Cars and Drivers Revive Past Glory

Ferrari 250 GTO.

The roar of vintage cars racing today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was like the sound of music to thousands of motor racing and historic automobile enthusiasts attending this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Racing took place in nine of 17 groups, representing just over half of the 550 cars entered, which can fairly be said to represent the full, rich lineage of motor racing in this country and abroad. (The remaining eight race groups compete Sunday.)

Though all groups contributed to the enthusiasm of the crowds, two that made hearts race wildly were the Jaguar Invitation class, with more than a dozen E-Types racing and enjoying their 50th anniversary, and the Ferrari GTO (Gran Turismo Omologata) class, which put 13 of these most venerated of historic cars—recognized by the distinct shrill of their three liter V12 engines– to the test.

With less than 40 of the GTOs built between 1962 and 1964 and some of them valued at up to $30 million, it’s logical to wonder about the risk of racing such a valuable car, but Tom Price of Larkspur (who finished the race in second position) doesn’t give it much thought. “I’ve owned my GTO since December of 1983 and raced it over 165 times,” he said. “The fundamental car is all there, so if you damage the car it really doesn’t cost any more to repair it than it would any car of a much less value; it’s strictly a body shop issue. When you start worrying about the value you shouldn’t be racing the car, because that’s when you get into trouble on the track. What has made these cars so collectable is that people do take them out and race them and have a wonderful time with them.”

Lukas Huni from Zurich, Switzerland, raced his Ferrari 250 GT Bertinetta Competition SEFAC, which is a short wheelbase car that is technically one evolution earlier than the GTO but it utilizes the same engine. It was raced by brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez and won the 1000 kilometers of Paris in 1961. “Everyone who races in vintage events love their cars,” said Huni. “The history of the car is appreciated by the owner, ideally for the right reasons, which has nothing to do with the value of the car. It is what it did in its time and why you want to preserve that history that matters. The current owners of vintage race cars actually become a part of the history of their car.”

In addition to the world’s finest historic cars, some of racing’s biggest names showed up to either race or watch and, of course, mingle with admiring fans, who more often than not were impressively educated on the accomplishments of such race heroes. Sir Sterling Moss, Derek Bell, Dario Franchiti, Hurley Haywood, Arie Luyendyk, Gil de Ferran, John Morton, Brian Redman and Howden Ganley were among those most notable, and two were officially feted:  British driver Martin Brundle at a now-traditional Rolex dinner on Friday and American driver Bob Tullius at the Jaguar Picnic (where Brundle joined him) today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Brundle originally raced in British Formula Three and competed in the 1983 Championship with Ayrton Senna, finishing a close second to him and moving directly into Formula One with Senna the next year. He raced in Formula One for over 12 years and 158 races, during which time he saw ten podium finishes and 98 points. Brundle’s connection with Jaguar began in 1982 with touring cars, and he won the 1988 World Sportscar Championship with record points, took victory at the Rolex 24 At Daytona that same year and also won the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Jaguar XJR-12.

He has retired from racing but his job as a motorsports commentator on BBC prepared him nicely for his stage conversation with the Rolex dinner audience.

“Often nowadays you can’t even see the drivers, as they’re buried in the cars,” explained Brundle. “I think that’s why classic racing, like what we are going to see this weekend, is so interesting: you can see the drivers at work and that’s a treat today.”

Arie Luyendyk, the Dutch race car driver who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1990 and then again in 1997 and also won the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, also commented on vintage racing: “As you get older, you appreciate the history of motor racing. When I was younger, I really didn’t care about it, but now it means a lot to me to see all these magnificent cars. I got to drive one of my winning Indianapolis 500 cars before the start of this year’s Indianapolis 500 as a demonstration. I also got to drive Graham Hill’s 1966 Indianapolis winning car up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last July. I drove one of the Penske Formula 1 cars, and I plan to drive a 962 Porsche at Sebring this year. I guess you can say I am getting more and more involved in historic racing.”

At the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion this year were an impressive number of Jaguars, which were honored as the special marque, and paddock after paddock full of cars bearing names such as Porsche, Shelby Cobra, McLaren, Lotus, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Lister, Lola, and Studebaker.  The competitors came from 27 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and 14 countries (USA, France, Monaco, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, England, Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, Spain).