Bill Binnie – Patience & Planning

Here’s one fascinating character – and the more one discovers about his racing plans, the more interesting they become.

dailysportscar.comThe 2005 programme, as announced in the second week of January at the AUTOSPORT Show (left), is that Binnie Motorsports will be the one of the first customers for a brand new Lola B05/40 Nicholson-McLaren, to be raced at Sebring, in the LMES and, entry permitting, at Le Mans.

So who is Bill Binnie? As a bright, young man more than 20 years ago, he raced all around the United States in single seaters, as part of Skip Barber’s Racing programme, but while at Sebring he discovered he was about a second slower than Justin Bell, reckoned he wasn’t going to be a World Champion, and set about getting a real job and making the money that would allow him to go racing for pleasure.

“I’ve been racing competitively for the last ten years or so, after taking a bunch of years off to make a living and making some money to pay for my racing habit. But even while not racing I have always played with cars and collected cars.”… And he has some gorgeous historic cars in his possession – on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Paul Lanzante (remember him? He entered the winning McLaren F1 GTR at Le Mans in 1995, JJ’s year) has always looked after my historic cars in the UK. He’s currently working on the engine of my 312PB, and he looks after the GT40 I raced at Le Mans this year, in the Classic event.”

Bill is too modest to admit that he won that Le Mans ‘race’, on aggregate over the four sprints – so he was twice a winner at Le Mans last year.

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We had a fascinating discussion about his 312PB Ferrari, the car that Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni raced so hard in 1971 – ultimately with very little good fortune. This was the chassis (0784) that replaced the one destroyed in Ignazio Giunti’s appalling accident in Argentina. At Brands Hatch, for example (above), Ickx lost eight laps early on, after being put off the road by a backmarker, but he and his Swiss partner still finished second, only three laps behind de Adamich / Pescarolo.

But ’71 set the scene for that most successful Ferrari sportscar year ever, when Ickx, Andretti, Redman, Regazzoni, Peterson and Schenken cleaned up in the Championship.

So here we have a man who loves driving older cars, but gets a thrill out of racing contemporary machinery too. We’ve used this photograph already, but it sums up the satisfaction of a class win in the greatest endurance race of all (Le Mans, the podium, last June, with Clint Field and Rick Sutherland).

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“The idea of entering the new Lola design at Le Mans arose 18 months ago, but the new car simply wasn’t ready in that time frame, so my team became heavily integrated into the Intersport effort in ‘04. It was a very interesting year: we had to settle for a third in class at the 12 Hours of Sebring, after breaking the alternator late in the race. We’d led our class at Sebring, and then I had the accident at Monza in May, while leading the class again (Bill was hit by a Porsche, very hard), but it turned out very well in June when we went on to win class at Le Mans.

“With an eye towards the 2005 season and what car we wanted to compete in, I tested a Courage recently, on the Bugatti Circuit: that’s an impressive, nimble car with very good straight-line speed, so the choice came down to buying a Courage, and perhaps fitting a different engine into it, or to go with the new, untested Lola.

“The biggest risks in racing are taking on the development of an engine and a chassis, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in both products.”

Bill Binnie’s motor racing plan for 2005 is a very interesting one. He is a very astute man, but a very methodical one too.

Our crew consists of some full time guys… we’ve got Pat and Adam Twinley on board, with Steve Hay, and currently they’re in England, full-time, at the Lola factory, completing the build of the car, and learning all about it. The European team numbers twelve in total, some part time, some full time.

“We’ve got our base just outside the Lola factory, and although Binnie Motorsports has two trucks currently in the states, one is a European one, and that will be shipped to Europe after Sebring, to cover the LMES events.”

Bill Binnie has very extensive experience of racing in Europe – “I’ve probably raced at Spa a hundred times or so – and won a bunch of races there” – so for him, with his historic background, plus his love of the classic circuits, it was an obvious choice to race in the LMES.

dailysportscar.com“Look at it from my point of view – if I had to choose between Lime Rock or Monza, I’ll go for Monza. But that’s not to say that there aren’t some classic tracks, and classic races, in the US: Sebring and Road Atlanta are both classic events.

“It may turn out that we’ll race at Petit Le Mans anyway though – we’ll see what becomes of the fifth race.”

As we now know, that fifth LMES event is at Istanbul. It will be interesting to see if that track fits into the Binnie ‘must do’ events….

It’s the team’s planning for this year that is the most remarkable feature of the 2005 adventure that lies ahead.

“We have every day, every flight and every hotel booked for the whole crew right up to the September race at the Nurburgring.”

Bill certainly takes the uncertainty out of racing, for his crew, but has he removed as many ‘ifs’ as possible from the machinery?

“The B05/40 was a natural choice: for example, the aerodynamic numbers are better than the Lola LMP 1 car (the MG-Lola ‘675’ machine), and for 2005 we’ll have more horsepower than the Lola LMP 1 of 2004 – and the tyre contact patch will be very close to that machine’s. So at Le Mans, I think a good run from an LMP2 could see the winner having a chance of being in the top five. Just look at the speed of the Courages last year.

“But we’re heavily focused on the reliability of the package. The car needs to be quick enough – but as we showed with the Intersport Lola last year, it’s all about reliability.”

That car was plenty quick enough though.

“Approaching Indianapolis, we were touching 191 mph, before a lift at just before the 100 board, a slight tap of the brakes, down one gear, then flat through the right hander, before hard on the brakes for the left hander. That was very enjoyable.”

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So how do the enjoyment levels compare, between the older machinery and a modern prototype? I get asked this question all the time, because I have done a fair amount of both. Older cars driven hard are very challenging and frankly dangerous, so it takes real focus to drive them at the limit. There are a number of excellent drivers out there in Historics, who could easily be or have been successful modern car racing drivers - but age, luck or money or some combination keeps them out of the game. Modern cars are extremely challenging to drive really well and it really is a full time job, so a driver needs commitment, time and energy to compete and succeed in the modern game.

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“A modern car is more enjoyable to drive, but every car is delightful if you take it for what it is. But to me the venue is such a part of it too: racing the GT40 (above) at Le Mans last year was absolutely delightful. I’m lucky, I’m spoiled for choice."

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Bill is seen in conversation at the Classic meeting with Scott Ebert.

“I drive a lot of different cars competitively, and as long as you think about each one, and think about its different capabilities – understand the different kinds of brakes and their limitations, and whether the car is meant to slide, or supposed to corner as if on rails – you can enjoy a great many cars for what they were. There have been very few cars that I’ve hated driving. But there’s nothing like driving a modern prototype through Indianapolis.

“However, it’s almost an honour to drive my 312 at Spa.”

Next up will be the new Lola prototype though, and the plan will be to thoroughly test it before its debut at the Sebring 12 Hours. Bill Binnie has even contracted none other than Andy Wallace to test it at Moroso Park, during the week before Sebring.

We’re just about to start a new era of prototype racing, as the first of the new LMP2 Lolas approaches completion. It’s going to be fascinating to watch Bill Binnie, Adam Sharpe and Bobby Julien at work this year.

 

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