Mother Nature was not kind to STEVE EARLE the first weekend in June for his Second Annual Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Infineon Raceway. An unseasonable near-monsoon struck Saturday, keeping most of the competitors and their valuable cars in the paddock, and a schedule change. So much for the old song, “It Never Rains in California.” It poured. The thirteen race groups had a truncated schedule of practices and all but the Historic Formula One cars had scheduled time, but only a few die-hards took advantage.
But despite the weather, it was a safe and sane weekend. Sunday the weather was quite mild, almost hot, with nothing but a little breeze until the fog rolled in when the wind picked up expotentially.
The featured marque was McLaren, with more than 20 race cars among the field, as well as a new MP4C-12, which will debut later this year. McLarens ran Formula One, Indy 500, Can Am Series, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The daughter of BRUCE McLAREN came from New Zealand for the McLaren honoring of the car made famous by her father. AMANDA McLAREN admitted she was expecting warmer weather and was caught out having to get warmer gear when she arrived in the US. She and husband STEVEN DONNELL went to the Indianapolis 500 Centennial race last weekend (which they found far more impressive than anticipated,) are in Sonoma for the Motorsports Festival, and have one more stop in Sacramento for a horse meet, before they fly home. While the torrential downpour Saturday put a crimp in things, Amanda McLaren said it allowed the opportunity to spend quality time in the Wine & Cheese pavillion with all the local California offerings.
Amanda McLaren was the Honorary Starter for the Historic F1 group Sunday morning, as well as for the Can Am cars in the afternoon.
The Friday night festivities in the Sonoma town square had to be canceled. However, the Thursday night screening of the yet-to-be-released film, ‘Senna’, was previewed by a large crowd in the Sebastiani Theater in Sonoma. It was well received. One of the cars prominently featured in the movie was the 1985 McLaren on display in the paddock.
Earle had five hundred applicants for this event, which he narrowed down to 400, and a few withdrew due to weather. According to Earle, you can have too much of a good thing. He is looking at reducing the size of the field next year. Earle also is considering a different format next year, downplaying the importance of the featured marque in favor of focusing on groups. The year 2012 marks the beginning of the three-year anniversary of the races in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park – 1952, 1953 and 1954. Earle said next year the weekend will focus on cars from 1952, and the following year 1953 and so on.
Earle is open to trying new things, and wants to interest the younger folks. While he still plans to salute the history and heritage of a particular marque, he wants the weekends (maybe three days in the future) to be different, fun and enjoyable. First on his agenda for next year is better weather.
Perennial winner in whatever historic car he’s racing, PETER GIDDINGS of Danville CA missed out on his afternoon race for 1911-1926 & 1927-1949 Sports and Racing cars. He fouled a float in his 1931 Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3. He did get to race his 1953 Maserati 250F in the morning, finishing eighth.
One of the dare devil drivers Saturday in the pouring rain was ART HEBERT of Larkspur CA, racing his 1963 Lola MK5A F-Jr, having a ball. He said he had to try it … and he loved it. Hebert started second for his rescheduled Sunday morning race for 1955-1964 Formula Cars, and bested pole sitter DANNY BAKER of San Francisco, driving his 1963 Lotus 27 F-Jr to take the win. The local driver bragged about his “doin’ the Danny’ – i.e. DANNY SULLIVAN of spin and win fame, doing a complete spin in the oil laid down by another racer in Turn Ten, and then continuing on in the qualifying session. Hebert qualified second, and said it was worth the closed black flag he received from the flagger.
FRED CZISKA of Petaluma CA drives his 1974 Shadow DN4A in the Historic Can Am class and such is its sound that when he revs the engine, an unsuspecting bystander can jump three feet. However, Sunday, Cziska was denied his due when he suffered from mechanical problems and finished last. CHRIS McALLISTER of Indianapolis won in his 1971 McLaren M8F.
In the morning races, JOHN MORTON of El Segundo CA won Group 4A GT Cars over 2500cc, driving a Sunbeam Tiger with a fouled plug, which he blew clean near the end. The track was slick, so he slip-slid his way to the victory. He also raced a 1986 Roush Mustang owned by PHIL GALLANT Sunday afternoon in the IMSA GTO & Trans-Am race, finishing second. PETER BALJET of British Columbia won in his 1990 Beretta.
JOHN R. HILDEBRAND of Sausalito CA and father of last week’s Indy 500 runner-up driver, J.R. HILDEBRAND, was entered in that same group of IMSA/Trans-Am cars, but didn’t run his 1970-1978 Camaro.
While Earle holds qualifying, the race grids don’t indicate any actual lap times, for the 2.52-mile elevated road course. And trophies aren’t given for finishing first in any given group. What Earle does present is a silver cup and champagne magnum to one driver in each group, based on presentation and performance.
Earle also has the Phil Hill Trophy, which had been named The Monterey Cup for many years, and is now called the Sonoma Historic Cup. The winner was PETER GREENFIELD from New York, in his 1935 Alfa Tipo C. Earle said the car looked good in the wet.
Hill’s widow and son, DEREK HILL, were in Monza this weekend where Phil Hill was being honored.
Earle also presented the Sonoma Historic Trophy to two winners, for presentation in Pre-1940 and Post-1940.
Pre-1940 went to JOHN SHIRLEY of Medina WA for his 1934 Alfa Romeo P3; and MacAllister won for his 1967 Lotus 49 R2. Earle praised that car and its era.
Race winners today:
Group 1A – 1955-1962 GT – Jeff Abramson, 1959 Morgan +4
Group 2A – 1949-1955 Sports Racing & GT – Rob Manson, 1952 Schaghticoke Manning
Group 3A – 1960-1965 Sports Racing – Byron Sanborn, 1965 Elva MK8
Group 4A – 1963-1966 GT over 2500cc – John Morton, 1964 Sunbeam Tiger
Group 5A – 1955-1964 Formula Jr, F2, F1/GP – Art Hebert, 1963 Lola MK5A F-Jr.
Group 6A – 1966-1974 Historic Formula One – Danny Baker, 1977 McLaren M23
Group 7A – 1966-1972 Historic Trans-Am – Ken Epsman, 1970 Dodge Challenger
Group 1B – 1911-1926, 1927-1949 Sport and Racing – Peter Greenfield, 1935 Alfa Romeo Tipo-C
Group 2B – 1955-1960 Sports Racing – Donald Orosco – 1958 Lotus 15
Group 3B – 1962-1967 GT under 2500cc – Paul Quackenbush, 1963 Lotus S-7
Group 4B – 1966-1980 FIA Makes, IMSA GT – Bert Skidmore, 1976 Lola T-286
Group 5B – 1966-1974 Historic Can-Am – Chris MacAllister, 1971 McLaren M8F
Group 6B – 1981-1991 IMSA GTO, Trans-Am – Peter Baljet, 1990 Beretta
2011 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival Awards
The Sonoma Historic Cup – “The Phil Hill Trophy”
Presented for Best Presentation and Performance Overall
Winner: Peter Greenfield, Freeport, NY, 1935 Alfa Romeo Tipo C
The Sonoma Historic Trophy , Pre-1940 Category
Presented for Excellence in Presentation
Winner: Jon Shirley, Medina, Wash., 1934 Alfa Romeo P3
The Sonoma Historic Trophy, Post 1940 Category
Presented for Excellence in Presentation
Winner: Chris MacAllister, Indianapolis, Ind., 1967 Lotus 49 R2
The Sonoma Historic Award
Presented for Presentation and Performance in Race Group
Winner Race 1A: Brian Howlett, Hacienda Heights, Calif., 1961 Morgan +4
Winner Race 2A: Graham Smith, Melbourne, Australia 1950 Allard J2-Cadillac
Winner Race 3A: David Jacobs, Boulder, Colo.,1964 McLaren -Elva M1A
Winner Race 4A: Tom Fry, Morgan Hill, Calif., 1966 Shelby GT-350
Winner Race 5A: Jeffrey O’Neill, Kentfield, Calif., 1957 Maserati 250F
Winner Race 6A: Scott Drnek, Hayward, Calif., 1970 McLaren M14A
Winner Race 7A: Forrest Straight, Mountain View, Calif., 1970 Boss 302 Moustang
Winner Race 1B: Jim Stranberg, Berthound, Colo., 1949 Talbot Lago T26C
Winner Race 2B: Thor Johnson, Kirkland, Wash., 1959 Lotus 17
Winner Race 3B: James LaMantia, Loomis, Calif., 1963 MGB
Winner Race 4B: Stephen Harris, Incline Village, Nev., 1979 Porsche 935J
Winner Race 5B: Roger Williams, Auckland, New Zealand, 1970 McLaren M8E/F
Winner Race 6B: Peter Baljet, Duncan, BC, 1990 Beretta