The news from Baltimore leads to the conclusion that ALMS is being taken over by Grand Am, so maybe we will once again see proper sportscars on the Daytona banking. It is a seductive thought…………..ten years gone.
John Brooks, September 2012
Back in late 1997 I decided to leave work and go motor racing. I would earn a crust as a photographer, well it should be easy enough, look at all the guys in F1, driving flash cars and living in big houses.
In common with most snappers of the time I was technologically illiterate and failed to see the massive iceberg on the horizon, the cheap DSLR. Sure there were some strange contraptions around that were “digital” but they cost a year’s salary and produced tiny images, OK for the Fleet Street Boys but not for us artists. Kodachrome and Velvia were our weapons of choice. It proved to be taking a knife to a gun fight. Since then, Titanic-like, we have sailed at full pelt into this object, wrecking our businesses in the process. It was going to be great, no more loading or buying film, no more processing, no more chemicals, no more screwed up shots. It was all going to be easy.
Well that bit we got right, but the law of unintended consequences also followed. If it got easier for us, then the same would apply to those who wished to enjoy the hero status of being a professional motorsport photographer, now you struggle to give work away.
But at least we were living the dream.
The first race I shot as a full time Pro was the 1998 Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. It seemed a great adventure at the time, my costs paid for by the charming Laurence Pearce of Lister Cars fame. I thought that this was how it was going to be, travelling around at someone else’s expense, shooting race cars and getting paid for it. What a fool believes……………….
The winner of that race in Florida was one Gianpiero Moretti, who owned the fabulous Ferrari 333 SP that he drove to victory with Mauro Baldi, Arie Luyendyk and Didier Theys. “Momo” had chased success over many years in IMSA and 1998 he won the Big Three, Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen. Not bad for a guy in his late-50’s.
The news came down the Mojo wire at the weekend that Moretti had passed away, another good man gone. Living The Dream…….some get to do it better than others…………Rest In Peace, Momo.
John Brooks, January 2012
The engine failure of the #12 Ferrari appeared to hand victory to the #16 Dyson Riley & Scott Ford. As daylight broke they had a 23 lap advantage over the #2 Corvette, OK there were seven hours to go, but this was Dyson we were considering. That should have been enough but there were worried expressions in the Dyson pit. It was reported that the leader had taken on water to counteract overheating at their first pit stop some 16 hours previously. During the night the problem went the other way as it emerged that the engine was running at 120 degrees C not the normal 200. Something was amiss and even a crew chief as experienced as Dyson’s Pat Smith was unable to figure out a quick fix. Could they hold on?
The other Dyson car, #20, lost two hours having the input shaft to the transmission replaced, so was well out of contention.
Third overall was the GT Class leader, Jet Motorsports BMW M3. They were three laps up with five hours to go when the engine failed after an oil leak, another car gone.
The miserable conditions continued, making everyone rather grumpy, just wishing for this damn race to be finished. Even at Corvette things got a little tense. Well known, and sometimes respected writer, Andrew Cotton, popped his head into the Pratt & Miller pit to catch up with Andy Pilgrim and file some copy for the Daily Telegraph back home. There were a couple of off duty local cops acting “security” for Dale Senior and one decided that Andrew’s presence was superfluous and told him to get lost. Like any Brit abroad, Andrew ignored the cop and tried to help matters by declaring that he was not interested in Senior. He only wanted to speak to Pilgrim. The next step was that Andrew was threatened with arrest if he did not leave immediately, a plain dereliction of duty. The cop should have tasered and cuffed him there and then for ignoring an instruction from an Officer of the Law. It would not have happened in Sheriff Bill Gillespie’s time.
Of course when this incident reached the ears of GM PR, they had a collective heart attack, but all was eventually smoothed over, the Telegraph got their copy and Andrew, or his father I think, got a free breakfast.
As the race trundled on the leading R&S extended the gap to #2 Corvette to over 28 laps. Then at around 9.30am, and with less than 4 hours to go, the call came. Butch Leitzinger parked the Riley & Scott at the East Horseshoe with an engine failure. I remember seeing the crew as they struggled to come to terms with this cruel fate, it was hard to witness, like there had been a death in the family. Rob Dyson could only say “I am not sure I want to come back to this place”. He did.
The Rolex is about more than the struggle for the lead, each team has its own story to tell. Cor Euser brought a brace of Marcos from Holland, both got to the finish.
Embracing the original “Run what you Brung” philosophy was the Canadian Porsche 911 GT1 entry, it ended up third in class.
The clocked ticked on, eventually it was 1.00pm, the race was run and we all gave thanks. The #2 Corvette had scored an unlikely win, but fully deserved none the less. It was the early stages of what would turn out to be long series of wins and championships for the Pratt & Miller team. Anyone interested in reading more about this should consider THIS. The disappointment of seeing good guys like Weaver, Brabs and Nishy robbed of their races was offset by the celebrations of the Corvette guys, who could resist such passion?
The decimation of the prototypes promoted the White Lightning Racing Porsche 996 GT3 R, driven by Christian Menzel, Lucus Luhr, Mike Fitzgerald, Randy Pobst, to second place overall.
They were also GT class winners.
Third overall were Wolfgang Kaufmann, Cyril Chateau and Lance Stewart in the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3 RS. Another great result.
Next up was the crew of #3 who scored second place in GTS. Hard to imagine back then that this was Dale Earnhardt Snr.’s final podium. He would be fatally injured two weeks later on the final lap of the Daytona 500. His plans to leave NASCAR and come into endurance racing never came to fruition but had he lived the shape of Le Mans and the ALMS in the following years would have been very different.
This would have become a familiar sight.
In the end the SRP1 class went to the Kudzu Mazda, here advertising the HANS system that owner/driver Jim Downing was advocating to all. Had Earnhardt been wearing one of these devices in the 500 he might well of survived his accident. They are mandatory now.
SRP 2 was won by Archangel Motorsport.
The final class winner was Hamilton Safe Motorsports who came out on top in AGT.
24 Hour races at Daytona International Speedway are regarded as amongst the toughest around, any of the 310 drivers who competed at the 2001 edition would have agreed and so would their crews. So the celebrations go on into the night, it is a Daytona tradition.
John Brooks, January 2011
Saturday 3rd February 2001, the 39th edition of the Rolex 24 Hours got underway with the usual pomp and ceremony. The first few hours saw a few cars fall by the wayside but most of the 79 starters were still circulating. Then came the rain.
There is some sort of expectation from those who stay back in Europe while the Rolex 24 takes place, that the whole affair is conducted in Miami South Beach conditions. My experience has been somewhat different, 2000’s race was absolutely freezing, below zero when the wind chill was factored in. 2001 was marginally warmer but the rain was horrible. It was cold, wet and dark prematurely.
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.
The switch from analogue to digital robbed the Daytona Infield spectators of the Grand Prix that would take place at the end of each track session. The Pro and not so Pro photographers would lumber towards their vehicles, jump in and try to beat the others to the Tunnel at NASCAR 4 and across West International Speedway Boulevard to the photo processors, Speedway Photo as I recall. Their service was magic, unlike most of the nonsense that we used to endure back then. The quicker you got to the store, the higher up the queue you would be, though what we were hoping to achieve by this is not clear. Even a small scanned image would takes ages to transmit down those 14.4k phone connections and broadband had not reached the Speedway yet. Still it all seemed very important to us. It showed our competitive spirit, ‘How the West was Won’ sorta thing.
The dubious honour of being the first retirement fell to the TRV Motorsports outfit, five minutes into the race.
The Crawford had transmission problems and despite replacing the entire mechanism, they too fell out early in the proceedings.
The Intersport Lola led during the first hour but hit clutch problems, dropping them down the order. It was a rough Rolex baptism for 17 year old Clint Field.
Another early contender, the Robinson Racing Riley & Scott, was yet one more prototype to have problems, losing an hour behind the Wall trying to sort an engine malady.
So as the light faded it was the Risi Ferrari and the Weaver Riley & Scott scrapping for the lead with #20 Dyson car and the Champion Lola hanging on…………then came #2 Corvette, this one would run and run.
Of course it was not only the front runners that were suffering in the poor conditions. My old pal, Mike Youles, was having his own brand of problems out on track. PK Sport had only just taken delivery of the 996 GT3 R and were not fully prepared for the copious amounts of rain that fell unexpectedly in Volusia County. Somehow the water was all over the inside of the screen, so Mike drove along trying to work out where he was by looking out the side windows.
In addition to this he was driving double and triple stints as co-driver Geoff Lister was unwell. Of course Mike took it all in his stride, “Racing by Braille” he called it at the time. with a big grin on his face. Utter madness but very PK Sport we all agreed, very much the spirit of how they went racing.
Even the Corvettes were having some difficulties. Dale Junior was sent out for his first stint as the conditions got worse, this was not great timing from the team, as he said at the time.
“When I went out there in the car it was a little slick. I spun out a few times trying to get going. The track’s drying up a lot and it’s really gotten quick. Hopefully we can get buckled down here and catch up.”
“I asked them if I could do a double, but they said later on man, save your strength. I’m ready to go when they are.”
“I had zero experience in the wet. I’ve never driven on it, so I was out there learning. But the track dried pretty quick and I felt pretty comfortable and fell into a good rhythm.”
“They kind of saved me from sending me out earlier because it was raining pretty bad. When I got to get out there the track was relatively dry, so I was OK. (On his first lap) The tires were so cold, and your adrenaline’s pumping, and I kind of screwed up. But once I settled down, I felt good.”
Junior had further problems when a half shaft failed, there was a mistake in communication and the whole transmission unit was changed but the #3 was soon back on track only losing around 30 minutes.
The next top runner to hit the rocks was the Champion Lola Porsche, a sudden drop in oil pressure causing engine failure.
The 24 hours of pounding around the Daytona International Speedway is regarded as being tougher than any other similar contest, and that is when the weather is good. The conditions that prevailed in 2001 meant that most folk were clinging on, hoping to see daylight.
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 almost certainly the race was lost. This prognosis 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 darkness went on and on, as long in Florida as it is short at La Sarthe.
Final Part of this tale of misfortune and endeavour tomorrow.
John Brooks, January 2011