CORE Autosport’s #54 ORECA LMP2 led a parade of Gibson-engined prototypes across the finish line in the first race of the IMSA WeatherTech Championship season.
Photo by Tom Murray
Few cautions, Gibson on the podium, early out for Mazda — all this and Fernando Alonso, too
by James Edmonds
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As the chequered flag waved the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi across the finish line on Sunday afternoon, January 28th, it heralded a new record — 808 laps completed under mostly green running — for the Rolex 24.
Mild temperatures and very little rain saw the big boys playing well with the gentlemen racers and almost shockingly young rookies. A multi-class, endurance-format race on a packed track — there were 50 entries in total, 20 of them in the Prototype class alone — usually means plenty of full course yellows, but they were virtually absent this year and it was a welcome change.
One had to look a little harder this year to find the British interest at Daytona. No Aston Martins, Lotus or Jaguars, and with Lola out of business certainly none of those. There were, however, a lot of LMP2 cars with French names (ORECA and Ligier) and one with a not-so-French name (Multimatic-Riley) with V8 powerplants all supplied by Derbyshire-based Gibson Technology. This is the standard for this class at Le Mans and it is obvious these teams were aiming high.
Let’s not forget either that the Mazda DPi prototypes have their own British connection, with engines developed by the UK’s own Advanced Engine Research, Ltd. (AER). Those cars are managed by a new organization, Mazda Team Joest.
And certainly there were quite a few choice British drivers. From the glitz and glamour of Formula 1 we had Alex Brundle, racing for Jackie Chan DCR/JOTA in the #78 ORECA. Mike Conway, from WEC’s Toyota LMP1 team, was out in the #31 Whelen Cadillac DPi. Two Olivers, Gavin and Jarvis, were pedaling their respective machines, the factory-sponsored #4 Corvette GTLM and Joest’s #77 Mazda DPi. Harry Tincknell came over from Chip Ganassi’s UK-based Ford GTLM team to drive the other Mazda DPi, #55.
Phil Hanson, age 18, was driving the #23 United Autosports Ligier. I literally have socks older than this talented young pilot, who also happens to be the reigning Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion.
Joining Hanson was another English youngster, Lando Norris, from the Zak Brown McLaren F1 program. I half expected him to wear a “Stig” helmet and arrive in the Millenium Falcon when I saw his first name! With Zak Brown also being part owner of the United Autosports team, it was easy to see why his F1 talent was so easily installed.
Joining Messrs. Hanson and Norris was arguably the best driver in the business, Fernando Alonso. The mighty Spaniard’s own F1 career goes back well over 15 years, with two championships (2005 and 2006), 32 wins, 97 podiums, 22 pole positions and 23 fastest laps. Last year he ran in the Indy 500, driving a McLaren-branded car for Andretti Autosport, and this year he’s tackling endurance racing in the WEC on the Toyota Gazoo Racing team.
With these drivers and their Gibson-engined machine, the #23 Ligier was definitely one to watch.
Rounding out the list of UK drivers were series stalwart Ryan Danziel, in Tequila Patron ESM’s #2 Nissan DPi fellow Scot Paul Di Resta, in another United Auto-sports car, the #32 Ligier and versatile ex-DeltaWing star Katherine Legge, now driving Michael Shank Racing’s #86 Acura NSX.
With James Calado in Risi Competizione’s #62 Ferrari 488 GTE, Richard “Westy” Westbrook, in one of Chip Ganassi’s Ford GTs, #67, and Nick Tandy, in the Porsche GT Team’s #911 911 RSR, that makes a total of 18 British drivers in machines from France, Italy, Germany, Japan and the USA. Bases covered then!
Fernando Alonso (center) during the autograph session with co-drivers Phil Hanson and Lando Norris.
Photo by Tom Murray
The strength of this year’s driver line-up from all corners of the globe goes a long way to dispelling the myth that endurance racing is the knacker’s yard of the high-profile racing fraternity. Where once you “retired” to the likes of a race series where it was de rigeur to nurse a car around for half a day or so, now every lap is driven at next to qualifying pace, demanding the very cream of the crop in drivers.
What’s more, with seats in F1 and IndyCar being so few and highly sought after — and with the increasing number of teams demanding the drivers themselves come with bags of money — it’s no wonder that some of the best young talent make a beeline for endurance racing, with its large grids and up to four or even five team drivers per car.
Last year’s dominant Cadillacs lost some cubic inches this year and were pressed hard by the DPis fielded by Acura Team Penske — which also were prototypes, not to be confused with the NSX GT3s competing in the GTD class — to the point of nigh exhaustion. The Cadillacs cruised home with overheating issues, albeit in 1st and 2nd. The Acuras showed real promise and were fast out of the box. With a little development they will be on the podium this year I am sure.
Of course, they would have to contend with the LMP2 cars, which were remarkable at Daytona. Five ORECAs and one of United Autosports’ Ligiers (not Alonso’s car) placed 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th in the race, led by podium clincher #54 — CORE Autosport’s ORECA with Americans Jonathan Bennett and Colin Braun taking turns at the wheel with Frenchmen Romain Dumas and Loic Duval. The Penske boys’ Acuras finished 9th and 10th.
Keeping track of the British drivers, we saw Paul di Resta come 4th with teammates Hugo de Sadeleer, Bruno Senna and Will Owen in the #32 United Autosports Ligier, and Alex Brundle 5th with Antonio Felix da Costa, Ho-Pin Tung and Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen in the #78 Jackie Chan DCR/JOTA ORECA.
That took care of the top ten positions, but there were ten other prototypes on the track, plus the GTLM and GTD cars.
Mazda Team Joest’s #77 car in the pits Saturday night. Both Mazda DPis would retire early.
Photo by Tom Murray
Of special interest among the prototypes were the Mazda DPis. The ex-Audi Joest team found themselves taking over that project last year, and were able to secure a new Multimatic chassis and a development AER engine as well as a new aero kit and lots of hidden shiny bits. Although the results were fast and showing good signs, the team had a very disappointing weekend.
One of the cars, #55, suffered an engine fire resulting from an exhaust failure, sounding the death knell less than seven hours before the finish. Shortly afterward, the other car, #77, was retired after repeated electrical issues led to power steering failure and a very uncharacteristic-for-Joest wheel-off.
Fernando Alonso’s team also sputtered after showing lots of promise in their Ligier. Alonso qualified #23 13th overall, ahead of Bruno Senna in the #32 sister car. Although perhaps not as quick in a straight line as some of the other prototypes, Alonso, Norris and Hanson were able to put in long stints, running with the fastest cars and even taking the lead at times.
However, the car was plagued by tire punctures (as were several in the race) and brake problems that led to lengthy pit stops, dropping it 25 laps on the first occasion and even further down the list when they happened again. While #32 finished a respectable 4th overall, #23 came in 38th and 13th in class — 90 laps down from the winner.
In the GTLM category, which was for heavily modified road cars with manufacturer-supported teams, the Ford GTs went on to another win in cars developed from last year’s version — to the casual observer the only outward difference being the more attractive (to my eyes anyway) paint colours.
A very big surprise came in the GTD class, where the machines have to be very close to their roadgoing brethren, making the cars most relevant, perhaps, to the fans. The Land Motorsport Audi R8 team, who flew over from Europe with the intent of racing at Daytona and the three other venues for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, were holding a fairly handy lead when they were handed Balance of Performance (BoP) penalty at the 10-hour mark.
The team had been refueling several seconds faster than the IMSA GTD average (which was apparently not known to the other teams, or to Land Motorsport), resulting in a no-appeal five-minute stop and hold. This put the team down so far they were unable to recover, finishing 7th in class.
What incensed the team about the penalty was the fact that the fuel rig and the car’s restrictor were compliant with IMSA regulations before the race, as was its BoP table. It also passed all post-race scrutineering. Land Motorsport, it turned out, had made use of totally legal and very clever loophole in the rule book regarding fuel tank ballast. The team had studied the hydrodynamics of the operation and optimized the fuel fill rate, resulting in huge gains during each fuel stop.
In the final analysis the Audi team lost out, but Audi, as part of a bigger corporation, still won as the VW/Audi-owned Lamborghini brand came out on top in GTD.
JDC-Miller Motorsports’ #85 ORECA LMP2 streaks by a fan tribute to the late Dan Gurney.
Photo by Tom Murray
A closing word or two about fan favourite Fernando Alonso.
After pre-season tests in an LMP1 Toyota, it came as no surprise to learn that ‘Fred’ had landed a full-time WEC drive with the team. Sure he has shown that he can lead at Indy and even led at Daytona — albeit during a pit stop rotation — so he certainly has the chops to equal Graham Hill’s triple crown record of a win at Monaco in F1, the Indy 500 and Le Mans.
The rub, however, came with the announcement that the WEC’s Japanese round at Fuji Speedway — Toyota’s home event — has been rescheduled from its original date, which had conflicted with the F1 calendar, so that Alonso could compete. This put Fuji in conflict with IMSA’s Petit Le Mans! With several WEC drivers already contracted for the Atlanta event, one can imagine several of them, along with team owners, having their noses put out of joint.
The big question in my mind is, “Is he worth it?” No one has doubted his ability not only to drive cars in several disciplines but also to drive fans to the tracks and TV screens. But endurance racing occupies its own place in the pond of global sport, and to cause a far-reaching ripple in that pond has many in the sport shaking their heads. And their fists.
One thing is for sure, it won’t be a dull season here or abroad!
[James Edmonds and Tom Murray are the principals behind themotorsportdiaries.com and are frequent contributors to this publication. Additional information for this article was gleaned from team reports, the IMSA website, and of course Lee Driggers’ extensive Pit Notes. Thanks to all.]
This iconic Daytona ‘shot’ of MINIs running past the start/finish platform won’t be possible next year — no ST.
Photo by Tom Murray
Where Have All the Mazdas Gone?
by Bruce Vild
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Long time passing... apologies to Pete Seeger.
The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race during the Rolex 24 weekend, called the “BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona,” introduced a new class, TCR — short for Touring Car — slotted between Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST), and intermediate in performance at about 300-350hp.
TCR was populated in its first run by six Audi RS3s and a sole VW GTI, though IMSA is looking for Alfa Romeo and Honda to join the fray eventually.
And so began an all-too-obvious farewell to ST, a class once dominated by Mazda MX-5s, with BMW 328is and base Porsche Caymans typically trading the lead while a three-car-strong MINI JCW Team occasionally pulled its own rabbit out of the hat (as they did at Daytona last year).
Long story short, this is the last season for ST in the Conti. Come to think of it, it’s also the last season for the Conti, as Michelin takes over next year as the sponsor/tire of choice — but I digress. The low esteem in which ST now seems to be held was evident at Daytona with only six cars racing in the class, three being the MINIs. The cool little Mazdas are gone.
The other class we’ve come to know and love in the Conti, GS, saw a huge influx of new cars, including no fewer than nine Mercedes-AMGs run by six different outfits. There were also four Audi R8s that I don’t remember from last year, three of them fielded by GMG Racing and the fourth by CarBahn Motorsports.
To that you can add the usual Porsche Cayman GT4 MRs, BMW M4 GT4s and Ford Mustang GT4s. The better news is Automatic Racing was back with their two Aston Martins, #09 and #99, and a new driver, 19-year-old Aurora Straus. Young she may be but a rookie she’s not, having driven a Porsche Cayman last year in ST for the RS1 team. Straus lives in Boston and has enrolled at Harvard, so it will be interesting to see how she’ll balance her academic schedule with her commitments to Automatic Racing as the season progresses.
It was good to see two of the three McLarens that ran in 2017 return, also in GS, with Motorsports in Action running #69 with Corey Fergus and Jesse Lazare, and Compass Racing fielding #76 with Paul Holton and Matt Plumb. These names will be familiar to those who followed the Conti last year.
Daytona was one of two four-hour races in the series, which otherwise run two hours. (The other is Watkins Glen.) Forty-one cars posted times across the three classes, with an almost mind-boggling 28 cars in GS alone.
Aurora Straus joined veteran drivers Al Carter and Steven Phillips in Automatic Racing’s #99 Aston Martin.
Photo by Tom Murray
Straus started in the #99 Aston in 21st place and began gaining almost immediately, picking up four positions in the first ten minutes of the race and proving herself a quick study.
Ramin Abdolvahabi was not so lucky in #09, which he co-drove with Brandon Kidd and Rob Ecklin. The car was hit during his stint, and while it was getting repaired luck ran out for #99 as well. Now with Steven Phillips at the wheel, the car was taken out in an incident with one of the Mustangs. Phillips was shaken up a bit, taken to a hospital and released that night. Kidd, meanwhile, brought #09 back to the race 15 laps down, with Ecklin then taking over and finishing 32nd overall and 22nd in class.
Motorsports in Action left Daytona disappointed, too. The team’s strategy was to advance to the top 10, and maybe even the top five by maximizing track time. Fergus had the first stint in #69, driving for more than three hours before handing off to Lazare. Lazare found himself well positioned to start a push to the front, the strategy apparently having worked, but a caution flag late in the race put paid to that. They wound up 18th overall and in class, taking little solace in having started 19th.
Their McLaren also had something of a weight problem, they said, due to a new BoP standard that they hoped could be resolved by Sebring.
Paul Holton and Matt Plumb took Compass Racing’s #76 to 14th place overall and in class. They started 28th, so while not the top 10 this was good progress for them.
Meanwhile, in ST, the #73 MINI JCW ran as high as 3rd in class early in the race, but drivers Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra ran into axle problems and finished 6th out of six. This is the car that carried the team to their class victory in 2017.
Best finisher among the MINIs was #37, with Nate Norenberg and Derek Jones (one of last year’s winning drivers) getting 4th in class after of an incident with one of the new-to-the-series Mercedes. Sandwiched between #37 and #73 was MINI #52, victim of a radiator failure from picking up debris on the track, finishing 5th.
Overall victory in the Conti and in GS was taken by Aurora Straus’ old team, RS1, and their #28 Porsche pole sitter driven by Spencer Pumpelly and Dillon Machavern. The class victory in TCR was Tom Long’s and Britt Casey Jr.’s in one of Compass Racing’s other cars, an Audi RS3 LMS TCR. In ST, top honors went to Devin Jones and Nick Galante in BimmerWorld Racing’s #81 BMW 328i.
On to Sebring. Let’s see what happens there.
[With thanks to Dave Newman, who provided details on the outcome for the MINIs, and team reports.]
Scooter Gable’s MG TC at the Historics, which took place November 30-December 3.
Photo by Colin Sword
History at Sebring...
and Sebring Historics
by Reggie Smith
Special to the Marque
SEBRING, Fla. — To appreciate the Historics, you have to know the history.
One unpredictable feature of post-World War II days in the USA was the popularity of a new crop of automobiles brought from overseas — sports cars.
Before long, XK120 Jaguars and other mostly English cars joined the MGs that had come over first. The setting lent itself to social exchanges and little events their owners called races, which were fun to drive in and pretty amusing to watch. The MGs had little more than bicycle wheels and tires, nearly adequate brakes, and pretty much open-air cockpits. The Jags, Healey variants and Cadillac-engined Allards added flavor, and racing started to grow.
A charming village in New York, Watkins Glen, became the site for some of this racing, and the laps going through the town, the countryside and even over a railway crossing gave the sport a more definitive title — “road racing.”
Two gentlemen from quite different backgrounds helped the early events along, and in pretty short order, with some marvelous competitors, started thinking like many pioneers in history: “bigger” and “better.” Even though the early heart of interest and participation was in the New England area, conversations developed with two brothers who seemed to know quite a bit about Florida.
The two men were Alec Ulmann, a Russian-born aeronautical engineer and MIT grad whose work had him looking for sites to store surplus WWII aircraft, and Reginald Smith, from the Midlands in the UK and ex-British army, who worked for Dunlop and now lived on this side of the pond. The brothers were, as you may have guessed, the Colliers. All were avid racing enthusiasts.
They looked at Hendricks Field, a wartime Air Force training facility in the middle of Florida, and with fairly modest (primitive) arrangements targeted the site for a new variation of the sport, endurance racing.
Oh, yes — the little town nearby was called Sebring.
Nearly seventy years ago, a six-hour endurance race was held starting on New Year’s Eve, and a year and three months later the first “Florida International 12 Hour Grand Prix of Endurance” was held. From then on, “racing at Sebring” has been an achievement that several thousand drivers from the USA and all over the world have considered as a major highlight of their careers.
Through decades of brilliant and sometimes sad events, the 12-hour traditional race continues as part of IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but a popular new variation called the Sebring Historics and Sebring Classic 12 Hour brings the older cars back to the track for some great vintage racing. The event attracts dozens of cars and drivers for a segmented schedule of sprint races and four runs with combined results totaling 12 hours.
The most recent Historics — November 29th through December 3rd last year — had many English cars scattered about, and one that attracted smiles and attention was a 1949 MG TC that has been in Scooter Gable’s family since August 1969. The MG has a Judson supercharger with a single SU carb feeding its 1500cc engine. You might know that the TC originally had a 1250cc engine, but the class regulations through the little car’s racing days allowed it to upgrade to the 1500cc displacement that was optional in the mid-’50s TF cars.
The TC’s right-hand drive and rear-hinged doors plus a very upright driver-seat position sort of had more in common with a horse-and-buggy arrangement than anything else, but the point is it only had to race against other cars just like it, so everything was fine just the way it was! This TC did not race this weekend, however.
Brad Hoyt’s Lotus 23b won its class in the third of three races.
Photo by Colin Sword
A few steps down the runway paddock quickly advanced us to the early 1960s, when Colin Chapman’s Lotus Car Company introduced the Lotus 23.
Lotus had already built a very strong mid-engine sports racing car called the 19, which used a very powerful Formula One-type engine, but the 23 was a small, light and more affordable product. It incorporated a 1600cc twin cam Ford unit that, up to the cylinder head, could be found in little family sedans called Anglias and a slightly larger car called the Cortina. While Chapman’s use of the twin cam kept the cost down, with Jim Clark driving the car absolutely dominated the German championship race on the famous Nürburgring.
With only about 1100 lbs. and just over 180hp on tap in his car, Lotus 23b owner Brad Hoyt was clean and fast at Sebring, and proved a recent victory in Savannah, Ga., was not a fluke!
Probably the most famous endorsement of Jaguar’s E-type came when Enzo Ferrari said it was the most beautiful car in the world. Even if he didn’t say that, it obviously is. The E-type was a road-going development of the famous D-type, which was a tremendously successful endurance race competitor.
Larry Ligas’ stunning blue E-type continues to show exceptional development for the specialized world of HSR competition. The engine produces nearly twice the power of the original 3.4-litre D-type, and the very up-to-date suspension and smooth bodywork take things as far as anyone could imagine. At Daytona the car actually hits 170mph, which is about as fast as the D-types ever went — and the brakes and suspension allow it to be competitive in current racing whereas the D-types were purpose-built for long-distance endurance racing and had to select courses that did not put a premium on handling.
A quick outline of the car might be interesting: steel tub, aluminum doors, aluminum trunk lid, aluminum cowel and toneau, 4.2-litre engine, dual ignition set-up (12 spark plugs), three twin-choke Webers, 428bhp, triple disc clutch, dry sump 10-quart oil system, 6800rpm shift point, Jerico 4-speed transmission, Brembo front brakes, Girling rear brakes, and rear bump steer zero.
All of us tend to smile when we see an original Austin- Healey Sprite, which is affectionately known as Bugeye in this country or Frogeye in England. When Albert Carr, Jr., climbs out of this little car he manages to have a smile just as big as the Sprite.
This car features a slightly upgraded BMC A Series engine, disc brakes, and a bit of streamlining over the passenger’s side. Some people might recognize the car and will remember that its former owner knew all the words and music from the popular group AC/DC. (He should, he’s Brian Johnson. Maybe it’s fitting, too, that in close inspection the Sprite now uses a negative ground alternator instead of the original positive ground generator!)
Running in the Classic 12 Hour was the Jim Cullen Lola T70.
Photo by Colin Sword
Jim Cullen wanted to make sure the trip from California was worthwhile, so he brought three cars — a 997 Porsche Cup car, a 914-6 GT, and a pretty serious Lola T70 Mark IIIB. The Lola uses a massive Chevrolet V8 and was very competitive in the Sprint races this weekend until it had a delay in one of the segments of the 12 Hour Classic contest.
The Lola T70s were very popular in the late ’60s and well into the ’70s for two reasons. First, they were fast, and second, they were strong. One of the more notable and memorable results was when the 24-hour Daytona race was won by Roger Penske’s car, which was driven at the time by Mark Donahue.
Owner/driver Georg Nolte drove a very interesting Ford GT40 replica, which has been approved on a one-and-only-one basis by owners of the original car (or cars in Mr. Nolte’s case). Being an authentic true copy, it does anything an original GT40 can do without the substantial risk of a value-damaging accident or even total loss. His preparation manager and crew chief Michael Leib explained that this particular car is nut-and-bolt accurate, but has the roof panel over the driver’s seat removed for clearance of the rather Gurney-size driver. (Such an arrangement would not be acceptable on an original car in some of the FIA-sanctioned European events.)
The car has a correct specification V8 engine, and brings back memories of the original car’s exhaust note, which resulted from a careful blending of header tubes and collector mixing. The lack of sharp report could well have contributed to the longevity of some of those engines because certain vibration frequencies can cause premature metal fatigue.
The pictured car ran on period-style treaded tires, which of course did not give the confidence in cornering speed of current slicks, but is a tribute the authenticity of the copy. The 4.7-engine actually features Gurney heads and ZF transaxle.
B16 and B26 Chevrons
Two fantastic Chevrons were on display that both achieved international success during their young lives in racing. Chevron’s founder Derek Bennett probably attracted customers to both of these cars through clean engineering and particularly outstanding body designs. Over time, the allowed weight and power output in various race classes have obviously kept performance potential in a similar bracket for all entries, but the Chevrons showed forward thinking by considering the importance of air management relative to handling and speed.
The B16 was a tubular chassis design and used a Cosworth four-cylinder 1800cc engine. The B26 advanced to a BDG Cosworth 2-litre, but under the skin used a full monocoque chassis. The B26 also had a rather pronounced body design that enhanced performance through downforce, particularly noticeable with the larger spoiler — which not only helped straight-line speed but also stabilized cornering speed. This could be thought of as the beginning of the serious science of aerodynamics since the management and utilization of air as it goes over and under racing cars today probably has done more for lap times than any other design development.
Ironically, Derek Bennett died in a hand-glider accident.
Gray Gregory owns both of the Chevrons and is following his father’s interest and participation in vintage racing. With suitable personal training through Skip Barber’s programs he now drives the B26 in a very strong and correct fashion.
In the paddock with the two Chevrons. Number 26, in the background, shared the Classic 12 Hour podium with another Chevron not pictured.
Photo by Colin Sword
How they fared
It is curious that although many people can tell you what car and driver combination finished 1st overall through the years, almost nobody will know who finished 2nd or 3rd. However, if you were in one of those races with multiple classes sharing the track and came away winning your own little class, you would probably even remember what you had for lunch that day no matter how you finished overall. Big races are actually composed of many small races at the same time.
Case in point: Brad Hoyt in his Lotus 23b. In Group 2 in the Historics, he was 3rd overall in the first race, 9th overall in the second, and 2nd overall in the third — but placed 2nd in his class, VSR2, in the first two races, and won the class in the third.
Similarly, Larry Ligas in his Jaguar E-type. Running in the Historics in Group 5, he was 8th overall in the first race and 4th overall in the second, but won his class, MP1, both times. He did not race in the third.
And we must tip our helmets, too, to Albert Carr, who also ran two of the three races in the Historics, but in Group 2. In the first he made 23rd overall and in the second 22nd overall with his Bugeye, but each time he topped his class, VP5. (Unlike Hoyt and Ligas, however, he was the only one in his class — but class victory is class victory.)
Moving to the Classic 12 Hour, multi-tasker Jim Cullen and co-driver Frank Beck took their Lola T70 to 18th overall and 6th in class in Group A, Class A-1. Also in that group and class was Georg Nolte with his GT40, placing 21st overall and 7th in class.
Gray Gregory, co-driving with Randy Buck and Ian MacAllister, made 4th overall and placed 2nd in class in Group B, Class B-8, in the Chevron B26. Interestingly, his race was won by another Chevron, that one a B23 piloted by Ryan Harrold, John Harrold and Kevin Wheeler.
[Results are courtesy of the Historic Sportscar Racing website. Thank you, HSR.
Reggie Smith lives in Sebring, is a former professional racecar driver, and is a frequent contributor to this publication. And yes, Reginald Smith was his dad, so he knows quite a bit about Sebring’s history.]
Detailing the 1926 Bentley Open Tourer that eventually won Best of Show.
Photo by Brian McMahon
British Invasion Topped 600--Again!
by Michael F. Gaetano, Event Organizer
[Exec. Ed. note: This story is about the 2017 edition of the British Invasion of Stowe, arguably the biggest event of its kind in the USA, and something wonderful to look back on as we greet the new year! —BV]
STOWE, Vt., Sept. 15-17 — Year 27, “The Tradition Continues!”
It is hard to realize that twenty-seven years have come and gone since the concept of creating a “British Invasion” — a car show and celebration of the British lifestyle — was first discussed over a pint of English ale in a pub in Stowe. But they have, and the Invasion has grown to over 600 British motorcars, finding their way to this rustic Vermont village of Stowe every year.
If you visit the British Invasion website (www.britishinvasion.com), which contains a complete listing of all our weekend winners including their hometowns, you may be surprised to see where some of them reside when not in Stowe for the British Invasion.
This year saw the largest attendance by the general public and by our own registrants for the Friday evening Main Street block party in downtown Stowe. Main Street was awash with British motorcars and their owners as they gathered to listen and dance to the Jerry Leone Chop Shop Band.
2017 brought the warmest weather yet for the British Invasion. Our ice cream vendor reported brisk sales, as did those vendors selling water.
As the largest all-British motorcar show in the Eastern United States, we managed to field 610 British motorcars on Saturday. The British Classic Motorcar Show (People’s Choice) is where the vast majority of our entrants were located. We had 65 separate classes and we awarded 150 awards to class winners.
Our Best of Show award went to Bill Johnson and his grandchildren of Wakefield, R.I., and their 1926 Bentley Open Tourer.
The Concours d’Elegance, our Judged Competition, challenged owners not only to compete against other entrants, but also against a Code of Excellence that set the minimum score required to be awarded 3rd, 2nd, or 1st place.
This year, the Best of Concours Award went to Jim and Kathy Whalen of Loudonville, N.Y., and their 1967 Austin-Healey BJ8 Roadster. First place in the Preservation Class went to Ann Sullivan from Stowe, Vt., and another Austin-Healey, hers a 1960 3000 Roadster.
This Austin-Healey was Best of Concours.
Photo by Bob Doyle
Special Awards in Concours included the Chairman’s Award, which was presented to Jim Macri of High Meadows Farm in Vermont for his collection of Land Rovers. Another Special Award in Concours was the British Motorcar Enthusiast Award for Life Achievement with British Motorcars, which was awarded to John Magee of Warren, R.I.
The American Cancer Society, who managed general admission parking, raised a respectable amount of money for their cause during the Invasion weekend.
Sunday started with our largest following of British motorcars for the annual Notch Run. I believe we attracted 38 vehicles that followed along behind my ’47 Bentley as we climbed over Smuggler’s Notch and managed a 70-minute rural Vermont morning run. Meanwhile, back at the show field, entrants were setting up for the Competition of Colors and also for the Tailgate Picnic Competition.
We owe a special debt of gratitude to the more than 30 volunteers who made the British Invasion the success it was, helping with field layout, show car parking, registration, regalia sales, general admission, Concours judging, ballot collection and counting, the awards program, the Queen’s Court, and then the breaking-down of the show field and packing up.
To all who attended and helped to make British Invasion XXVII another memorable weekend in scenic Stowe, thank you. We wish you many miles of carefree and enjoyable touring in your British classic.
See you next year, first for the British Motorcar Festival June 8-11, 2018, at Colt State Park in Bristol, R.I., and then for British Invasion XXVIII in September!
Roger Sieling, #45 Lotus Type 22, as seen at the Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
Photo by Arielle Rosner
Junior at the Reunion
by Jon Rosner
SALINAS, Calif. — The 2017 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion this past August promised to be a great one, honoring 60 years of racing at Laguna Seca, 60 years of Formula Junior and — by the way — the 70th anniversary of Ferrari. And while few of the people who raced at this track in its first decade were expected, many of their cars were there.
Amongst the most fiercely competitive groups during the weekend of vintage racing were the Formula Juniors. They are now divided into two classes, 1958-1960 front- engine/drum-braked cars and 1961-1963 rear-engine/disc-braked cars. And what a mighty swarm each group presented.
FJ cars from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and from across United States and Canada made up the bulk. Challengers drove marques well-known to open-wheel racing fans, and perhaps some not so well-known: Alexis, Alfa, Bandini, BMC, Cooper, Elfin, Gemini, Huffaker, Jocko, Lola, Lotus, Kieft, Stanguellini and U2.
The cars were rather evenly matched, so it was fun to watch the cars tighten up into packs, and then catch someone breaking away and zooming out on sheer guts! There simply wasn’t a spot on the track lacking something exciting happening, and that was consistent with all the groups racing that weekend.
The aroma of hot oil, unburned fuels and burnt rubber and the staccato beat of dozens of exhausts simply poured over the fans pasted to the fences. Intensity, determination and ear-to-ear grins all were in view as the racers entered the hot pits, zoomed off and poured their souls into it, careening from corner to corner in astounding harmony — compared to the dent, bash and bang days of when these cars were first competing.
Honors were given to those early days, including a tribute to the late Pete Lovely, who won the November 9, 1957 race at Laguna in a Ferrari. A brief closing ceremony highlighted what made this track in its 60-year history one of the most challenging and significant racing facilities in the world.
Also there were a lot of wonderful photos on display, recalling Laguna’s past — such as Roger Penske and Walt Hansgen’s bet to Augie Pabst that he wouldn’t drive his Hertz rental car into the pool at the Mark Hopkins. He did it, and the next year the drivers were greeted with a sign floating in the pool that read, “No Parking.”
There was a photo of a tail-out Jimmy Clark driving the Arciero Brothers Lotus 19 in 1963. A broken oil cooler stopped him after he’d completed 31 laps. Another photo had Emerson Fittipaldi chatting with one P. L. Newman, whose team would win the 1993 CART Championship. Then there were the tremendous photos of young racers in cars and on motorcycles flying through Laguna’s infamous Corkscrew.
While taking this all in, this writer ran into a gentleman named Roger Sieling. The last time Roger was in Monterey was way back in 1995, when he was attending a Lotus convention that was part of the Historic Races that year. The temptation to race his Lotus Type 22 one day at Laguna must have proved irresistible, because he came out from his home in Columbus, Ohio, to be part of the 60th anniversary FJ race this year at the Reunion.
Roger (left) shares some stories with Jon.
Photo by Arielle Rosner
Roger and his son Brent did a marathon drive with stops in New Mexico through the Petrified Forest, out to California and the majestic Sequoias (“The first true ‘old growth’ forest that I have visited,” he told me), and then over to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, four days of traveling at about 600 miles a day.
“I love seeing the people, reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in years,” Roger said, “but it is intimidating. I expect that most of the other cars will be faster than I am. It’s a matter of experience [at the track.]”
After the requisite tuning and adjustments, Roger’s Lotus 22 bucked to life at 3:23 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The engine whipped into a rapid staccato beat, settling into a deep thrum.
Into the hot pits, where dozens of other hands were patiently waiting with a light touch on the wheel. The whistle shrilled, slicing the tension — the five-minute warning. More than twenty Formula Juniors punched small holes in the air, spinning up and easing down in a tilted symphony, waiting to be flagged off.
And then the swarm exited the hive. A tense batch cleared Turn 1 with a clean parade into Turn 2. Waaaa, whop, whop, whop as speed increased into braking for Turn 3. Bunching up out of the fast radius, a few slides out of Turn 4, pushing to carry speed through Turn 5 and hold onto the banking. Without huge reserves of power, every ounce of speed mattered.
Several Juniors jiggled at the dip in the apex and were passed before hitting the blind crest short of the elevator ride down the Corkscrew. Caution at the drop, holding speed, flying through Turn 9, braking harder, the scent of hot brakes through Turn 10. Easing into Turn 11, avoiding getting squirrelly, and flooring it into the long straight.
Skills, practice and tuning to the nth degree brought to the fore by aggressive driving meant that the there was more than a slight chance that a millisecond’s decision would be costly. Roger made an incremental and smooth progression. Twenty minutes simply flew by, leading a few, passing a few, being passed by a few.
Back in the pits his face told the story: I could have done better. A father-and-son effort stands little chance against drivers half the age, with cubic money supporting a healthy crew size and parts bin — not to mention one-race grenade engines and hours of experience at the track. But this is the Reunion, and as Roger said, it’s about challenging yourself, seeing old friends, and making it work on a shoestring. Final position doesn’t matter as much as being a part.
The blitz home would include Big Sur, dipping a toe in the Pacific (for the first time for Brent), solitude stops at Zion and Bryce Canyon and then winging it back to Ohio.
Were Roger and Brent glad they came? As the dust settled the story was the same for them as for most of the other participants.
When one looks back the difficulties and challenges slip into perspective. The “wow, was that fun” seeps in and solidifies. Driver, crew or fan, just ask, will you be back? The answer from Roger is a universal “I expect so.”
It’s the satisfaction. That’s the essence of what makes the Reunion so special for so many people.