The following is an excerpt from “IMSA 1969-1989” written by Mitch Bishop and Mark Raffauf that tells the inside story of how IMSA got started and its first 20 glorious years. Available from Octane Press or wherever books are sold.
Standing at just 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Charlie Rainville’s small stature didn’t seem at first glance to be a good fit in the high stakes, high-pressure world of big-time sports car racing. But competitors and manufacturers that underestimated him quickly learned the hard way that Charlie was not a man to be trifled with. He was tough as nails, a kid that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Providence, Rhode Island. He was street smart, savvy and ready for a fight. But he was also immensely clear thinking and eminently practical when it came to managing the many conflicting personalities that were each vying for an unfair advantage. The ever-present twinkle in his blue eyes and ready smile were Rainville’s main weapons for disarming tense situations, but he also commanded immense respect from competitors familiar with his experience.
One of the original pioneers of U.S. road racing, Charlie had earned a reputation as a tough competitor and brilliant race car preparer, starting as a mechanic at Jake Kaplan’s Import Motors shops in Providence in the late 1950s. Known for being able to massage anything to go faster than originally intended, he was the go-to guy for preparing sports cars in New England for the growing groups of enthusiasts importing them from Europe. Charlie became an expert on all of the exotic cars of the day, including Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Lotus, Ferrari, Porsche, OSCA, Iso Grifo, Datsun, and Corvette. In addition to engines and suspension setup, he became a true artist, hand forming aluminum body panels for all sorts of makes and models.
An accomplished racer, Charlie Rainville drove for the factory Plymouth Trans-Am team in 1966, including the opening round at Sebring, where the Trans-Am cars had a four-hour race ahead of the 12 Hour classic. Photo: REVS Institute
As a driver, Rainville had a brief career in sprint cars and on short tracks until he gravitated to SCCA track events, hill climbs and rallying in the New England area, campaigning in aluminum- bodied XK120 Jaguars, Alfas, OSCAs, and Cobras. He then jumped to the professional ranks by competing in SCCA Trans-Am series events in Barracudas as part of the first works team from Detroit in 1966. A few podiums and a fifth-place overall finish in the points that first year of the Trans-Am would mark the pinnacle of his driving career. Along the way, Charlie built a reputation for helping anyone in the paddock with parts, labor, and advice, and then going out and beating them on the track.
SIDEBAR: Don’t Lean Too Hard on the Doors
The cars for the first-ever Trans-Am race were run as a separate class at the Sebring 12 Hour in 1966. As both John Bishop and Charlie Rainville relayed it, they met on the grid just before the race. John went over to the driver’s side of Charlie’s car to wish him good luck in the race. As he leaned in on the door to talk, the door started collapsing. John knew that the SCCA had approved alternative thin steel door panels for the Plymouth, but he was unprepared for how thin! Charlie laughed and promptly pounded the panel back out with his fists from inside the car and made no reference to the fact the door was, in fact, aluminum which, needless to say, was not a standard Barracuda part in 1966. John gave his apologies for damaging the car, along with a wry smile and walked away. Charlie went on to finish seventh that day.
By the end of the 1960s, Rainville had retired from racing and evolved into one of the top SCCA race stewards in the country. He and Bishop had crossed paths many times by this point. Bishop saw that Rainville’s view of how racing should be conducted matched his own and when the opportunity came to forge a partnership of philosophies, he became the obvious choice to lead the charge for IMSA at the track when it came to technical and competition matters.
The man who made the tagline “Racing with a Difference” come to life at IMSA events for many of the participants was Rainville. He was IMSA’s chief steward, race director, technical director and director of competition from IMSA’s start through the early 1980s. In appointing him to these positions, Bishop understood that Rainville brought decades of useful experience in car construction, race preparation, competition driving and race officiating to the table. He knew instinctively that Charlie would command immediate respect from competitors, team owners, race organizers and manufacturers.
The solid partnership forged between Charlie Rainville and John Bishop made IMSA tick for many years. Photo: IMSA Collection/International Motor Racing Research Center
Rainville’s no-nonsense, common sense approach to technical rules, race regulations and race management confirmed he was the logical choice to run the competition side of the new organization. He introduced a new style of series management: benevolent dictatorship, something competitors had not experienced in the highly political world of the SCCA.
Hurley Haywood had this to say about Rainville: “He would look at the situation and say, “That’s a good idea,” or “No, that’s not a good idea.” There was no discussion. Whatever he said was final. You could talk until you were blue in the face, and you weren’t going to change his mind. Most of the time, he was pretty reasonable. John softened these situations by playing the ultimate diplomat. John would never put his foot down and say “This is the way it’s going to be. You’re going to do it my way or hit the bricks.” John always left the door open where you could see some light shining through. There was always hope.”
SIDEBAR: The Chopped Camaro
One story that illustrated Charlie Rainville’s practical approach to policing rules happened at Laguna Seca in 1976. Carl Shafer, a regular on the IMSA circuit in his orange Camaro, had towed all the way to California along with a bunch of other East Coast competitors. At the time, IMSA was still building a foothold with the West Coast races and needed every entry it could get. As the Camel GT cars were sitting in pit lane, waiting for practice to begin, Charlie stood next to Shafer’s Camaro, just staring at it long and hard; something just didn’t look right. Charlie called Shafer over and the two of them faced each other. Shafer was 6 foot, 3 inches tall, so he towered over Charlie, who asked him: “The car doesn’t look right, Carl. Did you chop it?” Shafer, knowing he had been caught, looked down and replied in his slow Midwestern drawl: “Yeah Charlie, I did.” Turns out the car’s roofline was four inches too short from the standard Camaro template. But rather than throw him out and not let him race, Charlie told him to weld a four-inch spoiler to the top of his roofline, which the team did that night. It looked like hell and acted as a boat anchor at speed, but at least he didn’t have to tow home to Wyoming, Ill. without racing and IMSA had another car in the field.
Michael Keyser leads the first lap of the Camel GT Challenge race at Laguna Seca in 1976. Al Holbert, Peter Gregg, and Carl Shafer follow. A four-inch spoiler is visible on Shafer’s Camaro, mandated by Charlie Rainville after IMSA found that the roofline had been chopped. Photo: IMSA Collection/International Motor Racing Research Center
SIDEBAR: Passing Tech Inspection
Jim Busby recalled: “Charlie’s policing was fascinating to me. We’d be doing something really bad, so far out of the box that it was ridiculous. One example was when we modified the wheelbase of a Porsche Carrera RSR to take the weight off the rear end. Having the weight there was great, for the first half of a stint, but we burned off the rears after that. We had to find a way to move weight forward.”
“Right before Mid-Ohio one year, I got to thinking. What if we just move the holes in the fenders forward like three or four inches and move the engine forward three or four inches and misalign the half shafts forward three and a half inches? We made Porsche A-arms that looked stock but moved the wheelbase forward, which shifted the engine and transmission weight forward and shortened the rod that went from the shifter to the transmission and off we went. We took the car to Mid-Ohio and were getting ready to race, but first, we had to get the car through inspection.”
“We’re standing there in the tech shed and Charlie was standing there looking at the car, then looking at me. Over and over again. Back and forth between the car and me, like he was asking with his eyes: “You’re up to something, I just don’t know what it is yet.” Finally, I turned around and I looked at him and he looked at me and he had a look in his eye like, “Is there something you want to tell me?” I responded: “Oh hey, Charlie! How are you?” He nodded his head and walked away. John did that to me a lot too. His patience for me would really grow thin.”
Charlie’s stature within the SCCA was solid and influential, particularly the corner workers and other officials. He felt most at home with the hundreds of volunteer officials and course marshals that showed up every race weekend. This allowed him to diffuse some of the early politics that the SCCA had with IMSA. The workers respected him and loved working with him at the track. He quickly added a number of key SCCA stewards, notably, Roger Eandi in California, K.C. Van Niman in the Midwest and Charlie Earwood in the Southeast into IMSA’s fold as race officials. They remained a significant part of the organization for the balance of their careers well into the 1990s.
SIDEBAR: Shicklegruber Fuel Injection
Mark Raffauf remembers a classic Charlie Rainville story: “Charlie worked in the IMSA office in Connecticut a few days a week when there wasn’t a race meeting to attend. Although he was an integral part of the behind-the-scenes rules process, Charlie wasn’t really at home working in an office. He preferred the smells, the grime and the comradery of the track or garage. We were working on finalizing the rule book for the 1977 season when one day, Charlie walked into my office and asked: “What’s the name of the fuel injection that BMW wants us to allow for the 320i?” Both Roger Bailey and I answered: “Kuglefischer.” Charlie thanked us and went back to his office. A month later, after we published the rule book, we received a frantic call from Jim Patterson, who ran BMW’s racing program in North America at the time. Apparently, Charlie had published the rule book with the name of the approved BMW fuel injection as “Shicklegruber,” which is how Charlie apparently translated “Kuglefischer.” We never lived it down with the BMW folks.”
John Bishop and Rainville together forged a philosophy and organization that set new standards of professionalism, communication and empathy that were soon copied everywhere. Although emotions often ran high, drivers respected the decision-making process and often would admit that it was fair, even if it went against their position. Charlie looked out for the competitors in ways very different from previous attitudes about the relationship between officials and participants. They were his drivers and he went to great lengths to take good care of them. And he started every day with a clean sheet of paper, nothing from the previous day was held over anyone.
Charlie Rainville and John Bishop in 1979. Photo: IMSA Collection/International Motor Racing Research Center
The staff that worked for IMSA were mentored and taught how to do the right thing, how to be straight-forward and how not to be afraid of making decisions or the resulting consequences. Sure, mistakes were made, but Rainville was generous and forgiving the first time. The second time was not so pretty. From this process, a new generation of professionally trained, full-time officials was developed who eventually held the reins well into the 1990s. Because of this training, when Charlie retired in 1983, the transition to Mark Raffauf was virtually seamless. Though still attending the races for another year he never injected himself into the activity unless asked, but he was always there for support if needed.
When Rainville passed away in February of 1985, sports car racing lost one of its true pioneers. At the time, Ken Parker of the Providence Journal-Bulletin wrote; “No man is irreplaceable, but one cannot help but feel a twinge of sympathy for the person who steps into Charlie Rainville’s shoes. During his many years as Racing (and Technical) Director of IMSA, Charlie was known, loved and respected nationwide, not only for his competence but also his fairness and quiet generosity. John Bishop, President of IMSA, gives Charlie much of the credit for making IMSA the world’s foremost professional racing organization, and Charlie raised IMSA to that level in less than 10 years.”
The following is an excerpt from “IMSA 1969-1989” written by Mitch Bishop and Mark Raffauf that tells the inside story of how IMSA got started and its first 20 glorious years. Available from Octane Press or wherever books are sold.
John Bishop’s early vision for sports car racing in the U.S. was influenced by the Federation Internationale de le’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for all international racing. But his decision in 1980 to create the IMSA GTP category that differed significantly from Group C regulations set down by the FIA the following year wasn’t an easy one. In the end, it resulted in a hugely popular class that would distinguish IMSA and racing in North America from the rest of the endurance racing world for more than a decade.
By the mid-1970s, the FIA class structure (Groups 1-6) for endurance racing was floundering in Europe, while IMSA’s race entries were growing. IMSA’s success did not go unnoticed by the FIA and the organizers of Le Mans, the most prestigious event on the international sportscar calendar. In 1976, an event partnership between Daytona International Speedway and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the Le Mans organizers, brought IMSA’s popular Corvettes and Monzas to the famed French 24-hour race, where they ran in a special class. John Greenwood’s Corvette and Michael Keyser’s Monza both ran strongly, even leading the Group 6 prototypes early in the race. Greenwood recorded the fastest top speeds on the Mulsanne straight that year, an astounding 215 mph. Although both cars were eventually forced to retire with mechanical woes, non-homologated American cars from IMSA were making a mockery of the FIA rules structure.
In the early laps of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1976, John Greenwood’s Corvette leads Michael Keyser’s Monza and the eventual runner-up Group 6 Mirage Ford GR8. The IMSA class cars were popular with the fans and ran strongly before both dropped out with driveline/transmission problems. Photo: autosportsltd.com
The situation led to a new and productive relationship between Bishop and Alain Bertaut, the Director of Competition for the ACO. Both men shared similar values and appreciation for giving the private entrant a fighting chance. They also agreed that controls were needed to reign in the rapidly escalating costs of competition. But most importantly, they saw eye-to-eye on the importance of putting on a good show for paying spectators.
Bertaut, Bishop and Bill France Sr. began working together to encourage participation by the same teams and manufacturers in the 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans, including an invitation by the ACO for NASCAR stock cars to race at Le Mans in 1976, when NASCAR drivers Dick Brooks and Dick Hutcherson drove a Junie Donlavey-entered Ford Torino. Eventually, an entire class was devoted to IMSA at Le Mans due to the cars’ popularity with the European fans, a situation that lasted through the 1982 race.
The first turbocharged Porsche 934 ever to race anywhere in the world was at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January 1976, eligible only by special invitation to the World Championship of Makes Manufacturer championship. It finished forty-first, dropping out with mechanical issues. Photo: autosportsltd.com
In a reciprocal arrangement, European-based cars were brought to the U.S. to race in the 24 Hours of Daytona, including the first Porsche 934 to race anywhere in the world in 1976, and the Inaltera built by Jean Rondeau that raced in 1977. The first Porsche 935s showed up at Daytona in 1977 as well, even though they were not yet eligible to compete in other Camel GT races. The Inaltera was entered in the “Le Mans GTP” class, a catch-all for cars that did not meet FIA Groups 1 through 6 regulations or anything else, and had been conceived by the ACO as a cost-effective alternative to Group 6. Over the years, the Le Mans GTP class included the WM-Peugeot, Rondeau 378 and the Porsche factory 924 Turbo GT cars.
The Martini & Rossi–sponsored factory Porsche 935 and a similar Kremer customer car were the first 935s to compete in an IMSA event, shown here on the front row of the grid at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1977. Inaltera “Le Mans GTP” prototypes are on the second row. Both car types competed as part of the World Championship of Makes. Photo: ISC Archives & Research Center/Getty Image
The IMSA-ACO relationship continued to grow. IMSA representatives regularly attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans to build relationships and help the U.S. teams participating there. Dick Barbour, Paul Newman, and Rolf Stommelen driving a Garretson-prepared Porsche 935, almost won the race overall in 1979, driving an IMSA-class car. All the signs pointed to a flourishing relationship between IMSA and the ACO, with movement toward a uniform set of technical rules that would guide both sides of the Atlantic.
The relationship flourished to the point that Bertaut traveled cross country in the Bishop’s Newell Coach during the summer of 1980 and the following year his daughter interned at the IMSA headquarters. The ideas that resulted in IMSA’s GTP class were hatched on that long cross-country drive in the motorhome. The class was envisioned as a simple prototype car governed by a sliding power-to-weight formula that would be attractive to both manufacturers and private constructors. Jean Rondeau had shown the way by winning Le Mans in June of 1980 in a car designed and built entirely in his garage, fitted with a detuned Cosworth customer Formula One engine.
From Bishop’s point of view, Porsche and its 935 were dominating the 1979 and 1980 seasons and he knew that it would be difficult to continue growing the Camel GT Series unless something changed. Although the racing was close, he worried that no one would continue to pay to see a Porsche parade. The AAGT concept had diversified the fields for a while, but the cars were increasingly uncompetitive against the onslaught of 935s, even with more relaxed GTX rules that allowed for tube frames, wider wheels and essentially unlimited bodywork tweaks. BMW, Nissan, and Ford had all been represented in the GTX class during this time, but only as solo or two-car efforts; there were no customer cars. And the price for a new Porsche 935 was in excess of $200,000, a huge sum at the time. Privateers were getting priced out of the game.
“The bottom line is that private entrants fielding American-powered cars were never going to be able to keep up with the money invested by large manufacturers like Porsche, who were continually developing customer cars with virtually unlimited funds,” remembered Bishop. “We needed something new. We liked the general direction that the ACO and FIA were taking that allowed entrants to pair prototype monocoques with different engines, but somehow the Group C rules had become driven by fuel consumption as a result of the recent gas crisis. The Europeans seemed out of touch with what sold tickets in the U.S. We didn’t think fans wanted to watch high-powered racing cars coast by in an effort to save gas to make it the end of the race.”
“We were initially inspired by the Inaltera cars that showed up for the 1977 24 Hours of Daytona in a special prototype class,” Bishop continued. “The cars were fast, good looking and competitive. Best of all, they were built with off-the-shelf parts by Jean Rondeau, a private entrant, so we knew it could be done on a reasonable budget. Given the availability of a wide variety of reliable engines, our vision was to repeat a bit of the same formula that had made the AAGT class such a success. Our goal was to create a prototype class that could compete head-to-head with the 935s, but at a lower price point.”
One of two Inaltera “Le Mans GTP” class cars during the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1977. The privately designed and built machines became the inspiration for the IMSA GTP class rules developed in 1980. Photo: autosportsltd.com
After Rondeau’s victory at Le Mans in 1980, the IMSA-ACO relationship continued to gain steam. By contrast, the FIA’s World Championship of Makes continued to lose traction. Grids were small and participation by manufacturers sporadic. After much hand wringing, the FIA announced a response in 1980. It would abandon the Group 1 through 6 model and revamp all technical regulations into a new structure of Groups A, B, and C. Group A encompassed touring cars, Group B included GT cars along with limited production touring cars, and Group C defined sports prototypes.
There was one problem: IMSA had already publicly committed to the GTP concept as the alternative to the dominating Porsche 935. By the time of the FIA’s announcement on Group C, the GTP concept was well underway with chassis layout, engine options and a weight/displacement scale already decided on with mutual IMSA/ACO support. And manufacturers like Lola, BMW, and March were already building cars.
The hope was that all parties would embrace the IMSA GTP concept given that IMSA and the ACO were aligned and cars were already being built. However, the FIA went in another direction for its Group C class rules by insisting on a fuel consumption formula for the World Championship of Makes.
Without Le Mans on the World Championship of Makes calendar, it was doubtful whether the FIA series could survive. With an impasse looming over which rules would be used at Le Mans, the FIA, through its control of the World Championship of Makes, decided to play hardball. Jean-Marie Balestre was the president of the FISA – the sporting arm of the FIA – and also happened to be the president of the organization that controlled auto racing in France known as the Fédération Française du Sport Automobile. Wearing both hats, Balestre threatened to not to list the 24 Hours of Le Mans as an international event unless the ACO adopted the new Group C regulations along with the fuel consumption format. The ACO was forced into a corner, because not being listed would create licensing and legal havoc, among other problems. Although Bertaut was more philosophically aligned with IMSA, he had no real choice but to acquiesce to the political pressure in France. The ACO agreed to adopt the FIA Group C formula.
Although IMSA GTP and Group C cars turned out to be very similar, there were three critical technical differences that would keep them apart. IMSA required the driver’s feet to be behind the centerline of the front axle for safety reasons from the earliest time the rules were drawn up. Second, the fuel consumption formula favored smaller displacement, predominantly European racing engines that did not offer privateers, American or Japanese brands an equal opportunity to succeed without significant investment in new technologies. And finally, IMSA GTP rules required the use of production-based engines.
Due to these fundamental divides, IMSA went its own way. IMSA GTP chassis from Lola, March, Jaguar, and Ford appeared by 1983 and won the championships in 198 and 1983 through 1993. With the introduction of Group C in 1982 first at Silverstone and then at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the IMSA class subsequently fell away at the famed event. The Group C specifications did help the newly renamed World Endurance Championship of Makes regain its footing in Europe and became the World Sports-Prototype Championship in 1987. At the same time, IMSA grew and succeeded with the IMSA GTP concept in the U.S. Meanwhile, Japanese rule makers developed a similar, but unique style of prototype racing in Japan that didn’t exactly match either Group C or IMSA GTP.
By 1984, IMSA Camel GT fields were packed with GTP machines, as illustrated here at Michigan International Speedway. A Ford Mustang GTP leads from a few March chassis, two Jaguars, two newly introduced Porsche 962s and others. Photo: Bob Harmeyer
As a result, three separate prototype championships evolved that dominated their respective markets for over a decade. Ironically, this became the most successful period of global sports car racing in history. Manufacturers that participated in Group C included Lancia, Porsche, Mercedes, Ford, BMW, Nissan, Jaguar, Toyota, Mazda, Rondeau, Sauber, Spice, Lola, Argo, Tiga, and Alba, among others. A similar group or road car and racing car manufacturers participated in IMSA: Porsche, Jaguar, Nissan, Mazda, Ford, BMW, Toyota, Acura, Spice, Argo, Tiga, and Alba, in addition to U.S brands Chevrolet, Buick, and Pontiac. In Japan, Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, and Porsche all took part. Not all of these brands necessarily participated in each series at the same time, but the U.S. market drove the creation and development of more manufacturer GTP cars than either of the other two series.
The technical situation changed in the FIA after some frightening accidents in Europe. In 1985, the FIA finally adopted the IMSA rule concerning the placement of the driver’s feet behind the front axle centerline. With this change, a common chassis could then be used around the world in the European-based World Endurance Championship of Teams, the U.S.-based Camel GT Series, and the Japanese Sports Prototype Championship.
The Ferrari 333SP was a beautiful workhorse of the IMSA series in the mid-1990s. Chassis number 012 sits in the Mugello pit lane awaiting a track lapping event in 2018. Photo: Martin Raffauf
In the early 1990s, Gianpierro Moretti approached his friend, Piero Ferrari about Ferrari building a sports prototype. It was a hard sell, but Moretti, along with IMSA (International Motorsports Association) eventually convinced Ferrari to build a customer car for the new IMSA Exxon WSC (World Sports Car) rules which were to take effect in 1994. This would be the first prototype sports car Ferrari had built since the 1970s and the 312 series.
Gianpierro Moretti was the brain trust and owner of the MOMO performance gear company. He was instrumental in convincing Ferrari to build the 333SP for the IMSA World Sportscar Challenge (WSC) series. Photo: MOMO press kit, 1994
Conforming to the WSC rules, the Ferrari 333SP was designed as a flat bottomed, open cockpit prototype. Engines had to be production-based and could either be based on a 4.0-liter “racing” version, or 5.0- liter stock block motor. Ferrari made the decision to use a derivative of the F50 engine and de-tuned it. In effect, this was a derivative of the 3.5-liter Formula One motor being used by the Ferrari team at the time. It was a 65-degree V12 that produced about 680 horsepower in its ultimate configuration. In later years, as FIA rules changed the original IMSA specifications for use in Europe, restrictors came into vogue and the Ferrari engine was severely limited in power. Ferrari basically gave up on the formula (rightfully so in my opinion), as their view was that this engine was not designed for a restricted formula.
The Ferrari 333SP cockpit was pretty basic compared to today’s modern sports racing cars. Photo: Martin Raffauf
In the end, some 40 or so Ferrari 333SP chassis were constructed, all of them being built by Dallara. The early cars were assembled by Ferrari in Maranello, the later ones were assembled by Michelotto in Padua.
In all, the cars were very successful. They won quite a few IMSA races between 1994 and 2001, eventually taking both the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring races in the hands of Moretti’s Doran Racing Team. Ferrari also won the constructor championship in IMSA and the European based ISRS (International Sports Racing Series) multiple times.
The Ferrari 333SP was a fearsome competitor in the hands of independent IMSA teams. Photo: Martin Raffauf
None of the cars were factory entries but were all run by privateers. Notable entrants in the USA were, of course, Moretti, Andy Evans, and Fredy Lienhard. Fredy was probably the only entrant to participate on both sides of the Atlantic, running one car in IMSA and another in the European ISRS series. Ferrari did support the IMSA series and their 333SP customers, as long-time Ferrari engine man, Renzo Setti, was the designated factory support for the teams after 1994.
Confusion reigned in sports car racing in the USA by the late 1990s. IMSA had changed hands multiple times by this point and eventually was sold to Don Panoz, the inventor of the nicotine patch and ultimate car guy. Panoz resurrected the IMSA name as the organizer behind the ALMS (American Le Mans Series). Sports car rules (now under control of the ACO and FIA) shifted to a restrictor- based formula. Ferrari refused to modify or design any new engines, as in their view, this is not what the 333SP was built for. Once restrictors appeared, the 4.0-liter V12 became severely disadvantaged compared to larger engines from Ford, BMW, and others. Restricted, the engines suffered a loss of power, torque, and fuel economy, and were basically uncompetitive for the last years of the cars race history.
Kevin Doran, the team principal of Fredy Lienhard’s team, even went so far as to install a Judd V10 engine in the 333SP chassis, creating what became known as the FUDD (Ferrari-Judd). Some success was experienced with this configuration in 2000 and 2001, although by then there were newer more competitive chassis from other makers. Ferrari had gone back once more to concentrate on Formula One during the age of Michael Schumacher, and all future customer race car programs would become GT road car based.
By the end of 2001, even stalwart Fredy Lienhard put the Ferrari 333SP-012 back into his Autobau collection and bought a new Dallara-Judd. The 333SP was now relegated to vintage racing. As is the case with most Ferrari race cars, they soon increased in value exponentially. Because of their increased value, not many were ever, or are now raced in vintage events, although a few appear at Ferrari’s annual Corsa Clienti World Final events. Moretti boasted to me once in the 1990s about how he had bought a car (Ferrari), raced it all year, then sold it for what he had bought it for, about $500,000. He deemed this as “good value.” His 1998 Daytona and Sebring race winning car reportedly sold recently for five million dollars!
Fredy Lienhard still owns Chassis 012, and from time to time, takes the car out to “track days” for his friends and business associates. I worked on his race teams for Kevin Doran for many years, so I was fortunate to be invited to one of these events in early 2018 at The Mugello Circuit in Italy (and again in 2019 at Mugello).
Weather permitting, I would get the opportunity to go for a ride as a second seat had been mounted in the car for passengers. Although I had worked on these cars for many years, changing engines, gearboxes, installing and removing suspension and brakes, I had never actually ridden in one. The only real race cars I had ridden in were a Porsche 935 in the late 1970s, and a BMW 235-i Cup car. Having had quite a bit of history with this Ferrari, it was with some anticipation that I looked forward to seeing what it was like to actually experience it at speed.
Mugello in March can be cold. In fact, the days we were in-house (at the circuit), there was snow on the hillsides around the circuit which sits in a valley. So, it was unclear if this was going to work or not. The 333SP has to be warmed up with a water heater, especially during cold temperatures, as there is a danger of the radiators splitting. The minimum recommended water temperature to start the car is 50C.
The Mugello circuit was cold and wet when we showed up in March 2018. Photo: Martin Raffauf
Despite the cold temperatures, we got the car warmed up and Didier Theys took a few laps to make sure all was in good order. I suited up and prepared to get in. The immediate sensation is that this is a tight fit. The second seat, if you want to call it that, is just some padding and some belts next to the driver. Getting in and buckling up, the sensation is that you are sitting on the pavement. Very different from a road car or race car based on a road car such as a Porsche 935. The Ferrari 333SP is a 680 HP go-kart!
Acceleration is massive, the car just leaps forward. The noise of the engine without earplugs is deafening. As you exit the Mugello pits, you are on a long straight, the longest on the course. You go over a rise, then descend slightly downhill to the first corner which is a long radius 180- degree right-hand corner. At the end of the Mugello straight in this car, the speed is in the neighborhood of 185 mph Braking here is very, very impressive in this car (with steel brakes, no less). The first impression of a non-driver is that there is no way the car will stop. However, it does of course (Didier later told me he was braking 50 meters early, only running at about 80% capacity). I am convinced the G force of braking would throw you out of the car if you were not strapped in tight.
Due to the “passenger” seat configuration, I found my head was sticking up into the airflow more than Didier. The force of the air tended to want to rip my helmet off. So, I had to hang on with one hand and hold the front of the helmet down with the other to see where we were going. All the while, I had to be careful with the spare hand, as right in front of me was the switch panel, with all the ignition and fuel switches. I had to be careful not to hit a switch by mistake!
Trying to keep my helmet from flying off at speed! Photo: Dino Sbrissa
We were on the circuit with other cars. Most of them were GT based cars such as Porsche GT3 cup cars and the like. So, we passed a lot of people in the few laps we did. Passing was kind of disconcerting as again the 333SP is so low, I found myself looking up at the door handles of the cars we were passing! A strange sensation for the uninitiated. As we zipped thru the traffic, the car just leaped from one corner to the next. The ride was a lot more brutal and jerky than it looks when just watching. The power allowed the 333 to cover distance very quickly compared to the other cars. I tried to imagine driving this car at the 24 Hours of Daytona, at night, trying to get through traffic. A mind-boggling thing to comprehend. As we drove, I tried to put myself in the driver’s seat. I thought, ok, would I stick my nose in this corner to pass this GT car? Most often the answer was NO! I asked Didier later how he knew these guys would not come over on us in the corner. His response, “My nose tells me, after many years of experience!” But I guess that is why he is the driver and I am the mechanic!
Riding in close proximity to other cars, in an open cockpit car you notice quickly the exhaust smell of the cars in front of you. No doubt this was due to my head sticking up in the airflow higher than the driver. Didier said it didn’t bother him, as the air goes over the drivers head due to the shape of the front windscreen.
Too soon, it was over, and we returned to the pits. I was left with the feeling that every race mechanic should take a few laps as a passenger in the cars they are working on. Very quickly, you begin to understand what is at stake here, and how fast you are going, what could potentially go wrong and what the consequences might be.
All in all, an incredible experience to ride in this historic sports racing car, at the famous Italian track which is owned by Ferrari. In the USA, we call this a definite “E-ride” (referring to Disney World’s rides ranging from A, the lowest and easiest to E, the most impressive). It was a short glimpse of what is possible and what most people never get to experience.
This past weekend was the 1000th Grand Prix of the modern era of Formula 1, held at Shanghai in China. Today let’s take a look back at some photographs from the first Grand Prix of this era. It was the British Grand Prix which also had the title of Grand Prix d’Europe and took place at Silverstone on May 13, 1950. In 1950 Alfa Romeo was the leading team with their 158 which was an update of a prewar design. Car number 1 in front of the lineup in the rudimentary Silverstone pits of the four Alfettas will be driven by Juan Manuel Fangio. Other Alfa drivers will be Giuseppe “Nino” Farina, Luigi Fagioli and British garagiste Reg Parnell.
Before the race started, King George VI (in the grey suit) greeted the drivers. Here he is speaking with Louis Chiron as Toulo de Graffenried awaits his turn and Prince Bira leans in patiently at the right. The Royal Family would watch the race from a small private elevated stand.
The Silverstone paddock was directly behind the pits and was pretty informal being simply a mown field inside the runways of the old RAF wartime airfield. Here again, is the Alfa Romeo team with car number 4 to be driven by Reg Parnell.
Here is another view of the Alfettas in the paddock with the pits in the background and the Alfa Romeo transporters at the right. Car number 3 will be driven by Fagioli and number 2 by Farina.
And here is Farina with his imperious driving position on the approach to Stowe Corner at the far end of the circuit. He swapped the lead at various times during the race with Fangio and Fagioli. Parnell was driving somewhat cautiously being a guest driver for the great Italian team.
The Talbot Lago 26C was really an open-wheeled sports car design of which there were five examples entered, two by Antonio Lago’s Automobiles Talbot-Darracq and three by private teams. This example was a Talbot team entry piloted by the French prewar driver Eugène Martin. He did not finish.
Monégasque Louis Chiron was a famous prewar driver who eventually became the oldest driver to start a Grand Prix when he drove a Maserati 250F at Monaco in 1958. At Silverstone, he was already 50 and drove a factory-entered Maserati 4CLT/48 but failed to finish.
In another Maserati 4CLT/48 was English amateur driver David Hampshire whose car was entered by Scuderia Ambrosiana. This Italian private team, created by Giovanni “Johnny” Lurani, allowed English drivers to maintain racing cars outside of England and thereby avoid both Purchase Tax and, by swapping expenses, the then limitation on taking Sterling funds outside of England.
This is Fagioli seen braking for Stowe Corner with his Alfetta. He would finish second to Farina after Fangio hit a straw bale and then suffered engine failure.
Before the start of the Grand Prix, Raymond Mays drove a slow demonstration lap in the B.R.M. 15 which was not yet ready to race after numerous disappointments. Here he is coming out of Abbey Corner and past the pits which at this time were located between Abbey and Woodcote.
The race is over and the Alfa Romeo mechanics surround Reg Parnell’s third-place car as he heads to the prize-giving. The smashed grille in its nose resulted from a fatal argument with a hare during the race. There was no other damage caused by the collision.
Nino Farina receives his laurels as the winner of the first Grand Prix counting for the World Championship which he will go on to win in 1950.
The winner and World Champion to be, Nino Farina
Photos by Alan R. Smith & Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
The following is an excerpt from “IMSA 1969-1989” that tells the inside story of how IMSA got started and its first 20 glorious years. Available from Octane Press or wherever books are sold.
BMW of North America’s racing group was established in 1975 in an effort to support the company’s growth in the lucrative US performance car market. Unfortunately, the company did not have an IMSA championship to show for the investments in the BMW 3.0 CSL and the turbocharged BMW 320i. With just one or two cars pitted against a host of Porsches, the odds were not in their favor. The tube frame M-1 Procar did crush the GTO competition in 1981 but was underpowered in IMSA’s top GT Prototype (GTP) class.
Something had to be done to narrow the gap. Former SCCA executive Jim Patterson, who took over the BMW North America racing program in 1978, saw the newly minted IMSA GTP rules in 1980 as a way to get back in the game. Working with partner March Engineering, a unique new prototype was unveiled in early 1981 that would become the basis for a long, successful supply of GTP cars to the IMSA field from the British company.
The BMW M1/C debuted at Riverside in April 1981. The March chassis featured a modern aluminum monocoque that was mated to a normally aspirated 3.5-liter BMW engine. The team would upgrade to a 2.0-liter turbocharged motor later in the year. Photo: Don Hodgdon
Designed by French aerodynamics expert Max Sardou and BMW engineer Raine Bratenstein, the car was dubbed the BMW M-1/C. It was built around a March Engineering aluminum monocoque and featured two distinctive pontoons at the front that were designed to channel airflow to both the radiators and twin ground-effects tunnels for maximum downforce. The car was initially fitted with a 3.5-liter, six-cylinder, normally aspirated BMW engine, and entered for the first time at the Riverside 6 Hours in April 1981 with David Hobbs and European endurance veteran Marc Surer at the wheel. Featuring sponsorship livery from Kenwood audio, the pair finished a credible sixth place, albeit eleven laps down to the winning 935 piloted by Fitzpatrick and Busby.
The lone BMW M1/C is swamped by a host of Porsche 935s at the start of the 1981 Riverside Camel GT race. The M1/C would go on to finish sixth, eleven laps down from the winning Porsche 935 of John Fitzpatrick/Jim Busby (#1). Photo: Don Hodgdon
A week later at Laguna Seca, Hobbs placed sixth again, this time one lap down to the new Lola T-600 with Brian Redman at the wheel. Although down on power, Hobbs managed to put the car on the front row at both Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio. The first few races proved the M-1/C had real potential and the decision was made to further develop the chassis and engine. The long-term plan was to install the 1.5-liter turbocharged BMW motor being developed for Formula One, but that engine wasn’t ready and would never be used in the March. Instead, the team force-fit the same turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that had been used successfully in the McLaren-engineered BMW 320i program. Since the M-1/C had not been designed for that power plant, it required a cooling workaround for a motor that produced 600 to 675bhp with the boost turned up.
Results were mixed after the change. The new engine debuted at Sears Point in August. The car was fast and competitive, but ultimately unreliable. A fourth place at Portland would turn out to be the team’s best finish. Despite stating long-term commitments early on, BMW again left IMSA racing at the end of the year, this time to focus on its Formula One program.
Even with this setback, March Engineering took what it had learned from the M-1/C experience and produced a viable, stable GTP customer car for 1982, dubbed the 82G, that was designed by Gordon Coppuck. The first two customer March 82Gs appeared in January for the 24 Hours of Daytona. One of them was a Chevrolet V8-powered version driven by Bobby Rahal and Jim Trueman and fielded by Garretson Enterprises. Rahal would campaign the car in later rounds with Michelob backing.
The first March 82G customer car was fielded by the Garretson team at Daytona in January 1982. Photo: Bob Harmeyer
The other March was campaigned by Dave Cowart and Kenper Miller’s Red Lobster team. After winning the 1981 GTO championship in the dominant BMW M-1, the team commissioned an 82G from the March factory with the now well-tested 3.5-liter BMW M-1 engine. The distinctive twin pontoons of the March turned out to be a perfect canvas for two Red Lobster claws, a design that became iconic almost instantly. Unfortunately, the normally aspirated BMW engine was no match for the Chevy V8 or Porsche 935s, and for 1983 the team campaigned with Porsche 935 turbo power, only to suffer from overheating issues. The team took the midsummer Daytona race off in 1983 and came back later in the year with Holbert’s second March 83G powered by a Chevy V8.
The twin pontoons of the March 82/3G were ideally suited for the paint scheme of the Red Lobster team, pictured here in 1983 at Daytona, leading the similar Porsche-powered March of Al Holbert. Photo: Richard Bryant
The biggest news of the 1983 season was the return of Al Holbert, who had been pursuing Indy Car and Can-Am glory. Holbert started the season by sharing Bruce Leven’s Bayside Disposal 935 with Hurley Haywood at Daytona and Sebring. But his main focus was on a CRC Chemicals–sponsored March 83G, initially fitted with a small-block Chevy V8. Holbert won with the car the first time it was entered, at the inaugural, but rain shortened, Grand Prix of Miami. After skipping the Road Atlanta round, Holbert finished second at Riverside and won Laguna Seca, after which he sold the car to Kenper Miller and Dave Cowart’s Red Lobster team.
Holbert had another ace up his sleeve: a brand-new March 83G, this time fitted with an ANDIAL-prepared Porsche 934 single-turbo engine. Despite skipping the Mid-Ohio and mid-summer Daytona events, Holbert easily took the 1983 Camel GT title by winning with the new Porsche-powered car four times and scoring points in another seven races.
Al Holbert’s triumphant return to IMSA competition in 1983 came at the wheel of a March 83G fitted with small block Chevy V8, shown here at Riverside. He later switched to a new March 83G chassis fitted with a single turbo Porsche 934 motor and won the 1983 Camel GT championship. Photo: Kurt Oblinger
One of the prettiest GTP cars of the era, the ex-Holbert Racing Porsche-powered Kreepy Krauly March 83G of Sarel Van der Merwe, Tony Martin, and Graham Duxbury, won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1984, pictured here at Riverside in the 1984 season. Photo: Kurt Oblinger
The Blue Thunder Marches of Bill Whittington and Randy Lanier, sponsored by Apache Powerboats, dominated the 1984 Camel GT season with six wins, including one here at Watkins Glen, giving the title to Lanier. Photo: Whit Bazemore
With the introduction of the Porsche 962 into the Camel GT Series in 1984, it wouldn’t take long for Porsche to once again dominate U.S. sports car racing. The 1984 championship in the hands of Randy Lanier driving a Chevy-March would turn out to be the last for a March-based car in the series. But not without a fight.
BMW decided to renew its Camel GT program by entering a March 86G chassis for David Hobbs and John Watson in the 1985 season-ending race at Daytona. As before with the 320i program, McLaren North America prepared the cars and ran the team. By this time, BMW’s 1.5-liter turbocharged Formula One engine was well developed and reliable. It was the same engine used by Nelson Piquet to secure the 1983 Formula One World Championship. It was adapted in a 2.0-liter form for the March 86G, the first prototype designed entirely using computer-aided design equipment. Power output was a reputed 1,100bhp with the boost turned up.
A second car for John Andretti and Davy Jones was built early in 1986, but during testing at Road Atlanta, it was destroyed in a fire caused by a fuel line that had been loosened by an engine vibration. The same vibration caused a serious, end-over-end crash in practice at Sebring when the rear cowling flew off, destroying a second tub, and forcing the team to withdraw.
Given the teething issues and destroyed cars, Bob Riley and a host of all-stars were brought in to help sort things out. After working flat out, the team turned the BMW-March into a very fast but still inconsistent car. The team skipped a few races during the 1986 season, but the car’s outright speed was evident whenever it showed up. After winning the pole at Road America, Jones survived a horrific high-speed crash in the race just after the kink in the backstretch when he put two wheels off in the grass on driver’s left. Bad luck and mistakes seemed to dog the team.
The BMW March 86G was a generation ahead of the rest in terms of aerodynamic grip and raw speed in 1986. Reliability issues kept it from doing well much of the season. Photo: Bob Harmeyer
However, the team’s triumphant moment arrived in one spectacular win at Watkins Glen with Andretti and Jones at the wheel. The two BMWs started on the front row and the winning car lapped almost everyone else in the field. In spite of the promising result and the car getting faster without direct factory support from Germany, BMW once again withdrew from IMSA after the Daytona finale at the end of 1986. David Hobbs lamented the decision, saying, “We could have cleaned the table with that car in 1987, it was probably the fastest prototype I ever drove.” Two of the March 86G chassis were sold to Gianpiero Moretti, who installed Buick V6s (one was a turbocharged 3.0-liter and another was a 4.5-liter normally aspirated motor) and raced them the following year.
The BMW March team scored its most impressive weekend at Watkins Glen, with both cars on the front row and John Andretti/Davy Jones taking the overall win in convincing fashion. Photo: Tony Mezzacca
When BMW canceled its IMSA GTP program at the end of 1986, Gianpiero Moretti purchased the March 86G chassis and installed turbo-powered Buicks for the 1987 season. He co-drove here at Sears Point with Whitney Ganz. Photo: Richard Bryant
Organized races through the village of Watkins Glen and surrounding roads were started by Cameron Argetsinger in 1948, marking the beginning of post-war sports car racing in this country. Crowds grew steadily in the years that followed. But it was the 1952 Watkins Glen Grand Prix weekend, during the running of the main Grand Prix race, when a tragic accident occurred at the beginning of the second lap that changed everything.
The original 6.6 mile Watkins Glen circuit utilized the main road through town, Franklin Street, as the front straight. The rest of the layout wound its way through the hills above town. Source: International Motor Racing Research Center
Fred Wacker, driving a Cadillac-Allard, attempted to pass second place John Fitch at the wheel of a Cunningham on the approach to the first turn, directly across from the main entrance of Watkins Glen State Park. Wacker brushed the crowd, injuring 12 spectators and killing a seven-year-old boy. This area of the track was designated as a no passing zone and a no spectator zone. Throughout the day police repeatedly chased spectators out of the location, but with a large crowd on hand that year it was impossible for them to keep full control of the excited swarms of spectators. After the accident, the race was stopped, never to be finished.
Because of the accident, road racing at Watkins Glen was at a crossroads in the late fall of 1952 and the early months of 1953. A short time after the September race, a public meeting was held to determine if the community would hold more races on the existing circuit or find a new circuit within Schuyler County. The general feeling was that a new, safer course should be found.
In its January 1953 session, the New York State Legislature considered two proposed laws to ban racing on public roads. One bill was passed in the Senate but never made it out of committee in the Assembly. Thus, there was never a law enacted to ban racing on public roads in New York State. What the State actually did was withhold issuing of permits for racing on state roads – dooming the use of the original 6.6-mile circuit at Watkins Glen, which was made up of more than 85% state roads. In addition, Lloyds of London, the insurer, refused coverage of the race if it ran through downtown Watkins Glen.
The Race Committee, empowered to make the selection of a new circuit, consisted of representatives of the community: Chamber of Commerce President Don Brubaker; Grand Prix founder Cameron Argetsinger; attorney Henry Valent; proprietor of Smalley’s Garage Lester Smalley; Watkins Glen Mayor Allen D. Erway; Schuyler County Highway Superintendent Ernest Porter; 1952 Grand Prix Chairman George Shannon; attorney Liston Coon; long-time member of the Chamber of Commerce Leon Grosjean; trainmaster for the New York Central Railroad (“the man who stopped the trains”) Frank Chase; and reporter for the Elmira Star-Gazette Arthur H. Richards, Jr. They considered five potential sites for the circuit: a 7.2 mile layout in the Town of Orange; two in the Town of Dix – one 8.0 miles and the other 4.6 miles; and, two circuits on east side of Seneca Lake – a 4.8 miles layout in the Town of Hector and a 6.7 miles layout in the Town of Montour (which overlapped in part the Hector circuit). Both the Hector and Montour layouts ran under the Lehigh Valley Railroad underpass at the Dolphsburg Road corner before making a right turn.
Most of the roads proposed for use as a replacement circuit were made up of county and town roads which were narrow and had little hard-top surface. They were largely gravel surfaces and the circuit selected would require widening and paving.
The 7.2 mile “Brigham Young” circuit layout was one of two race course sites considered by the Watkins Glen Race Committee following the disastrous 1952 Grand Prix through the streets of the town. Source: International Motor Racing Research Center
The Committee settled on two possible race course sites. One was a 7.2-mile course in the Town of Orange (called the Brigham Young Circuit) which would have run through the small hamlet of Sugar Hill. The second was a 4.6-mile course (called the Jane Delano Circuit) in the Town of Dix near the hamlet of Townsend.
Before the work was to start, the Committee asked James Lamb, Contest Board Secretary for the American Automobile Association (AAA), which then sanctioned sports car racing in the U.S., to tour the circuits and offer an assessment. He reported favorably on the circuits but was concerned that the road work could not be completed in time for the September 18-19, 1953 race date.
The 4.6 mile “Jane Delano” circuit layout through the town of Dix (bottom) became the home of the Watkins Glen races from 1953-1955 until the current track (illustrated to the right of the Jane Delano layout) was built on the hill above town. Source: International Motor Racing Research Center
The Town of Orange circuit ran through a section of the New York State Forest. The State Department of Conservation was uncooperative, fearing that spectators would cut down small trees for use in campfires during the race weekend which would lead to forest fires. For this reason, the proposed “Brigham Young” circuit was ruled out and the Town of Dix “Jane Delano” circuit was selected as the Watkins Glen Grand Prix venue.
After meeting with the Town of Dix Board, the race organizers were given permission to make use of town-maintained roads. A short time later, SCCA representatives, unable to make a complete tour of the proposed 4.6-mile circuit because of road conditions, decided they would not sanction the 1953 Grand Prix.
On July 15, the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation was formally organized and chartered. The organization originally consisted of seven directors appointed by the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce. The Grand Prix Corporation soon issued bonds in the form of “Six-percent Certificates of Indebtedness” in the sums of $100, $500 and $1,000. The Corporation leased all the grounds surrounding new circuit, entitling them to the exclusive and complete jurisdiction of the leased properties. In exchange, landowners received one-third of the profits from the event, with the remaining thirds shared equally by the Community Chest and the Grand Prix Corporation.
Bill Milliken and George Weaver were consulted regarding road work and related engineering considerations. Work started on August 2 with the construction firm of Martin & Son of Burdett, New York as the general contractor. All around the course trees, hedges and brush were removed and utility poles and fences were relocated. The road was widened to 28 feet and the shoulders extended to four feet on each side of the road. Extensive grading, ditching and culvert work was also required. Remarkably, on August 19, one month before the race, work was finished and the course was half completed. The remaining half, laying the asphalt, was undertaken by the Watkins Glen firms of Harry Suits and Franzese Brothers. Completed on September 9, the track was ready for the race on time.
It was decided that no spectators would be permitted inside the track or within 30 feet of the track. Spectators were not allowed to drive on the actual course to reach the designated parking areas at any time during the race weekend. RCA race safety systems and public address systems were installed around the circuit.
General admission for the races was $1.25, grandstand seats ranged from $3.00 to $5.00, and parking was $1.00 per car. For the first time in the Glen’s history, Friday prior to race weekend was used for official practice.
On Saturday morning, the first race of the day was the Seneca Cup, an 11 lap (50.6-mile) event, with 19 starters. The race was won by Dr. M.R.J. Wyllie driving a Jaguar XK120M, with Wyllie moving out on the shoulder to pass Phil Cade’s Grand Prix Maserati R1 in the final turn of the last lap, winning by less than 100 yards. He averaged 72.1 mph.
Later the same day, twenty-nine cars took the green flag in the Queen Catharine Cup, a 22 laps or 101.2 miles race. George Moffet claimed the victory, driving an OSCA with an average speed of 73.7 mph.
Looking back at the last turn before Start-Finish line at the1953 Watkins Glen Grand Prix, the #90 Jaguar XK-120 of Gled Derujinski leads the Siata of Otto Linton (#58) and the Jaguar XJ-120 of George J. Constantine (#49). Source: William Green Motor Racing Library/International Motor Racing Research Center
The last race of the day was the 6th Annual Watkins Glen Grand Prix, a 22 laps (101.2-mile) event with 27 cars starting. The Grand Prix featured a race-long duel between Walt Hansgen driving the Hansgen Jaguar Special and George Harris in a Cadillac-Allard. The lead changed hands four times on the last lap, with Hansgen winning by a scant 1.1 seconds at an average speed of 76.1 mph.
The 1953 Watkins Glen Grand Prix, at the last turn of the last lap. The Hansgen Jaguar Special of Walt Hansgen (#10) leads the Cadillac-Allard of George Harris (#3) across the line for the win. Source: William Green Motor Racing Library/International Motor Racing Research Center
The race on the new circuit was judged a huge success in the local press, with crowd estimates ranging from 20,000 to 60,000. The next two years’ races were sanctioned SCCA national events and run on the same circuit. Today, parts of the 1953-1955 circuit run through the current racecourse at Watkins Glen International, built in 1956 and substantially rebuilt in 1971.
The following is an excerpt from “IMSA 1969-1989” that tells the inside story of John Bishop’s life and how he created the world’s greatest sports car racing series. Available from Octane Press or wherever books are sold.
John Greenwood’s Corvette under braking for turn one during the 1975 24 Hours of Daytona, featuring his paint scheme promoting the 12 Hours of Sebring a few weeks later. Photo: Mark Raffauf
After a troublesome start at Daytona and subsequent upgrades to the car, the two-car factory BMW team showed up for the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1975 ready to mix it up. Australian touring car ace Alan Moffat supplemented the potent team of Hans Stuck, Sam Posey, Brian Redman, and Ronnie Peterson. The CSLs were now much improved and took advantage of specially crafted Dunlop tires. The old 5.2-mile Sebring course was a wide-open, hang-on-and-get-after-it circuit, where turns one and two were big, sweeping curves of concrete runway that required tremendous skill to navigate quickly without going off and hitting anything, including parked airplanes.
GT cars make their way down the massive back straight at Sebring in 1975. The runways of Sebring weren’t always as well marked as they are today. Nighttime navigation of the track was especially challenging. Photo: Mark Raffauf
In spite of John Greenwood’s Corvette taking pole, the BMWs stormed into an early lead. Within the first hour, Hans Stuck’s BMW was reported numerous times by corner workers at various locations not to have working brake lights. IMSA black-flagged the car to have its lights checked. Once in the pits, it was determined the lights were indeed working. A short time later the same reports started coming in: no brake lights, especially in turns one and two. The car was brought back in for another check. Again, all was good while stationary in the pits.
The winning factory BMW CSL of Hans Stuck, Sam Posey, Brian Redman, and Allan Moffat navigates the wide-open runways of Sebring in 1975 when Lockheed Constellations and Douglas DC-4s lined the course unprotected between turns one and two. Photo: Mark Raffauf
When the issue arose a third time, BMW team chief Jochen Neerpasch asked IMSA officials, “Where are the lights not working?” to which race control replied, “Various locations, including turns one and two.” Neerpasch responded with, “Oh, Hans does not use the brakes there at all!” With the stickier tires and improved performance, GT cars were now able to take turns one and two flat, or at least with a slight lift instead of braking. No one had ever seen that before, hence the confusion from the corner workers and race control.
The winners of the 1975 12 Hours of Sebring celebrate in Victory Lane. Sam Posey stands on top of the BMW CSL, flanked by Brian Redman (far right), Hans Stuck (seated next to Redman) and Allan Moffat (with daughter). Photo: Bill Oursler/autosportsltd.com
In 1905, Caspar Whitney, a co-founder of Outing magazine and one of the creators of collegiate football’s All-American Team, named Yale as the season’s “national champion” in college football. Four years previously, The (New York) Sun had named Harvard as the 1901 collegiate football champions. Although the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was established in 1906, it first named national champions only in 1921, starting with track and field. Despite naming national champions in literally dozens of intercollegiate sports since then, the NCAA has not and still does not name a national champion in what is now the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I or Division I-A Football: it merely recognizes or accepts the decision of the College Football Playoff committee.
The listing of champion drivers that appeared in the 8 February 1929 bulletin issued by the AAA Contest Board. It is the first publication of the listing of champion drivers by the AAA beginning with the 1909 season.
This, of course, has not stopped those in the sports world from naming national champions in collegiate football. Beginning with The Sun and Caspar Whitney at the turn of the 20th Century, roughly three dozen systems have endeavored to select the national champion in collegiate football. Several of these have used statistical data to retroactively select national champions all the way back to the very first season for collegiate football in the United States, 1869. In 1926, professor Frank Dickinson, of the economics department at the University of Illinois, created what seems to be the first mathematical system to determine the national championship, with the nod going to Stanford. The system devised by Dickinson attracted the interest of the coach at Notre Dame, Knute Rockne, who persuade the professor to apply the model to several previous seasons, with the result of Notre Dame becoming the retroactive 1924 national champion and Dartmouth the 1925 champion.
In the program for the 1952 500-mile race at Indianapolis, in an article written by Russ Catlin, this listing of AAA champion drivers appeared. Rather than 1909, the list begins with 1902, Bert Dingley is replaced by George Robertson for the 1909 season, and Tommy Milton replaces Gaston Chevrolet as the 1920 champion driver.
According to the listing of national championships provided by the NCAA, there are five colleges with claims to the national title for the 1926 season. The first is Alabama, with nine systems ranking it as the national champion: the Berryman (QPRS) System, which began in 1990; the Billingsley Report, 1970; the College Football Researchers Association, 1982 and 2009; Helms Athletic Foundation, 1941; National Championship Foundation, 1980; and, the Poling System, 1935. The school with the second highest number of rankings, four, as the national champion was Stanford: the Dickinson System, 1926; Helms Athletic Foundation, 1941; National Championship Foundation, 1980; and, the Sagarin Ratings, 1978. Navy was selected by two systems as the 1926 national champion: the Houlgate System, 1927; and, the Boand System or Azzi Ratem System, 1930. The other two schools with selections as the national champion for 1926 are: Lafayette, Parke Davis, 1933; Michigan, Sagarin, 1978.
While it quite probably simply a coincidence that after naming Stanford as the 1926 national champion that professor Dickinson then used his formula to create retroactive champions for the 1924 and 1925 systems, that the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA) seems to have done something similar in 1927 is quite striking. One could suggest, however, that it might not be quite as coincidental that several automotive journals and newspapers named champion drivers from 1909 to 1915.
While it is entirely possible that we may never know exactly what prompted members of the AAA Contest Board to create retroactive champion drivers beginning in 1927, nor why they were apparently so readily accepted, the many efforts to create retroactive collegiate football national champions might suggest that this inclination in the sports world is not unheard of. If professor Dickinson’s model of 1926 was used to determine the possible national champions of 1924 and 1925, this was also the case with several of the other systems used to select a national championship team.
A year after the Dickinson System was introduced, 1927, Deke Houlgate, created another mathematical model to determine the national championship team, which was used to determine championship teams beginning with the 1885 season. First used in 1930, the system devised by William Boand, the Boand or Azzi Ratem System, created national champions for the 1919 to 1929 seasons. In 1933, Parke Davis, a former player for Princeton and coach at Wisconsin and several other colleges, created a listing of national champions that began with the 1869 season until the 1933 season. Another former player, Richard Poling, devised yet another rating system based upon a mathematical model beginning with the 1935 season, creating championship teams back to 1924.
The listing of champion drivers appearing in the 1995 edition of the CART IndyCar Record Book.
I would suggest from this consideration of historical revisionism in American collegiate football that the revisionism undertaken by the AAA Contest Board and its national champions is not necessarily unique in the field of American sports history. It might also help in understanding why the retroactively-created champion drivers seems to have been accepted with few qualms, only the Chevrolet-Milton and Dingley-Robertson issues apparently drawing any attention over the decades.
The following is an excerpt from “IMSA 1969-1989” that tells the inside story of John Bishop’s life and how he created the world’s greatest sports car racing series. Available from Octane Press or wherever books are sold.
To many people, John Bishop became a savior in 1973. For twenty uninterrupted years, starting in 1952, the Sebring 12 Hour sports car endurance race for was held under the guidance of Alec Ulmann, one of the first members of the SCCA when it was founded in 1944. In 1950, Ulmann traveled to Le Mans to take in the sights and sounds of the 24-hour race. The experience inspired him to bring sports car endurance racing to the U.S., which he did with a six-hour race at Sebring later that year – the first such event held in America.
The Sebring track itself began life as Hendricks Army Airfield, a hastily built airport used during WWII as a training site for B-17 bomber crews. After the base was decommissioned in 1945, the airport was turned over to the local community. In the ensuing years, Ulmann convinced the airport authority to let him promote a series of races using the long runways and network of access roads as the track layout. As part of the agreement, one active runway remained in operation during the race.
The start of the first 12 Hours of Sebring in 1952. The event was the brainchild of Alec Ulmann, who organized the race on the decommissioned runways of a World War II B-17 training base. Photo: Sebring International Raceway Archives
Starting with the first 12 Hours of Sebring race in 1952, the event became a crown jewel on the international racing calendar, attracting the best and brightest drivers, manufacturers and race teams from around the world. The AAA acted as the sanctioning body for the first few years, until the organization quit the racing business after the now infamous Le Mans accident in 1955 that killed more than 80 spectators. After that, Alec and Mary Ulmann formed the Automobile Racing Club of Florida (ARCF) as an entity to produce and promote the race. Alec Ulmann was the vice president of the ARCF and also acted as race secretary for the event. The SCCA sanctioned the race from 1963 through 1972, with full backing from ACCUS and the FIA.
Nothing lasts forever, however. Years of use left the track surface broken, with large chunks of concrete regularly coming loose during events. The facilities were spartan for both competitors and spectators alike. Under pressure from the FIA to improve track safety for the ever-increasing speeds of new generation racing machines and to invest in better facilities for the growing crowds, the Ulmann family announced the 1972 running of the event would be the last. After 20 uninterrupted years, the Ulmann’s were tired and wanted to move on. Sebring appeared destined to become just another dusty footnote in racing history.
Recognizing an opportunity for IMSA to take over one of the world’s most recognized sports car events, Bishop approached Bill France Sr., the founder of NASCAR and investor in IMSA, with an idea for NASCAR to put up the money to save the Sebring race. France Sr. wasn’t convinced. According to Bishop: “Big Bill never understood why anyone would pay to see an event at Sebring, whose facilities, let’s say, fell far short of those at Daytona and Talladega.” Bishop couldn’t get his friend and partner to budge.
John Greenwood, on the right with Milt Minter, stepped up to bankroll the 1973 Sebring race, effectively saving the event. He would continue to be involved as a Sebring benefactor for years. IMSA Collection/International Motor Racing Research Center
Then, providence intervened. Bishop happened to be talking with John Greenwood about Sebring on the pit wall at Daytona in January of 1973 and to his surprise, Greenwood offered to put up the money to save the event, including making some needed safety improvements to the track like building a higher wall separating the pits from the main straight. With only a few short weeks to get it all organized and done, the pressure and the stakes were high. But Bishop recognized an enormous opportunity to elevate IMSA’s status in the racing world.
The program cover for the first IMSA-sanctioned 12 Hours of Sebring in 1973. Sebring International Raceway Archives
Reggie Smith, the ex-secretary of the ARCF, now the ex-promoter of the Sebring race, started a new organization called the Sebring Automobile Racing Association, which later on affectionately became known as the Sebring City Fathers. SARA became the official promoter of the event. Greenwood put up the prize money and made safety improvements to the track. R.J. Reynolds was more than happy to have Sebring added to the Camel GT Series calendar, which was now in its second year.
IMSA was not yet a member of ACCUS, which turned out to be a good thing, as it was not under any pressure to adhere to FIA edicts or existing ACCUS rules preventing drivers from crossing over from one member’s sanctioned race to compete in another. For unknown reasons, the SCCA board of governors voted not to interfere with IMSA taking over the race. The Club appeared to have given up on Sebring. All of this meant IMSA had a free hand to sanction an event with an almost mystical international reputation and attract drivers from any race-sanctioning body on the planet.
The runways, taxiways and access roads at Sebring have always been a challenge for racers. The Camaro shared by Luis Sereix, Tony Lilly, and Dave Voder navigates the rough pavement. Note the orange cones intended to guide the competitors at night when Sebring was pitch black and especially tricky to navigate. autosportsltd.com
The 12 Hours of Sebring became the first IMSA Camel GT event of the 1973 season. With the help of RJR’s Joe Camel advertising campaign and renewed interest in the race, a good crowd showed up, ensuring Sebring would become a fixture on the IMSA calendar for many years to come. For many people who lived through the near-extinction of the Sebring race, Bishop was recognized as one of three heroes who stepped in at the last minute to rescue this iconic event. In recognition of their contributions, Bishop, Greenwood and Smith were later inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame.
The winning Porsche Carrera RS of Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, and Dave Helmick at Sebring in 1973. The traditional colors of Brumos were not used as it was Dave Helmick’s car. autosportsltd.com
The following is an excerpt from “IMSA 1969-1989” that tells the inside story of John Bishop’s life and how he created the world’s greatest sports car racing series. Available from Octane Press or wherever books are sold.
Former IMSA RS and GTU champion Don Devendorf (right) was the leader behind Electramotive Engineering, the team that fielded the all-conquering Nissan GTP ZX-T in the IMSA Camel GT Series in the last half of the 1980s. The team won the IMSA championship in 1988 and 1989. Photo: Peter Gloede
The TWR Racing Jaguar XJR-10 of Jan Lammers and Price Cobb led most of the way at Portland in 1989. Photo: Peter Gloede.
At the 1989 Portland round of the Camel GT Series, a titanic battle between the Nissans of Geoff Brabham and Chip Robinson and the two Castrol Walkinshaw Jaguars driven by Price Cobb/Jan Lammers and Davy Jones/John Nielsen lasted the entire distance. At the end of the race, an extraordinary sequence of events unfolded that created confusion and a tough decision for IMSA officials.
Jaguar ran two different cars in 1989—the XJR-9 (foreground) that featured a 7.0-liter, 12-cylinder, normally aspirated engine, and the new XJR-10 designed around a 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder twin-turbocharged motor. The cars are shown here at the previous round at Road America, sitting next to the Castrol transporter. Photo: Peter Gloede
Although the race was scheduled for 102 laps, for reasons never fully understood the local SCCA starter took it upon himself to throw the checkered flag on the 94th lap instead. About a third of the field took that flag, including the leaders – Cobb over Brabham by little more than one second. The teams knew the race was supposed to go 102 laps, so, for the most part, they told their drivers to keep right on racing. After a few cars took the checkered flag, IMSA race control realized what had happened, so they told the starter to pull in the checkered flag. The remaining cars flew by as if nothing had happened.
The Electramotive team was well known for their lightning-quick pit stops during their championship years, pictured here at Road America in 1989. Photo: Peter Gloede
Race control notified everyone on the radio that the race was proceeding to the full race distance. Five laps later, Brabham got by Cobb and took the second checkered flag after 102 laps. In the meantime, IMSA officials consulted the regulations and came to the decision that although the first checkered flag was flown early, it had to signify the end of the race: the event was over as of 94 laps and the win was awarded to Cobb/Lammers based on the standings at that time.
The now incensed Nissan team protested the results, which were held as provisional until the appeal could be heard by well-respected former driver John Gordon Bennett, IMSA’s commissioner. Bennett was the highest level of independent decision-making in IMSA’s appeal process. In other words, his decision would be final.
Realizing the intricacies of the situation, Bennett convened a panel of three other experts unaffiliated in any way with the parties in the dispute. The panel concluded that although incorrectly displayed, the sanctity of the checkered flag could not be disputed. IMSA was chastised by the panel for allowing the unfortunate flagging error to happen. The organization never again depended on local starters at races, instead bringing its own starter to every event. The Nissan team was disappointed, but the decision was accepted after one more minor protest.
At the next race in San Antonio, Nissan handed out a wonderfully designed lapel pin showing the number 83 car, a checkered flag, the words “Portland 1989” and a large screw going through the car, illustrating their feelings about what had happened in the Pacific Northwest.