Editorial Highlights Of 2003
Tom Kjos has forwarded his adventures from the year just ended (which
we’ll post very soon): Tom’s ALMS (and historical, non
racing) perspectives are always a good read, and we hope to find
that he’ll have some Le Mans adventures to recount by mid
The Editor doesn’t
escape from this desk as much as he would like, but here’s
his view of 2003 – some random memories from the times when
he did manage to stop driving a desk, including his personal highlights
of a memorable year.
Le Mans: those two little
words. Two little words which will crop up more frequently in ’04
than in ’03, thanks to the Le Mans Endurance Series. Was it
just me who felt that Europe actually had two LMES previews in the
year just passed – Spa in August and Le Mans in November?
Those two races both captured the essence of modern endurance racing:
suitably large grids, a fascinating variety of machinery, long races,
good crowds, and an open and friendly paddock.
No, make that four LMES
previews: because Petit Le Mans has been setting the (modern) endurance
standard since 1998, while Sebring has been doing it for far longer
(but I didn’t make it to that one in ‘03). It’s
a little odd, isn’t it, that Sebring and PLM have been showing
Europe the way for years (and years), but only now has Europe found
a format that is likely to be popular? And now that Europe has found
its way, how will the ALMS evolve?
Yet Europe has ‘always’
had the 24 Hours, which always has full grids – and at times
would have been able to fill it twice over. This is where Tom Kjos’s
Le Mans ’04 perspective will be required reading. What’s
he going to make of it? What will he make of an event that actually
starts in May (late April this year) and ends in June? An event
that has its unique schedule, with Qualifying running until midnight
on Wednesday and Thursday? An event which taxes everyone to the
limit – such that drivers have to keep themselves to themselves
as much as they possibly can once the track opens on Wednesday,
so as to conserve all they can for Saturday and Sunday? No wandering
around the paddock in mid-June, finding appealing personnel all
over the place: it’s grab them when you can, as they head
for their hospitality / rest areas.
May’s Le Mans Test
Day was dominated by Bentley prospects. A chance to grab Tom Kristensen
at lunchtime was welcome, and in a few short minutes, the urgency
of the Bentley programme came across loud and clear. This was a
team under pressure: it had to win, and the day wasn’t going
too well. This wasn’t a turn up and see how it goes adventure:
this was ‘carry on throwing every effort imaginable at it’,
just as they had been since long before Sebring: just as they would
until the end of the 24 Hours.
"I'll only be happy
if we're first and second (fastest, at the Test Day). We have to
be faster than the opposition, although it doesn't matter so much
within the team. We're running different programmes with the #7
and #8 cars, to gather as much data as possible.
"Why will I only
be happy to be first and second? Well, we have higher fuel consumption
than the other cars, we have higher tyre wear, and our driver changes
will take longer. We have to keep focusing on being faster. I would
quite like to be the fastest driver, but only as long as it doesn't
compromise our #7 team."
This wasn’t the
atmosphere of a Goh or Racing for Holland team at Spa or Le Mans
(in November). This was a manufacturer that had to win. The cars
had to be faster than the (Audi) opposition, and they had to demonstrate
immaculate reliability. By the end of that day, Kristensen was nearly
four seconds faster than any R8 opponents, but mechanical problems
meant that it would be a pressured few weeks until the next gathering
Even as the race was
about to start there was drama with the Kristensen / Capello / Smith
car – on the grid! But from 4pm onwards, those two Bentleys
were simply the most impressive pair of cars ever to race at Le
Mans. It was inexorable, the way they hammered on and on, at fantastic
pace, all the way to the flag 24 hours later. Great racing it wasn’t
– in any of the classes. We’d watched a Bentley exhibition,
of what a manufacturer could do if it wanted to win this race badly
enough. No different from ’00, ’01 or ’02 in many
respects, but even more impressive.
And that was the Bentley
saga over with. Sebring, Le Mans, museum. Done. We don’t expect
racing for position in the last hour of 24, but sometimes we get
it. And Gunnar Jeannette against Jean-Marc Gounon was fantastic
entertainment. We felt sorry for the Frenchman, but thrilled for
the young American, and for the Panoz team. This was a Panoz performance
at Le Mans that had been a long time coming. This was the first
personal highlight of the year. Yes, open-mouthed amazement at what
Bentley had achieved, but Jeannette and Panoz … this was more
personal. This was justice being done. This was wheel to wheel racing.
We don’t expect it, but when we get it, we love it.
Well done Gunnar and
Don. Well done Bentley. Those were my two Le Mans highlights.
And JML Team Panoz kept it up in the ALMS, with that string of Panoz
podium positions – but Tom Kjos has covered all that.
The next Editorial highlight
came at Spa, at the end of August. I wasn’t lucky enough to
see that Freisinger / Porsche performance in the 24 Hours, so can’t
comment first hand, but a month later came the Spa ‘preview’
of the LMES, the Spa 1000 Kms, the mixed event for the FIA SCC cars
and the British GTs.
This race had no right
to be anything special – except for the participants of course.
It wasn’t even clear quite why these two series had come together
– force of circumstance, one supposes. The organisers were
plainly hugely disappointed at the prototype turn out, but the event
still had enough of the necessary ingredients. The outcome at the
head of the field was as predictable as the Le Mans 1000 Km, although
Andy Wallace gave TK something to chase while it was really wet.
Watching those two, up through Eau Rouge, and dancing between the
GTs – the Golf and the Clio included – was great entertainment.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable meeting, and another highlight of
my year – even before the amazing last hour.
Mosler against Mosler,
Barbosa against Erdos. What a thriller this was! The Brazilian was
in fuel trouble, and was desperately trying to eke it out to the
flag, but the race was one lap too many. This battle of the Moslers
was quite simply the best ‘one on one’ racing of the
The previous British
GT event had been held at Thruxton, and with only 16 cars starting,
how on earth could someone claim that this was a highlight of his
season? Yet I would argue that it was. Rockingham (the previous
round) had had a huge crowd, and a disappointing race – almost
completely devoid of close racing. Thruxton was different –
and to me was proof that the 2003 British GT format was really starting
to work. A DeWalt TVR and a Veloqx Ferrari added immeasurably to
the quality of the field, and the only negative in the race was
the unfortunate clash that took out one Championship contender,
the Rollcentre Mosler. Other than that we had Safety Cars, wrong
decisions on pit strategy, hard charging back through the field,
worries over fuel lasting, success for the Balfe Mosler over the
Veloqx FIA car, Morgan pace against the Porsches in the Cup Class
– and the superb variety of machinery that the British series
was demonstrating at every round.
With such brilliant
reliability at the next round at Spa, these two meetings confirmed
to me that the British series had a great future. Others would disagree,
citing the lack of GT Class cars, the lack of professional drives,
the standing of some of the teams etc. We really don’t know
what British GTs have in store for us in ’04 – except
that the changes put in place recently have been dramatic ones.
It will all come down to numbers: how many drivers and teams want
to compete in the 2004 format? How many would have competed had
the ‘two class’ endurance format continued?
Petit Le Mans: all this
race lacked was a Weaver / Wallace / Leitzinger MG-Lola performance
to remember. The early retirement of this entry was a major disappointment,
but the event, the circuit, the crowd, the atmosphere, the dramas
– they were all there in abundance. I didn’t need convincing,
because after all Tom Kjos had been telling me / us how good the
events had been all summer long – but the format, the mixed
classes, the car developments, the tracks …it has it all,
Just one (relatively
insignificant) moment said it all for me. It was Friday morning,
and the first session of Qualifying day. The two Dyson cars had
had fresh (that is brand new blocks and heads) engines fitted on
Thursday night, and James Weaver and Chris Dyson were rushing round
in convoy in numbers 16 and 20 – and boy did they look impressive.
Through the last corner, the cars looked to be handling immaculately,
and they’d been proving their speed in every session so far.
This wasn’t twitchy, edgy on the limit stuff: this was two
cars running at front running speed and looking like winners. This
was the culmination (for now) of a year or more of development:
this was proof that development and testing, by a top notch team,
really do work. This was two cars tuned to almost perfection. It
was a joy to watch – a highlight of my year, lasting just
five seconds each time they passed.
Jon Field was at the
other end of the development trail, but his story was no less enjoyable
to follow: the rascal had dropped a Judd into his Lola B160 –
and he ended up winning the class. What a result for Intersport
– what a result for Champion too. Herbert and Lehto kissing
on the podium. What fun. Whatever next?
For some (sadly not
very many, most of those entered were already in Europe) it was
a trip to France, for the 1000 Km. The Goh Audi was always going
to win this one (barring some kind of racing incident), but the
lack of a battle at the front didn’t diminish the event at
all – because a PLM-sized field was making the most of getting
through a difficult, weather affected race. And the GT race was
a classic! For once, a Ferrari seemed to have the advantage, certainly
when the track was dry, but the gang of Porsches took the fight
to them, and until the last hour or so it was looking like a maiden
PK Sport international win. That became a maiden Cirtek international
win after not one but two PK punctures. That was cruel, but racing
is, isn’t it?
The Safety Car was called
out mid race to clear up some of the gravel, which seemed to litter
large parts of the Bugatti Circuit. That Le Mans gravel is a constant
worry, one that really shouldn’t be a worry at all. That’s
an issue that needs addressing, but the ACO has at last initiated
the creation of four top class races in Europe – and all four
’04 events should be highlights of the New Year. The preview
event was definitely a highlight of ’03.
And that was almost
it in terms of Cracknell’s 2003 race highlights - apart from
Bathurst. What a circuit, what a lovely town, what a welcome, what
hospitable people. The reality was that Cracknell was greeted with
the same warmth in Australia as he’d received in Atlanta.
Andy Hall and Chris Nixon are two very special PR guys, each with
a special group of people around them.
a personal note of thanks – to all those dsc guys (and gals).
Arriving at a race meeting and teaming up with Gary, Tom, Jeannie,
Janos, Joost, Graham, David, David, Mark, Steve, Russell, Regis,
James, Johannes, Andy, Lyndon, Claude, Paul, Marcus, Brian and Ken
was a highlight of the year. These people love endurance racing
– and love meeting and reporting on their heroes. Gabriele
and Sergio – we’ll have to meet soon!
HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone.