Tag Archives: Porsche 911 GT2

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Excel as Expected

The classic car and historic racing scenes continue to grow like Topsy. Driven by enthusiasm for the past or speculation for the future, or a combination of both. They are like the Terminator, they cannot be stopped or reasoned with. How long this will go on for is anyone’s guess. But for now let’s enjoy the spectacle.

To cater for this wave of nostalgia a number of shows and events have sprung up in recent years. Some disappear almost as soon as they arrive but one or two survive, grow and thrive. A good example of this group is the London Classic Car Show, now with four editions under its belt at the Excel in Docklands.

In a smart strategic move it joined forces with the Historic Motorsport International thus achieving a broad appeal, covering all the bases.

The show is attractive to the dealers as it is in close proximity to London’s financial centre and the timing is optimal, close to bonus time too.

The ROFGO Collection has been one of the most popular features of shows and events over the past decade. In a recent development there has been a merger with the respected classic dealership, Duncan Hamilton. The collection and the business have relocated to Hampshire and are well positioned to be a major player in this market sector. I am hoping to pay a visit in the near future.

Celebrities seem to play an increasing part of the landscape in our daily lives. Some have more validity than others, and into that category would surely fall Sir Winston Churchill.  Widely regarded as the greatest Englishman of the 20th Century, his profile has been lifted by a recent Oscar-winning movie. Churchill was frequently seen in this Daimler DB18 Drophead Coupé during the years from 1944 to 1949 touring the country.

The car is one of just three survivors of the model and features unique bodywork from the Carlton Carriage Company, though the actor is an optional extra – allegedly.

At the 2017 LCCS there was a fabulous display of Ferraris to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Maranello’s finest, the curation being the work of Joe Macari. For 2018 the theme was less exclusive, being Getaway Cars.  OK the Excel sits somewhere between the ’60s Manors of the Krays and the Richardsons but I cannot be the only one who questioned the taste of this collection. Some of these cars were connected to actual crimes not film or TV make believe.

Perhaps the highlight of this group was the Volvo P1800 that was used in the first series of the British TV show The Saint. Dating back to 1962 this car is highly original, even featuring the number plates used during filming.

The Show was opened by Quentin Wilson and two blokes I had never heard of, celebrity power has its limits.

Mention of Joe Macari brings to mind Ferraris and Maseratis and all manner of Italian exotics but the car that caught my eye on his stand was this 911 GT2. It was dressed up in the livery that it ran at the 1998 Pokka 1000 Kilometres held at Suzuka. It was a familiar sight as Nigel Smith, one of its drivers, was a client back then.

A name from that time that was also a client was Lister. Now under new ownership it launched a new car, the Lister Thunder, at the show. There were claims of 200+mph and 666bhp, certainly it looked muscular, almost on steroids.

Another Jaguar-based special was the elegant XK140 with unique Pinnifarina bodywork, apparently inspired by the legendary Max Hoffman, North American importer of both Volkswagen and BMW during the ’50s and ’60s. Even in such company as this show attracts the XK140 was a standout feature.

Perhaps the biggest star of the show was Nigel Mansell, 1992 Formula One World Champion. He is seen here in conversation with Henry Hope-Frost. Henry was killed in a motoring incident last week, a good man gone way too soon, he will be much missed.

Simon Hildrew was on top form as ever with cameras in hand, so enjoy his stunning work in the following gallery.

John Brooks, March 2018

The Legend………………Chapter One

The 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans was the first chapter in the best seller that became Audi’s story at La Sarthe, the book is now finished, at least the first volume is. Who knows what might happen in the future?

And yet the Le Mans universe is a very different place these days from that of sixteen years ago. Then, as now, there were four classes, with factory entries but there the similarities end.


1998 and 1999 had seen high profile and high budget manufacturer projects at Le Mans from Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche, with Audi joining in with their twin pronged approach featuring both open and closed prototypes for the latter year.

All of the above manufacturers left the House for 2000 except Audi who took on board the lessons from their comparative failure in 1999. Their answer was to create a new car which would turn into the benchmark for endurance racing in the first years of the 21st Century, the Audi R8.

First appearing at Sebring in the 2000 edition of the 12 Hour classic, it romped away to an easy victory, leaving rivals in no doubt as to the scale of the task they would face, come June, at La Sarthe.
Rivals? Ah yes, it was as if the ACO had issued a distress call across the Atlantic to replace the departing  Japanese and German outfits. In 1999 the American Le Mans Series was born and created a marketing opportunity for Detroit to match their products against the best. The opportunity was seized with both hands, not since George Patton’s Third Army had swung through Le Mans back in August 1944 had the Département de la Sarthe seen such a range of American firepower, although Bill Ford’s Armada in ’66 and ’67 ran Patton pretty close. Cadillac, Corvette, Dodge, Chrysler and Panoz represented Motor City and like Patton they were chasing the Germans. That however was where the analogy ends. George S. caught and beat his opponents………………

The rich history of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans allows it to have all manner of anniversaries each year, saluting some past heroes and their heroic deeds. In 1950 Briggs Cunningham stunned the French crowds by bringing two Cadillacs to La Sarthe, one an almost bog standard Coupé de Ville and the other a re-bodied streamliner, dubbed “Le Monstre.”

For 2000 Cadillac produced a conventional, in reality too conventional, open prototype running in the LM P 900 class. It was powered by a twin-turbo 4 litre V8, with Xtrac transmission and a chassis built by Riley & Scott. The aim of the project was to take an overall win in 2002 to coincide with Cadillac’s centenary. The whole project fitted in with GM’s attempt to change the brand’s perception of providing luxury barges to retired folk, the customer base was eroding with the passing of the years. That bit of the plan has, at least, happened, the 2002 LM-win did not.


A total of four Cadillac Northstar LMPs were entered, two for Team Cadillac which was created by Wayne Taylor out of Doyle-Risi Racing. Two cars were entrusted to the French DAMS outfit. However it was clear from the outset that these cars would not be competitive against the Audi squad, so expectations were managed down with “development year” talk. Marketing created a smokescreen with an infra red based camera system that was mounted in the car’s lights but no one was fooled, the whole project was seriously under-cooked and might have been competitive a few years earlier but the likes of Toyota, BMW and now Audi had moved the game on, massively.


Also with ambitions to win the 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours outright was Chrysler. As part of the journey to that destination they had enlisted their French racing partners, ORECA, who had run the successful Viper programme for them. They had purchased two new Reynard 2KQ chassis and shoehorned the 6 litre V8 into the rear. In reality no matter what they or anyone else did they stood little chance of success in the face of the Audi steamroller. The investment in new technology from Ingolstadt would dwarf the efforts from Detroit.


Ford were represented by proxy in the shape of Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S with the rumbling 6 litre V8s and their unusual configuration, the driver sitting behind the engine. There were two factory cars for Panoz Motorsport managed by the old lag, David Price.

There were two Roadsters from TV Asahi Team Dragon with Kazumichi Goh heading up the effort.


The final Panoz was that of the Danish outfit Den Blå Avis, which was a regular runner in the Sports Racing World Cup.


Another American legend to come back to Le Mans, was Mario Andretti. At the age of 60 he was rolling the dice one last time to see if he could win the one major race that had eluded him in his long and distinguished career.

 

Also crossing the Atlantic from the ALMS was the Team Rafanelli Lola B2K/10 with Judd power. This was a factory supported effort and was expected to fast but possibly fragile.


Another fancied Lola was the Konrad Motorsport example for the Dutch trio, Jan Lammers, Peter Kox and Tom Coronel. From this entry has grown the huge Dutch support for Le Mans. The Racing for Holland team followed on with the Drinking for Holland close behind or maybe that came first, oaks from acorns. Next year will see Lammers and the Dutch back at the 24 Hours, will he have a similar impact?


Peugeot were also represented at Le Mans 16 years ago. Henri Pescarolo, a four time winner and all round legend, had finally retired, so was now on the pit wall leading his Pescarolo Sport outfit running a Courage C52 powered by V6 turbo from the French manufacturer. A bit of a dark horse.

 

A second Courage was Judd powered and also French run but was not expected to shine in the face of the big budget outfits.

Keeping up the tradition of the privateer at the top table was Thomas Bscher’s BMW V12 LM. The team and car had finished a fantastic 4th overall in 1999, so they were quietly confident of being around at 4.00pm on Sunday.

Matching the Panoz contingent numerically was Reynard as there was also five examples of its prototype 2KQ on the Le Mans grid.

Arguably the best of these was the Judd powered Johansson Matthews Racing example.

Two of the Reynards were entered in the fledgling LM P675 class with werks turbo engines from Volkswagen, based on a rally unit that had run into homologation problems. They had limited opposition in what was easily the weakest class in the race.

The main challenge to the VWs in LM P675 was expected to be from the Multimatic Motorsport Lola powered by a V6 Nissan engine.

Which brings us neatly to the second part of the American Invasion. The LM GTS class would feature a titanic struggle between Le Mans returnees, (first time was 40 years previously, once again with Briggs Cunningham) Corvette Racing and the reigning champs, Viper Team ORECA.

 

The two camps had already gone toe to toe at the Daytona 24 Hours earlier in the year. Viper came out on top that time but their winning margin was just 30 seconds and they knew that it could have easily gone either way.

The three Vipers would be opposed by two Corvettes, real Detroit heavy metal, as 8 litre V10 battled 7 litre V8, Ali-Frasier-style, a classic Le Mans encounter.

Doug Fehan’s Corvette team have graced the 24 Hours of Le Mans ever since 2000, but it could have gone horribly wrong that first year. This lot look like they have just escaped from the set of ‘Allo ‘Allo………………………

The supporting cast to the factories in LM GTS were three Vipers, one entered under the Team Goh banner but in reality a Chamberlain Engineering effort.

2000 also saw the final hurrah for the Porsche 911 GT2 at Le Mans, Freisinger and Konrad trying to match the Vipers and Vettes.

 

The LM GT category was a Porsche monopoly, all 12 entries being the 996 GT3 R models. There were two examples that were head and shoulders above the rest, Larbre Compétition was, as ever, proudly flying the Tricolour and had former winner Christophe Bouchut leading the challenge.

America’s best hopes in LM GT rested on the Dick Barbour Racing factory supported entry. Young German stars, Lucas Luhr and Dirk Müller were guided by Bob Wollek who would make his 30th and final Le Mans start that year, losing his life in a pointless road accident the following March.

Race Engineering was the first Spanish team to enter Le Mans and was under the leadership Alfonso de Orléans-Bourbon, Duke of Galliera, who raced at Le Mans  previously. The team has gone on to great success in single seater racing with many stars such as Sebastian Vettel, Justin Wilson and Lucas Di Grassi coming through the ranks in their cars.

The forecast was for a scorching hot weekend, conditions that come to that part of France sometimes in June. Would the favourites win or as they often do, would they stumble along the road? Find out in part two later this month.

John Brooks, December 2016

Going Round and Round – Part Two

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The landscape of the American Le Mans Series had changed significantly for the 2000 season with the arrival of Audi and their second endurance sports car, the R8. This would blossom over the next six seasons to become one of the all time great race cars. The lessons of the shortcomings of the R8R had been absorbed so the R8 handled well, had good downforce and was quick in a straight line.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

However it would not be a push over for the newcomers as both BMW and Panoz had well proven teams and cars. In reality both were at a disadvantage with compromises that they had to make to conform to the new aerodynamic regulations introduced in the wake of the Mercedes-Benz’ flying accidents at Le Mans in 1999. In addition to that BMW stopped development on the V12 LMR before the season commenced and began focusing their attention on their upcoming return to Formula One.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

When the calendar was announced it contained three more visits to Oval Land……. the stadiums at Charlotte and Texas would join Las Vegas on the trail.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The first of these races was to be Charlotte in the heartland of NASCAR territory. The second round of the ALMS would be a tough event to sell to the Good ‘Ole Boys but the circuit itself was pretty good, a quick infield section with elevation changes, up to Daytona International Speedway standards other than the section taking the infield track back onto the banking at turn one and a silly chicane on the back straight.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The transition from infield to the banking caught out a few during the weekend, one of the first being Allan McNish in the Audi R8R, in the penultimate appearance of that car. The new R8 had crushed the opposition in the first round at Sebring but it was being kept in reserve for the Le Mans 24 Hours, so McNish had to push to the limit in the old car which he shared with Dindo Capello and Michele Alboreto. Spinning the Audi was bad enough but then seeing a grinning photographer with his 500mm lens lined up to record the indiscretion made things seem even worse.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Once we were all back in the paddock the Wee Scot forced a rueful smile when he confirmed that the wanker he had spotted with the camera was indeed yours truly, his description, not mine.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charlotte marked the low point the Audi campaign in 2000, the R8R was just about able to run with the Rafanelli Lola but not BMW or Panoz. These two teams would battle along in the race with the #42 BMW V12 LMR just shading the #1 Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charly Lamm’s boys just about out fumbled the Panoz guys in the pits and in traffic but the result could have gone either way. JJ was pleased though…………….

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Brabham and Magnussen were just eight seconds down on the BMW lead car when the flag dropped with the Rafanelli Lola picking up the final spot on the podium.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The Audi of Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela could only manage sixth place, the return of the R8 to the ALMS could not come soon enough.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

GTS was reduced to a Viper parade, as Corvette kept their powder dry in anticipation of their first trip to Le Mans for the Test Day later that month.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The only opposition was a pair of venerable GT2 Porsches which were a long way off the pace, though troubles for #92 Viper meant that Zak Brown and Vic Rice Roock-entered 911 bagged runner up spot to Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The GT class had been invaded in 2000 by a horde of the new 911 GT3-Rs , nine examples of which were at Charlotte. Their début earlier in the season at the Rolex 24 had been marred by a series of engine failures, I looked at that race earlier HERE

2000 ALMS Charlotte

They were opposed by two PTG BMWs, the E36 version almost pulling off a shock win after the Dick Barbour Racing ‘werks’ 911’s both hit problems early in the race.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Eventually the Bob Wollek/Sascha Maassen 911 recovered to take victory for Stuttgart rather than Munich.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The crowd numbered in the hundreds rather than Nevada’s tens but in the confines of the huge auditorium designed to take the huddled masses of NASCAR fans this looked pathetic, a problem experienced at all of the Ovals visited. Signs warning “NO THROWING, You will be Removed” stencilled onto the wall were not required………apparently it is a local sport to lob fast food and the like at passing cops, photographers etc., during quiet periods on the track……..a sort of Agincourt Experience with half chewed wings ‘n B-B-Q sauce rather than arrows……..no one much cared about the few clueless photographers like myself stumbling around in search of inspiration, we remained largely safe, a danger only to ourselves.

2000 ALMS Texas

If Charlotte had been pleasant enough on April Fools’ Day then the furnace conditions encountered at Texas Motor Speedway in early September were not. Whoever signed up the circus to perform in this part of the world at the beginning of September kept a low profile during the weekend, if discovered he, she or it would have been lynched.

2000 ALMS Texas

Those of us compelled to work outside in temperatures of 110F looked like extras from Lawrence of Arabia and as for the poor sods driving front-engined, closed cockpit crucibles such as the Viper and Corvette, words fail to describe the heroics required of the drivers just to last the race.

2000 ALMS Texas

In recognition of the insanity of trying to run in the noon sunshine the race was timed to start at dusk…….about 2 degrees cooler………naturally not all Texans are mad despite what you may read and they stayed away in droves…….the rest of us were not so fortunate.

2000 ALMS Texas

The grid lined up for what seemed forever, certain drivers getting dehydrated as the various pre-race ceremonies dragged on. One problem for the photographers was actually finding anywhere accessible during the race to shoot the cars, hence taking to the stadium’s roof.

2000 ALMS Texas

The Audi R8 duo had the rest of the pack under control with McNish and Capello in search of a third win on the trot in the second part of the ALMS season.

2000 ALMS Texas

BMW had managed to paper over the cracks in their operation but Texas would see their first failure to grab a podium place since their appearance in North America at the 1999 Sebring 12 Hours.

2000 ALMS Texas

Even Jörg’s new style could not improve things.

2000 ALMS Texas

The challenge to the Audis was led by the #1 Panoz who were a lap down by the end of the race, a podium was their reward. No one had an answer to the R8.

2000 ALMS Texas

Lehto and Müller’s title aspirations were given a slight boost when the Schnitzer team ordered their sister car to crawl to the finish, letting #42 into a distant fourth.

2000 ALMS Texas

There were celebrations in the Pratt & Miller pit as the Corvette of Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim took the first win in the ALMS against the Vipers. One of the ORECA cars ran out of fuel, the other had a malfunctioning cooling system which cooked Wendlinger in the first stint.

2000 ALMS Texas

Similar stories were found in the GT class, I recall Rohan Skea staggering out of his Porsche after a single stint in a very bad way and being taken straight to Medical Centre. Most teams had personnel in and out of the doctors’ care, it was an extremely unpleasant place to be working at.

2000 ALMS Texas

The race went to Pirro/Biela in spite of the superior pace of the McNish/Capello R8. Two yellow flag periods taking over a minute’s lead from the #77 car, then a problem with the radio meant a mix up with the final pit stop, it was that kind of a race. Most of us could not get away from the place quick enough and there were no spectators to impede our exit.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Two months and three races later we returned to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to continue the lacklustre pattern of holding ALMS events at this kind of venue………..as usual the on track stuff was OK but there was little or no interest locally and few in the way of spectators to be seen. Even the promise of the Steve Soper Experience could not tempt the punters away from the tables and slots.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Actually some off track action WAS exciting as nearby Nellis Air Force Base played host to all kinds of foreign exotic warplanes on some sort of Top Gun event. The pilots, being gearheads, would circle low over the stadium on their final approach to the base, giving us something new to argue about. Those who had been to Vegas before had scant enthusiasm for the place, a little of that town goes a long way.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Even Morse getting me the loan of a Lincoln TownCar – Cartier Edition of course, with white-walled tires, gold stripes and blacked out windows could not lift the mood that we were all in the wrong place.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

It did however piss off David Price, who wondered how a low life like me got to ride around like a Rap Star or Vegas pimp, and he had to put up with some anonymous Camry, he grumbled to anyone who would listen………… P. Diddy Brooks anyone?

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The event was the penultimate round of the series in 2000, there being a race scheduled in Adelaide on 31st December but Las Vegas still had an end of term feel with a few new entries joining in and some familiar faces about to leave. Tom Coronel impressing in Carsport Holland Viper he shared with Mike Hezemans.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The BMW V12 LMR was making its final appearance as there was no desire from Munich to go Down Under. The car, a collaboration with Williams Grand Prix, had a great racing record over two seasons, victory at Le Mans and six ALMS wins, including Sebring. Quality. Regrettably it also brought down the curtain on the sonorous BMW V12 engine which aurally entertained those track-side since 1995. For 2001 BMW would be running M3s in the GT class.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Another great combination that was making its final ALMS appearance in North America was ORECA and the Dodge Viper GTS-R. After five seasons the French team was headed into the ranks of prototype racing with a Dallara chassis and MOPAR power. The list of the Viper’s successes is almost to long to contemplate.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Reflecting the improvement in the Panoz’ performance as the season progressed Magnussen jumped McNish and Biela at the start of what would be a chaotic and incident packed race.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

McNish restored the normal order of things but then the bumping and boring began…………..

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Both Panoz entries were in the wars as was Müller’s BMW and Capello in the #77 R8, there were several incidents.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The upshot was a fortunate victory for #78 who had been largely off the pace, especially Biela, but you take the wins as they come.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

As was the custom that year GTS honours went to the Viper of Beretta and Wendlinger with the GT class win going to the Dick Barbour Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R of Bob Wollek and Sascha Maassen. It was their fifth win of the year and would be Wollek’s final victory of his career, as he would be killed in a pointless road accident the following March while out cycling near Sebring. I have written about the mercurial Frenchman HERE HERE and HERE .

Another Roval, another failure to bring in the spectators, even someone with Don Panoz’ deep pockets would have to consider how long this strategy would be tried.

2001 would provide the answer and that is the topic for Part Three.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

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 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 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 ca 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, 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.

The local GT battle was 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.


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.

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 333 SP 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 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 LM P1 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, queueing 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.

Full of Eastern Promise

The attention of the endurance sportscar world  has been rightly focused out East this weekend, to the majestic Fuji Speedway, nestling in the shadow of Mount Fuji. My mind drifts back to the last century and the previous FIA sportscar race in Japan, the enticingly titled Pokka Sweat 1000 Kilometres.

Sweat was indeed much in evidence during that event, run in baking hot conditions with nasty August in Japan humidity, a photographer’s lot was not a happy one. Another whose lot was less than joyous during that era was Porsche AG, as the AMG Mercedes steamroller beat them like a gong for the whole of the 1998 FIA GT Championship. Suzuka was no exception and the lead CLK LM, with favoured son Bernd Schneider and his side kick Mark Webber in the cockpit, won easily by two laps.

The AMG pair were aided in this convincing victory by the blunder in the early part of the race by one of their team mates, Ricardo Zonta. Zonta was duelling for second spot with the Porsche 911 GT1 98 of Allan McNish (who else?) and used one of the GT2 Porsches driven by Claudia Hürtgen to assist with late braking, the result when the dust cleared was that all three cars were beached in the gravel trap. To add insult to injury the marshals got Zonta on his way first, leaving an incandescent McNish to wait his turn. The race was over as a contest, barring misfortunes for #1 AMG.

The incident cost the Porsches a couple of laps and Zonta later received a drive through penalty for his misjudgement, though this did nothing to restore the time lost by McNish.

While the Wee Scot was matching Schneider’s lap times before the incident it required something of a leap of faith to imagine that this could be maintained by Yannick Dalmas and Stéphane Ortelli over the 1000 kilometres. In the end the lead Porsche finished a lap down on the #2 Merc to grab the final step on the podium.

The second entry from Weissach suffered a number of misfortunes that first blunted, then eventually ended their challenge for the podium. Mid-race Bob Wollek had contact with a slower car in the chicane and drove the short distance into the pits against the flow of traffic to check the damage. As I wrote at the time, this eccentric piece of driving incurred the ire of the Stewards who awarded him a three minute Stop and Go penalty. That observation incurred the ire of “Brilliant Bob” when he later read it and he threatened the magazine with legal action, even by his standards he was especially touchy that summer.
Jörg Müller finished the day for #8, when once again there was contact with another car in the final chicane. This time it was Geoff Lees in Thomas Bscher’s McLaren F1 GTR who was hit by the Porsche, both crews enjoyed an early bath, Nul Points Reykjavik.

The rest of the GT1 field had a pretty nondescript afternoon, the Persson Mercedes CLK GTR pair showing their 1997 pedigree, finished 4th and 7th, while the singleton DAMS Panoz thundered round to 5th. The Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1 98 duo could only manage 6th and 8th.

The GT1 category had a fin de siècle feel in the heat and humidity of Japan that year, exaggerated by the rumours that the FIA GT Championship, 1999 style, would be for GT2 cars only. Having invested heavily in this form of competition, Mercedes Benz were keen to go racing somewhere other than Le Mans in the following season. A month or two later we were all dragooned into a press conference in beautiful downtown Miami-Homestead Speedway. Stéphane Ratel was at his charismatic and visionary best, revealing the proposed FIA International Prototype Championship that would pit Mercedes against Porsche and possibly Toyota, Nissan and Audi. The factory contingent would be padded out by a motley crew of GT1/GT2 survivors and prototype inductees who would be press ganged in from the newly formed International Sports Racing Series. The problem was that there were not enough of the true believers, heretics and cynics were found at every turn.

Mango’s Barmy Army in the ISRS may have earned their title many times over, but even daft as they were, they would not fancy a regular drubbing from the Silver Arrows, no matter how good or guaranteed the start money was. Look at how AMG annhilated the Porsche Werks effort in ’98, the score ended up at 10-0 in Stuttgart’s favour. Porsche’s Le Mans prototype project was about to be  killed off by Dr. Wendelin Wiedeking, the CEO, who preferred to invest the cash in Porsche’s new light truck range, the Cayenne. Those of us with true grit gave him the raspberry at the time but he had the last laugh when the multitudes with questionable taste queued round the block to pay full price for this odd vision of a Porsche. PT Barnum really knew what he was talking about. Toyota had another cunning plan in mind in their quest to spend riches of Croesus on mediocre motorsport, go to Formula One. Nissan fired TWR after Le Mans 1998 and then realised that they were bust in all but name, so motorsport went out the window. Audi were in no hurry to tangle with their German rivals, reasoning that they had much to learn about the sport of driving long distances fast. So the IPC was a dead duck almost from the start and then the newly formed ALMS became the potential target for AMG and Mercedes. The aviation disasters at La Sarthe the following June extinguished that dream.

All of which meant that the GT2 battle was under increased scrutiny, as this was our probable future. The contest, such as it was, had three elements Chrysler Vipers versus the factory blessed Roock Porsche 911 GT2 and Cor Euser in his fierce Marcos LM 600.

The reality was that the 911 GT2 was beyond any further significant development, the Marcos was quick with the fearless Euser at the wheel, less so when the money men were in the hot seat and the Oreca run Chryslers were an absolutely better package than anything else.

At the start Cor did his usual thing jumped into the lead, irritating the Viper pair, but it was just a matter of time and so it proved with #51 just edging out #52 to give Chrysler a 1-2. Zonta’s indiscretion stuffed the lead Roock 911’s race and behind that it was just a gaggle of GT2 Porsches making up the numbers.

A few locals had rocked up to excite those who enjoy diversity on the entry list. The Kunimitsu Takahashi Honda NSX-S was actually faster than the Vipers in Qualifying, a result, no doubt, of a collaboration with Dome, but the engine blew early in the race.

The other respectable performance, speed-wise, from the Japanese contingent was the Toyota Supra LM that was also quicker over one lap than the Oreca entries, but it struggled to make an impact during the race.

In the end home grown honours were taken by a rather plodding Nissan Sylvia.

From the adrenaline climb that GT Racing had enjoyed from 1995 to 1997, the 1998 season was flat and rather expensive. It could not continue, especially as no one was keen to take on AMG Mercedes, and the North American market was about to offer exciting opportunities, the first Petit Le Mans was just round the corner. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

John Brooks, October 2012

 

 

 

 

Close But No Cigar

Portland International Raceway was always one the friendliest locations on the old ALMS schedule. Back in 1999 Franz Konrad campaigned his fearsome Porsche 911 GT2 with Bob Wollek and scored a podium finish. You could get pretty close at the first turn, almost too close……..

John Brooks, August 2012