Tag Archives: Rolex 24

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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

Analogue Racing

Twenty years ago this week I jumped on a plane and headed for Florida, destination Daytona International Speedway, It was the first phase in what I laughingly now refer to as a career in motorsport. Since the early ’80s I had combined a real paying job with the weekend vice of shooting races as a member of the media. I had witnessed the final stages of Ayrton Senna’s pre-F1 career, watched with awe as Group C flowered and was eventually destroyed by dark forces and followed the re-birth of endurance racing in the ’90s. I was hooked.

Now it was time to leave behind the comfortable existence of a monthly salary, an chunky bonus most years and a new BMW 7 or 8 series every four to six months. I was going to be a full time motorsport photographer following in the footsteps of those guys I knew in F1 who had made it to the Majors. They were doing very well, better than me or so they would have you believe. What they did not tell me was the the bit about the pain and penury, the uncertainty of where the next job or cheque would come from and the sheer grind of endless travelling for a living. All this while trying to keep clients and the bank manager happy.

No matter, I was gung-ho on my way to Daytona. My flight and a fee were being paid for by the charming Laurence Pearce of Lister Cars fame, it was always going to be like this I told myself…………roaming the planet on someone else’s dollar, creating art………Terry Donovan eat your heart out………..

I had shot in the USA the previous year when following the FIA GT circus to Sebring and Laguna Seca, now I was about to find out how things were really done in America.

The 1998 Rolex 24  was a race run in a time of great upheaval and transition, both on and off the track. On a broader scale the world was shifting on its axis from analogue to digital, the new-fangled internet and email was here to stay, and old farts like me would have to get used to it, embrace it even, Dot-Com was the buzz word on everyone’s lips. A new century beckoned and a totally unjustified optimism was all around, as if we had all bought into Donald Fagan’s vision:

A just machine to make big decisions,
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision,
We’ll be clean when their work is done,
We’ll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young

On the tracks the world was also going through a revolution, especially in the rarefied arena of endurance racing in North America. In the post-Andy Evans era, Daytona in 1998 was the first battleground in the looming conflict between the traditional powers, aka the France family, and the new broom, Don Panoz, controller of three tracks, and his plans for sportscar racing in North America that would evolve into the American Le Mans Series. We all know how that turned out in the end.

For a foot-soldier such as I this all seemed remote, all I could see was the beautiful Florida sunshine, a real contrast to the grey, soggy conditions back home. At the track there was the amazing banking, there were also a lot of fences and gates to negotiate and even more security guards to deal with, all dressed in blue, seemingly  with an agenda all of their own.

On track the cars were something of a throwback, the favourites for victory came from the various Ferrari 333 SP teams or the Ford-powered Dyson Racing Riley & Scott MK III pair. These fine cars would have been nowhere if faced by the top practitioners in Europe such as the Mercedes-Benz CLK LM or the Toyota GT-One who were in a different league of performance and, of course, budget.

Indeed from the European scene three Porsche 911 GT1s, a brace of Panoz GTR-1s and a Lister Storm GTL were on the Rolex 24 GT1 entry list creating a problem for the local officials who wished for the top step of the podium to be the property of the prototype class, cunningly renamed Can-Am. What relationship these cars had with the Group 7 legends of yesteryear was unclear but it made the PR guys feel warm and everyone pretended that it was absolutely logical.

Another PR canard doing the rounds at the race was the insistence that the 1998 Rolex 24 would be a re-run of the Ford v Ferrari battles of the ’60s, Phil Space and his mates in the old press rooms would have been proud. Like the Can-Am non-connection no one was fooled but we were all too polite to mention it.

Perhaps the whole paddock that year would have wanted to see Gianpiero “Momo” Moretti finally achieve a win at Daytona. He had first raced the 24 Hours at the tri-oval in the 1970 edition driving a Ferrari 512S no less. 28 years and fourteen attempts later he knew that time was against him but 1998 was as good an opportunity as ever. As Momo put it at the time, “With all the money I have spent at Daytona I could have bought a thousand Rolexes easily, but I wanted to win this race.”

His Ferrari 333 SP was run by the vastly experienced Kevin Doran and he had a stellar line-up with Mauro Baldi, Arie Luyendyk and Didier Theys, it was now or never.

Joining Momo on the grid, though a few rows back was another driver who had raced in the 1970 Daytona 24 Hours, Brian Redman. Back then Redman was a key part of the JW Automotive squad and the 1970 race was eagerly anticipated as it would see the first full contest between the Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s. Brian achieved the bizarre feat of finishing both first and second in that race as he drove the winning car of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen for a couple of stints while waiting for his own 917 to have its clutch replaced. The Finn was placed on the naughty step for ignoring team orders to slow down while enjoying a huge lead, his punishment was to witness Redman pounding round in his car.

In 1998 Redman joined 1990-Le Mans winner Price Cobb in a Porsche 993 Carrera RSR but there would be no fairy-tale for the veteran Brit, a broken gearbox on Saturday brought his career in 24 hour races to an end.

 

Opposition in Can-Am Ferrari ranks came principally from the Scandia Racing example crewed by Yannick Dalmas, Bob Wollek Max Papis and Ron Fellows. Dalmas took pole with a 1:39.195 lap, just shy of 130 mph average speed, this was a serious effort at winning outright.

Doyle-Risi Racing had left their 1996 Daytona-winning Oldsmobile-powered Riley & Scott behind in favour of a 333 SP, backing up Wayne Taylor behind the wheel were Fermin Velez and Eric van de Poele, another serious contender for overall victory.

There were arguably five serious Riley & Scott contenders, all Ford powered. Two from Rob Dyson’s crack outfit based at Poughkeepsie. #16 for James Weaver, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Dorsey Schroeder as well as the Guv’nor, seen here at the wheel.

In #20 Rob was joined by Butch Leitzinger, John Paul Jr., and Perry McCarthy. Rob was keen to repeat his Daytona triumph of the previous year, his cars were always in contention down in Florida, in 1998 they started from 4th and 5th places.

Henry Camferdam enlisted Scott Schubot and Johnny O’Connell in his R & S MKIII, they started at a respectable sixth spot.

Michael Colucci ran a pair of Rileys in association with turkey-magnate Jim Matthews. Matthews was partnered in #39 by the ‘dream team’ of multiple champions Derek Bell and Hurley Haywood plus David Murry.

#36 had Eliseo Salazar, Jim Pace and Barry Waddell on driving duty with Matthews hedging his bets as an entry in both cars.

Back at the turn of the century some frankly weird contraptions would show up and ‘race’ at Daytona during the 24 Hours. This pioneering spirit was very much in the ‘run what you brung’ tradition and is somewhat missed in these politically and corporately correct times. In 1998 the Chevrolet Cannibal was oddball of the year, in fact there grounds for thinking that it would be oddball of any year.

1998 also saw the Mosler Raptor take to the tracks, designed it would appear by Captain Nemo, with the distinctive split screen. At home at Turn Three or 20,000 leagues under the sea…………….

Other left field entries would include the Keiler KII which was a development of a Chevron B71. Powered by the ubiquitous Ford V8 it was a good example of the can-do engineering spirit that ran through the North American racing scene in the last decade of the century.

As mentioned earlier the GT1 class should have provided stiff opposition to the leading prototypes. However the powers that be decided that a Can-Am car would triumph, so the regulations were changed, not for the first, or the last, time in Volusia County. The Panoz pair with an all-star line up of Eric Bernard, David Brabham and Jamie Davies in #99 and Andy Wallace, Scott Pruett, Doc Bundy with 1987 World Champion, Raul Boesel, in #5 should have been rattling the Ferraris and the Dyson squad in the speed stakes. However………….

The Porsche 911 GT1 trio should also have been there or there abouts, but USRRC, no doubt under instructions from above, had other ideas. Ballast was added and there were smaller restrictors if the GT1 had carbon brakes or electronic engine management – hello the computer age! – the final cut was reducing the fuel tank size from 100 to 80 litres to match the Can-Am cars. It was all a bit farcical and it fuelled the rivalry between Panoz and what was to become Grand-Am. The ‘not invented here’ attitude was alive and flourishing.

There was the usual pre-race ballyhoo, speeches, songs, prayers and parades. Former heroes rumbled round the track at a dignified pace, provoking this cop to bellow incomprehensible instructions to move which were largely drowned out by the engine noises, this despite being in a place that was allowed by our passes……….my way or the highway…………..it was easier to leave than try and argue.

 

A full grid of 74 cars took the start under blue skies. As I have learned with 24 Hour races, and the Rolex in particular, everyone heads off for the first corner with optimism in their hearts but it does not take long for the cracks to appear in even the best racers. One by one the favourites are hobbled to a greater or lesser degree, Daytona International Speedway has a deserved and hard earned reputation for being cruel to the aspirations of racers and their teams, the 1998 Rolex 24 would be no exception to this rule.

The race ran to plan for the leaders till the second hour. A Full Course Caution was spotted by Andy Wallace in the Panoz as he headed into Nascar Four and he lifted off just as James Weaver’s R & S was following him a full pelt, the resulting collision effectively ended both cars chances though both plugged away after extensive repairs, neither was running at the finish.

Doyle-Risi was next to stumble. First a pit official waved Eric van de Poele out of the pits even though the exit was closed, then the mistake was compounded by neglecting to inform Race Control, a two lap penalty was the consequence. Shortly after night fell the Belgian crashed out at the West Horseshoe, knocking out both himself and the Ferrari from the race.

The lead was taken on by the Scandia Ferrari with the #20 Dyson car giving chase. Around 04.00 on Sunday advantage switched to the latter as the 333 SP suffered first a sticking throttle, then the transmission caught fire, another leading contender was out.

This left Dyson on target for a successive victory but the Racing Gods had other ideas. The engine started to give concern and with about three hours to go matters came to a head with the car being forced into the pits while smoking and leaking fluids………..another dream dashed.

While Dyson were suffering despair the Moretti Ferrari was now in a lead that it would not surrender. Momo took the final stint, he had earned that right the hard way.

There were emotional scenes on the podium, a dream had come true, Momo had his Rolex. The Italian veteran would have an Annus Mirabilis in 1998 taking victory at both the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Watkins Glen Six Hours, throw in a top ten finish at Le Mans and it was time to leave the stage.

What of the other places? In spite of the best efforts of the USRRC to slow the GT1 entries they were there at the Chequered Flag, surviving the carnage that had engulfed the Can-Am runners. The Porsche 911 GT1 Evo of Rohr Motorsport finished second some eight laps down on the winner.

This was despite an all-star driver line up, almost an embarrassment of riches: Allan McNish, Jörg Müller, Danny Sullivan, Uwe Alzen and Dirk Müller enjoy the applause but no Rolex watches despite the podium and the class win, still rankles with a Wee Scot or so I am told. Not that any of us ever remind him, oh no sireee…………

Third spot was occupied by another Porsche 911 GT1, the Larbre Compétiton entry of Christophe Bouchut, Andre Ahrle, Patrice Goueslard and Carl Rosenblad………….a top class effort, much as we have come to expect from Jack Leconte’s outfit.

Porsche also took GT2 honours with the evergreen Franz Konrad guiding his squadron of gentlemen drivers to victory in the 911 GT2. Toni Seiler, Wido Rössler, Peter Kitchak and Angelo Zadra all did their bit in this fine result.

The final class winners were PTG and their BMW M3. Bill Auberlen, Boris Said, Peter Cunningham and Marc Duez climbed the top step of their podium at ‘The World Center of Racing’ to receive their trophies, no false modesty at DIS.

The eternally youthful Bill will line up for the factory BMW outfit this weekend, as will his fellow class winner from 1998, Dirk Müller. Dirk will be hoping that his Ford overcomes Munich’s finest.

What did I learn from the experience of my first Rolex? Well like most Europeans who go racing to North America I had the idea that we were more professional in Europe, with our F1, our Le Mans, our traditions. I soon realised that was complete bollocks, the driving, engineering and every other aspect of motor sport on that side of the Atlantic was the equal of anything over here. Just look at the record of Penske, Pratt & Miller, Chip Ganassi and see the facts as they are.

If some of the officialdom was dodgy or the decisions were difficult to understand then consider some of the horror stories perpetrated over here. If security was inclined to make things up on the hoof, then recall dealing with Belgian police, the CRS or any of the private security firms now involved……….I rest my case. It certainly opened my eyes and made my decision to follow the ALMS in the early years a certainty.

Did I learn anything else? Well don’t go drinking with Julian Bailey in an airport bar, we almost missed the flight home as we got well refreshed. We picked up the last call and boarded the plane to jeers of those who knew us, I think I slept well that flight. It was the first chapter in a grand adventure…………..maybe I am due a new one soon.

 

John Brooks, January 2018

Daytona Diversity

1999 Rolex 24 Hours

One of the many attractions of the Rolex 24 Hours around the turn of the century was eclectic nature of the entry list, you never could tell what would show up next. So here high up on NASCAR Four in 1999 we have the Intersport Lola leading the Spirit of Daytona Mitsubishi Eclipse, while a Ferrari 348 tours along presumably heading for the pit lane.

The Ferrari was the slowest of the trio, nearly 8 seconds off the local Japanese GT with the prototype a further 20 seconds up the road. Another difference to most other races was the driver line up, six for the 348, 3 in the Eclipse and four in the Lola. Only the Eclipse finished the race, 253 laps down on the winner, good enough for 39th place after posting 455 laps

John Brooks, August 2016

All the Stars Come Out at Night

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The Rolex 24 is back to its former glory, at least that is the conclusion that any savvy observer would draw from the action on the banking last weekend.

Not all the fireworks were fired into the Floridian sky on Saturday, some were constrained by a Nikon body, like this stunning image created by my old mucker, Dave Lister. Great photography is a combination of talent, hard graft, opportunity and the often-overlooked imaginative client, that alignment of planets was to be found in Volusia County last week.

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Speaking of stars, Pipo Derani stood out on track and was major factor in the overall victory for ESM, Ligier and LM P2, so bravo!

Another element that brought a smile were the grumbles from the DP clan about Balance of Performance. In fact IMSA should be congratulated in this respect, they achieved a pretty good score throughout the field.

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The new GTD class was a great success; close, competitive racing as one former promoter used to declare when two cars finished at the head of the field on the same lap. Victory fell at the last gasp to the Magnus Racing Audi – how odd that sounds. Their photographer caught this colourful shot precisely at the point when the tectonic plates shifted in Florida, missed that on the telly.

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The Jewel in IMSA’s crown is the GTLM grid and the class of 2016 is set to shine brighter than ever. Corvette had the legs of the others, so the win was well deserved. But, and you knew there was a but coming, am I the only one who thought Ollie Gavin deserved some form of sanction for punting Earl Bamber’s Porsche out of the lead?

Rubbin’ is Racin’  I suppose.

John Brooks, February 2016

Yellow Streak

2014 JB General

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

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

2014 JB General

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

John Brooks, November 2014

I have no good answer to that question……………

1998 Rolex 24

The first trip to the Rolex was back in ’98. I was invited by the charming Laurence Pearce of Lister Cars fame. Back then the WSC rules allowed for some pretty strange contraptions, certainly The Cannibal was right right up there in the Wacky Racers stakes.

1998 Rolex 24

Then there was this Sci-Fi effort from Mosler, the Raptor…………they missed Captain Nemo’s name off the roof.

Rather than plagiarise anyone else’s work I suggest that if you want to know more about these unusual racers you could do worse than read this excellent piece on the Daytona International Speedway website;

HERE

I somehow doubt that we witness anything quite like this pair on the banking in the next week, but you never know…………

John Brooks, January 2014

 

The Stig Prowls the Infield

1998 Rolex 24

1998 Rolex 24 saw the original Stig, Perry McCarthy, as part of the line up for Dyson Racing. As usual the Daytona International Speedway was not kind to guys from Poughkeepsie with both of their Riley & Scott MK111 prototypes going out late in the race. For #20 it was especially cruel, they were cruising towards Victory Lane, with a handy lead over the Momo 333SP, then the Racing Gods decided otherwise…………..

John Brooks, January 2014

Rocket Ron

1998 Rolex 24

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

John Brooks, November 2013

Eye of the Storm

2001 Rolex 24

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

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

2001 Rolex 24

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

More thoughts from the past…………

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

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

2001 Rolex 24

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

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

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

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

John Brooks, November 2013