CSRG at 50


The Classic Sports Racing Group is celebrating its 50th season of racing. The David Love Memorial Races at Sonoma Raceway featured the usual assortment of open wheel and sports cars from the 50s to the 80s. 

I confess a certain degree of partiality for open wheel cars from the 1960s and 1970s. CSRG owners include a brace of cars from Formula Atlantic, Formula Jr, Formula Ford, and SCCA B-spec.  The earlier cars are beautiful silhouettes designed for slip stream racing of the era. 

Aero had entered the picture by the 1970s. Two of the Atlantic cars were raced by F1 champion Keke Rosberg and stalwart Didier Pironi. These lurid cars were prepped by Fred Opert and sponsored by condom company Excita. 
In the same vein, some of the Lola sports cars from the early 1970s are also fantastic, racy and properly noisy.

Ford GT brings new life to GTLM

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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.

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CSRG 2016 David Love Memorial Vintage Races

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.

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The 2015 Ecurie

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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.

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Down to the wire: Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge Finales at Monterey

 

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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”.

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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.

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IndyCar Finale at Sonoma: Life Lesson

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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.

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Justin Wilson – A gentle giant. 1978-2015

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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.

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Monterey Reunion: there is no such thing as “too much”

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It’s never easy at the Monterey Motorsport Reunion (formerly the Historics). The event has such an incredible collection of cars, all of which are in motion throughout the weekend. You do your best, find the cars that mean the most to you, and enjoy the atmosphere.

Above: Maserati 8CM. Below: Bugatti in the Corkscrew.

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F5000 paddock, with Gethin’s McLaren M10 in the foregoing.

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The Formula 5000 paddock is always a hit. This series rivaled F1 in its day. Team Surtees TS-5 (F5000):

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The F5000 series was preceded by SCCA Formula A and B racing, a great example of which is this Huffaker:

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And a small FJr car from that amazing era when F1 was basically F2, and FJr was an exciting feeder:

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An incredible selection of Formula One machinery was on offer, from the 1960s up to the 1980s. Williams FW08:

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Mario Andretti’s Lotus 79:

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Another view of the FW08C:

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Brett Lunger’s privately entered McLaren M23:

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The Professor’s McLaren M30:

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Patrick Depailler’s Tyrrell, below.

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Two Shadows, one raced by the late Tom Pryce, the other raced by Jan Lammers:
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Lola T330HU6 raced in the UK in the early Seventies before being sent to New Zealand.

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A very rare Matich A50.

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No shortage of sports cars, including some great prototypes like this 1975 World Championship Alfa 33 TT 12:

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Or the under-rated Porsche 906:

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And, naturally, a 956:

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Lest we forget the 911:

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And let’s not forget American muscle:

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1955 Mercedes 300 SL “gull wing” interior. This car is a daily driver!

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Great shot of a GT350 chasing a pair of Cobras through Laguna Seca’s turn 5.

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Sonoma Historics 2015 – the Grand Prix cars

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It’s never easy growing up in the shadow of a bigger sibling.

For years, the Wine Country Classic stood in the shadows of the nearby Monterey Historics, an event that established the genre and featured some of the world’s most valuable vintage race cars. Sonoma’s event, by contrast, was smaller and decidedly less ambitious.

Although the two events were managed by Steve Earle’s General Racing, Sonoma took on new meaning after Earle parted ways with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2012. With Mazda Raceway now running its own historic motorsport “reunion”, Sonoma has now become an event in its own right.

In 2014, Earle merged his company with SVRA, Tony Parella’s historic racing series. Parella and SVRA have quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in historic racing, as evidenced by a new and successful historic event this week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

SVRA re-imagined the Sonoma event as a “gold medallion” invitation-only weekend. Gold Medallion cars were selected on the basis of historical provenance and racing history, as well as historical accuracy of preparation. It is not a significant departure from Earle’s concept for the event, but it’s different from other SVRA meetings. It’s also a great thing for those who enjoy cars with a rich history.

By selecting a group of significant cars to feature, Sonoma has assembled a collection that rivals any historic event. The collection spans the history of grand prix racing and sports car racing, with Alfas, Maseratis and Ferraris from the days before the sport we know as “Formula One”, and every conceivable year and class (and nationality) of sports cars up through the 1980s. If it was raced anywhere – in IMSA, Can-Am, F1, SCCA, Trans-Am, FIA sports cars, or Le Mans – it was raced at Sonoma.

Divided into 12 classes, there was something for everyone. We’ll start with the grand prix cars, which began in the 1920s with a Bugatti Type 35, and included some fantastic examples of the Maserati 8CM, below:

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1935 Alfa Romeo 8C-35:

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1934 Alfa Romeo P3:

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1928 Bugatti 35B:

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1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 MM Spider

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An American race car of the same period, a 1935 Ford Sprint car:

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For a few years in the early Sixties, F2 supplanted F1 with a smaller engine formula that favored the British “garagistes”  derided by Enzo Ferrari. Lotus, Cooper, Ginetta and others quickly stepped in.

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By the Seventies and Eighties, “aero” had taken over, and wind-tunnel designs proliferated. Ex-Didier Pironi Tyrrell, below.

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Sonoma Historics: a new vintage

 

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The 2015 installment of the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival is in the books, and we’ve got hundreds of pictures to sort, edit, and write about. This was the first year of SVRA management of the Bay Area’s “other” historic weekend, and the quality of machinery was the best we’ve seen in years. SVRA ran Sonoma as “Gold Medallion” event for cars of an established provenance and racing history. It’s a more closed format but it led to a deep field of historically significant machines. This is just a tiny sample with more to come (and check out our Instagram feed at instagram.com/ecurie415)!

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1954 Ferrari 500 left an impression:

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No shortage of Alfas:

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It’s not a classic meet without something small and British, like this TVR:

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Or is Lola more your style?

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If it’s muscle you’re looking for, Trans-Am supplies it. How about the first Pontiac Firebird “Grand Am” car built for Bill France’s new series back in 1970?

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Germany was well represented: do you choose the 914, the 935, or the Speedster?

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1968 Porsche 911 TR:

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Another of Bruce Canepa’s truly amazing cars:

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Joest-prepared Porsche 935J, for IMSA racing:

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A Porsche 935K that DNF’d at Le Mans:

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European touring car 1976 BMW CSL:

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1972 Ferrari 365:

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Plenty of McLarens on hand, as Can-Am remains a huge favorite 40 years after the series’ demise:

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A taste of FIA sports car prototypes from the Seventies left me wanting more. This Gulf-Mirage M6, from 1975, has been maintained and restored beautifully:

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Ferrari 312 began life as a closed-top prototype destined for Le Mans. Later, the roof was taken off and the car was re-born as a spyder.

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The 1980s checked in with a 1984 Porsche 956c, raced by Russell Kempnich.

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