For one week in August, Monterey, California is the capital of the classic car world with over a dozen shows, auctions and four days of racing at the legendary Laguna Seca track. The ‘Monterey Historic Automobile Races’ actually started out in 1974 out as a two-day event and part of the build-up to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Since last year the event is spread out over four days to make room for Ferrari’s Historic Challenge races. A further expansion of the regular program saw more practice sessions moved to Thursday this year. More is certainly not always better and the tightly scheduled program of the 35th ‘Historics’ was another example. Nevertheless it is doubtful that any of the spectators left Laguna Seca disappointed. To find out why browse through our spectacular 200-shot slideshow
and read through the following report.
A long standing tradition of most classic car events is to feature special themes each year. For 2008 the Monterey Historic Races saluted Alfa Romeo, honoured Mario Andretti and celebrated Formula Junior’s 50th anniversary.
The Alfa Romeo salute was the least obvious and consisted mainly of a strong presence of the marque throughout the fifteen fields, highlighted by eight Giulia GTAs in one race. Mario Andretti’s long and diverse career was celebrated in the Rolex Legends tent in the paddock with a line up of several of his racing cars, which showcased just how versatile the Italian-born American was. Often dubbed the ‘most successful all-rounder’, Andretti took the track in his 1978 Formula 1 World Championship winning Lotus 79. He thrilled the crowd and the 79’s owner Duncan Dayton by putting in some very hot laps in a car he had most likely not driven for three decades. In addition to Andretti’s former racing cars, there was also room in the Legends tent for a 1908 Mercedes Grand Prix, a 1927 Delage 15 S8 and the 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 MM that was driven to victory in the 1951 Pebble Beach Cup by Phil Hill.
Despite lasting for only a few seasons, Formula Junior saw a remarkable wide variety of single seaters take to the track. Established in 1958 by the Italian Count Giovanni Lurani to give young talents a chance, the Formula coincided with the change from front to mid-engined racing cars. The young drivers were not only the ‘unknowns’ on the starting grids as many of the cars were built by little known manufacturers and at times in a backyard. Today the small single seaters are still very popular and under the guidance of Duncan Rabagliati the Historic Junior championship thrives. The Juniors are welcome at many of the major events and continue a tradition by offering aspiring historic racers an entry into the sport at the highest level. The 50th anniversary celebration consisted of no fewer than 70 Juniors, spread over 3 dedicated classes; one for the Italian built ‘etceterinis’ of 1958 and 1960, one for the other cars of that period and a third one for the mid-engined cars that were built between 1961 and 1963.
Ferrari Historic Challenge
In the past Friday was reserved for qualifying sessions, but that changed last year when the day was concluded with two races for the Ferrari Historic Challenge. With all of the Challenge cars also eligible to race one of the races on the regular schedule, it seemed to make little sense to add the Challenge to the program. In fact only very few of the cars that raced on Friday did not make it out on the track again on Saturday or Sunday. However there was one very special Ferrari that came to Laguna Seca specifically for the Historic Challenge, completely blowing the previous argument out of the water. This special Ferrari was Arnold Meier’s freshly restored 312 P, which is one of only two in existence. The other is in a private collection and has not been seen in public for years. Meier entrusted his precious machine to experienced racer David Franklin, who drove the car in spectacular fashion. It could well have been the first time since the 1971 Sebring 12 Hours that the car turned a wheel in anger on American soil, despite being on it for a vast majority of its life. At Laguna it ran in the ‘Disc Brake’ race against no fewer than four 250 GTOs, four 512 BB LMs and an equally spectacular 512 S. The race was won by Todd Morici who beat two similar cars in his 512 BB LM. The victory in the ‘Drum Brake’ race was taken by the oldest car in the field; a freshly restored Alfa Romeo P3, driven skillfully by Peter Giddings.
Toyota Race of Legends
Another recent addition to the proceedings is the Toyota Race of Legends. This year nine racing legends including 1980 World Champion Alan Jones, Eddie Cheever and Danny Sullivan, Toyota’s current Formula 1 driver Timo Glock and charity auction winner Bruce Canepa took the track for a race with competition spec Scion tCs. With most of the drivers not taking the white lines too seriously the race was quite spectacular. The ‘legends’ were quick to discover that the quickest way though the corkscrew was through the dirt on the inside of the entry and straight down through the gravel. Fortunately there were no major accidents unlike last year, but the race left the track absolutely covered in gravel. Much more gravel than the sweepers could ever remove before the precious historic cars went out again. These track conditions really did not fit with an event that punishes any serious accident with a year’s suspension. Perhaps next year the ‘Legends’ should race machinery that they can’t afford to use as bumper cars.
Race of Legends winner Timo Glock was out later in the day to head the Toyota parade in the very successfully Toyota-Eagle Mark III GTP car. Running ground-effects created downforce levels inconceivable today, the Toyota-Eagle dominated the 1992 and 1993 IMSA championship. Glock was followed by a GTO and GTU version of the Celica and a competition spec 2000 GT.
The Collier Collection based in Naples, Florida is one of the finest in the world. While the actual museum is not open to the public, Mr. Collier takes great pride in showing and / or exercising his cars. He brought no fewer than three of them to Laguna Seca; the aforementioned Delage, a Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport and a Scarab Mk2. The latter two were raced by seasoned American driver John Morton in spectacular fashion. He won both races he competed in, although it must be said that the Corvette was a little out of the league of the GT cars it raced against. Morton was challenged in the Scarab by Chris Cox, who was brave enough to take his Ferrari 412 MI onto the very limit, producing a rain of sparks at the exit of the corkscrew. He jumped Morton at the start and held on the lead for several laps before being forced to yield to the nimbler Scarab.
Racing legend Bobby Rahal also starred on the Saturday in two very different Lolas. He was out first in a Lola T310 in the race for Historic Can-Am Cars. Even before the green flag was shown there were several incidents, which did not make it any easier for Rahal, who had to start from the back. After the race finally got under way, he quickly made up many places and finally grabbed the lead in the last lap. Unfortunately he fell victim to the tight scheduling as he was due out in the very next race (for 1964 – 1975 FIA Sports Cars) in his own T290. After lengthy delays, the organizers decided to send the cars for the next group out immediately after the last Can-Am car crossed the finish line. Rahal’s Lola was left behind waiting for its driver. When he finally managed to climb in, he barely had time to catch the back of the field and was forced to fight his way back to the leaders all over again. Another stellar drive saw him finish second behind Randall Smith in a Chevron B19.
Also worth mentioning are the exploits of Australian racer Rusty French, who brought two of his Porsche 935 K3s to Laguna Seca. A small container was not large enough for the black and gold Porsche, while a large one offered plenty of space to bring a spare car. Rusty is a stalwart participant of Australia’s historic racing scene and also participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1984. Despite never having been to Laguna Seca before, he dominated the IMSA race on Sunday afternoon, beating many local drivers.
The aforementioned cars, drivers and races represent only a small summary of the Monterey Historic Automobile Races. For a full run down of all the activities we can only refer to the mouth-watering 200-shot slideshow
, which includes pictures of all 15 classes, the Ferrari Historic Challenge, the Toyota Legends race and the various parades. Going through all the shots, it is easy to see why the Historics is still going strong after 35 years. Our only gripe is the packed schedule, which could benefit from some slimming down, although we are glad that we are not the ones having to do the axing.