The first of the two-day Rolex Monterey Motorsports Pre-Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca started out Saturday with typical morning fog, but it burned off before 9am and the rest of the day was sunny and bright.
Entries for the 12 race groups for the weekend numbered 260, with a wide diversity. There were 17 drivers from ten countries, and more than 240 drivers coming from 21 states.
The featured marque is Chevrolet Corvette, and there were 22 Corvettes spread among three race groups.
Saturday’s Run Groups were One through Ten, plus Group 12. Sunday’s Run Groups will again be One through Ten, plus Group 11.
The morning practice sessions were twenty-minutes, followed by 20 minute races in the afternoon. The race results set the grid for Sunday’s races. For the most part, Saturday went very smoothly with little drama … until late afternoon.
R.GRAY GREGORY of Houston TX will have a long tow home with his toasted yellow 1974 Chevron B26. Race Ten for 1970-1979 Sports Racing Cars under 2000cc was about half-over when the car just flamed out the back side. He pulled off course in Turn Four and quickly scrambled out unhurt, while flames enveloped the car. The air was filled with thick black smoke, causing a smokescreen which hid the action. The Emergency Crews quickly responded, and the fire was squelched and kept to the back half of the car. The cause is yet unknown.
The field was put behind the Safety Car and brought into the Pit Lane to stop. When the race was restarted, it was comparable to NASCAR’s Green-White-Checker finish. Four-time Motorcycle 500cc World Champion, EDDIE LAWSON had led the race from the pole until the restart, driving a 1975 Osella PA 3/5. The cars were given the Green Flag in Pit Lane, but seemingly didn’t get the memo, so proceeded around the 2.238-mile circuit as if still under the Pace Car – without the Pace Car, snaking the course and scrubbing tires. It wasn’t until the top of the Corkscrew that some of the drivers figured it out – after being shown Green Flags from the corners. Lawson, who turned the fastest Group 10 race lap of 1:34.0 was caught out and ultimately finished fourth. ERIC JOINER/1977 Chevron B36 won. Second and third were JOHN HILL/1974 Lola T-282 and TOM MINNICH/1977 Lola T-297.
Race One for Pre 1952 Sports Racing and Touring Cars was ultimately won by PADDINS DOWLING/1939 Maserati 4CL, but not without a lively battle with PETER GIDDINGS/1926 Delage 15-S-8. The two swapped the lead more than once. Giddings often wins in one or another of his vintage cars, especially his 1930 Alfa Romeo Tipo B “P3”, which he will run next weekend at the Rolex Reunion in Group IA. But this weekend, Giddings was over the moon about how well his Delage ran. He spent eight years restoring it, and this was its first outing.
ROB MANSON of Barcelona Spain won Race Two for 1947-1955 Sports Racing and GT Cars, driving a 1952 Manning Special Mercury. A had not run the morning practice, he started last and worked his way through the field, which included some veteran historic races such as TOM CLARIDGE/1953 Kurtis 500S and DON PEPPERDINE/1949 Baldwin Special Roadster.
Race Three for 1955-1962 GT Cars was won by JEFF ABRAMSON/1959 Morgan Babydoll IV, who started third. He beat polesitter CHRIS OROSCO/1959 Lola Mark I and LEONARD TURNBEAUCH/1958 Porsche 356A Convertible D. There were five Corvettes in the group.
Pole Sitter ANDRE LARA of Sao Paula, Brazil drove a 1965 Lotus 26R to victory in Group Four for 1961-1966 GT Cars under 2500 cc. He bested a field of 26 cars.
NICHOLAS COLYVAS/1953 Lotus 27 won the Group Five Race for 1958-1963 Formula Junior Cars. He started the race on the outside of the front row, next to pole sitter JIMMY DOMINGOS/1962 Cooper T59 Formula Junior. Domingos led most of the race, but the car couldn’t quite finish the race and he retired. Colyvas went on to win. It’s nice to see that the Formula Junior ranks are growing so that they can have their own race group.
Race Six for 1963-1966 GT Cars over 2500 cc had the second largest field, with 40 cars. Veteran racer JOHN MORTON started third in a 1963 Corvette Grand Sport, behind Pole Sitter JOHN MULLER/1970 Porsche 911S and LOME LEIBEL/1964 Shelby Cobra. But it only took half a lap for Morton to charge ahead and lead to the finish. The group had 12 Corvettes.
Morton was entered in another car in Group Six, a 1974 Sunbeam Tiger, but obviously didn’t race it.
ERICKSON SHIRLEY/1950 Lister Costin won Race Seven for 1955-1961 Sports Racing Cars, after starting second behind Pole Sitter HERBERT WETANSON/1960 Lola Mk 1A. Shirley led most of the race.
The largest field was Race Eight for all the IMSA cars, 1973-1989 (GT, GTX, AAGT, GTU/GTO/GTP), with 42 entries including five Corvettes. It was also the fastest and loudest of the races. Pole sitter WELDON MUNSEY/1992 Mazda RX7-92P won the race. This is one of the three factory IMSA cars owned by Mazda North America, where Munsey is President and CEO, Dealer Affairs.
Race Nine was interesting. This 24-car field for 1960-1968 Sports Racing USRRC Cars was almost two races in one. Pole Sitter CHRIS MacALLISTER ran away and hid from the pack in his 1973 Gulf Mirage – with the famous Le Mans livery. He lapped at least seventy-five percent of the field. On what was the White Flag Lap, he slowed and went into the paddock. It was almost as though he thought he’d won, ran his cool-off lap and pitted. The race was won by JOSHUA FELBER/1962 Lotus 23B.
However, afterwards, MacAllister said that he pitted early as he thought it was unfair for his car to be in that group, and wanted to let someone else win the race. He said it wasn’t good for the fans not to see a race. MacAllister was moved to Group Ten for Sunday’s events, and as he didn’t race in that group Saturday, he will start the Sunday race from the back of the pack. He will be racing against his brother, ALEX, who will race No.5 (red) 1971 Chevron B19. Alex finished tenth in Saturday’s race.
The last race of the day was Group 12 – Historic TransAm Cars 1966-1972. It was a loud field of 29 cars, with Pole Sitter KEN EPSMAN/1971 AMC Javelin winning, but it wasn’t a shoo-in. He raced hard to stave off his competitors. Epsman is the de facto head of the West Coast Historic Trans-Am contingent, and owns at least three of the cars in the field. Another of Epsman’s cars, the infamous No.77 Slime 1970 Dodge Challenger, ran well while it lasted, but eventually retired. This Group will not run Sunday.
It was a long day for everyone, especially the race officials and marshals from the San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SFR SCCA), who worked for more than eight hours. And tomorrow is another day.