In 2011, the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was once again the racing hub of the annual Monterey Classic Car Week with around 550 historic racing cars, spread over 17 classes, taking to the undulating track during the four-day Rolex Monterey Monterey Motorsports Reunion. As has become a popular tradition, the action actually kicked off a weekend earlier with the 'Pre-Reunion', which already saw a considerable number of the Reunion's cars competing. This year's featured marque was Jaguar with a special focus on the E-Type, which was introduced 50 years ago. As part of these celebrations, the legendary American Jaguar privateer Bob Tullius was also honoured. In conjunction with the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the Motorsports Reunion also marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the development of the Ferrari 250 GTO.
Among the 17 classes were all the crowd favourites, like 1970s Formula 1, Can-Am, IMSA GTP / Group C and Trans-Am. They were spread in two groups, with nine racing on Saturday and eight on Sunday. Fortunately the Sunday groups had practice on both Thursday and Friday, so our photographers had plenty of time to capture all groups in detail. The result is an action-packed 210-shot gallery
The cars are the stars
Building on decades of tradition, the Monterey Motorsports Reunion always manages to attract a high quality field with historic and important racing cars. This year certainly was no exception with exciting machinery ranging from Tazio Nuvolari's 1935 German Grand Prix winning Alfa Romeo Tipo B to Mark Donohue's 1968 Trans-Am winning Penske Camaro and a Ferrari 312 PB piloted by Brian Redman. We were particularly taken by the works McLaren M6A and M8F Can-Am racers. They represented the start and end of the period dominated by the 'papaya orange' machines; the former was used by Bruce McLaren to win the team's first championship in 1967 and the latter was the sister car to Peter Revson's 1971 championship winner. The Can-Am class was particularly well stocked with a very rare example of the unusual Shadow Mk 2 also standing out. A new class this year was Group 5A for 1960-1968 Sports Racing USRRC cars. This attracted a fleet of small-block engined Lolas and McLarens, which are usually outshone if they are pitched against the later big-block Can-Am cars. In the person of Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame, there was an actual star in this group. He raced his recently restored Lola T70 quite competitively and also revealed plans to enter the 2012 Daytona 24 Hours.
Jaguar in general and the E-Type in particular took centre stage at this year's Reunion. A considerable section of the paddock was reserved for an impressive display that featured examples of most of the company's racing cars built since the 1950s. Among them were the sports and prototype racers built by Bob Tullius' Group 44 in the 1970s and 1980s. Not only were these cars very successful, Group 44 also brought Jaguar back to Le Mans after an absence of several decades. So it was more than fitting that Tullius was honoured this Jaguar year. A most fitting tribute were the two opening laps of the Thursday and Friday practice sessions of the IMSA GTP / Group C group. These were lead by no fewer than three of the Group 44 Jaguar prototypes, including the XJR-7 that scored the very last GTP win for the great privateer team. On display in the paddock was a sister XJR-7, which had been used by Tullius to score his final win as a driver. As during many historic race meetings this year, the E-Type's 50th birthday was celebrated with a special E-Type race. With only a dozen cars out on track, the turn out for this group was however a little disappointing. The star car among them was Gregory Whitten's beautiful and rare Lightweight Roadster that was campaigned in historic events by Neil and Nigel Corner in Europe for many years.
Ferrari 250 GTO 50th anniversary
Although the 250 GTO did not debut until Ferrari's official press conference early in 1962, the legendary machine's 50th Anniversary was celebrated a little early in Monterey. As with the E-Type, the 250 GTO was also honoured with a dedicated class. Considering the massive value of the GTO (between $20 and $30 million depending on provenance), it was not as surprising that less than ten lined up for the race. They were complemented by several examples of the 250 GT SWB, which the GTO had replaced, and a 275 GTB/C, which had struggled to follow in the GTO's footsteps. One of the most interesting of the GTOs racing was Sandra McNeil's s/n 3647GT, which she and her husband James acquired little over a year after its last competitive race. Today it is the only GTO still in completely original condition, proudly sporting cracked paint and the 1965 Targa Florio sticker. Another GTO of note was Tom Price's recently acquired 4757GT. Complete with Scuderia Serenissima stickers, it made its first appearance after the break-up of the Kroymans collection it was part of for many years. Arguably the most successful GTO in the race was Chip Connor's; it raced only four times in period winning outright at its debut at Spa and again at Zolder, placing second and winning its class at Le Mans, followed by a third and GT class victory at Reims. It was a GTO of a slightly different variety, however, that walked away with the victory during the Reunion; Carlo Voegele's 4-litre 330 GTO.
Laguna Seca's long-time sponsor, Mazda celebrated the 20th anniversary of the company's historic victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in great style. The actual winning 787B (s/n 002) was flown out and demonstrated by Yojiro Terada with great verve. What was even more impressive was that the Japanese manufacturer prepared three cars of its collection to actually compete in the event. This was not the first time as the 1992 RX-792P has been a regular in the GTP group during the last few years but this time it was joined by one of the RX-7 GTO cars and the 787 Group C machine that had placed 8th at Le Mans in 1991. Unfortunately there was no group for the RX-7 on the Reunion roster but it was raced by Jeremy Barnes during the pre-Reunion, spitting out spectacular flames and it would also serve as the pace car for the GTP race on Sunday. The 787 and RX-792P did compete in that race and together with two Mazda engined Group C2 Lolas, they provided aural delights all around the track. We can only commend a manufacturer to bring out their historically important cars and would like to encourage others to follow Mazda's fabulous example.
With two groups fewer than last year, the 2011 edition of the Motorsports Reunion did not feel quite as rushed, providing the drivers and spectators a little more time to enjoy the cars. The quality of the entrants was high throughout the field with the E-Type race the only exception. Next year's feature will be the Shelby Cobra, and considering the number of Cobras already competing during regular years that promises to be quite a spectacle.