Tag Archives: Sebring

View from the Perimeter

Lee Self is one of the Elders of the Turn Ten tribe, that mythical assembly that convenes each March in Highlands County to worship at the Great 12 Hours. He is also one of the truly good guys and I can personally attest to him being a mean provider of concierge services. Lee dropped me a note earlier in the week describing his latest adventure and I can think of no finer way of kick-starting DDC back into life this winter than a tale from our favourite piece of Florida real estate.

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The Amazing Randy and I went to Sebring Saturday to the Sebring Vintage and Used Racer Festival.

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I went back over to the track early Monday morning, to see what I could see. Drove straight to the Airport and had a quick breakfast at the Runway Cafe. It was decorated with World War II Hendricks Field vintage photos………

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Did I mention it was Dec. 7th, Pearl Harbor Day here in the US? So I was right in the Period, very cool and most appropriate.

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Went out to my car, got the little camera and shot some of the inside decor.

Walked back out to my car, really didn’t see anything, got back in the car and drove over to the Hotel that Don Built, you know, Chateau Elan.

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I parked, sat for a bit. walked on, then back out to the car to poke around at my camera gear, then down the side towards the track, easy to get to and nobody watching over the area.

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Then back to the car, drove around over to the Office/Gate. I asked if I could go in and look around. Got a stiff “NO!”

Why not?

“TESTING, GO AWAY!”

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So I went back out to the main road, turned left towards the power building and down the outside where they park pre-race staging campers. Well, they’re building an Ice Cream Bar factory in that field, lots of trucks, workers and traffic, so off into the mess I went, ended up at the west most edge of the circuit/airport property at the end of the runway.

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I could see the last turn before the long original straight down to T17, but just a bit of it, and at my max distance with a 200mm lens. Got some shots of the GTLM Porsche 911 turning laps, which he did on and off most of the day.

So anyway, I look to my right and see a Mexican fellow with a jeep looking down the runway, through the fence. He sees me taking shots, no problem. He said the airport called and said there was a cow and calf in the property, he was looking for it.

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So enough from there. I drive back to the track entrance area, and just drive right past the gate, then the hairpin then and then zoom into the industrial park. Drove around in there a bit, to see where I could go, and what I might be able to see of the track… not much luck, but I did notice a perfect parking spot in the General Parking lot right as you enter the park (right where the chicane used to be) pulled up in there, parked and just watched for a while. noticed I could see the cars sweeping past from leaving the hairpin through Fangio Chicane and in places on the outside I’m high enough to see track clearly.

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Maybe 45 minutes, maybe an hour goes by. I drive back over and park at the Airport / Runway Cafe parking lot, right where the cars exit Tower Turn. I have a clear view of the corner. I walk out by the road, and wait, the 911 keeps going by. Then I notice If I look straight ahead, due north I can see the Audi rig, set up next to the former Peugeot building. I can see the mechanics and engineers working around the car.

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Suddenly it comes out and has passed in front of me and is gone before I’m ready. It does a full circuit lap, then right back into their pit box setup. and they push it right back into their “garage”.

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So I wait……and I wait…and I wait….. then I hear radios behind me, I don’t turn around. It’s the authorities. (Sebring Airport Authority)

‘What are you doing?’

‘Watching,’ I said.

‘Who you work for?’

‘Nobody.’ I said I was watching the Audi guys, that I made paintings of racing cars, and that I had the idea to do a Skunkworks-type image, and was watching to see what I could see.

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I had the camera in hand, my kit on my belt, I whipped out my business card, introduced myself. They were cool, I had a Turn 10 hat on, he asked if I was with their crew?

‘Yep, I make the hats and stickers’ I said.

So it turns out his name is Ricardo, and he is best buds with Sammy who is Lola’s husband and the names keep coming………… but the best part is I know all of the folks he’s talking about.

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He says, ‘Ok, shoot away, just don’t go across the perimeter road.’

‘No problem, the sensor will do the work.’ I said I was gonna stick around, walk the perimeter road up to the hairpin and back. He said no problem. So that’s what I did for the next two hours. Got Audis, Got Porsches. Even saw the security guy giving me the eye on one of his passes and got a nice wave in return.

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Eventually I head back to the car, so I drive back to Chateau Elan and order some lunch. Watch for the Audi through the window. then took my Iced Tea and sat on the back porch, by the pool for at least half an hour. The didn’t come back out by 4:00pm, and I was done, If you saw the Audi test video on FaceBook it was shot from right there on Hotel grounds.

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It was nice shooting, never on Raceway property, working all the angles, just for fun, but serious fun, y’know.

 

Lee Self, December 2015 – images copyright and courtesy of the author

The Flying Dutchmen

 

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

News came down the Mojo Wire this week that Spyker had been forced into bankrupcy. I regard this as a great shame as this quirky bunch of Dutch guys were genuine sports-car people, both on and off the tracks.

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

 

They brought welcome relief from the armadas of Porsches that largely made up the LM GT grid in the early part of this century. They were part of a Dutch endurance racing movement of the time, inspired by the efforts of Toine and Mike Hezemans, and, of course, Jan Lammers and Racing for Holland.

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

 

And they were fun guys to work with. Their début outing came at the 2002 Sebring 12 Hours, a tough baptism as anyone who races in the Central Highlands will attest. They failed to finish sustaining accident damage after 93 laps.

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

 

Peter Kox, Derek Hill and Hans Hugenholz were the crew of the Spyker C8 Double-12R in Florida. The car was powered by a Heini Mader BMW-based 4 litre V8. Hans Reiter can be seen here at Tech Inspection as Reiter Engineering provided the technical and engineering support in the early stages of the project.

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

 

The car was designed by Maarten de Brujin utilising aluminium wherever possible and his efforts inspired Dutch industrialist, Victor Muller, to finance the revival of this pioneering Dutch brand.

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

The bodywork was hand made at Coventry Prototype Panels. The whole project marched to a different drum beat, and that was one of the elements that gave it such appeal.

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

One issue that hampered the programme in the early years were the weight and restrictor penalties imposed due to three factors; failing to build the minimum run of 25 vehicles, failing to supply ‘low volume’ homologation papers and finally having too high a percentage of racing cars to road cars produced.

2002 Sebring 12 Hours

 

Victor has finally been forced to give up, but I, for one, would not surprised to see another revival, In his note explaining the current state of play he declared: “They can count on us continuing to live by the Spyker axiom “Nulla Tenaci Invia est Via” (Latin for “For the tenacious no road is impassible”).”

John Brooks, December, 2014

 

Dreams Amelia – Dreams and False Alarms

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Sebring is good excuse to meet up with old friends and for me none was more important than hooking up once more with Kerry Morse, a sort of “putting the band back together”.

Yesterday he sent me the above image, a reminder of the first ALMS race back in 1999, it all seems so far away now, another century. Will we ever see such times again?

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My mind drifted back 40 years to my English Literature studies, Percy Bysshe Shelley might have had Sebring in mind when he wrote these lines……………

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”

 

John Brooks, March 2013

They call me MISTER Sebring

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

Tom Kristensen has been at the head of the endurance racing grid for the past 15 years, since he burst on to the scene by winning the Le Mans 24 Hours at his first attempt in 1997. That famous victory in the Joest Porsche led to a factory drive with BMW the following year and that led the Dane to Sebring in 1999. Tom has gone on to score a record further seven wins at La Sarthe and to many he is known as ‘Mister Le Mans’. However a good proportion of the temporary population of Highlands County each March would claim that another nickname would be more appropriate, Mister Sebring. So why is that so? Let’s find out what Tom thinks himself.

Recently I caught up with Tom and discussed with him his experiences at America’s greatest sportscar race.

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: 1999, your first time at the 12 Hours of Sebring what do you recall?

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: My first race was with BMW in 1999, with Jörg and JJ. We had tested at Homestead the week before to prepare our new car, primarily for Le Mans but also for Sebring. We had a problem with differentials, we did not have enough spares, and I know that BMW were not very keen to race at Sebring. However the team at Williams Grand Prix, who had designed and built the car, particularly John Russell, pushed very hard to go on as planned. In fact we had some new differentials flown in as late as Thursday as all we had were the units that were actually in the cars.

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

Then we got to the race and it was certainly an eye opener for me to drive on the historic circuit. I remember that there were quite a lot of Yellow Flags, a lot of cars had problems and went off. I recall that the whole section of the track from Turn Ten to Turn Fourteen was full of sand towards the end of the race. Of course James Weaver was pushing very hard, he is a guy who never gives up and really put pressure on me. I drove the last stint to finish the race and we scored the début win of the BMW V12 LMR, which was a big step forward from the previous car. So that then became a trend for the manufacturers to go to Sebring both to race and test in preparation for Le Mans. One thing I do remember about 1999, we were waiting I think for the arrival of the spare differentials and we went with a certain photographer, I guess it was Regis, I’m not sure*, out to meet the fans and especially to Turn Ten. They are true fans of life and true fans of Sebring, it was nice to receive such a fantastic welcome. I always try to wave to the crowd there, either under a yellow flag period or on my in lap, to show my appreciation of Turn Ten.

JB: Then we move on to 2000, and your first race with Audi…………….

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: In December 1999 I was at Sebring again driving an Audi, it was an interim car between the ‘99 car, the R8R and the R8, which went on to be so successful. The interim car had the rear end of the R8.

JB: One thing that I remember from 2000 was during one of the practice sessions you burying the R8 into the tyres at Turn Three, do you recall that?

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

No, that happened in Qualifying. It was the first lap in Qualifying and I locked up avoiding another car that had just come out of the pits and I went in heavily to the barriers under the foam sacks. Of course Dr. Ullrich was standing at that corner, he saw everything and jumped over the fence to help shift the sacks off the car. At that time I was on the radio to the pits to say that I have just had a small off, and of course Dr. Ullrich had the headset on and could hear this while pulling the foam away. It is not the perfect situation when it is your boss trying to dig you out and you are trying explain that it was only a small off…………

JB: Still despite the red face the race turned out OK and it was a great win for Audi, their first at Sebring and the first for the R8.

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Audi had learnt a lot from their first race there the year before, Sebring nails down any challenges or issues that you have with the car. Of course Joest and Audi are particularly good at dealing with such issues and the information and feedback that you get from Sebring is so valuable, there are five or six different types of tarmac around the track and that gives car and driver a rough time.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2001 there was a rain affected race, and your team mates Dindo, Laurent and Michele just managed to beat you in a close finish.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Actually I was very disappointed that time, we had a great race and it seemed that Dindo and I were often on track against each other. I remember that we were actually leading but in the crucial time of the race, I came into the pits too fast so got a Stop and Go Penalty which dropped me behind Dindo and, despite pushing very hard, I could not catch him before the end of the race. Yes it was a disappointment because it was solely down to me.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: It was Michele’s last victory.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Yes, and it was certainly deserved and in that sense it is much better to look back at the race with that fact in mind.

JB: 2002 was a completely different race because the heat was extreme there was a problem with the car and the steering rack needed changing during the race. Of course once you lose a chunk of time in the pits your race is effectively done, especially competing against another R8.

2002 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: No you cannot come back from that much lost time, we had the issue with the steering which I had never experienced before or since and when you need to change something like that all your plans are out the window. We had a fast car however it was not to be but Audi scored a hat trick so the race was not completely lost.

2003 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2003 you joined the ranks of the Bentley Boys.

TK: Yes, I remember that the Bentley was a hot car, certainly after the R8. The car ran really well but we had the issue of being put to the back of the grid after Qualifying and this definitely compromised our race. I think we had only one problem and that was with the brakes, we had to be very careful towards the end of the race. We were very focussed on winning Le Mans, and Sebring was an important part of that. We had a very good debrief after the race. The Bentley was very different to the philosophy of the Audi R8. We had an Audi engine so we were safe on that side, and for the guys working on the car the Sebring race helped the team to gel. Racing at Sebring was crucial to our Le Mans’ victory. Getting both cars to the finish at the 12 Hours was really important to us in the context of our whole programme.

JB: 2004, how could they do this to us? No Tom Kristensen at Sebring?

2002 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Well 2004 was the year I started in DTM as that was the only factory programme for Audi that year. Dr. Ullrich offered me the opportunity to join the Audi DTM effort and I then raced in that for several years, really enjoying it. In all the years I was in DTM I just joined the endurance races like Sebring and Le Mans, keeping in touch with that side of the sport.

2005 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: 2005 you joined Champion Racing for Sebring, and Le Mans. You shared the driving with JJ Lehto and Marco Werner. You had a big fight with Allan in the other Champion car in the last stint, you always seem to get the last stint at Sebring.

TK: It was a good race between the Champion cars, all the way to the flag it was very close, the result all depended on how we played our cards. We were out of sync in terms of tyres and fuel strategies and I remember that when I was on new tyres I had to make a gap to make sure that when Allan had new tyres that he did not get too close. So the gap moved around a little especially in the last three stints. It was vital that when you left the pits on cold tyres, in particular on the penultimate stop, there was just enough grip to keep Allan back and he did not pass me. I was then on new tyres and could keep him behind and created just enough margin that when he got his last set of new tyres he was still just behind. I think it was the closest ever finish at Sebring.

2005 12 Hours of Sebring

I still have the video from Speed TV and on the last lap Allan and I were still racing hard, so as we get to the back (Ulmann) straight, I got on the radio and asked if they wanted to stage a photo finish. Brad Kettler who was engineering our car, started yelling back, “No, No, No! Keep the pedal down. Keep the pedal down” Of course I did not realise that this was going out live, and the Speed TV commentators were really laughing at this exchange. I still have the recording.

12h-Rennen Sebring (USA) 2006

JB: So then the 2006 race, the début of the diesel powered R10.

TK: Yes, that was amazing, it was a big step forward for both Audi and motorsport, very important. It made the front page of the newspapers in many places. The day after the race I had Ulrich Baretzky the engine designer, as one of my passengers on the way to Miami, he was a very proud man that day and rightly so. The R10 TDI had a big engine, which meant that there were compromises in how the car was configured and also in the way that you drove it. Now we have a very lightweight engine in the car but back then the V12 was much bigger and heavier. The R10 TDI was a very sophisticated car, with the very latest technology and it won its first race and that was at Sebring.

2007 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: On to 2007 and there were a couple of things that went wrong as I recall. The rear suspension needed changing……………

TK: I’m not sure I completely remember, I think we had to go behind the wall, so we lost time and that was that. It was one of those times that Sebring gets the better of you.

ALMS 01 - Sebring (USA) 2008

JB: 2008 and another difficult race, as Dr. Ullrich said at the time, the team had more problems in this one race than they would normally encounter in a whole season. Brake disks were a particular problem.

TK: Well we were trying very hard, racing against the Peugeots and maybe we went a little bit in the wrong direction. That being said, the problems that we had at Sebring and how we fixed them were the basis of our win at Le Mans that year. The performance in Florida really hurt us and made us really push to the maximum to get our pride back in France. Some people consider the 2008 Le Mans to have been the best or one of the best ever, perhaps, but the determination after Sebring, in Joest, in Audi, in the drivers, everyone, was really strong. We knew that Peugeot had a faster car, but we had a car that we could race, and we thought that if we performed to the maximum we could beat them. We believed in winning when others did not, the Truth in 24 movie shows that pretty well.

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: 2009 another new car, the R15 TDI, and another début victory, now win number five, up against Peugeot again.

TK: The R15 TDI right on the limit was delicate, so to keep it in the performance window was always interesting at a circuit like Sebring, a real challenge for engineers and drivers, so I feel that our victory was hard earned and well deserved. It was certainly not an easy win.

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: The following year the updated car, the R15+ was not ready in time for the race itself though you did go testing later.

TK: I would not have been in the race, as I had injured my Achilles tendon and was in recovery mode.

2007 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: 2011, things were going well in the race, a big battle with the Peugeots and then Dindo was hit by Gene while racing.

TK: That was in Turn 17, which is very fast and that was our race done. It was a shame because we looking in good shape. But if I recall all the factory cars hit problems and the Oreca car took the win.

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2012 the Peugeots had gone as a result of financial problems, but on the positive side Sebring was the first round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship and it was Sebring’s 60th birthday and you managed to add to your list of wins.

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Last year was another great race and an important one, being the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. It brought together, the ACO, IMSA and the FIA. It was an honour to have won the 60th race, and it was a really big battle with our two other Audis. It made up in a way for my mistake on the 50th anniversary race. I said to Dindo on the podium, “Congratulations on your fifth victory, now you have caught me”…………then the penny dropped and he called me something rude. Of course now Dindo is retired but he will be in Sebring, as Allan and I always get him to pay for the espressos in the morning at Starbucks………………..

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: If someone says to you “Sebring 12 Hours”, what do you think of? Why do you think the race is so special?

TK: It is unique, even the journey from Miami through small towns of central Florida is very different from Europe, you are approaching the tradition and history that is this 12 Hour race. Famous names like Fangio and Moss were part of this rich history and then later Andretti and Ickx, all the great names of the sport have been to Sebring. So if I speak to any of these guys I can relate to their career as the track is basically the same layout as when it started. That is really cool, it is the Paris-Roubaix of motorsport, the famous traditional cycle race. To get the best set up for the track is difficult and you really need to get on it as a driver, you have to conquer the corners every lap. You have to be aggressive but at the same time be very aware, alert for traffic. 2012 was the hardest race in terms of traffic that I have experienced, as there were more than 60 cars on the grid. So you feel like you are overtaking cars every 50 metres, you are constantly overtaking. There is not much space and if you put the car even a few centimetres off line you can hit a bump which is much harder than you expect and then you are in trouble.

JB: You have mentioned the Sebring fans…………..

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

TK: The Sebring fans are fantastic, the enthusiasm they show is just like Le Mans but it is also different. Sebring has the American way and that is really cool. Another place where the fans are on the same level is the Goodwood Revival. The fans at all these events are genuine and they are there to watch the race but most importantly they are there to have a good time. They wake up in the morning and say to themselves “Hey I’m going to have a good time today” and the atmosphere where everyone feels like that is fantastic. You are in the right place at the right time. Sebring makes me feel that it is THE place to go to every March and I am very happy that Audi asked me to go again as it looks like it might be the last time that Audi and LM P1 will compete there.

JB: Briefly what would you say your best and worst moments at Sebring were?

TK: It is difficult to choose but I suppose that my first race which showed me that the 12 Hours of Sebring is very different from any other race. Then the victory last year was very special. The second place in 2002 was difficult because I knew right after the Chequered Flag that the defeat was down to me, I was the one who was speeding in the pit lane and that was a very hard defeat to take. But on the other hand it was Michele’s last win and that makes it easy to get over.

* It was me………………..

John Brooks, March 2013

Bob Wollek – En marge de la gloire

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Ten years or more has passed since Bob Wollek was killed in an accident on Highway 98, near Lorida, Florida. Last summer has seen the publication of a biography of the great French endurance driver, written, appropriately, enough by his close friend, Jean-Marc Teissedre.

Jean-Marc is now unquestioningly the leader of the journalistic pack in the endurance sportscar racing media circles. The proud Frenchman has been covering that aspect of the sport since the 70’s and now, since the retirement of Mike Cotton, is probably the only one, other than Mark Cole, who can remember witnessing the glory days of Group C. Jean-Marc was a confidant of Bob Wollek and there can be no more appropriate author of a book celebrating the life and times of a very successful racing driver.

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However the book is far from a hagiography, it is a warts and all account of a man who spent nearly 30 years at the top of the sport. A indication of the honest tone of the book is found right from the start as Jean-Marc gives an account of his first encounter with Mr. Wollek.
“Can you imagine a worse introduction to a guy who had a reputation for being pretty unsociable than having to ask him for money? This is what happened to me in the paddock of the old Nürburgring on Friday evening before the final round of the 1977 German Circuits Championship. Auto Hebdo sent me to Germany to cover the event, and I got the exchange rate between the  French Franc and the Deutschmark a bit mixed up. The only solution was to find a Frenchman who would get me out of this mess. And they were thin on the ground in that era. So it looked like my only hope was Wollek! I didn’t know him, but the magazine asked me to follow him closely as his reputation was just beginning  to expand beyond the banks of the Rhine. But at this particular point in time I had to introduce myself to him not as a journalist but as a beggar! So after a very careful approach I had to come clean. I told him who I was and asked for what I wanted almost in the same breath in a barely audible voice. 
“Who the hell do you think you are asking me for money? We don’t know each other- do you think I’m the Bank of France, or what?” he shot back. A long silence followed our first contact. By the time I’d got round to thinking up an answer, Bob had already gone to the rear of the car and was talking to the Porsche Kremer Racing mechanics in German.
I walked a little further away and tried to think. I didn’t know anybody, the future was looking grim. But now it was time for practice so I said to myself that I’d see about it later. After things had calmed down I went into the press room, and as luck would have it I found myself face to face with Bob. “Have you got your one hundred marks?”
“Well, er .. . no. I don’t know anybody here……”
“It’s not bloody possible…”
I couldn’t  make out the rest  of the sentence, but  it was probably a sarcastic comment about the level of intelligence of  the journalistic profession. But I didn’t have to be asked twice when Bob told me to follow him. He flipped open his wallet and gave me fifty marks. But now there was another problem- how was I going to repay him? At best we’d meet up again in the same spot in March of the following year for the first round of the 1978 DRM. This is what I said to him. He rubbed his hand across his forehead asking himself what kind of half-wit  he was dealing with. “And a cheque, you don’t know what that is? It’s a little piece of paper you take to your bank and get money in exchange!”
Mumbling vague excuses for not having thought of this solution I promised  to send him a cheque on the Monday following our meeting.”

Not an auspicious start.

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And the book continues in a similar vein, the story of Bob’s career as a skier, then a rally driver and finally to the circuits. Interwoven into the tale are pieces from his contemporaries and also artifacts from his estate. One that caught my eye is the invoice from Motor Racing Developments for a Brabham BT28 the weapon of choice for a Formula Three campaign in 1970, all for the princely sum of £1,860-0-0.

It was in the Brabham that Bob’s career nearly ended before it began. Contact with none other than James Hunt sent Wollek into the trees of Rouen, bouncing from one trunk to another, the car was destroyed and the final destination for Bob was the local hospital for a couple of weeks. Racing at the time was a blood sport, for two others (Jean-Luc Salmon and Denis Dayan) were killed in the race, the drivers adding their impetuosity to the fragile nature of the cars. Bob’s friend of the time and 1980 Le Mans’ winner, Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, recalled the race in the book, “They tried to pass four abreast in a place where there was only room for two.” What can one add to that?

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The story continues on with Bob soon ascending to Formula Two, and ultimately more significant in the long run he found his way into endurance racing with Lola and Matra. It is all here in chronological order, the privateer Porsche years, his successes in IMSA, the titles and the race wins, culminating with factory drives for Lancia and Porsche.

The book is spiced with comments from his contemporaries, not always complimentary, as evidenced by this passage from his 1995 Le Mans co-driver, Eric Helary. “In my life I’ve only had problems with two drivers: Christophe Bouchut and Bob Wollek. I respect everything that Bob did but he made our 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours sheer hell. Right from the start he behaved despicably. He didn’t want Mario or me to get in the car. He wanted to do the start, the finish, practice, qualifying, the lot.”

And then, “At the finish Mario and I were in the motorhome and we asked each other what the hell was going on in Bob’s head? And it didn’t stop there. After the race he wrote me a letter telling me I was an arsehole!”

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To be fair to Eric, he concludes, “Maybe I’m not a good example as I drove with him in only one race and I never came across him again. I have the impression that I didn’t see the real Bob Wollek. I never knew the other side to him.”

Mario, in diplomatic mode, was less critical. “I always had good relations with Bob who I’d known for a long time as we’d done tests in the open WSC Porsche at Charlotte which had gone off without a hitch. I respected him as he had an exceptional set of results.” Team Owner, Yves Courage, also found Wollek to something of a Jekyll and Hyde personality but I will let you buy the book to read the full story. For every negative there is also a positive view from those not easily fooled, like Klaus Ludwig and Norbert Singer.

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When I sat down to write this review I was inclined to include some personal experiences and I have to say that my own somewhat limited dealings with Bob were, at best, mixed. At the time I started out in motorsport he was one of the stars of the scene and I was another anonymous face in the mob of photographers, so there was no call for any form of interaction. I witnessed Wollek win races, join teams at the wrong moment and endure all manner of indignities at Le Mans. He grabbed pole position in 1987 and then in the race did not even get to drive as the engine went bang. Bob was driving a werks Porsche, the ones with Rothmans’ signage, they were not supposed to fail, after all excellence was expected. However a rash of top line Porsches retired early in the race, all victims of a batch of fuel supplied by the ACO that was found to have a lower octane level than it should have, which played havoc with the turbocharged cars. Typically the sister car did not blow a piston and went on to win the race against all odds.

27 May-01 June, 1986, Le Mans 24 Hours. Norbert Singer and Bob Wollek.

Le Mans 1987 was perhaps the first time I really saw how forceful Wollek could be. The ACO would have a Friday afternoon press conference which in theory was to champion the great race. However the President of FISA, Jean-Marie Balestre, would also manage to be present and would always take the stage. Balestre was prone to giving the assembled hacks a stern lecture on whatever topic was troubling him at that moment, so although we were at Le Mans we would usually receive a rant about Formula One. This was delivered in the theatrical style of a proper tinpot dictator, thumping the desk and getting red in the face all the while bellowing about FOCA or the drivers, or some other iniquity.

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Craven cowards that we in the media were, we would endure these bizarre performances without protest, partly because we wanted a pass the following year and partly because there was usually some form of gift or bribe to encourage our attendance. For instance in 1986 it had been a Magnum of vintage Moët & Chandon Champagne, I can certainly remember that highpoint of dubious incentives. Well I still have the bottle in my office though it is sadly empty, the bottle that is.

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There was the usual matinée idol performance from J-MB and then as the floor was opened to questions Bob stood up and gave Monsieur le Président a full blast. My French comprehension is poor at the best of times but I was no doubt that this was about safety standards at Le Mans and the irrelevance of the Formula One blether. The drivers were very concerned about the speeds down the Mulsanne Straight, which pushed to the limits of the tyres’ performance, a year earlier Jo Gartner had been killed during the race in an unexplained accident. Klaus Ludwig, a three time winner, had refused to race at La Sarthe unless changes were made. Balestre was shaken by the direct line that Wollek took as he was more accustomed to dealing with a tame bunch of scribblers. Bob made his point quietly but he left the Président in no doubt. The message was clear, force the ACO to do something before someone else is killed. As if to underline this point there were several accidents in that race week culminating in the monumental crash of Win Percy’s Jaguar, after a puncture at around 230 mph. Win survived but it was a lottery, the next victim might not be so fortunate. Within a year or two the Chicanes on the Mulsanne would appear. Bob had made his point.

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I continued to see Bob at the tracks but the next time we had any real interaction was less enjoyable. His final race as a Porsche driver in the prototype class was in 1998 at the Suzuka 1000kms, a round of the 1998 FIA GT Championship. Porsche had endured a horrible season being beaten at almost every turn by AMG Mercedes Benz. The exception, of course, was Le Mans but Bob had only managed yet another second place, once again the glory went to his team mates. Looking through the viewfinder at the podium ceremonies, it would taken a heart of stone not to be moved by Bob’s tears as the realisation set in that the dream was over, there would be no triumph at La Sarthe.

2000 Le Mans 24 Hours

In Japan he was paired with Uwe Alzen and Jörg Müller but the trio could not match the pace of the other factory Porsche, let alone the Mercedes duo. During Bob’s mid-race stint he had contact with a GT2 in the final chicane and recovered to dive into the pits to check for damage, unfortunately to do so meant driving against the traffic and he received a three minute stop/go penalty for his pains. I reported this in a Swiss magazine that I was working for but something in the translated report incurred Bob’s ire and he threatened to sue us all! The Editor assured me that he would sort it out and I got the impression that this was not the first time that he had Angry of Strasbourg on the phone.

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My next encounter with Bob was much more convivial. At the Le Mans Test weekend for the 2000 race I was filling the hire car up at the petrol station near to the Parc des Expositions next to the track. A Porsche pulled in at the next pump and out got Bob, who nodded hello and gave me a smile, it made my day, maybe I had stopped travelling, perhaps I had arrived. Like Porsche AG itself, Wollek was confined to the supporting ranks of the GT class. He continued to go flat out, frequently surprising the Young Guns like Lucas Lühr and Dirk Müller with his turn of speed. He certainly seemed more at peace, reconciled to the fact that he would never take the great prize.

2000 Le Mans 24 Hours

The following March I was at the Sebring 12 Hours. Arriving at the track on race morning before the sun rose, there is always a photo briefing to look forward to, a great assembly of grumbling, groaning snappers. I understand that the collective noun for motorsport photographers is a Moan. 2001’s raceday photo meeting  was an unexpectedly solemn occasion though.  First to arrive, and in those pre-digital days, first to leave, the vast majority of us snappers had not heard the news, Bob Wollek was dead. It was unbelievable, Wollek had survived during a truly dangerous period in motorsport and now, as he contemplated retirement, he was killed in a pointless traffic incident. There would be no more chance encounters.

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So every year that I make the trek to Sebring for the 12 Hours I try and get out to the marker post near Lorida where Bob Wollek was knocked off his bike and killed. Others also make the same pilgrimage, evidence such as fresh flowers and wine bottles attest to that.

Bob Wollek was a complex, contradictory character, much loved by those who he allowed to get close, less so by those who were not. This book is a fascinating account of a man who lived by his own terms, well researched, written and translated. It lacks an index but that is about all, buy it, treat yourself, especially if you are in Sebring this week

John Brooks, March 2013

A Little Bird Told Me

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Another new contributor, T. Witt-Woo, has sent us some shots from a recent test of the the new Porsche 911 RSR at Sebring. Without ruffling any feathers there were a few tweets too……………………
To me, the car seemed more stable and less “bouncy” than the 997.. There were a couple of 997’s circulating and, to me, the 991 seemed to corner with less roll and to brake/accelerate with less pitch/dive than they did.. maybe a longer wheelbase and wider track..? maybe it was an illusion caused by the more squat stance.. But it seemed more “planted”…………………Also had a more race-engine sound..
John Brooks, February 2013
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Vettes in the Wild

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

Sebring 2001 and a pair of Corvettes with Andy Pilgrim and Chris Kneifel are scrapping, not just with each other, but also with the Saleen of Franz Konrad, Terry Borcheller and Oliver Gavin, who hang on to take a famous victory. The Saleen is history now but the Vettes will again be on the prowl soon down the runways of Hendricks Field.

John Brooks, February 2013

Autoexe?

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Sounding like a basic MS-DOS command AutoExe (remember that nightmare?) is actually a Japanese tuning company marketing after sales performance parts for Mazdas. So what? The interesting bit is that it is owned and run by Yojiro Terada, a proper Le Mans’ Legend. Why so? Well  he has 29 participations in the world’s greatest race to his credit, only Bob Wollek and Henri Pescarolo can beat this score.

Appropriately he was also in Sebring back in 1999 for the opening round of the American Le Mans Series. He brought his Autoexe LMP99 Ford, a relabeled Riley & Scott MKlll to be part of the support cast to the werks efforts. Who could ignore the Rising Sun livery? As I said Terada-san is a proper Le Mans’ Legend, may we have many more of them.

John Brooks, February 2013