Sonoma Standout: Gulf-Porsche 917

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One of the standouts at the Sonoma Historic Motorsport Festival was a legendary Porsche 917, JWA Gulf-Porsche 917-016, delivered to John Wyer in 1970 and raced in the World Sportscar Championship.

Wyer became involved in the 917 program at Porsche’s request, after the 917 had teething troubles in 1969. Previously, Wyer had successfully run Le Mans programs for Ford and Aston Martin.  He turned his attention to the 917, and a legend was born.

The 917 was Porsche’s response to a quirk in sporting regulations that allowed 5000cc engines in sports cars, if 50 cars were manufactured.  For 1969, the number of cars required for homologation was reduced to 25. Porsche built 25 examples of the 917, with the objective of winning at Le Mans in 1970. Porsche had never won at Le Mans.

At  a wet Brands Hatch, the 1970 season opener, chassis 917-016 won in the hands of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen. Porsche took the top four spots and Rodriguez finished five laps ahead of the next car.  Two weeks later, Rodriguez and Kinnunen won again in 917-016, at Monza.

The car failed to finish Le Mans that year, retiring early with cooling failure. But Porsche achieved its dream, winning Le Mans outright in a 917 driven by Richard Atwood and Hans Hermann. In July, at Watkins Glen, 917-016 tasted victory for the last time.

In 1971, the car served as a test lump and spare car, appearing in one race, a Can-Am race at Watkins Glen. Although chassis 917-016 went to the back of the garage, the 917 enjoyed another year of competitiveness in 1971.  Porsche next turned its attention to Can-Am, dominating that series before engine capacities were reduced in 1974.

Porsche917(2)SON14 Porsche917eSON14 The 917 was initially fitted with a 4.5L flat-12 engine.  Later editions upgraded the power plant to 5.0L. Porsche917dSON14 Porsche917cSON14 Porsche917bSON14 Porsche917fSON14

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Sonoma Historics: First photos! A very full plate…

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You could be excused for feeling pulled in different directions at this year’s Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Sonoma Raceway.  After all, it’s not easy to choose between a Gulf-Porsche 917, a group of staggering McLarens, or a collection of GT cars that spans the history of racing.  Add in Trans-Am sedans, IMSA GTs, formula cars and prototypes, and paddock dizziness quickly sets in.

In Europe, tourists have been know to suffer exhaustion from the overwhelming number of churches, museums, and points of historical interest that must be seen.  Compelled to see all of it, they break down and see none of it.  The way to avoid this is to narrow your focus.

In those circumstances, I did what any fanatic would do: I went with first loves.  Cars that I drove, like the Datsun 240Z and BMW coupe, or simply admired, like the Lancia Stratos and the Porsche 917 (below).  If you grew up in love with race cars after 1970, you knew Le Mans, and you loved the 917. Simple as that.

I’ll share more photos in the coming days.  For now, enjoy a few examples on offer last weekend…

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This 917 was sold to John Wyer (JW Automotive) in 1970.  The car won at Brands Hatch and again at the Monza 1000km, but it didn’t finish at Le Mans. It also won at Watkins Glen later the same year.  The car was driven primarily by Pedro Rodriguez, but also by Leo Kinnunen and Richard Atwood.

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The Lancia Stratos (not officially entered) evoked 1970s European style and Sandro Munari’s talent behind the wheel.  We’ll be featuring this car (and the 917) in separate posts, to give them their due.

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The 1968 McLaren M6B (below) could have raced today.  Trumpet exhausts never go out of style, and McLaren’s iconic orange looks as fresh as ever.

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A 1966 Lola T-70 Mk II.  Pretty much the sports car to have in those days.

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The 1976 Luigi Racing BMW 3.0 CSL (below) was an unusual find.  Modestly developed, the car raced Group 2 in Europe for a Belgian team with an Italian owner.  The red, white and green Italian accents reflect the car’s heritage.

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Three-wheeling with a 1970 Datsun 240Z.

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The 1979 Chevy Monza (below) was an unusual champion.

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Sonoma Historics: Shadow Boxers

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Shadow Racing Cars will be one of the featured Can-Am marques at this weekend’s Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival, presented by General Racing at Sonoma Raceway.  Former team owner Don Nichols, driver George Follmer, and other Can-Am veterans will also host a seminar Saturday morning, discussing a legendary series famous for open rules and lurid, powerful machinery.

Nichols raced Shadow cars in Formula 1, Can-Am and sports cars, with the support of sponsor Universal Oil Products. Nichols was an unconventional character, and the powerful, all-black Shadows were always shrouded in mystery.  They’re still intriguing, witnessed by the steady stream of admirers that engage its current owner in discussion about the good old days.

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Postcard from Monterey (Pt. 2): Prototypes – Miracle at Mazda Raceway

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They said it couldn’t be done. Three races into the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season, and no LMP2 prototype had seen the top step of the podium.

Leave it to politics, some said: IMSA’s balance of performance was hopelessly weighted in favor of the heavier – but more powerful – Daytona Prototypes. This was the natural outcome of the Grand-Am Series’ acquisition of the ALMS in 2012, said the critics.  On social media, many thought the ultimate goal was to eliminate LMP2’s from the series.

Johannes van Overbeek and ESM Patron Racing had other ideas.  Taking advantage of Mazda Raceway’s slow corners, and benefitting from a rare mistake by rival Jordan Taylor, van Overbeek brought his Honda ARX-03b home in first, ahead of Taylor and veteran Scott Pruett, racing a Riley DP with Ford Ecoboost power for Chip Ganassi Racing.

The race began with a scintillating dice between Jordan Taylor, driving a Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing, and Gustavo Yacaman in an Oak Racing Nissan-Morgan LMP2.  The close racing tended to answer critics who had questioned whether the two divergent prototpes could race competitively.  After Monterey, the answer was an emphatic “yes”.

Yacaman’s efforts were blighted by an incident between his teammate, Alex Brundle, and an Action Express DP driven by Christian Fittipaldi.  But by that point, van Overbeek was ready to start reeling in Taylor.  An uncharacteristic bobble by Taylor coming out of Turn 3 was all the room that van Overbeek needed to take the lead, setting up a win that no one expected, and a victory that settled some old scores.

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Spirit of Daytona took an early lead from polesitter ESM, resulting in a great battle between Michael Valiante and OAK Racing’s Gustavo Yacaman.

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Yacaman stayed hard on Valiante’s bumper for his stint, but Alex Brundle tangled with the Action Express prototype of Christian Fittipaldi at the Corkscrew, leaving the Nissan-Morgan behind (and penalized).  At least its performance reassured those who questioned the future of the LMP2 category.

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Brundle damages his own car and, ultimately, the 07 Mazda, which retired.

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This is not the correct way to exit the Corkscrew.

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Starworks Motorsport won the PC class in a gorgeous Martini livery, just ahead of 8Star.

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It wasn’t a great day for Ford, despite Ganassi’s third place.

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Mazda finished P7 with its Skyactiv Diesel LMP2.  A modest result but huge progress for Speedsource, which has struggled with reliability.  Mazda thinks that it has finally gotten a handle on the vibration issues that previously plagued the four-liter diesel. In its home race, Mazda would have brought both cars home but for the Brundle incident.

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Buttoned up at Action Express Racing, for Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa.  Despite a chaotic race, the team came away with fourth place and the points lead.

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Third place for Ganassi’s Pruett and Rojas.

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Johannes van Overbeek earned pole, and then turned the wheel over to owner/driver Ed Brown.  Under intense pressure from the DP field, Brown managed to keep the car in contention long enough for “JvO” to return and score the win.

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Postcard from Monterey: TUDOR Championship at Mazda Raceway (Pt. 1 – GT)

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The Monterey debut of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship lived up to the tradition of close GT racing and Corvette dominance at Mazda Raceway. For Corvette, the GTLM win was its second of the season and its third victory in as many years at Laguna Seca.

Corvette’s driver pairing of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen won at Monterey for the second consecutive year, just weeks after delivering Corvette its first TUDOR win in Long Beach. In GTD – which raced separately due to pit lane space constraints – Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala of Turner Motorsport took top honors in their BMW Z4GTE.

The race-long battle in GTLM between BMW and Porsche was a textbook example of hard racing, but it ended with a penalty against Nick Tandy and Porsche.  IMSA has seen three races end with penalties, all of which have caused controversy.  This remains an area of concern for the series, although both Tandy and Edwards are smart drivers who should be allowed to race each other. But with caution-free racing, pristine weather, and a sprint-to-the finish race format, both GT classes delivered the goods at Mazda Raceway.

And for Magnussen and Garcia, who seem to have claimed ownership of the Monterey Peninsula, the California sun shone a little more brightly.

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Magnussen (above) started in the lead Corvette, but Garcia set a lap record in qualifying.

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Krohn Racing returned from the World Endurance Championship to race as the lone privateer in GTLM.  The F458 looks fantastic in Krohn’s traditional green livery.

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Bill Auberlen and Andy Priaulx scored a podium for BMW, after tussling in the late laps with a factory Porsche driven by Nick Tandy. A post-race penalty against Porsche demoted Tandy’s car to ninth and elevated Giancarlo Fisichella’s Risi Competitzione Ferrari to third place.  The question that wasn’t answered is how much of BMW’s pace comes down to pure performance, and how much is down to performance breaks from IMSA.

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Dodge re-branded its SRT division just as the Viper arrived in Monterey, so this car may look slightly different at the next race.  The TUDOR-spec version features an 8.0 litre V-10 under the hood, putting out somewhere near 490 hp. Mated to a set of paddle shifters, the Viper can reach speeds of up to 185 mph. With its booming exhaust and aggressive styling, the Viper has always been a crowd favorite.

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The 458 Italia is a stunner.  The GTD version, shown below, was prepared by Scuderia Corsa.  The 64 car (below) finished 10th at Mazda Raceway, with its sister car finishing in seventh.

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The Porsche factory effort was cursed at Mazda Raceway; the lead 911 of Nick Tandy was penalized for contact with the BMW of John Edwards, and the 912 survived a few incidents to finish ninth (eighth after Tandy’s penalty).

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Porsche misfortune turned into a bonus for Risi Ferrari, which finished third after the penalty.

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Andy Lally’s Magnus Racing Porsche looked slightly worse for wear after a podium in Race One.

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Crowds continue to pack the grid walk.

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Monterey GP – TUDOR United Sports Car Championship debuts at Mazda Raceway

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship made its formal debut this weekend at Mazda Raceway, the first race in Monterey since the ALMS and Grand-Am fields were formally joined.  ESM Racing made it another first, becoming the series’ first LMP2 race winner, and reassuring (at least momentarily) those who questioned IMSA’s ability to balance Daytona Prototypes and ACO-based LMP2s.

More pictures to follow, but the photo above is the end result of an incident between the Porsche 911 of Nick Tandy and the BMW Z4GTE of RLL Racing’s Bill Auberlen.  Auberlen and Tandy made contact coming out of turn 11 and again on the last lap, leading IMSA to assess a penalty on Tandy’s car and demoting it to ninth place in GTLM.  Was the contact worth a penalty, or was it a case of hard racing in the waning laps of a race?