Volkswagen TouaregThe Name Is Going To Take The Most ExplainingTouareg or Tuareg: A nomadic group of diverse peoples living in parts of the Sahara that cover Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, who share a common dialect-Tamahak, Tamajak or Tamashek-of the Berber language and a common history. The Touareg were highly successful trans-Saharan traders, well-known for their excellent skills at camel riding and breeding and their fierce independence.
Touareg: Volkswagen's first sport utility vehicle, on sale this fall in Europe.
Permanent four-wheel drive, full air suspension, the world's most powerful passenger-car diesel engine, Volkswagen is obviously serious about competing in the already overcrowded SUV market. The new Touareg is similar in size to its European competitors in the luxury SUV segment. Longer than both the M-Class and X5 at 187 in., it is also wider than both (75.98 in.), is just a wee bit taller than the BMW at 67.72 in., but is lower than the ML.
Power will be provided by an eventual total of four engines. Europe will first get a 217-bhp 3.2-liter V6 gas engine and a 308-bhp 5.0-liter V10 TDI. The biturbo TDI outputs 553 lb-ft of torque, the V6 225. At a later date, the lineup will also include a new 2.5-liter five-cylinder TDI and a 4.2-liter V8. Transmissions are six-speed, either manual or automatic, depending on the engine. The automatic features DSP (dynamic shift program), Tiptronic or, if fitted, steering wheel paddles. The U.S. will see the 300+bhp 4.2-liter V8-powered version first, with the V6 following close on its wheels.
Defined as a full-blooded off-road vehicle, the Touareg boasts permanent, electronically controlled four-wheel drive. Power is delivered to the wheels by a transfer box with off-road gear-ratio reduction and three locking differentials and a multi-plate clutch, which is automatically controlled by the running gear electronics. An electronically controlled rear axle differential lock with multi-plate clutch, a front axle lock and variable anti-roll bars are planned for heavy off-road driving.
Double wishbone suspension, both front and back, and full air suspension with electronically controlled shock absorbers allow the SUV to switch from off-road capability to on-road comfort and sportiness. The Touareg's ground clearance can reach a maximum height of 11.8 in., and its wading depth is 23 in.
From a practical standpoint, in terms of passenger and cargo-hauling utility, the Touareg can hold up to five passengers. It has a large tailgate with a window that can be opened separately, allowing for easy access to cargo, anywhere from 19.6- to 55.4-cu-ft worth. Maximum towing capacity is 3.5 metric tons.
The fully galvanized, unitized, four-door body meets the toughest safety and crashworthiness specifications. Passive safety includes front, side and curtain airbags, active head restraints in the front and three-point seatbelts on all seats. Active safety includes ABS, TCS (traction control system), ESP (electronic stabilization program), EBC (engine braking control) and HBA (hydraulic brake assist system).
The interior is in the style of the Phaeton and features high-quality equipment, such as elaborate seats, a fully adjustable steering wheel and a separate (optional) air conditioning system for the rear-seat passengers (four-zone Climatronic).
Aside from explaining the name, will Volkswagen also have to explain the Touareg's existence? Based on what has been shown so far, we don't think so. It has the potential to be both a sporty luxury estate car and a very tough off-road vehicle.
Porsche GT2, Boxster And Carrera Coupe And ConvertiblePorsche is going ahead with a small, serial production of the GT sports car in street version. Prototypes in various stages can be seen testing around the Porsche facilities in Weissach. The silver prototype has a sort of targa top; another was equipped with a proper roof with a big, tinted rear window. The Carrera GT is powered by a 5.5-liter V10 engine, producing 558 bhp. Acceleration from 0 to 100km occurs in less than 4.0 sec. Production of 1,000 GT models will start in mid 2003. Price tag: 400,000 EUR.
From summer 2002 on, Porsche will have a facelifted Boxster on the road. The current model has been on the market since 1996, and time has come for some modifications. The new Boxster has new bumpers at the front and rear ends, different air intakes in the front skirt, a larger retractable rear wing and a newly designed exhaust pipe. The engines will be upgraded by 15 bhp, to 235 bhp for the standard model and 267 bhp for the Boxster S. The prototype shows a standard Boxster model.
Caught in the middle of the Australian Outback during hot-weather testing of Porsche's next-generation (997) Carrera, this prototype coupe features the wide Turbo body and nose cone with big air intakes to the radiators, while the front skirt is different from anything currently on the 911. The front end itself is flatter and has different headlights. The new Carreras will most likely be equipped with bigger engines, possibly even a big V8.
CLK-GTR RoadsterIf you thought the SL55 AMG was the fastest open-top Mercedes you could buy, think again. In a dramatic ode to the imminent summer, AMG has announced a Roadster version of the CLK-GTR road-legal racer it presented in 1999.
Powered by the same 6.9-liter V12 as the fixed-head version, the Roadster has 612 bhp and 572 lb-ft (775Nm) of torque. That power and the 1,410kg (3,108 lb) curb weight allows the CLK-GTR Roadster to blast to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 3.8 sec., to 200 km/h (124 mph) in 9.9 sec., and on to a 200-mph (320 km/h) top speed.
However, with no roof or side windows, it is doubtful owners will be too keen to exploit the full performance of the car. In place of the bubble-canopy roof, the CLK-GTR Roadster has a front windscreen and a high aerodynamic fairing behind each seat. These fairings have been cleverly shaped in the wind tunnel to keep the cabin from getting too drafty.
An intake on top of each fairing picks up the air coming over the front screen and accelerates it out of the rear, encouraging airflow over rather than into the cabin. Engine cooling air for the closed version comes from a big intake above the cabin. This is now taken care of by smaller intakes on the rear fairings and engine cover deck.
As a fully fledged Le Mans racer, the CLK-GTR has an immensely strong tubular steel frame and carbon-fiber tub onto which the carbon-fiber bodyshell is mounted. The loss of the roof panel is therefore not a major structural issue.
Twenty-five fixed-head CLK-GTRs were originally made, with a U.K. pricetag pegged at a heady 1 million, literally double the cost of the McLaren F1. AMG will make a limited series of the open-air version with the lower price tag of U.S.$1 million, about 715,000 at today's exchange rates.
Audi and Lamborghini Super CoupesCodenamed L 140, a small Lamborghini is due for launch at the 40th anniversary of Automobili Lamborghini SpA in 2003.
Referred to as a baby Lamborghini, it will, however, be a baby just in size. The projected performance will be at the high Lamborghini level with a brand-new V10 engine developed in relationship with Audi.
The fact that the prototype mule was equipped with an oversized Audi steering wheel also supports rumors that Audi is going ahead with the development of an all-new mid-engined coupe dubbed the RSR. It will be powered by the same new V10 engine as the Lamborghini. Performance in the Lamborghini is expected to rate around 500 bhp and 420 bhp in the Audi.
Both cars will be equipped with a six-speed transmission and four-wheel drive. The outer appearance of both cars, however, will be completely different. The styling of the Audi is expected to bear a certain similarity to the show car Rosemeyer (named after the famous German racing driver from the '30s) which Audi has on display in the Volkswagen Autostadt in Wolfsburg.
Both new models are to rival the Ferrari 360 Modena and the Porsche cars, while the Audi coupe will be considerably less costly than the Lamborghini. The Audi is rumored to cost around $130,000 EUR.
Notes From EuropeBMW is on track to bust the one-million unit barrier this year, with sales running ahead of last year's record. And the volume surge will be supported by a wave of new model launches scheduled for the next three years.
First newcomer will be the Z4 roadster replacement for the Z3, which goes on sale later this year. The Z4-which previews BMW's new policy of giving sports variants an even number-will be larger all round than the Z3 and will initially be only available with 3.0- and 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engines. Two fours will follow later for the European market. BMW sources state you can expect slightly lighter weight, and as it will be built off a heavily modified 3 Series platform using current 3 Series suspension, it will handle better, too.
The Z4 will be joined in 2003 by the new 6 Series coupe, to be built off a shortened version of the next-generation 5 Series platform. The 6 Series will launch with the 3.6- and 4.4-liter V8s from the new 7 Series, but an entry-level version will later be available with a 231-bhp inline six. Top of the range will be the M6 version, which is expected to be powered by a 500-bhp V10 and feature a paddle-shift SMG six-speed transmission.
The 6 Series will echo the design cues of the radical Z9 concepts shown at the Frankfurt and Detroit auto shows and will feature an updated and improved version of BMW's new iDrive system. A cabrio version will join the coupe after launch. The folding roof will be canvas rather than metal, but it will, report BMW insiders, be a full four seater.
The big news for 2003 will be the reveal of all-new 5 Series at the Frankfurt Show. Insiders say the car will combine elements of the 7 Series' radical design direction with more sport coupe-like styling. Technical innovations include the use of a light alloy space frame structure ahead of the windshield to reduce weight.
Engines will include 2.2-, 2.5- and 3.0-liter inline sixes, direct injection 3.6- and 4.4-liter V8s, four diesels, plus a 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight six that's opined to produce 380 bhp. Performance is said to be close to the current M5's, but that moniker will be reserved for a version powered by the same 500-bhp V10 destined for the M6 coupe. The engine is designed to provide a direct link to BMW's F1 program.
And 2004 will be a busy year for BMW, with the new X3 SUV scheduled to join the new 1 Series. The X3 is sized between a 3 Series wagon and the X5, but, with a wheelbase just 2-in. shorter than the X5's, interior room is said to be impressive. Launch engine will be a 3.0-liter inline six, but 2.5-liter six and 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines are in the pipeline, as are two diesels, including a 3.0-liter inline six.
The IMRRCA New Home Of American Road RacingIt was a great race. The summer of 1970, Trans Am at Watkins Glen. Every couple of minutes a thundering herd of V8-powered American pony cars would dive into the 90, shoot past the old start/finish and disappear up through the Esses. I was 11 years old, and this was cool. My family had recently moved to the Glen, and we didn't have anything like this back in Montana. Mustangs were horses out west.
Someone tried and tried to get past the car ahead and finally took a radical line through the 90, diving off the track and through the grass to make the pass. The next lap his chin spoiler was folded under but he had the place. Dad thinks it was Parnelli Jones passing Mark Donohue, but neither of us can remember for sure, and I wonder if anyone else noted the pass.
Watkins Glen, the small upstate New York town at the foot of Seneca Lake, is often called "the Home of American Road Racing." In early 1948, Cameron Argetsinger wrote the local Chamber of Commerce suggesting the village host a "Grand Prix" sports car race. The course he laid out started downtown, wound out into the countryside, back down the long hill into town and after 6.6 miles crossed the start-finish line. The community rallied around Argetsinger, the New York Central agreed to stop its trains for a day, and on October 2, 1948, the first post-WWII road race in America was held.
Fast forward to 1998. Racing at the Glen had thrived, a permanent circuit was constructed in 1956 and Formula One arrived, drawing huge crowds. Eventually F1 left and the track gradually fell on hard times. Corning Glass stepped in, through Corning Enterprises, and the glory returned. Crowds rivaling those of the F1 races now crowd the track for NASCAR. The facility is so busy the BMW and Porsche clubs sometimes have to share weekends. And Stirling Moss dedicated the new Motor Racing Research Library.
Now called the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen and housed in a dedicated 5,000-sq-ft facility, the IMRRC had its beginnings in the local public library. Librarian Mary Durland had started collecting motor racing titles in the '70s. In 1987, Jean Argetsinger (Cameron's wife) led the effort to build a new public library. A donation by Miles Collier's widow, Isabel Read Collier, funded the Collier Alcove to house the growing motorsports collection. Miles won the 1949 Grand Prix, his brother Sam was killed during the race in 1950. Supported by John Saunders, the president of Corning Enterprise's Watkins Glen International, among others, the racing collection soon outgrew the Alcove.
So Jean Argetsinger had another library to build, this time a world-class research center and archive. Isabel Collier Read made a large donation in 1997, and Argetsinger was on her way. Money was raised, the house next door to the public library was purchased and relocated, the elementary-school playground was moved, and the new racing library was built adjacent to the public library. Its doors opened to the public in 1999.
Current reference librarian Mark Steigerwald oversees a growing collection of more than 3,000 books, 800 race programs, 750 videos (VHS alone) and over 200 periodical titles. Where else could you find a complete set of the Sacred Octagon or Safety Fast? The IMRRC is dedicated to John Bishop and houses the IMSA archives. Everything from home movies to professional 3/4-in. videotapes make up the film collection. And while there is currently a concentration on materials about Watkins Glen, Formula One and road racing, Steigerwald is actively gathering and cataloging materials on NASCAR, dirt track, circle track and drag racing.
Questions "from the sublime to the ridiculous" from around the world are answered by Steigerwald, historian Bill Green and the Center's volunteer staff. On-site visitors are pointed in the right direction to conduct their own research while virtual visitors (on-line or phone) are charged on a sliding scale for answers to their questions. Simple questions are quickly answered, usually at no charge, while major research projects are billed at $25/hour.
The IMRRC is privately funded and relies on research fees and the generosity of the motorsports community, from individual fans to major corporations, to cover operating expenses. Twice yearly auctions, a raffle car and sales of duplicate materials (always with the donor's permission) also help funding. Donations of materials, from snapshots and home movies to rare books and race programs, are the center's lifeblood. "What we truly seek is "from the source" primary documentation-spoken , written, photographed or otherwise recorded (orally or visually)-the "stuff" forgotten in attics, basements and corporate storage rooms that allows us to make these primary records available to the public," said Stiegerwald.
Despite a very enjoyable hour searching through vintage Car and Driver magazines and Competition Press and Autoweek (the tabloid newsprint precursor to AutoWeek), I never did find a reference to that great pass long ago. But I'm betting the answer to your question is only an e-mail away.
Contact the IMRRC by calling (607) 535-9044, e-mailing email@example.com or logging onto www.racingarchives.org. Or stop by 610 S. Decatur St., Watkins Glen, NY 14850; hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
Silly World RecordsA Wacky Brit Achieves TwoLast summer, on a deserted airfield in the north of England, I crashed a Jaguar XKR at 120 mph. The impact with an empty oilcan destroyed the left front wing and the cat could go no further. For the driver, the impact was a shock-I failed to anticipate the problem and at the moment of impact had been hard on the gas. It sounds like madness, but I have an excuse: I couldn't have been expected to react because I was wearing a blindfold.
My first attempt at the Blind Land Speed Record therefore ended in disaster, but I was determined to stage a sequel. And so, six months on, I'm once again staring down the barrel of the 2-mile runway. To break the record, I must average more than 131 mph for a mile in both directions. This leaves half a mile to accelerate and half a mile to brake, all of which must be driven with the blindfold in place.
The regulations, set down in the "Guinness Book of World Records," also stipulate that I must be alone in the car, but that I'm allowed radio contact with a chase car. Dean Chiddention will drive this, while Olly Gibson will work the microphone. We've chosen to use an Audi S8, with an S6 as the chase car. This might seem an odd choice, but a 360-bhp autobahn warrior is preferable to a nervous sports car when you can't see where you're going.
We attempt a couple of sighted runs, which helps create a mental picture of the track. By listening and feeling for the surface changes and then committing them to memory, I should be able to work out where I am when the blindfold's in place.
The time is also used to refine our technique. Gibson will utter just five words: "left, right, center, brake" and, in a worst case scenario, "abort." They will be spoken clearly and continuously from start to finish. It's a simple system, but above 140 mph he's proving difficult to hear, despite the earpiece wrapped agonizingly around my right ear.
We stop and tape over my helmet's visor before completing our practice. Immediately, my grip tightens and the steering inputs become brutal, imprecise and unsettling. Gibson's worried that I'll provoke a spin, or worse, a flip. But we must push on.
My raised thumb signals the start of the run. I push the accelerator to its stop and the Audi surges forward. I'm making corrections from the off, and they've become more vigorous as the telltale beep from the timing gear signals the arrival of 120 mph. Soon Gibson's voice becomes difficult to hear, and I listen feverishly for the "b" of "brake." It feels like an eternity before it arrives, and I punch the middle pedal with such force that I'm almost hit by the chase car.
We turn quickly and begin the second run. We've reached around 140 mph when Gibson yells "left" with an urgency that's disconcerting. A pheasant has landed on the runway, and only a desperate jink avoids an impact. Unaware of the immediate danger, I'd kept my foot down, and as we slow to a halt there's a sense of expectation. The timing gear reveals that I reached a terminal velocity of 154.7 mph and averaged 141 mph. Hein Le Roux, the genial official from the Guinness Book of Records extends his hand in congratulations.
We're elated, but there's little time for celebration-we have another record to set. Our plan is to establish a mark for the "Most spins (doughnuts) in a production car in 1 minute." These must take place within a circle with a radius measuring twice the length of the car. My chariot of choice is a Caterham Superlight R500. This tiny car is derived from the original Lotus 7 and combines 230 bhp with a curb weight of just 460kg (1,014 lb-hence 500 bhp/ton and the R500 name).
The plan is to wind on lock, apply full throttle and allow the car to pivot on its nose. By feathering the throttle and steering, it should then be possible to keep it spinning. It works brilliantly. Starting at the southwest edge of the circle, I bury the throttle and the Caterham skips forward before starting its pirouette. After a few seconds, tire smoke circles the car, and by half time I'm gulping putrid air, which adds to the dizziness and nausea. It's a relief when Le Roux raises his arm to signal the end of play. I've completed 22 revolutions, which should take some beating.
The end of the day offers a chance to reflect. The attempts conjured a heady cocktail of desire, fear and elation, but the incident with the pheasant was a reminder of how quickly things can go wrong. In the bravado of the moment I'm conscious that, this time, I got lucky.
BMW CCA Gateway Tech 2002The BMW Car Club of America (BMW CCA) holds an annual three-day BMW technical soire called Gateway Tech in St. Louis. Why St. Louis? Well, the event was originally the baby of the St. Louis BMW Club-one of oodles of BMW CCA chapters in the United States and its protectorates. The idea is to hold educational seminars and social and driving events in the early spring.
Beginning in 2003, Gateway Tech will become a "roaming event" held at different places around the U.S.-much like BMW CCA's annual Oktoberfest. Gateway Tech 2003 will be held in San Diego, Calif.
The seminars are central to the event, with noted BMW experts from around the country and even sometimes from the company itself showing up to educate enthusiasts on the latest Bimmer news. Some seminars are held on older cars, too, such as where to look for rust on a 2002 (um, pretty much anywhere), and what is involved in a ground-up restoration. This year's event brought innovations from Schroth in the form of three- and four-point racing harnesses that use existing BMW seatbelt latches-thereby allowing for easy removal from the car. We also saw the latest Yokohama tire, which will replace the AVS Intermediate and the A520 by the time you read this. We learned how BMW exhaust manifolds can be Extrude Honed for an emissions-legal header effect (well, almost), and you too can enter BMW CCA Club Racing with just a rollcage and a racing harness.
Gateway Tech also features a large conference area in the hotel where all sorts of BMW tuners and vendors set up their wares, selling products, often at discount prices all weekend. The vendor area is also temporary home to the coolest Bimmers that show up at the event. Being 2002, this year saw an abundance of these legendary sports sedans in the vendor area, along with a black on blackZ8, an X5 4.6is, and numerous other new iron.
The central part of Gateway Tech is camaraderie inherent with a few hundred like-minded BMW enthusiasts descending on a single hotel for a single weekend. With more than 60,000 members so far, BMW CCA hopes to expand the lure of Gateway Tech beyond mid-America. Seeing that the event already brings hardcore BMW types in from the four corners of the country, the "roving" concept can only help.
And as we said, the event is not just tech. There are social events each night (read: Beer with Bimmerheads) and this year featured a gymkhana event-a sort of low-speed autocross with some extra twists thrown in for ha-has.
If you're into the Blue and White, keep tabs on Gateway Tech 2003 and other BMW CCA events at www.bmwcca.org.
We Hear.* Lamborghini Murcilago Sets Three Speed Records: Automobili Lamborghini re-established its world's-fastest production-car credentials at the Nardo, Italy, racetrack this past February on a blustery late-winter day. The 574-bhp V12 Murcilago set three international speed records: "The One-hour International Speed Record for Series Production Cars," 22 laps in 1 hour with an average speed in excess of 198.7 mph; "The 100-Kilometer Speed Record for Series Production Cars," 100km in just 18:44.9 sec., from a standing start with an average speed of 198.953 mph; and "The 100-mile Speed Record for Series Production Cars," 100 miles in only 30.09 min., from a standing start with an average speed of 198.996 mph.
* MG Rover Group Partners with Caterham: The two companies have signed a business and marketing partnership, which includes an exclusive contract for Powertrain Ltd. (MG Rover's engine and gearbox subsidiary) to supply all power unit requirements to Caterham Cars. Caterham will also be able to access MG Rover's powertrain technology and benefits in the K-Series engines. The arrangement allows Caterham to use MG Rover's XPower branding on its racing and high-performance road cars.
* More MG News: MG Rover built its 1.5 millionth MG car since production began in 1924 on April 16, 2002. In celebration of H.M. Queen's Golden Jubilee, the 1.5-mil. car, the new TF 160, was painted in new Monogram Supertallic Jubilee Gold and has special Jubilee badging. The first MGs were 14/28 Super Sports, produced from 1924 to 1926.
* Aston Martin on Record: The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT) can now provide Aston Martin owners with a "Heritage Certificate," showing the details of their individual vehicle as recorded in the original production records and factory ledgers from 1948 until 1985. The certificate fee is 28; a special presentation folder is also offered at additional cost, and consists of a British Racing Green, logo-embossed binder, a facsimile of the original build cards, a color copy of the appropriate sales brochure and a personalized name card. BMIHT: 44-(0)1926/619-248.
MotorsportSebring at 50Florida Throws A Party And Audi Takes Home The PrizeThe town of Sebring, Fla., has changed since it first hosted a motorsport event a half century ago. Strip malls dot U.S. 27, signs announcing a new Denny's here and there. However, off Hwy 98 to one side rests the old-town side of Sebring, the small square representing to many the American equivalent of the French town of Le Mans.
Don't scoff-there are a great many similarities. Sebring, like it's older Sarthe cousin, is much more than a race. It has become a tradition. Aside from the occasional test sessions and the car club race here and there, both towns' sole raison d'tre is one yearly event. To the general public, the Daytona 24 hours is the more recognized race, and it is not hard to understand why. Daytona Speedway, located near the well-known beach, is visible in much the same way as a football or baseball stadium. One "approaches" Daytona. Huge grandstands allow the spectator to view almost the full circuit. Entry, departure and parking is convenient.
Sebring, on the other hand, is an effort to find. There is almost no "there" there, as you might expect from a former Army airfield. Accommodations are scattered for miles in all directions, seating is limited and, if you're lucky, you might see a small portion of the circuit. Oh, yeah...to over 120,000 fans, it is one long party that seems to last weeks. Daytona is pure business-get in, race and get out. The attitude at Sebring is, "Hey man, sit down, have a brew."
Ken Breslauer handles the media for Sebring and is also the track historian. Ken is a walking textbook of knowledge about the grids that have competed for the last 50 years. So he did what anyone does for an anniversary-invite participants from the past. A number of famous drivers were reunited with their mounts. The trip was worth it if only to see Vic Elford getting reacquainted with the Martini 917K that he drove with Gerard Larrousse to victory in 1970. However, the drawing card for this edition of the 12 hours was most certainly rooted in the present, including a vision of what the future will bring.
Audi has been busy rewriting the record books in sports-car racing for the past three seasons with the R8 prototype. Repeat wins at Le Mans, Sebring and the Petit Le Mans endurance events were punctuated by consecutive championships in the American Le Mans Series, and it would be hard to bet against Audi's chances for a three-peat.
Racing is all about challenges, and at least the boys from Ingolstadt work for it. Panoz had a pair of LMP ground pounders with some pretty good drivers installed behind the big V8s. The new Nigel Stroud-penned Cadillac was finally ready to debut. An overlooked oddity was a pair of privately entered MG Lola P675s. Few who watched Le Mans last year will forget the sight of the smaller class MG mixing it up with such big P900 boys as Bentley. The shock continued as the AER team, led by Jonny Kane, qualified its MG 3rd behind the two factory Joest Audis. The best the Champion Audi could do in qualifying was 5th. Stefan Johansson and Jan Lammers joined Champion's regular driver, Andy Wallace, in an attempt to challenge the factory R8s but found the practice sessions a tough road while looking for the right set-up. The GTS field was advertised as a battle between GM's Corvette squad and the Ford Saleen S7Rs. A questionable last-minute rule change against the S7R virtually gave pole and the win to GM. Politics rear their ugly head once again. And, as a result of Porsche's whining that led to the pull-out of BMW in GT, the GT class would be an all-Porsche affair. It was, and nothing more need be said.
The green flag dropped at 10:30 in the morning, and the Audi shuffle began at full chat. The Champion Audi made a great start but soon found the MG all over its back. This highly entertaining battle lasted for several laps before the Audi made use of traffic and pulled out a few seconds. Sadly for a great many fans, the #50 Panoz driven by David Brabham and Jans Magnussen retired after only 56 laps with motor problems. This left the #51 car, driven by Panoz newcomers Bryan Herta, Bill Auberlen and David Donohue, to carry the flag for the U.S.
All was not well with the Audi battle up front, as the new R8s were not quite as bulletproof as previous editions. The polesitting #1 Audi of Kristensen, Pirro and Bella visited the pits for several nagging repairs. The #2 car of Capello, Pescatori and recently added Johnny Herbert had to fend off a ferocious attack from the suddenly competitive Champion Audi. The #51 Panoz had a strong run, settling in to third place when, with 40 minutes to go, a brake problem sent the car to the pits where it sat idle until the 5-minute mark. At that time, Bryan Herta climbed back in and did two slow laps, and the effort resulted in 8th overall. The rest of the LMP 900 field did not fare so well; both Cadillacs failed to go the distance, and two of the three Panoz LMPs had problems.
And what of the MGs? The faster of the two British LMP 675s retired after a strong run in the top ten, but the second car, entered by Jon Field, finished 7th overall and 52 laps ahead of the next LMP 675 entry. With more development, MG could be entering the new era with a chance to upset the majors.
Audi continued the roll, the Joest factory team getting the hat trick for three consecutive overall victories. Champion proved that a private team could compete with the factory by finishing a very close 2nd. Sebring has become important in the sense that the competitive nature of the circuit and the entries make it the ultimate testing ground for Le Mans. In addition, it's also about the only reason for having a party in that part of Florida.
Looking BackKen Breslauer said there really isn't a "ten best" list when it comes to Sebring. It damn near killed him to come up with a few for the program, and even then he called it the "12 most memorable moments at Sebring." The problem is, if you ask Ken a few minutes later for his favorite moments, you get a completely different list. But after all, he is the official historian for Sebring. So with that in mind, here is a list courtesy of Ken Breslauer of just a few of Sebring's best from the last 50 years. Subject to change, of course. And thanks again, Ken. May you be around for the next 50. (Parenthetical comments are Morse's.)
Twelve Most Memorable Moments1. Dan Gurney pushing his Ford toward the finish line in the final moments of the 1966 race
2. Andretti vs. Revson duel at the end of the 1970 classic.(Hey Ken, let's not forget about Steve McQueen!)3. The infamous rainstorm during the 1965 race.
4. Ultimate act of bravery as Jocko Maggiacomo pulls a fellow driver from a burning car during the 1964 race.
5. Jaguar and Ferrari both being called the winner in 1955.
6. An American-built Cunningham wins the first ever World Championship sports-car race here in 1953.
7. Wayne Baker crossing the finish line in 1983, not knowing he had won overall in astunning upset. (A Porsche 935 made into a 934, but what the hell....)
8. No race, but fans show up anyway in 1974.
9. Bruce Jenner holding up the wrong pit sign to Ricky Rudd and Bill Elliott late in the 1986 race, causing confusion among the Roush team. (Never happen in NASCAR...)
1 0. Tom Kristensen waving to fans during a caution period in 1999. (He was in the BMW; next came the Audi B team and then the A team.)
11. The legendary Fangio jumping into the Corvette SS for a few test laps in 1957 and turning times 5-sec. faster than anyone else. (So what else is new?)
12. Controversial disqualification of Stirling Moss while in the lead during the 1962 race
(Our Sterling, DQ?) The Greatest Drives 1. Derek Bell, Andy Wallace and James Weaver in 1994 aboard a Chevy Spice, finishing second despite no brakes, failing transmission, poor handling and exhaust fumes in the car.
2. Stefan Johansson, Hans Heyer and Mauricio de Narvaez driving an aging Porsche 935 to a flawless race in 1984 despite virtually no practice, starting 16th on the grid, then winning in a major upset. (No such thing as an aging 935.)
3. Hans Stuck yodeling in the rain during the rain-soaked 1993 race, winning the International GT category.
4. Mario Andretti's incredible final hour in 1970, when he passed the Revson/McQueen Porsche to give Ferrari a dramatic come-from-behind win.
5. Mark Donohue and Craig Fisher driving a Trans-Am-class Penske Camaro to 3rd overall in 1968.
6. Juan Manuel Fangio, though near the end of his legendary career, dominating in 1956 and 1957.
7. Tom Kristensen's late race charge in 2001, setting the fastest lap in the dark.
8. Ray Crawford's solo drive in 1955, going 12 straight hours in his ill-handling Kurtis Lincoln to 13th place. (Also drove brilliantly in the Carrera Panamerica.)
9. Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd driving an outclassed OSCA to a stunning overall win in 1954. (That Moss guy again.)
10. John Paul Jr. driving at a furious pace during the rain-soaked 1993 race in a futile effort to catch the leading Toyota.
11. Pete Halsmer and Rick Knoop in 1983, bringing a Mazda RX-7 into the lead despite virtually no brakes.
12. The Huffaker Racing team in 1989, winning two different classes in the same race (GTP Lights and GTU), a rare feat.
Most Dominating Cars1. Porsche 9352. Ferrari 250TR3. Ford GT404. Porsche 9625. Porsche Carrera6. Nissan GTP7. Audi R88. Chaparral 29. Mazda RX-710. Ferrari 250/275P11. Toyota Eagle Mk312. Shelby Cobra
30 Seconds Over SebringFriday at Sebring is traditionally a slow day unless you're a race mechanic and your entry has serious problems. Being neither gave me the perfect reason to do something else. The whole B-17 gig was so coincidental, what with Kevin Jeannette's brilliant tribute to the crews that trained at Sebring. It looks like it was planned that way; it wasn't.
After Gunnar Jeannette had a short practice session on Friday morning, he and I drove up to New Smyma Beach (near Daytona) and made it to the small airport where the B-17 sat among several other vintage aircraft. A quick introduction by owner Rob Collings of the other three crew members, and Gunnar and I climbed aboard. The ripping roar that four big Wright-Cyclones make as they come to life is a unique sound all its own. This particular B-17 is a type G and has been faithfully restored with .50 caliber machine guns (in fixed positions, of course), ammo belts, bombsight, radios. All the right stuff. After takeoff I was free to roam the plane as Gunnar was getting a quick lesson on how to sit in the co-pilot's seat and fly the big bird. I did all the usual stuff I did as a kid, but a distinct change of feeling came when I positioned myself in the cramped nose area the bombardier called home. A strange quietness and air of solitude. This was perhaps the most important job on a mission. Success or failure depended on how good the man was who looked through that sight and made the decision as to when the payload was delivered. We think we know what sacrifice means today; we don't. The men who flew these planes knew the chances they were taking and the odds of returning flight after flight.
The course that Rob Collings had set for Sebring took us over Lake Kissimmee and the Avon bombing range. We were following the same path hundreds had taken before us. Sitting there, cramped in the nose of B-17-G "Nine-O-Nine" and flying over the body of water that was beneath, I could almost feel what it must have been like crossing the English Channel as the coastline of France loomed ahead. The heavily fortified and armed towns like Cherbourg, all ready to put up an enormous amount of anti-aircraft flak. Then there was still the trip to Germany to release the payload and try and re-trace the steps back to base in England. I stayed in the nose for most of the flight and was in the perfect position for our two runs over Sebring. The hard-banked turn, throttle back, the view below as we flew over the tower. In this case, the pictures are worth a thousand words.
For anybody who has a sense of adventure or wants to experience what it must have really felt like (less being shot at) being aboard a mainstay of World War II aviation history, get in contact with the Collings Foundation or see its website at www.collingsfoundation.org. In an age of virtual, emotionless downloading, this is truly an emotional experience that should not be missed. We won't always have the chance.