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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Deepest blue: Grand Prix of Monterey Gallery…

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As always, Monterey provides a spectacular backdrop for sports car racing.  It may be a cliche, but standing at the bottom of the Corkscrew when the field comes through under green remains one of the great experiences in racing. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, it’s a natural theater for speed, and this year’s Continental Tire Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda did not disappoint. Enjoy some of our highlights…

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For the last few years, the prototype ranks have thinned out at the top level of North American sports car racing.  When Audi departed the scene, the ALMS was left with a handful of P2 prototypes led by Mazda and Porsche.  The merger of the ALMS and the Grand-Am Series ensured that Daytona Prototypes would become the top predator, with P2 loyalists soldiering on at Mazda and, now, Honda.

Enter Mike Shank and his French-built Ligier JS1 P2.  The Ligier is a handsome P2 prototype, designed by French engineers and powered by Honda. With so few entrants running innovative designs in IMSA, it’s reassuring to see a new prototype racing in North America. Michael Shank Racing has made the leap, but other than the Delta Wing and Mazda, most TUSC teams are waiting out any further investments until the new design rules are announced for 2017. One thing that is almost certain is that the ACO will authorize four builders to construct all of the P2 chassis, wtih a single engine supplier. IMSA may receive an exception to allow for other P2 designs, but credit Shank for continuing to push.

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The alternative to the Ligier is the venerable Daytona Prototype.  Chip Ganassi Racing is now supported by Ford rather than its traditional Target livery. Ford has struggled for results this season compared with the Corvette juggernaut.

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I had a chance to speak to Don Panoz after the Delta Wing retired with an exhaust system failure. The car is innovative and has grown on me over the last few years. The problem for the car is that it is like no other car in its class, making comparisons nearly worthless.

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In GTLM, the privateers have all but disappeared. Falken’s program is not a factory program but remains competitive against manufacturer support from BMW, Porsche and Chevrolet.

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Prototype Challenge cars remain an affordable option for prototype racing, as well as a great training ground for young drivers. Zach Veach, an up and coming open wheel racer, stepped into a JDC Miller Motorsports Oreca FLM09 for the first time at Mazda Raceway, and finished fourth.

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The Martini livery never disappoints.

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PC class winner Bruno Junqueira knows Mazda Raceway from his days as an open wheel driver.

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Count on Porsche to be at the front: Park Place Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT America took top honors in the GTD class.

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An Aston Martin in blue? In the hands of Christina Nielson and James Davison, the car finished fifth.

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Some very obvious differences between Risi Competizione’s GTLM-spec Ferrari F458 Italia, and the GTD version below.

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Now compare Risi’s car with the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 GTD , as raced by Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell. Similar, but not the same.

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GTD is the last truly competitive category for privateer racers.  With a decent selection of cars to choose from, and an affordable technical package, GTD racing was tight at Mazda Raceway.

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Second place in GTD for Paul Miller Racing’s Audi R8 LMS:

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IMSA at Mazda Raceway-Laguna Seca: Damn this traffic jam…

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The Tudor United Sportscar Championship returned to the Monterey Peninsula with one concern in mind: traffic.

Of course, Bay Area traffic is never a pleasure. But with the entire IMSA field together on track after last year’s split-class races, every driver knew that traffic would be an issue throughout the race.  This was also a shorter sprint race, leaving little time to waste behind backmarkers.

On Saturday, Jordan Taylor captured the second straight pole position for Wayne Taylor Racing in his Konica-Minolta Corvette DP.  With Michael Valiante’s Visit Florida Corvette DP lined up behind Taylor, and Scott Pruett by his side, Taylor knew that he would be harassed from the green flag forward.  Taylor showed early pace after a strong start from Valiante, and the pair of Corvettes took an early lead over Ozz Negri and his Ligier-Honda. When the inevitable traffic jam arrived, Valiante’s teammate Richard Westbrook finished off Taylor, giving Visit Florida Racing its first victory of 2015.

“It was clean [racing] for a while, but then we hit heavy, heavy traffic,” Valiante said.  “I got frustrated, I was really boxed in. I got by one PC with a little contact, going into turn 1 was a huge traffic jam. I made contact with a GTLM car, and I think it hit Jordan on the other side. We sort of forced him off the road and gave him a different line.”

After taking over from Valiante, Westbrook went on a tear to chase down Taylor.  He succeeded when Taylor ducked in for a pitstop and emerged in heavy traffic.

“When Ricky got in, we held the lead and then pitted,” Jordan Taylor said. “Richard (Westbrook) had clean laps while Ricky had traffic, and that’s where Richard made up his time. It was more a strategy and traffic race than anything.”

“The race was dictated by traffic,” Taylor said.  “Once we hit traffic we could gain a gap or lose a big gap. That’s what really changed the race today. We were leading by 10 seconds and then we’d lose the lead.”

Ozz Negri was persistent but couldn’t manage to keep pace with the leaders, his Ligier-Honda JS P2 a step behind the all-conquering Chevy power plants.  Mazda had a fantastic weekend, finishing sixth but most importantly, finishing – giving the marque a top 10 finish at its “home” circuit.

In GTLM, almost 40 years to the day after Hans Stuck won at Laguna Seca in a CSL, BMW Team RLL took a 1-2 sweep of the podium, with John Edwards and Lucas Luhr finishing ahead of teammate Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner.  Porsche’s Patrick Pilet and Michael Christensen finished third on a day that saw an uncharacteristically subdued performance from both Corvette factory entries. In fairness, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia’s yellow machine started from the back of the grid due to an engine change.

The larger question about BMW’s win is whether it’s pure pace or a generous balance of performance adjustment by IMSA. BMW’s minimum weight was reduced before the race, with its air restrictor enlarged, while Corvette didn’t receive any breaks.

In GTD, Park Place Porsche (Spencer Pumpelly/Patrick Lindsey) took top honors ahead of Paul Miller Racing’s Audi R8 LMS. Ian James and Mario Farnbacher finished third for Alex Job Racing.  In PC, Bruno Junqueira and Michael Cumming paired up for a class win over Colin Braun and Jon Bennett. James French and local racer Mike Hedlund finished third in the all-Oreca class.

Although their Corvette DP finished a modest fourth, it’s Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi who sit first and second in the driver’s championship, with Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook just three points behind. The next round is at Belle Isle in Detroit.

More photos to come!

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Down in Monterey…

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The Tudor United Sportscar Championship returns to the Monterey Peninsula May 1-3, with the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda leading a bill that includes the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, Mazda MX-5 Cup, and Lamborghini Super Trofeo. It’s the series’ second visit to Mazda Raceway-Laguna Seca following the unification of the ALMS and the Grand-Am Series in 2012.  Last year, ESM-Patron Racing won the first victory for a P2 car, answering critics who questioned whether P2 and Daytona Prototypes could compete fairly against each other. In 2014, the event featured split classes with a pair of races for P/GTLM and PC/GTD, respectively. That format will not return but the race is now a two and a half hour sprint race with all classes combined.

You like fast, close racing, don’t you? Check out our instagram page for more photos from the event.

Living Legends: Sonoma Historics ready for new era

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The Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival opens May 28-31 at Sonoma Raceway, marking the first time the event will be operated by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (“SVRA”).  In late 2014, SVRA merged with General Racing (Steve Earle), founder of the famed Monterey Historics. With Earle having moved his event from Monterey to Sonoma six years ago, Sonoma now stands on its own as an event on the historic racing calendar.  Hopefully, SVRA’s size and market share will allow the event to continue to grow.  As part of its “gold medallion” celebration, SVRA plans to focus on cars that are presented as-raced.

Allard will be the featured marque for this year’s invitation-only event.  Just mentioning “Allard” evokes the great Bill Pollack and his fabled wins at Pebble Beach in 1951 and 1952.  Fitted with a massive Cadillac engine, Pollack’s Allard managed to beat fellow Californian and future F1 champion Phil Hill.  Bill is celebrating his 90th birthday this summer, a true legend among road racers in California.