While the fog blanketed Highway #68 leading to WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, inside the track it was all sunny and bright. Except for a brief fog delay in the second session when a wayward belt of fog hit the Corkscrew, it was all systems go for the first of the two-day Pre-Reunion, gathering of vintage and historic race cars. More than 300 cars are gathered here for the run-up to next weekend’s four-day Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The race groups run the gamut, from cars dating back to 1947 through cars racing in 1984.
This year the featured marque for the Rolex Reunion is Nissan and its illustrious racing history that dates back to its Datsun heritage. No one personifies this more than the venerable John Morton. He is racing No. 46CP 1970 Datsun 240Z in Group 5 for 1973-1981 FIA, IMSA GT, GTX, and GTU cars, alongside 38 other cars. His car has a place of honor in the paddock, all by itself near the gas pumps. It displays the race car, with the trailer insides set up as a mini-museum containing Morton Memorabilia – posters, helmets, driver suit, and more posters. The Stainless Steel Carrot written by Sylvia Wilkinson years ago, recently updated and reprinted, chronicles Morton’s racing odyssey.
Morton is also listed as the driver in No.51A 1973 March F5000 in Group 4. But, as those two races are back to back, he had to decline the F5000 ride. To his dismay. Although he is often thought of a sedan driver, Morton raced a F5000/Can Am car in the mid 1970’s.
In the middle paddock there is a large gathering of F5000 cars, from all over the US as well as a large contingent flown and shipped from Down Under – New Zealand and Australia. There are 41 cars entered to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. Here to help them celebrate is Ken Smith from New Zealand, long-time F5000 driver. Though his race career spans 60 years and he’s been to the track before, Smith has never raced it. He has an unbroken record of competing at a national level since the 1960’s. The only other driver with that distinction is West Coast driver, Eric Haga/No.8 1970 Lol R140. Smith’s last visit was in 2004 with then Indy Lights driver and fellow Kiwi, Scott Dixon.
Smith is racing No. 11 1975 Lola T332. After the Saturday morning session, Smith said he found the course interesting, and it will take him a bit of time to learn it. Some drivers have been here before and one of them pinged the radar gun in Turn 1 at 145 mph. Smith laughed that it wasn’t him.
Michael Collins from New Zealand piloted his No.94 1972 GM McRae to victory, taking the lead on the penultimate lap of the 8-lap race. He bested fellow Kiwi, Steve Ross/No.5B in No.1972 Macrae GM1, who led the first six laps. A field of 35 took the green flag, and 29 finished the race.
During the Saturday afternoon F5000 race, Seb Coppola/No.12 1970 Lola T192 had an unfortunate meeting with Martin M. Fogel Jr/No.11T 1969 MCLaren M10A, and hit the Turn 11 exit wall, necessitating assistance from the SFR Emergency Crew. The drivers are alright, but Coppola’s Lola will need some TLC.
The Safety Car won more than one race Saturday afternoon. In Group 7 for FIA Manufacturers Championship Cars, Neil Alexander/No.1964 Porsche Platypus spun out in Turn 1 hitting the tire wall hard, dislodging the tires and rubber banding. Roger Cassin/No.256 1964 Elva Mk7S spun out evasive. That effectively ended that race. The drivers are alright. Heavy duty track equipment helped the SFR Course Marshals repair the damage.
The drivers were definitely eager to show their stuff this weekend. More than one group started racing before the green flag, sometimes three wide.
Group 6 for 1966-1972 Historic Trans-Am cars was lively, with three different leaders, with Chris Liebenberg/No.16 (116) 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 the winner of the nine-lap race. Other leaders were Jim Hague/No.16T (16) 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 John Hildebrand/No.49 1964 Pontiac Tempest/GTO and No.16T. This was a small field – only 14 of the 20 entries competed. It was a bit confusing as the two butterscotch-colored Mustangs had identical numbers. The only difference was the color of their wheels. A third butterscotch 1970 Mustang was No.15 raced by William Connor, who finished third in the race.
Sunday’s schedule calls for morning practice and afternoon races for al ten race groups.