From a motorsport point of view we truly are living in the age of historic racing. The Peter Auto and Masters series tour Europe and the States and the number of circuits hosting stand-alone meetings is growing: Goodwood, Silverstone, Donington Park, Oulton Park, Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen… We could keep going. In fact, we will.
Daytona International Speedway is the latest grand old venue to join the ranks and last weekend GRR hopped over the pond to take-in the second running of the Daytona Classic 24 Hours sanctioned by Historic Sportscar Racing, which is headed-up by American-based Brit David Hinton.
This was GRR’s first visit to Daytona (having covered the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion last year) and upon arrival the unusually foggy conditions added to the mystique of the place. In the paddock as the mist cleared it revealed the vast grandstands towering above the Front Stretch as we thought not just of Richard Petty’s seven Daytona 500 wins and Brian Redman’s hat-trick of Daytona 24 Hours triumphs, but also the legacy of Bill France who not only co-founded NASCAR, but also recognised the need for a large-capacity venue at Daytona and worked tirelessly to create the International Speedway. This place has been sprinkled with the stardust. You can feel it.
Although it will be a bi-annual event like the Monaco Historique and Le Mans Classic, the first two Daytona Classic 24 Hour events have taken place in consecutive years to get some momentum going. This would appear to have worked perfectly. To illustrate this the field was up to 190 cars from last year’s 135 and with teams from no fewer than 15 different countries and four continents.
Before we get on to cars though, it’s worth pointing out some of the driving talent: Jochen Mass, Gijs van Lennep, Bobby Rahal, Brian Redman, Dieter Quester, Jurgen Barth, Jean Marc Gounon, Jules Gounon, Olly Bryant, Butch Leitzinger and Jim Pace were just some of the esteemed pilots present. Between them they boast success at F1, Le Mans, Indianapolis, Daytona, Spa and a wealth of experience in GTs, Indycar, Sports Cars and… well at some point all of them have driven just about everything except a Lunar Roving Vehicle.
The 190 race entries covered a wide variety of machinery from Audi R8 and Pescarolo Le Mans Prototypes to a Lotus Elan and an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Oh and Porsches; lots and lots of Porsches. After all, over the years Daytona has been almost as closely associated with the Stuttgart firm as Le Mans.
Running any of the cars there for 24 hours is out of the question nowadays from a practical point of view, so the entries were separated into six groups which each raced four times with the final results being decided by which car covered the most distance in the least overall time.
The six groups were as follows:
Group A: ‘Early FIA era’ – 1962 – 1972. Everything here from the Lotus Elan to the Lola T70, including many Porsches, Corvettes, Mustangs and a spectacular Matra MS630.
Group B: ‘Early IMSA GTO/GTU era’ – 1973 – 1982. This was where to find the wide-bodied and often turbocharged monsters. Think Greenwood Corvettes, Porsche 911 RSRs, ‘Batmobile’ BMW CSLs and of course the two wonderful Porsche 935s we shared from the event.
Group C: ‘Late IMSA/GTP era’ – 1983 – 1993. Fittingly, Group C was primarily all about the golden age of Group C prototypes. No fewer than six Porsche 962s were present to keep company with a pair of Jaguar XJR-5s, and XJR-7 and the Aston Martin AMR-1 prototype as driven by the great Brian Redman.
Group D: ‘Early Grand-Am/Daytona Prototype/GT era’ – 1994 – 2002. As well as the Daytona Prototypes, this group featured a host of extremely fast machinery. Riley and Scott MkIIIs rubbed shoulders with a Lola B2K/10, GT Porsches, Corvettes, Vipers, a Saleen S7R GT1 and all the way from the UK an extremely rare TVR T400.
Group E: ‘Modern LMP/Grand Am/GT era’ – 2003 -2013. Okay, perhaps these cars don’t fit into the usual ‘historic motorsport’ category, but the likes of the Audi R8 LMP, Pescarolo Judd, Porsche RS Spyder, Porsche 997s, Ferrari F430s and BMW Alpina B6 GT3 didn’t race at Daytona in their day. Besides, there are no noise restrictions at Daytona and the sonic delights of screaming LMP cars counterpoint nicely with the the older kit.
Group F: HSR cars – This was a wildly diverse group of machines that didn’t quite fit into any of the above categories. Most were Porsches (mainly 911s and even a 906), with a smattering of Lotuses (including a 211) and even a BMW 325i.
Now that’s a lot of cars and drivers. So many in fact that it would be understandable if things went a bit wrong now and then. Not a bit of it. Despite the odd (thankfully) minor on-track incident, apparently not one minute has been lost over the complete running of the first two meetings. Clearly, slick organisation is not an issue.
Neither is the spectacle of racing. If you want to be awe-inspired, ladies and gentlemen, stand at the bottom of Turn 7 (this would normally be the first banked corner after the Front Stretch on the oval course) and witness a bunch of Lola T70s thundering past at 33 degrees to horizontal and leaving a trail of thunder in their wake. Then imagine Porsche 962s and Jaguar XJR-5s doing the same. Then some screaming BMW CSLs etc etc… Bear in mind too that stood there the ‘Horseshoe’ corner is right behind you, so you can spin around and watch the powerful stuff laying down the rubber hard as it exits the turn and rockets down to the left-hander that leads on to the banking. There isn’t a sight anywhere in historic racing quite like that.
It’s the banking that does it. We were privileged to ride around the course in the Porsche Cayman GTS pace car and, at relatively modest speed it is a struggle to keep your head from leaning over towards that of the driver. It is of course the centrifugal force (lacking in our pace car at 50 mph) that allows the cars to carry such huge speeds through the turns. How huge? Well British GT ace Olly Bryant hit a peak of 201 mph in his Dodge NASCAR, and this wasn’t the fastest machine there, not by a long shot …
It is also the banking as well as the variety of cars in each group that enhances the aural experience. Group A would serve up the deep, bellowing howl of small block V8s from Lola T70s, Corvettes and Mustangs, interspersed with the unmistakable crackle of Porsche flat-sixes and screaming Cosworth-engined Chevron B16s. Group B mixed the melodic tune of BMW CSL straight sixes with more screaming Chevrons and Lolas and the utter devastation of the big-block Greenwood Corvettes. Even renowned Porsche expert Andy Prill couldn’t help grinning like a fool and proclaiming ‘would you just listen to that thing!’ when the 8.3-litre monster blasted down the Front Stretch at well over 180mph in the hands of Jules and Jean-Marc Gounon. Each class was treat to behold.
At times Daytona’s vast expanse meant a slightly strung-out field, but within each race was a keen battle to keep your eyes on. One dice worth a mention was between the Str8six TVR T400 of Jason Clegg and Matthew Holben and various Porsche 996s late on Saturday; the uber-rare racer from Blackpool doing a fine job in its first ever outing at Daytona. Elsewhere, despite being robbed at the last minute of Johan Woerhide’s Lola T70 due to gearbox woes, the remaining three T70 Mk3Bs produced some of the most memorable moments of the weekend at the sharp end of the Group A field. In Group B the fearsome Greenwood Corvette of the Gounons was in danger of sonically tearing down the grandstands. In Group C the Porsche 962s and Jaguar XJR-5s almost brought tears to the eyes at 3am as they tore along the banking. We could go on through each group, but you get the picture. The cars were great, as was the venue, but the combination of the two added up to something very special and a welcome addition to the world of historic motorsport.
We liked it. A lot. So it goes without saying that if you’re lamenting the end of the racing season in Europe and fancy combining Autumn sunshine with some historic racing action we’d recommend this event highly. It’s a shame that you’re going to have to wait two years until the next one, but then again we have Classic Le Mans and Monaco Historique to look forward to next year, not to mention a few rather popular events here at Goodwood. Oh you lucky people… Full results are available on HSR’s Classic 24 website here, and in the coming days and weeks we’re going to be sharing with you the very best of the on-board action. Trust us, it’s going to be spectacular!
Photography by Michael Casey DiPleco, Dave Ferguson, Chuck Andersen and Andrew Craig