that Rennsport would die with him. However, the movers and shakers at Porsche Cars North America kept the faith, and in the process produced the most successful yet rendition of his dream, for which they are to be congratulated. Even so, there very existence of the Rennsport tradition is a reminder that manufacturer participation in motorsport is not an altruistic excise, but one driven by commercial corporate goals, a fact evidenced by the ties between the 911 theme and the introduction of the Type 991, the latest version of the venerable and iconic Porsche bestseller.
It is this latter fact which leads us to look forward and not backward to the future of Porsche’s competition fortunes. Ever since 1998, when Norbert Singer’s 911GT1 98LM won Le Mans outright, Zuffenhausen has focused its motorsport efforts on the customer-driven production car arena with its 911GT3 program; the only exception being, the RS Spyder project which flourished for three years in the American Le Mans Series under Roger Penske, and which subsequently showed the way at La Sarthe in the LMP2 division.
Now, however, it has been decided to return Porsche to the forefront of sportscar racing in 2014, through a new prototype project stressing alternative energy sources as mandated by the rules package which will go into effect that year. The only problem with all of this is the effect this will having on the racing future of Porsche’s Volkswagen Group partner Audi, whose record as a winner in the prototype sandbox has made it a sales leader in the road going universe.
At one point earlier this year it seemed that Audi might abandon the sportscar scene for Formula One, leaving the way clear for Porsche to “its thing.”  With the decision to scrap that tentative plan, the VAG board is facing the possibility of having to fund two multi hundred million Euro projects to have two of its brands compete against each other on a highly visible stage where defeat could compromise reputations at a time of economic distress.
Many within the sport see no problem with this, noting that the two potential combatants will be demonstrating different approaches to energy conservation and therefore will not be affected by the dictum that there can only be one winner in a race. In a world where the decision to purchase or not to purchase is largely the function of favorable impression, pitting Audi against Porsche is at best a hugely expensive gamble that those responsible for VAG’s financial well being might not want to take.
Fortunately for those of us on the sidelines where we have to make no such choices we can take refuge celebrating the past in grand style thanks to Bob Carlson and Rennsport –may there be many more.

Bill Oursler, October 2011

Images Copyright and Courtesy of Porsche Cars North America


California Dreaming

David Lister is currently out in Laguna Seca covering the Fourth Rennsport.

Great light and great ability produces great images, as can be seen.

He dropped me a note to go with his shots.

It’s not just the cars which are the stars of the various shows here at the 4th Porsche Rennsport Reunion, but there are also some pretty handy drivers peddling the cars out on the track, including four outright winners of La Ronde Infernale…

Gijs van Lennep, Jürgen Barth, Hurley Haywood and Jochen Mass.

Gijs is driving the 1970 David Piper 917K in the “Sandemans” Sherry livery, the car which he originally shared with Piper in the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours. Recently restored by Gunnar Racing, the car looks stunning in its original yellow and red.

Jürgen is out in a couple of cars, in the various classes. His older ride being a 356, he is pictured here in a 1979 era 935.

Three time Le Mans’ winner Hurley Haywood also has two rides, an older 914 and, pictured here, a 1975 era Brumos/Ecurie Escargot RSR, putting him into the same group as his ’77 co-driver, Barth.

Jochen is alone amongst his Le Mans winning peers here, in that his victory came for Sauber Mercedes, and not for Porsche. He has a long association with Porsche, though, and is driving the youngest of the cars that is being driven by the past winners of the 24 hours here, a 1988 Texaco Havoline sponsored 962

The four drivers’ Le Mans victories were:
Gijs van Lennep:
1971, Porsche 917, with Helmut Marko
1976, Porsche 936, with Jacky Ickx
Jürgen Barth
1977, 936, with Hurley Haywood and Jacky Ickx

Hurley Heywood
1977, Porsche 936, with Jürgen Barth and Jacky Ickx.
1983, Porsche 956, with Vern Schuppan and Al Holbert
1994, Dauer 962 Le Mans, with Yannick Dalmas and Mauro Baldi

Jochen Mass
1989, Sauber C9 Mercedes Benz, with Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens