A Passion for the Past as the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion Concludes
It was significant that Zak Brown’s Lola T332, in the hands of Richard Dean, won Sunday’s Formula 5000 race at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion: when the last professional Formula 5000 race was held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 40 years ago (October 12, 1975), it was won by Mario Andretti in the same car. Snapshots into the past are at the heart of vintage automobile racing, and the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion managed to reel off plenty of those over four competition days – two devoted to practice sessions followed by the August 15-16 weekend of Rolex races – for 15 groups of cars representing nearly a century of motorsports history.
“Passion for endurance, innovation and tradition are a few of the values Rolex shares with partnerships in Formula 1, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Goodwood Revival, and, of course, the cornerstone events here at Monterey Classic Car Week, of which the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is one,” said Rolex Watch USA President and Chief Executive Officer Stewart Wicht. “Rolex has had a long and cherished relationship with this event, which forms an essential part of our involvement in motorsports and, in particular, the world of classic and vintage cars. Distinctively, this is the only one of our global events where automobile owners devoted to authenticity, race provenance and period correctness allow their prized possessions to race as they used to ‘back in the day,’ providing an annual occasion for the convergence of some rather remarkable occurrences.”
Said Dean of the Lola T332’s performance: “This is an unbelievable car to drive, and I’m pleased that we qualified on pole position (Thursday) to keep up the history of this car with a win today. The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca circuit suits this car perfectly; I got to do a shakedown test on an airfield after the car’s restoration, but this was my first race in the Lola.” (At last weekend’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Pre-Reunion, Zak Brown qualified for two pole positions and went on to win two races with the car.)
Yesterday, another memorable scenario from the 1970s, made relevant to a younger audience in the Ron Howard movie Rush (released in 2013), played out when James Hunt’s McLaren M26 finished ahead of Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312 T2 in the much anticipated Formula 1 race here. Hunt and Lauda were not driving the cars, of course – that was Robert Kauffman and Chris MacAllister, respectively – but for a moment, it was nice to pretend that the 34 3-litre Formula 1 cars on the grid were the same as those in the field when Hunt, a handsome English playboy, beat Lauda, a methodically brilliant Austrian driver, by one point in the 1976 World Championship.
“This is a great car because of its history,” said MacAllister about his Ferrari. “Of all the Formula 1 cars out there I cannot think of another one I would rather have; it’s a gas to drive and it’s pretty to look at. I did have a McLaren before this but find this Ferrari a much better-handling car. There is a rhythm and a feel that is more responsive. I don’t drive the car enough to wring its neck, but I plan to have more seat time in it so I can get to that level.”
Robert Kauffman does not own the McLaren M26 he raced (that would be Zak Brown, who brought a total of six cars to this event from his home in England), but he says those in possession of these fine cars are just custodians “until someone else gets to run them.”
“It’s amazing to experience these historic cars behind the wheel and get a feel for them,” said Kauffman, “but I always maintain a margin of error, because I do not want to be that guy who is known for crashing the James Hunt car. The guys who raced these cars in the day were truly incredible, because these Formula 1 cars are really a handful.”
Shelby Mustang GT350s, as the event’s special marque, also enthralled large audiences during their race on Saturday, but it was Californian Dick Deluna and his 1917 Hall-Scott The Four-A-7A, racing Saturday (in Group 1A for Sports Racing and Touring Cars pre-1940), that stole the show overall. He was awarded the most coveted “Spirit of Monterey” prize, determined by an independent panel to honor the single driver who most “excelled in the spirit of the weekend.”
“This 1917 Hall-Scott The Four-A-7A is just a hoot to drive and it’s a crowd pleaser,” said Deluna, after receiving a specially engraved 18k yellow gold and stainless steel Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona. “I love racing, and I love cars. For me the award is the epitome of appreciation from folks who value what I have been doing with cars. I don’t pay homage to any particular car, so I bring out any car that meets the need of any particular venue. Touring, racing or shows. It’s my passion and my love and I feel fortunate that I am able to go all over the world to do this.”
In a similar vein to rewarding participation for the sake of passion, Rolex Awards of Excellence were awarded in each of the 15 race categories, going not necessarily to those who won but to those “most deserving.” The Rolex Awards gathering concluded with the announcement that Bavarian Motor Works, better known as BMW, will be honored on the occasion of its 100th anniversary as the special marque at next year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, scheduled for August 18-21.