What's in a name?
During last year's Monterey Historic Automobile Races big and, according to most, welcome changes were announced for the 2010 edition. For the first time since 1974, the event was not going to be organised by its founder Steve Earle and his company General Racing. Instead Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca owner SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula) would produce the complete event themselves. One of the most visible changes was the adoption of a new name for this year's event; the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. A switch of organisation and name are often enough to put even the finest event's future in doubt but as an intricate part of the weeklong automotive activities on the Peninsula, the races need not have worried about entrant or spectator interest. Certainly not in the first year as the 600-strong entry list, spread over 19 groups, underlined. To accommodate the record number of cars, Thursday was added to the roster. Thursday and Friday were used for a practice and a qualifying session for each group and as usual the 'A' groups raced on Saturday and the 'B' groups on Sunday. What did change were the race-day morning sessions, which were uprated from 'warm-ups' to 'qualifying races'. Celebrated during this year's Reunion was Dan Gurney and the many great cars he raced and/or developed over the last five decades.
Our photographers were at the track for the better part of three days and have managed to capture all 19 groups in action. This has resulted in this
exclusive and spectacular 260-shot gallery
Bugatti Grand Prix
One of the 19 classes was reserved exclusively to Bugatti competition cars. The first race of this kind was organised back in 1928 by Ettore Bugatti himself and held at the Le Mans circuit. Known as the 'Bugatti Grand Prix', the event was intended for the company's gentleman drivers and no professionals were allowed to compete. The winner was awarded a brand new Type 35 racing car. There were no awards of that magnitude when the first US Bugatti Grand Prix was held at Laguna Seca back in 1995. That race was won by the great Phil Hill in one of the ferocious Type 54 Grand Prix cars.
Most of the 34 Bugattis entered this year were of the slightly more modest, Type 35, 37 and 51 variety. Quite a few owners brought their cars from overseas, including Luc Slijpen from The Netherlands. He thoroughly enjoyed his highly original and beautifully patinated Type 35 at the swooping track for the very first time. In the paddock there was a special section for Bugattis, which featured many additional examples of the French marque, including the very latest Veyron Super Sports, which recently set a new production car top speed record. On Friday the Bugattis crossed Laureles Grade for the annual 'Quail Run'. The Grand Prix on Saturday was won by Charles Dean in a Type 51.
A popular addition to the schedule in recent years has been the group for early Trans-Am cars (1968 - 1972). These brightly liveried Mustangs, Camaros, Javelins were raced by all of the country's great drivers in period for legendary team owners like Roger Penske and Jim Hall. Fittingly, this year's Trans-Am race featured a three-way battle between a Challenger, Camaro and BOSS Mustang. After swapping the lead several times, the race was eventually won by Bruce Canepa in his ex-Dan Gurney Mustang.
Although most will most vividly remember the 5-litre V8 engined machinery, the very first Trans-Am race was actually won by Jochen Rindt in a diminutive Alfa Romeo GTA, which ran in the 2-litre class. Shortly after the smaller cars were campaigned in separate races. In their honour there was a special group for these 2-litre Alfas, BMWs and Datsuns. Nissan North America brought the famous championship winning, Peter Brock developed Datsun 510 for 1971 and 1972 champion John Morton to drive. Brock was also on hand, this time in his current capacity as a photographer.
Another new group and an instant hit was 6B for Grand National Stock Cars built in the 1960s and 1970s. Among the two-dozen roaring examples entered was the actual Ford Galaxy used by Dan Gurney to win the first ever NASCAR road race at Riverside back in 1963.
Daniel Sexton Gurney
There was only one rival who the legendary Jim Clark really feared; American Dan Gurney. A modest man, Gurney much rather talks about the cars his team built in later years but his exploits behind the wheel can not be forgotten. Between 1958 and 1970 he raced for the likes of Ferrari, BRM, Porsche, Brabham, Ford, McLaren and his own team Anglo American Racers. In 1962 Gurney scored Porsche's only Grand Prix victory to date at Rouen-Les-Essarts. He won two more Grands Prix in 1964 with Brabham. His most notable victory in Formula 1 came during the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. He took that win behind in his own, V12-engined Eagle, becoming the first driver to score a Formula 1 victory in a car of his own making. It was also the first Grand Prix success for an American since Jimmy Murphy's victory in the 1921 French Grand Prix with a Duesenberg. In 1967 Gurney also crossed the line first in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford GT Mk IV. Overcome with joy, he started spraying his mechanics and the gathered press with the champagne he had just been presented; the start of a tradition. Gurney's NASCAR success was already referred to earlier and he also proved victorious in Indy racing and sports cars; a feat only matched by the greatest all-round of all time, Mario Andretti.
Towards the end of his driving career, Gurney already emerged as a team owner and manufacturer in his own right. The F1 victory at Spa was followed by a win in the 1968 Indy 500 with Bobby Unser behind the wheel of a similar Eagle. From 1969 on the focus of the 'All American Racers' team (AAR) and its Eagles was fully on American single seater racing. Showcasing his engineering prowess, Gurney introduced the aerodynamic device that now bears his name on the 1971 Eagle. This was a small strip on the trailing edge of the wing, which greatly enhanced the wing's efficiency. Eagles won again at Indy in 1973 and 1975, respectively driven by Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser. For the 1981 season, Gurney built what he describes today as his favourite car, usually simply referred to as the 'Pepsi Challenger'. The innovative design featured ground effect aerodynamics without the bulky body that was usually associated with ground effects. Equally unusual was the naturally aspirated, small-block V8 engine that powered it, instead of the more commonly used turbocharged V8s. The car was very quick but equally fragile and ended up winning just one race. After 1986 AAR left single seater racing and embarked on a hugely successful IMSA program with Toyota. This culminated in the all-conquering GTP machine that won an unprecedented 17 races in a row in 1992 and 1993. The last Eagle was built in 2000.
To honour Dan Gurney and all his exploits well over two dozen of the cars he drove and/or fielded were gathered at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Among them was one of the Porsche Formula 1 cars as well as the Arciero Brothers Lotus 19, which he famously used to win the 1962 Daytona 3 Hours. The Henry Ford museum kindly provided the GT Mk IV in which Gurney won Le Mans in 1967. Three of the four Formula 1 Eagles built were also present, including the Spa winning car. The majority of the Eagles present were the hugely successful Indy cars, ranging from the very first example to the final Indy Eagle built in 1999. Included were the most famous specimens like the 1971 'Gurney' car, the 1975 Indy winner and the 1981 'Pepsi Challenger'. Quite a few of these came from Gurney's own collection. Also present was the Ferrari Daytona used by Gurney and Brock Yates to complete the 1971 Cannonball run from New York to the West Coast in a record breaking time. Overwhelmed by all the attention, the modest Gurney happily provided autographs throughout the weekend. On Saturday he also gave the green flag for the 5-litre Trans-Am race.
On each race-day the 9 group featured some of the most exciting racing cars. Group 9A was dedicated to the Group C and IMSA GTP cars of the 1980s. Standing out among the colourful collection of Porsches were a Jaguar XJR-5s, several Marches and three Mazdas. The most modern of those was driven very quickly by actor Patrick Dempsey, belching flames on every downshift. The race was won by ex-Formula 1 ace Stefan Johansson, who piloted one of the Dyson's old Porsche 962s. Sunday's Group 9 was reserved for the 3-litre Formula 1 cars, ranging from a 1969 Ferrari to early 1980s Williams. The vast field sported several rare McLarens, various evolutions of the Shadow and also Mario Andretti's championship winning Lotus 79. It is always a special sight to see the Formula 1 cars slice through the 'corkscrew', usually with the inside front wheel well off the ground. Charles Nearburg eventually took the victory in his Williams FW07B, ahead of two slightly later Williams. Earlier on Saturday the IMSA GT race also provided plenty of spectacle, particularly the flame belching Porsche 935s. One of the most special cars on the grid was the Ferrari 250 P that competed in Group 8B. It was the first public appearance of this very rare sports racer in its current guise after a restoration that, for various reasons, lasted well over two decades.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca general manager and CEO Gill Campbell and team have not only preserved the integrity of this well loved event but also managed to make some subtle improvements. The new paddock arrangement provided spectators more access to the feature cars like the fabulous line-up of Dan Gurney Eagles. It was also great to see a large number of placards brought by the owners with generation information on the individual cars. The only unfortunate note of the weekend were several big accidents but luckily none of the drivers involved was seriously hurt. Next year's dates for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion are August 19-21. Make a note in your agenda; we already have!