I have spent the last 10 years around race tracks in the Bay Area, and I have never seen more interest in a new car than the Ford GT, which arrived at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Continental Tire GP of Monterey powered by Mazda.
Students of history will recall that the original GT40 was meant to beat Ferrari’s dominance at Le Mans. It did that, in spades, before walking away from the Circuit de la Sarthe for nearly 50 years. Now it’s back, with the support of Chip Ganassi and his major duomo, Mike Hull (pictured below with driver Ryan Briscoe).
This has become a great era for the GT class, with Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette, and Ford all battling for top honors. The teams are now in France preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
CSRG events are always great fun, because they lack some of the intense scrutiny and crowd action that you see in Monterey later in the year. CSRG cars are raced hard (but fairly), and I enjoy listening to the owners talk about the long journey many of these cars have made from factory birth to vintage racer. The David Love Memorial Vintage Races at Race Sonoma honor the late vintage racer who was a passionate Ferrari enthusiast.
Below: 1966 Alfa Romeo GTA (Auto Delta); SCCA Formula A/B lineup; 1967 Alfa raced by Nanni Galli; Morgan Plus 4; 1958 Devin SS; Ferrari Lusso; 1967 Porsche 911 TR; 1981 March 821 F1 car; 1962 Lola Mk.5; and, 1962 Lotus 22 FJ.
It’s never easy to pick the best cars out of an entire year of auto-obsessing. There are different criteria and often, it’s a matter of emotional resonance rather than sheer beauty or provenance. A winning car is a prized possession, but so is a good story. A WWII-era Maserati with its booming engine note and red Italian flare. Some cars stop me because of the driver; how can you look at Francois Cevert’s Tyrrell (below), and not feel the sadness of his untimely death? Pay close attention to the Ferrari 500 Mondial (below) and you can almost feel Enzo Ferrari’s presence. This is a car that was produced in his lifetime, with a history dating back to the Eisenhower Era. What about a car raced by James Hunt, the dashing and doomed playboy who won the 1976 championship? This is why I write about and photograph vintage race cars; because there are stories locked inside that chassis.
They say you should save the best for last. And while the IndyCar finale kept us hanging on until the final laps, the Mazda Road to Indy and the Pirelli World Challenge finales did not lack for dramatic tension.
Spencer Pigot won the IndyLights title in dramatic form, as polesitter Max Chilton made a mistake entering the Corkscrew and ruined his first race.
Racing for Uruguay, and honoring fallen fellow Uruguyan driver Gonzalo Rodriguez, Sati Urrutia won the Pro Mazda final and dedicated his win to “Goncho”.
Johnny O’Connell won the Pirelli World Challenge GT title for Cadillac, with Ferrari’s Olivier Beretta in second. Frank Montecalvo won the GTA division, with Colin Thompson winning the GT Cup championship. Michael Cooper is the new GTS champion, with Corey Fergus taking the TC title in his Porsche Cayman and Jason Wolfe (below) winning TCA top honors.
The IndyCar Series closed out its season at Sonoma, a race that followed Justin Wilson’s untimely death earlier in the week. The paddock was a mixture of celebration and remembrance, with a delicate balance to strike between honoring Justin’s legacy and enjoying the excitement of a title-deciding race. The series hit a home run in both areas.
First, there were numerous opportunities for fans to honor Justin Wilson and to support his kids. Whether it was a charity t-shirt, a massive poster for Justin signed by his fans, a half-mast Union Jack, or his sticker on every car and driver helmet. Like many fans, Justin’s death hit me hard because I had known him and interacted with him as a blogger. This weekend was cathartic for everyone.
I had a chance to speak to some members of the media, who were very happy to be racing at Sonoma. One NBC staff member said “When Dan [Wheldon] died [in 2011], the season ended and we went home. This was better. We needed this.”
Indeed. What the series also got was one race for all the marbles, and Scott Dixon did a masterful job of racing his way into a championship. One could argue that Will Power ruined Juan Pablo Montoya’s chances for a title, but I disagree. Power was trying to get ahead of Newgarden when he made contact with his teammate, not Montoya, and Power ahead of Newgarden could only have helped Montoya by slowing Newgarden and allowing Montoya to set up a pass. It was a racing incident.
For Dixon, one of the coolest guys in the paddock and the “forgotten” championship contender, Sunday’s win was even sweeter. That makes it two wins in a row in the wine country for the Kiwi turned Indianan. On a weekend drenched in emotion, there was no denying the sweetness of Scott’s win.
IndyCar driver Justin Wilson has succumbed to injuries sustained when he was struck in the head by debris from Sage Karam’s car during Sunday’s race at Pocono. Wilson, a husband and father of two, was 37.
Justin Wilson began his career in Europe, moving up the ladder until securing a spot with the Jaguar F1 team. It was a short-lived F1 career, and the tall Yorkshireman soon found himself driving in Champ Car and later, in the merged IndyCar Series. He won seven races and had more potential, but his trajectory was vexed by a lack of funding that kept him from a top ride in the series. He raced part-time for Andretti Autosport this year, his first opportunity with a top-tier team.
I interviewed Justin every year during the IndyCar races at Sonoma. He was not a close friend, but he was an acquaintance, a friendly face, an easy quote. A gentle giant who stood at 6’4″ but spoke softly. There are a lot of egotistical and self-centered racing car drivers; Justin was not one of them. He was a man above the trappings of sport and fame, while seemingly remaining one of us.
The grief at his death is unspeakable. He will be missed by anyone who knew him. To the end, he was a great man: Justin’s organs were donated and six people have a new lease on life thanks to his generosity. My condolences to his family and friends.