60 Years of Laguna Seca; 16 – 20th August 2017

Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion; Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Thanks to the kindness of Ned and Carol Spieker, we stayed on at Carmel after the Pre Reunion.  The Automobilia expo was on at Embassy Suites, starting Tuesday AM, so we had an enjoyable couple of hours adding to the race programme archive of 1950’s/70’s, making new contacts including Claus von Schmeling, who turned out to be the mystery man who had bought the supposed (but not ) ex Von Trips Stanguellini from Wilfried Roguszcak and had then sold it off at the Nurburgring Auction; and bumping into long lost Laurence Edscer peddling his Motorsport Memorabilia wares – we returned to Carmel for the first of the car shows on the Town streets including two Allards, and an Apollo GT, the later work of Apache FJ constructor, Milt Brown.

So back to the track on Wednesday for the FJ photoshoot organised so well by Karol Andrews with on track help from Joe Colasacco and Chris Locke. A great turn out, lacking only some of the short stay Brits, and a few locals, and a repeat of the memorable 2008 picture.  Tom O’Grady made great haste from the airport, picking up Sharon, and he and Jac Nellemann joined the rear of the line in style.  The New Zealanders were all three running, Michael Sexton in the prototype Gemini Mk II, Roger Herrick in Lola BRJ 1, and the true American Junior, Neil Tolich’s Jocko Mk 1, with FIAT power.

Thursday was just one qualifying session for each group, with Chris Drake (300/03), Ray Mallock (U2-2) and Joe Colasacco (Stanguellini CS00169) still in their own class in the Front/Drum braked grid. New to the grid though was David Watkins with Kathy, to join the WA coral, and David was up in 4th in his Elfin, ahead of Chip Fudge (Cooper T56) and new local arrival, Marc Nichols in the Kieft.  Jeremy Deeley (T56) was still in trouble with no 3rd gear, while Hugh Ruthven II (Bandini), sparing time from selling at the Automobilia Expo, had problems with the fuel pump switch. Of the New Zealanders, Michael Sexton managed just two laps, worried about oil pressure.

Sadly, despite early optimism, Nick Grewal’s beautiful OSCA was still hors de combat although Nick at least had his Lotus XI to play with, this being the ex-Tommy Sopwith TMY 400 (Chassis # 164) once driven at Crystal Palace by Graham Hill.

Q1 for the discs was an impressive show, with 35 cars on track, Harin not out with recurring fuel flow problems on the BMC, Edmond Stoops’ Quantum SAAB two stroke not yet arrived, Ned’s BT6 cracked block irrepairable, and Tom Lee a no show in his BT6, while Mitch McCullough in the ex Morici Lotus 22 had no transponder.  Tim de Silva was still the class act in the Mk IV Gemini but the trio of Art Hebert (Lola 5A), Danny Baker (Lotus 27) and Joe Colasacco (Stanguellini Delfino) were going to make quite a race of it.  Andrew Hibberd (in Nick Grewal’s Lotus 27) looked to be on the pace, but well beaten by Marty’s 27, and also came to a halt in turn 9 of the final lap because the HT lead had fallen off the coil.  Robert Hoemke pitted with a spark plug off, but still timed in ahead of Hibberd and Claridge (5A), with preparer John Anderson in Maurice McCraig’s T56 well up behind, and Andrew Wait in his own ’22-J-5’ next.  Previous owner Reg Howell was out in Scott Drnek’s orange/red BT6, but would be returning it to Scott for the rest of the weekend.  Jim Smith had swapped his BMC Mk 1 for the T59, ex Revlon “FJ-8-62”, with all correct BMC engined and original Jack Knight gearbox, while Roger Sieling was back, with brother Brent as spannerman, in his ex-Rosebud 20/22, and Jim Sharp was out first time in the rebodied, aluminium, Cooper T56 prototype, although with front discs, and Hewland box.  Carl Moore (20) had a heartstopping moment at T2, but all continued unscathed.

Thursday night was the track party  – outside Stalls with food and drink, and the Artist in Residence seemed to be painting an orange racing car #7!! More anon…

Friday afternoon and the FJ’s were out again for their second qualifying session, with best time (not revealed!) from both to count.

No need for Ray Mallock or Chip Fudge to reappear to wear their cars out, so David Watkins (Elfin) was elevated to third spot, with Jeremy Deeley (T56) next year, until sidelined with a broken selector.  Bob Merrill was ahead of the fellow, and more recently emerged “prototype” BMC Mk 1 of Captain Marco (XP-001) with Jac Nellemann relegated to 4th front engined.  Duncan, now under JR’s personal attention, was very happy with further improvement to 2m 05.18s. However, it was again the N Zealanders in trouble, Michael Sexton already under the car changing the oil sump; and Neil Tolich reporting gloomily that his cam had lost a lobe – efforts locally to get repairs were unfruitful, but Allan Cattle in NZ was already stripping his Volpini FIAT engine and a replacement cam would soon be on it’s way via DHL.

Now the rear discs, with the Gemini and Art Hebert’s 5A setting the pace. Andrew Wait had a moment at T2, and Danny Baker spun, perhaps not unconnected with fluid emanating from the Jo Sharp T56, but soon problems galore… Alberto Fernandez, Snr. overrevved his 27 and came to a terminal halt for the weekend after T3, Robert Hoemke blew a hole in his T59 Ford block, the Gemini broke a ½ shaft again, Joe Colasacco stopped with gearbox problems, and Peter Strauss’ BT6 snapped a doughnut –  fortunately stronger spares were available. The Quantum made it to the track, but broke the fan belt.

Friday evening, and the Formula Junior party on the Island, so very generously put on for us by Ned Spieker with Karol Andrews co-hosting.  All the more sad that Karol was unwell, and Jimmy had injured himself in a paddock incident, a no doubt well meaning ‘helper’ having assisted the Cooper to run over his foot.  Drivers, wives and helpers all mixed, Howden Ganley, ever present and ever enthusiastic joined the throng and a most enjoyable evening was had, only the chill evening temperatures breaking up the happy participants, some heading with Dickie bows to the Rolex Dinner, while we enjoyed a quieter dinner with Ned and Carol in Carmel.

Saturday was racing for the A groups, with the B’s, including both FJ’s, to get their runs on Sunday.  Duncan enjoyed the catching up around the paddock, and meeting faces both new and old.  Patrick Peter had been there, but was not seen, but Christian Traber had tales of Nürburgring, Franco Beolchi (without Apache) was there from Italy for a fleeting 48 hours, but no chance to introduce him to fellow Apache FJ owner, and one of our FJ photos snappers, Thom Haynes.  Joe Ricciardo, fresh from a recent outing at Barbagallo in the BT6, Nadine and Alain Veran from France on a 6 month tour of USA: Alain now after two years has FIA papers for 20-J-901, and will be joining the Lurani trail next year. Dave Zurlinden, previous owner of the John Dowson, Chris Chilcott BT2, Lincoln designer, David Woodhouse, himself a multi Dolphin FJ owner, admitted to having taken a two month break (for or from?) his ALTA book.  It was fun to see Rob Follows, from Canada, ex Cooper 500 sports and Sadler FJ owner, at whose waterside house near Vancouver, BC, Duncan spent a great motor racing evening in 1990.

A treasure to meet Bryan McKinley who raced an Elva 100 in FF in the early 1970’s in BC, Washington, and Oregon; to meet Todd Morici, sent by brother Steve to take photo’s of Malcolm Wishart’s T65.  Sad to hear from fellow Arnott owner, Arthur Fitchett that his characterful father had died Suddenly in March. Time also for a long chat with FJ enthusiast ‘Victory Lane’ editor and Lotus 18 and 22 owner, Dan Davis, who promised to write FJ articles this autumn. And also with racer / preparer John Anderson who promised a run down on all FJs that had passed through his shop

Sunday, and two races for each FJ group

Drums and Fronts first, and of course, a Chris Drake preserve, but full credit to him, to finish first, you’ve first got to finish! And he drives superbly. Behind it was that close between Joe Colasacco and Ray Mallock.  Joe leading until the 6th lap, when Ray finally got by.  Some way behind but a great drive from Dave Watkins (Elfin).  A little coming together between the Kieft of Marc Nichols and Jeremy Deeley’s T56 dropped Jeremy to 10th.

Both surviving New Zealanders, Michael Sexton and Roger Herrick completed the race, one lap down in the flying Drake, while Duncan escaped the ‘red cars’ and had a great race keeping ahead of Karen Barry’s Mk ą BMC, and lowering his best time to 2m 02.33s in the process.

Missing from race 1 was Bob Merrill.  Robert Hoemke’s spare engine had arrived from Texas at 3 am and with special dispensation, the track gates were opened to allow access. Thereafter Robert and Bob worked solidly for 12 hours to fit the new engine, Bob missing his first race, but Robert was to be out and running better than ever in the rear races, certainly a given for the ‘spirit of Formula Junior award’.

Then the morning race for the rear discs. It had all the makings of a fearsome threesome, but somehow that didn’t materialise.  Art Hebert (5A) stamped his superiority from the start, with Tim suffering vibration problems and under real pressure from Danny Baker (27) by lap 3.  However, Baker spun in the 6th lap and resumed in 10th spot, but Mark Shaw, also involved, was elevated to third, only to drop behind the Colasacco, Hibberd, and the remarkable Hoemke battle. Joe Colasacco stopped to report his indiscretion but then on the last lap, comfortable leader Hebert was black flagged for ‘2 wheels over’ the white line, leaving Tim de Silva a surprise winner in the Gemini from Hibberd, Hoemke and Shaw, and Baker rapidly back to 5th ahead of Marty Bullock and Claridge.  Jim Sharp continued to pour out fluid, Robert Stoker had problems, while the ‘pop pop’ Quantum SAAB succumbed with gearbox problems after 4 laps.  Doug Mockett (T56) had a good race, taking Chris Locke (27) on the 5th lap, with Carl Moore (22) doing the same on the penultimate lap.  Art Hebert was classified 22nd, a lap down, unable to resume before the flag, behind Colin Nursey (22), and Mitch McCullough (22), overtaking Peter Strauss (BT6) on the last lap.

The “Rolex” race for the fronts and drums was again a superb Drake performance.  Joe Colasacco again led Ray Mallock until lap 4, with David Watkins (Elfin) making a slow start but soon back ahead of Chip Fudge (T56) and Marc Nichols.  A great close dice between Captain Marco, Jeremy Deeley and Jac Nellemann, finally resolved when Mark Sange went on to three cylinders with 2 laps to go, while Duncan had a lonely race, well ahead of Tom O’Grady, Karen and the Bandini battle, Karen falling back on her last lap, the car not performing nearly as well as in the morning. Larry Francis failed to make the start, unable to fix the slave cylinder.

Last FJ race of the week, was the “Rolex” disc race, with the Gemini comfortably ahead at the start from an improving Andrew Hibberd (27), the Texan wonder Robert Hoemke, and Mark Shaw, but closely followed by Danny Baker (T27) and Art Hebert up to 6th from 22nd!! Lap 2, and Baker was past Shaw and a lap later, Hibberd.  Lap 5, and Art and Andrew were together, and by lap 6 the Gemini and 27 were together, with Art third.  This help on for another lap, but then a wheel bearing seized on the Gemini and Danny and Art were out alone, with a gap widening to Andrew Hibberd (27) and Mark Shaw (BT6). The last lap and Art got ahead, but Danny was not giving in, and they crossed the line with Danny just ahead – another great race.

Joe Colasacco had also fought up the order from 26th, after his delay to report in for an infringement in race 1.  Mark Shaw dummied Andrew Hibberd into the last corner, and snatched third spot, with Colasacco a great 5th, now ahead of Hoemke who must have been tired as well as elated after his all-nighter and then two good races.  Carl Moore (22) pipped Doug Mockett, while Mitch McCullough (22) improved again, ahead of a happy David Innes (5A), Mitch’s performance earning him the Rolex award for the rears.  With no previous mention, we can report that Malcolm Wishart had a consistent weekend, fastest of the BMC disc cars.  Harin stopped the BMC ‘Mk 3’ with foam in the petrol filter, and after a superb effort to get racing by his Team, Jim Sharp was black flagged after 1 lap for dropping brake fluid this time.

The FJ awards kindly donated by FJHNA sponsor, Bonhams, were awarded from the stage, with Howden Ganley and FJHNA President Tom O’Grady up there to make the presentations. The fronts going to Ray Mallock, Joe Colasacco and Jac Nellemann, Drums to Chris Drake (collected by Tom Smith), Dave Watkins and Marc Nicholls (Kieft), and the discs to Danny Baker, Art Hebert and Mark Shaw.

Jac joining Mitch McCullough, received the Rolex Award for Excellence for their respective races, 2B and 5B, while Duncan was truly honoured to receive the wonderful Alexis painting by Phil Patterson as the Formula Junior Special Recognition award for “bringing a spectacular grid of Formula Juniors to Monterey” presented personally by Gill Campbell, CEO of Laguna Seca, and Duncan had the opportunity to make an appropriate speech of thanks.

The Passport Transport Truck arrived on time at 7pm, and Tom, Ryan and Michael O’Brien had everything packed and away by 9pm: a true lesson in management and a conclusion of a race meeting where they had helped so many to keep their cars “on track”.

Duncan and Mair enjoyed a glass of wine and scrummy steaks back at the Carmel residence cooked by Norman and Candace Thersby – a fitting finale