At Falls Village, Lakeville residents Rob and Barbara Bettigole displayed a fabric-bodied 1928 Lagonda.
Photo by Bruce Vild
An Excellent Vintage
Lime Rock’s 35th Historic Festival Was Fun, Even When It Rained
by Bruce Vild
LAKEVILLE, Conn., Aug. 31-Sept. 4 — Hard to believe this weekend was Lime Rock’s 35th Historic (née Vintage) Festival, and interesting to see Murray Smith and his merry band trying something new – an auto auction, courtesy of Bridgeport-based Dragone Classic Motorcars, that wound up taking up most of a very rainy Sunday. At least Friday and Saturday were nice enough to allow everyone strolling along the midway to see what was being offered under two large tents.
Also new was Mr. Smith having to go around car to car in a golf cart to award the Concours trophies on Sunday, trying to read names from a drenched list of entries while under an umbrella. No reviewing stand with drive-by this year with the rain, but a surprising number of cars showed up in the Concours anyway. It was worth it to don the proper gear and take a smaller camera along that could be tucked into a pocket and shielded from the downpour.
New things notwithstanding, the main reason people come to the Festival is the three days of vintage racing, and fan access to racers and crew between races. Now we’re talking tradition. A display from this year’s Honored Collector, Bruce Meyers, took pride of place in the A Paddock, and a huge assortment of parts, cars and automobilia was to be found in the B, as it is every year.
A racecar and classic car parade kicked off the weekend on Thursday afternoon. The numbers seemed to this writer to be down a bit from last year, but that just could have been because of the way the cars were marshaled on the track prior to departure and parked on arrival in the town square in Falls Village. Michael Kaleel, who has raced a Jaguar XK120, a Lotus 7 and (most recently) a Lola Mk1 at the Historic Festival, was kind enough to offer me the passenger seat in his Jag for the ride through town. I really enjoyed chatting with him over the glorious thrum of that race-tuned straight-six (thanks, Mike).
Included in the parade was a prewar Bentley driven by Bruce Meyers. Sadly, I wasn’t able to catch up with him in Falls Village, but I did have a very interesting chat with Rob Bettigole, a local gentleman, and his wife Barbara, who brought a lovely Lagonda to the festivities of approximately the same vintage as Meyers’ Bentley (1928). I learned a lot about the car (a 2 Litre “High Chassis Speed” model, with a fabric – “leather cloth” – body stretched over an ash frame), also about the marque. For example, did you know that “Lagonda” is a Shawnee Indian word and that the company’s founder was an American ex-pat, Wilbur Gunn, who hailed from Springfield, Ohio, and originally sold machine parts? Neither did I.
And there was a Bentley connection. W. O. Bentley, following his ouster from the company that bore his name, began tuning Lagondas to compete at Le Mans. (It’s been said that David Brown, of Aston Martin fame, acquired Lagonda after the war to get Bentley’s engine.) The Lagonda had already established itself as the transport of doctors, lawyers and professional people, as opposed to the Bentley’s appeal to the landed gentry’s playboys. That’s interesting to contemplate in 2017, with the modern Lagonda Rapide and the Bentley Continental GT each having their own niches.
As to the Bettigoles’ car, it was open, with body flex avoided by using the fabric-over-ash tub. Rob started the Lagonda with a one-quarter turn of the crank handle and it just purred — very impressive for a car nearly 90 years old. Rob and Barbara have owned the car for 18 years, and are only the third owners. A passer-by asked them if it was in as good a condition as it is now when they bought it, and they replied, “No, it was better.” I grinned. That’s because they’re not shy about driving the car.
David Snetro and his ‘deseamed’ Austin-Healey 100. A Corvette engine lurks therein.
Photo by Bruce Vild
A stroll around the town commons revealed other cars with fascinating stories. One in particular was an Austin-Healey 100, which I first viewed from the back. It seemed oddly sculptured, but beautiful — lower in the haunches than a stock Healey, with a single taillight on each side molded into the fender. In the front, the chrome-capped seam between the fenders (steel) and the bonnet (aluminum) was missing, and, again, the front end seemed sculpted, lower than stock. Plus there was a retro Ford-style “V8” chrome badge, another suggestion this was not your average Healey.
The car’s owner, David Snetro from New Haven, must have seen I was confused, because he started offering an explanation. First, it was what the Healey crowd likes to call a “Nasty Boy” — a Big Healey with a V8 engine dropped in. In this case, it was a 1970 Corvette LT1 unit, coupled to a Ford rear end and Muncie transmission. The wire wheels were also outsourced. They were Italian numbers like you would see on a Ferrari from the 1950s.
The car, David said, answers the question, “What would Carroll Shelby have done if he had gotten his hands on a Healey instead of an AC?” I don’t think Shelby would have objected.
The sculpted body eliminated fender welds, substituting fiberglass so that the two dissimilar metals could be “joined,” with the glassed-in areas repainted and blended in to bonnet and fender. Very clever, and beautiful, and unique.
There were plenty of other British cars in Falls Village, of course, and the date requirement for participation assured that cars up through the 1960s were included. So, you could view TR6s, MGBs, a couple of Lotus Elans and a Jaguar or two, and chances are run into a few friends as well.
If you were a spectator in Falls Village and felt bereft because you sold a British car “just like that one” back in the 1970s, you had an opportunity, thanks to the Dragone auction people, to buy back your lost innocence. They had a pull-handle MGB and an Austin-Healey 3000 on offer, plus your choice of Jag (XK120 or E-type OTS) or a prewar Bentley saloon. If you had your bidding paddle on Sunday, you were all set.
The racing started Friday, with two practice/qualifying sessions for each of the nine groups competing this weekend. A racer’s best run would determine his or her place on the grid. Among the drivers there were a couple of “ringers,” and both of them were British. Go figure. Namely, they were Honored Guests Ray Mallock, racing a 1960 U2 Mk2 FJ in the front-engined Formula Junior group, and Richard Attwood, in a 1966 Ford GT40, picking off the MGBs, Morgan Plus 4s, Porsche 911s and 914s, and Triumph Spitfires. (Oops, not so much one of the Spitfires. Read on.)
Ross Bremer’s Ford Anglia was back at Lime Rock after 21 years.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Returning after a year’s hiatus was Dave Reid in his signature #57 Mini Cooper. Also on the track were other people familiar to British Marque readers: Ernie Staubesand (Lotus Super 7), James Juhas (MGA), Ross Bremer (English Ford), Dave Nicholas (MGA), Stu Forer (Turner), Kent Bain (Triumph Spitfire) and the aforementioned Mike Kaleel (Lola Mk1).
The “real” competition began Saturday morning, with two races. Following the no-Sunday-racing rule, it would pick up again on Monday, Labor Day, with another two races, giving the drivers four chances on the track.
During a five-day weekend, it’s pretty chancy that all five days will be ideal. Plan on rain for at least one of them. As it turned out, the four racing days were pretty good: cold in the morning but warming sure enough, cloudy to partly cloudly, or sunny and warm. The morning chill meant the track was cold and grip wasn’t optimal, but that sure beat puddles and races shortened because drivers were having a hard time seeing through the rain.
The weekend brought out some interesting cars, but then that’s always the case at the Historics. You could get a real education on Lotus cars, because they were here in almost every shape they came. Elvas, too, from Formula Juniors front- or rear-engined to the roaring Mk7S and the MGB-engined Courier in between. The Ginettas were out in force as well.
One of this writer’s personal favorites last year was Ross Bremer’s ex-Paul Newman Ford Escort (the European model, not the Dodge Omni clone sold over here). Ross did not disappoint this year. He brought a 1966 Ford Anglia Super, modified to the extent the SVRA will allow to compete in his favorite class including a 1300cc engine. Having had this fun with it in the late ’60s, Ross retired the car — then, in 1991 when he “discovered” vintage racing, he restored it and took it racing.
The engine-size maximum has always been a bit of a handicap as the car is relatively heavy because of its all-steel construction. Competition bits such as fender flares were never made, limiting options for tires. However, the car is sturdy, as Ross well knows because he flipped it twice in the 1990s — once because there was a gasoline slick on the track, and once because the rear axle broke, jammed the wheel underneath and (in Ross’ words) caused the car to “pole vault”!
This year it was back at Lime Rock, having last campaigned here in 1996. It was placed in Group 3 with Datsun 240Zs, Volvo 122s, Alfas, Cortinas and a Lancia Fulvia Coupe, made all four races, and was finishing in the middle of the pack by Monday.
David Gussack’s #88 Triumph Spitfire being chased by Richard Attwood’s #11 Ford GT40 going into the Downhill. Both cars traded the lead in all four races — was ‘Honored Guest’ Attwood holding back, or was Gussack just nimbler on Lime Rock’s many curves?
Photo by Bill Richardson
British cars generally did well against their contemporaries from Italy, Japan and Germany. Their poorest showing was in Group 3, but is it really fair to pit four-cylinder cars against six-cylinder machines boasting 2800cc or more? Maybe, but only if you have some hotshoe Minis in the mix that can take them in the corners, such as Dave Reid’s #57 Cooper S.
It turned out that Dave was having trouble with his gearbox and a motor mount all weekend and, despite finishes as high as 4th place during practice and within the top 10 during Saturday’s races, had to retire after completing only two laps in the first session on Monday.
It was amusing watching the David-and-Goliath dicing between Richard Attwood and David Gussack in Group 9. Gussack was at the wheel of a Triumph Spitfire, pretty much evenly matched against most of the other cars except Attwood’s — that GT40. Attwood qualified on top, but during the actual races both cars posted best lap times within hundredths of a second of each other. Often it seemed Attwood just couldn’t get around Gussack. These two very different cars wound up splitting the results, each winning two of their four races.
Lime Rock once again provided something for everyone, race-wise. Across the nine racing groups were everything from prewar MGs to late-’60s Mustangs and Camaros, and from Formula Juniors to Chevron and Abarth Sports Racers. The tin-tops in Group 3 were a hoot to watch, and it was great to see cars like ours — Triumphs, Healeys, MGs, Jaguars — going lap after lap against each other in Group 1, just as they did back in the day. It also brought a smile to this British car enthusiast’s face to see Donovan Motorsports’ two E-types constantly challenging the dominance of the Porsche 911s in Group 5. Jack Busch in the #61 Jag was a standout — he placed 2nd in three of his four races, and won the other!
Sunday in the Park
While Mother Nature was kind to the racers with cloudy but pleasant days, Sunday in the Park was another story. The rain started the night before and hung in all day. Many of the trailer queens in the Concours were understandably no-shows, and club participation in the Gathering of the Marques was way down.
Mike Virr (center) talks about his very neat, very wet Riley Ulster Imp.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Still, it was obligatory to do the walk around the track just to see what was out there. I started as I typically do, at the Concours, which is always organized around Lime Rock’s start/finish line, and headed toward the pedestrian bridge just before Big Bend.
I noticed the awards tents were set up, but today they were just providing shelter for the crew from the rain (which, mercifully, was not accompanied by high winds that would have blown the tents away). I saw Skip Barber sitting snugly in his black Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, poring over some paperwork as drops of water dripped off the fins. Rain or shine, the show must go on.
And it did. Among the British cars present and accounted for were a 1971 Marcos GT, a 1953 Jaguar C-type, a 1979 Aston V8, a couple of Series I E-types, and two racecars, Simon Kirkby’s 1963 Hillman Imp and David Porter’s 1965 Ford Cortina.
And, totally open to the elements, there was Mike Virr’s 1934 Riley Ulster Imp. Unlike many of the Concours exhibitors, Mike was hanging around the car (along with a lot of other people), answering questions and entertaining passers-by with tales of his adventures with it.
Mike told me, as we chatted under our umbrellas, that he acquired the car in Rhode Island. “Barn find” would be a charitable description. From the cowl back, the car needed a complete restoration — and much of it was carried out by Mike himself in his well-equipped workshop, complete with English wheel. It was a process that took many years, and it’s unfortunate that it couldn’t be shown today in sunshine and really appreciated. But good for Mike that he brought it anyway.
Of course, not all the cool cars in Concours were British. The silver Tatra V8 we’ve seen before was there, and so was a Simca (not Fiat) Topolino that was also seen tooling around B Paddock. Orrie Simko, of Simko Motorcars (specializing in “historic vehicle sales, consignment and consulting,” according to his business card), displayed the car with a grin.
Photo by Bruce Vild
One of the more unusual cars in the Concours was a Mazda Cosmo Sport, one of the first production cars to use a rotary engine. The nose of the car bears more than a passing resemblance to Britain’s Marcos, which should not be surprising as the cars were contemporaries. The styling is striking, but certainly not to everybody’s taste — like the Marcos.
If you wanted a break from racing or the Concours over the course of the weekend, you could always visit the vendors on the midway, but the more interesting ones (I think, anyway) were in B Paddock. That’s where the parts guys were, providing a bit of convenience to the racers with whom they shared the space. It seemed the majority of the parts on offer were for British cars, but that was a good thing as there were British cars running in all the race groups. I hope the track will continue to treat these guys well as they do provide a service to the racers in case of an emergency.
And Bert (“BS”) Levy was on hand as always, just outside the Lime Rock store, ready to sell and autograph one of his books and chat with his many fans.
All of this made it sad to leave late Monday afternoon after the last checkered flag waved. Not all the cars made it to the end, but happily most did. My fondest memory, though, is of all the people who put their cars in the Concours in spite of the rain. They may have done it just for the awards, but I think they did it so the fans who paid for a full weekend wouldn’t be disappointed.
In the absence of British-powered Prototypes, it was good to see the UK represented in the WTSCC race by TRG-AMR’s V12 Vantage, number 007.
Photo by Jon Gardner
Lime Rock’s Grand Prix
007 returns to the track, McLarens tune in,
MINIs start at the back
by Bruce Vild
LAKEVILLE, Conn., July 21-22 — The IMSA race series are continuing their run around the country, and this weekend it was Lime Rock’s turn — though with only part of the usual line-up: the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, what this writer has called “the main event,” was running the two GT classes, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona, and no Prototypes.
That meant there were no Gibson- or AER-powered machines for Marque readers to root for, but there was a pleasant surprise in GTD: the entry of TRG-AMR, bringing their venerable #007 Aston Martin Vantage and talented drivers James Davison and Brandon Davis. Whether their presence in the WTSCC would be for Lime Rock and its Northeast Grand Prix only was not revealed in the pre-event press release.
TRG-AMR would be present in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge as well (in the Grand Sport class with car #3), with veteran drivers Craig Lyons and Kris Wilson — as they have been throughout the season, and are expected to be till its closing in October at Road Atlanta.
Lime Rock Park, at 1.5 miles in length, is the shortest circuit IMSA runs. The weekend’s schedule seemed short, too, with two practice sessions and qualifying for both the Conti and the WTSCC race taking place on Friday, and, given Lakeville’s no-Sunday-racing rule, all the races over on Saturday.
The action started mid-morning on Friday with the Conti’s first practice session. The cars the Marque would be following in GS, besides #3, were three McLarens (#69 from Motorsports in Action and #76 and #79 from C360R), the #99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin, and, in the Street Tuner class, the three MINI JCW Team cars, #37, #52 and #73.
It shook out as follows: among the McLarens, #76, driven by Paul Holton and Matt Plumb, finished best, in 2nd place behind a Camaro. Number 69 was 8th, piloted by Jesse Lazare and Chris Green, and #77 13th, at the hands of Mathew Keegan and Nico Rondet. Lyons and Wilson in Aston #3 held their own behind three Porsche Caymans, finishing 6th. The other Aston, #99, with Rob Ecklin and Charles Espenlaub on board, came 12th.
The Conti field numbered 31 cars, and, as expected, GS cars took the top 13 positions. For them, their overall finish was also their class finish. The smaller, lighter STs brought up the rear, with the top-finishing MINI being #37, run by Mike LaMarra and James Vance, at 25th overall and 12th in class.
The WTSCC cars took to the track shortly after noon for their first practice. Double-oh-seven seemed to be taking its time, with Brandon Davis doing the first stint, keeping the car at the back of the field before handing off to Davison. Lap times kept improving, with Davison managing better times than some of his GTD cohorts, but ending in next-to-last place.
Practice #2 for the Conti had the McLarens in 4th overall (#76, behind three Porsches), 6th (#69) and 10th (#77). The Astons finished one behind the other, in 11th (#99) and 12th (#3). Jones and Pombo in the #73 MINI finished 3rd in class, behind a Mazda MX-5 and a Nissan Altima, and 16th overall. Nate Norenberg and Mark Pombo brought #52 to 8th in class and 21st overall, but the LaMarra and Vance only managed 15th in class and 28th overall.
The second WTSCC practice saw a great improvement for #007, with the team advancing to 4th in class and 12th overall, just behind erstwhile teammate Christina Nielsen in her Ferrari.
MINI JCW Team owner Luis Pericarpi (right) on the grid after learning two of his cars had to start from the back.
Photo by Bruce Vild
There were two separate qualifying sessions for the Conti, with the ST cars out first. Mazdas grabbed the top three positions, while Derek Jones qualified MINI #73 5th in class, LaMarra took #37 to 9th, and Norenberg took #52 to 11th. In GS, the McLarens were 5th (#76), 6th (#69) and 10th (#68), with the Astons, #99 and #3, behind them in 11th and 13th.
In WTSCC there were two qualifying sessions as well. In GTD, #007 made 9th after running as high as 5th, with Nielsen again placing just above them in 8th. Interestingly, it wasn’t her former co-driver, James Davison, who did the qualifying for TRG-AMR, but his partner, Brandon Davis. Davison has an excellent record grabbing the pole for TRG-AMR in #007, having done it no fewer than four times in IMSA’s 2014-15 Tudor series.
Qualifying times from top to bottom suggested this race — actually, both races — could be anybody’s. Only 3.59 seconds separated the GTLM pole (50.404), taken by a Porsche, and the lowest-placed contestant in GTD (53.998), an Audi. It was about 6 seconds in the Conti, but in ST only 3.4 seconds and in GS less than 2!
The Lime Rock Park 120
The large Conti field can complicate things on as short a track as Lime Rock, with the slower ST cars being lapped quickly by the GS machines and traffic starting to bunch up as the race progresses. There is bound to be contact, and today was no exception.
From the start, things did not go well for the MINIs. Number 73 and #37 had to start at the back of the grid after failing post-qualifying inspection due to a tire infraction. Someone had apparently mislabeled the rubber on both cars, confusing one for the other. This, of course, made the team’s struggle harder, but based on past performance in this series, they were still very much in the hunt.
Jones’ luck did not improve much. Within the first half-hour of the race he made contact with a Porsche after hitting some curbing at high speed, but escaped without a penalty. At about the 40-minute mark, he was sent off-course and into a crash barrier by teammate Norenberg in #52, who had been bumped by another car. Fortunately, however, he rejoined the race almost instantly, albeit losing a few positions, obviating a caution flag and being praised by one of the track commentators as “being made of sterner stuff.”
Norenberg, who also fell in the field from the incident, and Jones fought their way back, running 10th and 11th in class, then 9th and 10th. The third MINI, #37 with LaMarra at the wheel, was 12th. These latest positions were 20th, 21st and 23rd overall.
At this point, the #69 and #68 McLarens, which had worked their way up to 2nd and 3rd, began falling behind. Lazare’s #69 car was only firing on seven cylinders, but his team decided to tough it out as best they could.
Fifty-five minutes into the race, the #3 Aston went into the Armco, Lyons losing it while trying to avoid a slowed car coming out of a curve. It continued on its own power (again, no yellow) to the pits, where the crew got out the tape and secured trim around the driver’s side headlight before sending #3 (with Wilson) out again, but about five laps down.
The #69 McLaren finished its race down a cylinder.
Photo by Jon Gardner
As ST cars pitted for tires and driver changes, Norenberg found himself in the class lead in #52. He eventually pitted and Mark Pombo took over, but #52 appeared to have a tire rub issue on the left rear, even generating smoke at one point where tire and body made contact. At this point he was a lap down from the class leaders, but the tire problem seemed to cure itself and he was able to make up a few positions.
A full-course yellow came out about 15 minutes after the halfway mark when a Mazda lost power coming out of Big Bend and was unable to rejoin the race. After the race went to green, nothing much changed, except #69 had taken advantage of the caution and pitted for new tires.
But the drama was far from over. With less than 15 minutes to go in the race, the two Mazdas running 2nd and 3rd in ST had contact, the #27 car going too wide into the Uphill and turning sideways, the #34 car striking it and actually correcting its position to allow it to continue while #34 hit a tire barrier. Remarkably, no yellow flags waved as #34 limped back to the pits — so no one running behind them, including the MINIs, could take advantage and gain position.
With less than five minutes to go, the #69 McLaren was running 4th, behind a Camaro and two Porsches. Mark Pombo brought the #52 MINI to 8th in class (18th overall), the other Pombo (Mat) was in 12th (22nd overall) in #73, and Vance had #37 in 15th (26th overall). Caught in traffic behind one of the Astons, #52 lost a position to a BMW. The two Astons were running 10th and 21st overall, not having a very good day.
That’s pretty much how it ended. The Camaro — driven by a Scot, Robin Liddell — would take the checkered flag. There would be no podium for McLaren, and disappointment for Matt Plumb in car #76, a contender for the Conti championship. The Astons would be at the bottom of GS, with Espenlaub finishing 10th and Wilson coming in behind 10 ST cars. Only one MINI would be in the top 10 of ST, Pombo in #52.
The Northeast Grand Prix
The starting grid for WTSCC saw GTD cars that had qualified below 2nd-in-class advance one position, due to the 2nd-place Porsche being sent to the back of the grid for a starting driver change. Davis would now start #007 in 9th position.
The two-hour, 45-minute race began at 3:05 p.m. The bang-ups started early, with Katherine Legge and her #93 Acura responsible for two separate incidents within ten minutes of each other — one with a Lamborghini, the other with a Mercedes — prompting two drive-through penalties for her.
An accident involving a Corvette and a Ford GT (both in GTLM) then took the Corvette out of contention and moved everyone up a place overall. Other developments moved Davis’ Aston up to 6th in GTD, but still behind Nielsen’s Ferrari — and then to 5th, with Nielsen, now 4th, doggedly pursuing the 3rd-place Audi.
The Aston pitted shortly before 4 p.m. for fuel, tires and a driver change to James Davison, re-entering in 13th place. Nielsen passed the Audi and was now in 2nd place, behind pole-sitter Madison Snow in the #48 Lamborghini. She did not overtake him by the time it came to hand over the Ferrari to her teammate, Alessandro Balzan. Balzan re-entered in 10th place. Davison was holding 6th.
Double-oh-seven at the end of the race.
Photo by Bill Richardson
Davison continued to advance, and by 4:22 he was 5th in class. One by one the class leaders pitted, and soon #007 was in the lead. It was brief, though, as Davison himself pitted shortly afterward for fuel and tires. He re-entered the race down three positions but seemed to settle into a comfortable trot as if waiting for someone ahead to falter so he could make his move.
But after nearly an hour running 4th, it was the Aston that faltered. With about eight minutes to go, Davison suddenly fell three positions and stopped at the runoff at West Bend. The sole British car in the WTSCC race would finish 13th, finishing also a very disappointing day for British car fans in both the Conti and WeatherTech.
Those following Christina Nielsen’s career might have been disappointed, too, as she and Balzan were only able to bring their Ferrari home in 6th place instead of, as fans are used to, on the podium. Their season so far has kept them on top in championship points. Because their closest competitors did not fare well at Lime Rock, there they remain, so for Nielsen and Balzan it wasn’t such a bad day after all.
Postscript: Double-oh-seven was not entered in either of the two WTSCC races subsequent to the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock (to date), the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America or the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR.
[The writer consulted Lee Driggers’ Pit Notes and IMSA.com when preparing this report. Thanks, guys.]
Plenty for British car fans to root for in the Conti, including the MINI JCW Team car that won its class.
Photo by Jon Gardner
Brilliant at the Glen
by Bruce Vild
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 29-July 2 — IMSA returned to the Glen this weekend, once again bringing something for everyone. Like Lamborghinis? There’s the Trofeo. Porsches? The GT3 Cup. MINIs, McLarens and Astons? That would be the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Racing by spec? The Mazda Prototype Challenge is just your thing.
And the main event, Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen? How about fully half of the ten Prototype-class cars being powered by British engines?
Derbyshire-based Gibson Technology, back from a sterling result at Le Mans (namely having powered two of the cars on the podium), provided its Le Mans-spec V8 to three of the Prototype teams: PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, JDC-Miller Motorsports, and Visit Florida Racing. These teams are running Le Mans P2 chassis as manufactured by Ligier, Oreca and Multimatic/Riley respectively.
Mazda Motorsports’ two cars had the two other British engines, manufactured by their long-time collaborator AER. They achieved a podium step in Detroit with car #70 and the same result with car#55 in Long Beach. As readers of British Marque well know, Mazda is running two of the new-generation Daytona Prototypes, the “DPis,” similar to those of the remaining contestants in the Prototype class, Nissan and Cadillac.
If GT cars are more your speed, the Six Hours would disappoint because, unlike previous years, there were no British cars to be found in either GT class (though you could find British drivers, such as Katherine Legge, behind the wheel of an Acura, and Richard Westbrook piloting a Ford GT).
But the racing was brilliant in both the Conti and the Six Hours, keeping fans literally on the edges of their seats until the very moment the checkered flags waved. Really!
Continental Tire 120 at the Glen
McLaren, Porsche, McLaren, Porsche, McLaren, Porsche. That’s how the first practice session shook out Thursday afternoon, with the top five positions taken (as expected) by Grand Sport cars. Automatic Racing’s #99 Aston Martin, sporting a smart new silver-over-blue paintjob, came 11th.
In the same session, the #73 MINI JCW was 15th, but 1st in the Street Tuner class. Sister cars #37 and #52 came 21st (7th in class) and 32nd (18th in class) respectively. A Canadian outfit called Team Octane ran another MINI, car #47, with a slew of sponsors. Practice #1 found it coming in 35th (20th in class).
There were two more practice sessions for the Conti, and then two separate qualifying sessions for the GS and ST classes. McLarens occupied two of the top three positions at qualifying, with driver Paul Holton taking C360R’s #76 car to the pole and Jesse Lazare from Motorsports in Action grabbing 3rd. Derek Jones qualified the #73 MINI 15th, 2nd in class to a Porsche Cayman.
The very popular open grid fan walk preceding Saturday afternoon’s race offered opportunities to talk to two of the teams we’re following. First up was Al Isman of Montreal-based Team Octane, who was asked about joining the Challenge in the middle of the season. “We’re just starting, concentrating on races near home,” the young Canadian told me. “We’ll be at Mosport next week, and then Lime Rock.” Right now the team is trying to get more sponsors. Most of the companies with decals on the #47 MINI supply their parts, every bit as important as donors willing to write checks.
I also caught up with Steve Phillips, who was driving in place of Rob Ecklin who had a conflict this weekend and couldn’t make the race. Steve smiled and said that he and Ron are great friends going way back, and he was delighted to be here at Watkins Glen to stand in for him.
Derek Jones (left) and Mat Pombo in Victory Lane.
Photo by Jon Gardner
Then came the race. After two formation laps, the green flag waved with no immediate problem, as we’ve seen on occasion with so crowded a field.
Within minutes the #37 MINI came to a complete stop, but was able to restart and resume the race. A brake sensor had malfunctioned, causing the car’s computer to slow the car down to a crawl, but coming to a stop and rebooting solved the problem. Less fortunate was the #84 BMW, which limped back to the pits with the front left tire completely off the wheel. (Amazingly, there was no damage to the car as the Bimmer continued riding on the bare wheel.) There was an electrical problem with the #68 McLaren, which pitted.
Then came the rain. It had been raining on and off all day, beginning with a riotous thunderstorm in the early morning before track activities began, sunshine and sprinkles, more rain, more sun, and then, during the Conti, a lot more rain. The yellows came out as cars began spinning on the track, and teams were deliberating whether to stick with slicks (the storm would pass) or take the time to go to wets. Urban legend has it wet track conditions favor front-wheel-drive cars, and everyone would be watching the MINIs for this.
The MINIs decided to stick with their dry tires, a strategy that saved a stop in the pits. As to having an advantage on a wet track, driver Derek Jones would quip later, “When you’re hydroplaning along with everybody else, it really doesn’t matter!”
Of course, like most sporting events, the last ten minutes are the ones to watch. The #76 McLaren and a Porsche briefly traded the lead, then the McLaren grabbed it back. But with less than ten minutes to go the McLaren wound up five positions down, and the #99 Aston, which at that point had been running 2nd, was suddenly in the lead, being dogged by a Mustang. The #77 McLaren was 3rd. Then the #17 Porsche limped to the side of the track with fuel issues, prompting a full course caution with less than five minutes to go.
In ST, Mat Pombo had the lead in #73. Mark Pombo in #52 was 2nd! This was a story to follow, for so many reasons: Mat and Mark are brothers Mark is back racing full-time after recovering from a horrific accident years ago while racing for Kia and, of course, they were driving MINIs.
The race proceeded under yellow. With the clock running out, the Aston got the white flag. Then, disaster. Suddenly #99 left the track after having contact with the Mustang when its driver, Dean Martin, set himself up for a pass. The race would go to the Mustang, with the Aston finishing 7th after correcting its course and rejoining the race.
(Track officials determined later that no action was warranted against Martin for the incident, and #99’s driver, Al Carter, congratulated him on the win.)
The C360R McLarens followed Martin, with Rondet, in the white #77 2nd, and Plumb, in the black #76 3rd. The other two McLarens, fielded by Motorsports in Action, did not have nearly as good a day, with #69 finishing 21st (10th in class), and #68 31st (13th in class).
And the top two MINIs finished 10th and 11th overall, but also 1-2 in class, with their cohorts in #37 14th overall and 5th in class. With all their cars in the top five, the MINI JCW Team was reported to be “going wild.”
Wild is a good description for this Conti race.
One of the prototypes to watch in the WeatherTech series is (JDC-Miller Motorsports’ Oreca LMP2, which nearly took the win at the Glen.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen
The “big race” had its practice sessions, too, and the Brit-engined prototypes took three of the top five positions in the first. Stephen Simpson topped everyone in the #85 Oreca LMP2, with Jonathan Bomarito #55 Mazda DPi in 4th and Olivier Pla’s Ligier LMP2 in 5th. Pla moved up two positions in the second session (with the two Nissan DPis in 1st and 2nd).
Qualifying put Luis Felipe Derani in the #2 Nissan DPi on pole, Pla in the #52 Ligier in 2nd, and Christian Fittipaldi in the #5 Cadillac in 3rd.
On Sunday, the green flag waved at 10:10 a.m. The drama started immediately. Car #10 (the Championship leaders’ Cadillac) broke its steering within the first lap and limped back to the pits. It had gone sideways after contact, corrected and did not hit anything else, but slowed and took the shortcut back to pit lane. This is the Ricky Taylor-Jordan Taylor car, the car of the points leaders. They qualified 4th. Ricky re-entered the race in 38th position, six laps down.
While a podium finish is nice, top five works, too. An intense battle for 5th place was shaping up between Johannes van Overbeek in the #22 Nissan DPi and Misha Goikhberg in the #85 Oreca LMP2, with van Overbeek having the upper hand after a spectacular pass about 15 minutes into the race.
Battling for the top spot were Derani and Pla, and Pla passed pole-sitter Derani before the first 25 minutes were over. Pla pitted about 12 minutes later, still in the lead, following Derani’s Nissan, which was exiting as Pla was entering. A driver change to Jose Gutierrez re-entered the car in 2nd place.
With various pit stops and reversals of fortune, the standings got jumbled, but with less than 2 hours and 20 minutes left in the race, four of the top five positions were occupied by British-engined cars. The lead flipped from Van Der Zande in the #90 Riley LMP2 to Filipe Albuquerque in the #5 Cadillac DPi, but following were Chris Miller in the #85 Oreca, Jose Gutierrez in the #52 Ligier, and Spencer Pigot in the #55 Mazda. These standings were jumbled in turn, with Pigot running as high as 2nd. Sadly, the #70 Mazda retired earlier.
And the beat went on, but even as late as 5 1/2 hours into it, four of the top five were Gibson- or AER-engined. On top was Albuquerque’s co-driver, Joao Barbosa, in the #5 Cadillac in 2nd was Pla’s #52 Ligier 3rd was Simpson’s #85 Oreca 4th was Bomarito’s #55 Mazda and 5th was Goossens’ #90 Multimatic Riley.
After a yellow, the Oreca took the lead from the Cadillac and Pla fell to 4th, the Mazda-AER was in 3rd and the Riley in 5th. Then Pla truly started driving “in anger,” setting fastest laps. Barbosa took the lead back with less than eight minutes to go by taking advantage of GT traffic, passing Simpson on the outside. Simpson had another opportunity to pass the Cadillac, but GT traffic again worked against him, blocking the pass. He finished 2nd. Third was Bomarito’s Mazda, 4th Pla’s Ligier, and 5th Goossens’ Riley.
That’s four for the Brits out of five. Not a win, but it couldn’t have been better under the circumstances. Pla and Bomarito consistently were turning their fastest laps at the end, proving the engines unburstable.
Said one commentator about the runners-up, “Not a scratch on that car… that’s how it is with the #85 crew.” Stephen Simpson commented, looking to the next showdown at Mosport, “We’ll catch them next week!”
Claiming class victory in their #97 Aston Martin Vantage were drivers Daniel Serra, Jonny Adam and Darren Turner.
Photo courtesy Aston Martin Racing
Aston on Top at Le Mans
Marque Combined Services
LE MANS, France, 18 June — Aston Martin Racing took victory at the 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans in dramatic style, after driver Jonny Adam snatched the GTE Pro lead on the final lap of the iconic endurance race.
The trio of Adam, Darren Turner and Daniel Serra and their #97 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE performed “faultlessly,” according to team reports, and ensured they remained in the hunt for victory till the very end.
While Turner was able to claim his third Le Mans class win today, it was Serra’s first time at Le Mans.
It wasn’t exactly easy. With just over 45 minutes left on the clock, Adam found himself pitting at the same time as the #63 Corvette for a final fuel stop. With both cars exiting the pit lane together — with Adam in 2nd — it was inevitable that he would have to make the pass and hold it.
After trading places with his rival for much of the final stint, Adam prevailed and overtook the Corvette as he crossed the start/finish line on the penultimate lap. Running wide at the second Mulsanne Corner under pressure from the Scot, the Corvette would eventually fall two positions due to a slow puncture.
Adam commented after the race, “For Daniel and Darren to put me in that mix to battle for the front was testament to how good the car has been all weekend. We did our best to keep the car out of the pits as often as we could and just try and run a consistent pace throughout.”
He recalled the Corvette at one point led by six to eight car lengths, “but our goal was not to give up. He looked weak in a few corners and I knew when I got on to his bumper it was now or never if I wanted to win Le Mans. We got [the pass] just before the finish line, and it was then just time to bring it home.”
Darren Turner, who earlier this week also set a new qualifying GTE lap, added, “It was always looking like it was going to be an epic battle, and it was right from the start. The lead ebbed and flowed from every manufacturer in the GTE Pro class at some point in the race, but the Vantage was always there or thereabouts.
“I have to say Jonny’s last stint was exceptional, and Daniel’s pace was great. I couldn’t ask for two better teammates. For me personally this was my hardest Le Mans and my sweetest victory.”
Serra set the fastest-ever GTE racing lap by a Le Mans rookie and simply said, “I am just so happy. I don’t have words to explain it properly. I just won the biggest race in motorsport, and it’s awesome!”
The AMR sister car in GTE Pro, #95, finished 9th in class. Three Astons also campaigned in GTE Am, with the best result coming from car #99, just missing the podium with a 4th in class.
Aston Martin Racing will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on Sunday, 16 July.
[From a press release courtesy of David Adams, Aston Martin Racing. A more thorough review of the 24 Hours is coming in our next issue.]