The 2017 Rolex Montery Historic Races
Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway
Although 2017 marks the 70th Anniversary of Ferrari, the big emphasis was placed on the 60 years Laguna Seca has been holding races. They used to race during car week alongside the Pebble Beach Concours d Elegance on the famed 17 mile drive but after 7 years a fatality shut down the races at Pebble Beach.
Using part of the land of the US Army’s Fort Ord (a maneuver area and field artillery target range) and $1.5 million raised by local business owners the track was completed and on November 9 1957 the first race was won by Pete Lovely driving a 1956 Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa. With the winning car being a Ferrari and the 70th anniversary of Ferrari it would be fair to ask why there seemed to be no Ferrari representation at the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion this year.
For the past few years I have been thrilled by the displays of numerous cars put on by the feature Marque. Chevrolet even put on a whole Island for their big year. The display of amazing racecars that had competed at Laguna Seca over the years was great, but I did miss seeing what Ferrari could of come up with.
The races run from Thursday to Sunday and the more diehard fans show up the weekend before for the pre reunion races. I camped on the track in a tent site and find it one of the best ways to beat the traffic that is heavy the during most of Car Week. Friday I spent the day at the Corkscrew, Turn 8 and 8a that have thrilled so many before me.
Interestingly, the track got a couple of new curves added in 1988, at the end of the starting straightaway after turn 1 or actually kind of “Kink” 1, used to be a fast sweeping left turn heading up to what we know as turn 6. A new hairpin became turn 2 and then turn 3 and 4 added and where the new section met the old track became a high speed left turn 5. The track now is 2.238 mi (3.6 km). Previously the track was 1.9 miles long(3.06 km).
The cars race up the Rahal Straight between turn 6 and 7 and then plunge down and to the left and then to the right. The Corkscrew is a blind corner must be as exhilarating to drive as it is to watch as car after car try to find the best line and many do it on 3 wheels. Early in the morning I went on the outside of the course near the top of the Corkscrew and then progressed to the middle of Corkscrew during the afternoon.
Friday they run the qualifying in groups starting at group 1a through 7a and then after lunch group 1b through 8b. In between the groups, many time we get to see various cars on parade laps and even got to see two time world champ F1 driver Mika Hakkinen driving the McLaren M23 driven that won Emerson Fittipaldi his 1974 World Championship. The races are also where the 60th anniversary of Formula Junior. I have been enamored with these pint sized powerhouses ever since our tour of the Stanguellini “Museo” in Modena Italy. I was familiar with their speed at the Westwood and Seattle tracks during vintage races in the 80’s, but to see so many at one time was great.
Formula Junior started in 1957 as an affordable entry level way to find young talent suitable for Formula 1. Single seater, front engined, fenderless race cars powered by engine from production cars such as Fiats and Fords and built at first mostly in Italy and Britain. Soon they would get monocoque chassis and disc brakes. The Formula Junior cars were divided into two classes, one with drum brakes and cars with disc brakes.
This year the oldest car usually found in group 1, was expanded a bit, to have the faster cars in a second group. Group 1’s best lap times ranged from 2:15.6 for a 1934 Ford Granite State Special all the way down to 2:34.1 for a 1935 Riley-Ford Single Seat Champ Car. While Group 2a saw a time of 1:58.1 from a 1934 ERA R2A down to 2:22.2 from a 1932 Miller-Scofield/Ford AAA.
Sunday saw group 1b to be a great one for me as I got to know the owners of an extremely fast 1962 Austin Healey BN4 from Australia, but was beaten by the first place car, a 1959 Austin Healey 3000 S from Fairfield California. This group had Ferraris, Porsches, Triumphs, MG’s, Sunbeam Alpines, Alfas and two racing first generation Thunderbirds. Absolutely magical for a fellow like me that has always had an Austin Healey in the Family. But the top speed was only 6 seconds quicker than the winner of group 2a but 25 years newer!
Group 3 was the big thundering sounds of Sports Racing Cars over 2litre the Ferrari Testa Rossa was awesome to look at but took it easy and came in last. But my love was for the 1953 Healey Chevy Special. Built in Hawaii in 1957 it is powered by a Chevy 265 cu. in. with T-10 4 speed tranny and wrapped in an alloy body and only weighs 1800lbs (816.47 kg)
Another wildly popular class was the Group 4a, production-based GT cars. The rules were such that the basic roof, cockpit and doors needed to be as on a road going version of the car. This lead to some of the best looking racecars ever. Porsche 935, Chevrolet Monzas, Corvettes, BMW CSL, M1, and Datsun Z. The filed for the weekend included over 500 cars carefully chosen from over 900 suitable applications. 64 were Formula Juniors.
To make the event even more memorable, Dr. Lee Talbot, who had raced at the inaugural race was at the 60th reunion competing in his 1967 Ginetta G4. Aged 87 years young Dr. Talbot won the Spirit of Monterey Award with a specially-engraved Rolex stainless steel 18k Gold Daytona Cosmograph and a portrait of the race-winning Ferrari from the 1957 event by artist Bill Patterson.