Shapes of Things
The trouble with sports car prototype racing according to my friend Tom Davey is
that all the cars look alike. As Davey puts it, “I can’t tell one from another, and I
don’t have a clue as to who the drivers are, I really don’t care. It just doesn’t have
any interest for me.” Davey, a multi-time National Champion, and one of the best
Formula Ford drivers anywhere, can be opinionated. But, he has a point.
Somehow, in previous times there was grandeur to the sport that is missing.
True for the better of the nearly six decades when they restarted motorsport after
the Second World War, drivers were what the British call “all arounders,” meaning
that they drove everything from production sedans to Formula One, with stops for
prototypes and, even rallying in between. Given the unfortunate era of
“specialization” in which we currently find ourselves, we clearly aren’t going to
experience Michael Schumacher, or his pals returning anytime soon to the ranks
of sports car competition.
Lost in the stars
Nor, does there appear much hope that present day designers and engineers
are going to abandon the high efficient and successful aerodynamic formulae not
only keep their creations tied to Mother Earth, but tied to her while traveling at
speeds far beyond those at which most aircraft can fly. So, if we can’t have F-1
stars, and if we can’t have artistry and differentiation in the body shapes of today’s
sports racer, what are we to do?
The answer is simple: hang a U-turn, and march as quickly as possible back to
the past where efficiency was deemed less important than beauty and panache.
Before the more astute point out that those two latter qualities did, in fact fade in
importance as the aero lessons were further absorbed and employed during the
1970’s and ‘80’s, producing in the end vehicles that were efficient if not always
beautiful, I willingly concede the point. Yet, even in the heyday of the Group C and
IMSA prototypes, one could hardly mistake a Porsche for a Jaguar, or even a
Fly Trans Love Airways, get you there on time…
All of which explains the plausible theory of why vintage and historic racing has
become so popular. Last spring I attended one of the largest gathering of old
racing Porsches ever held, Rennsport Reunion II at Daytona, where one could
see and enjoy all the individuality one wanted. Within the last week the Monterey
Historics were held at Laguna (Sorry, Mazda Raceway in modern speak), and this
September lovers of the past will turn their attention to Goodwood in England for
the Goodwood Revival on that famous British circuit. And, while we’re at it, lets not
forget the Le Mans Historics in July, or the earlier Goodwood Hillclimb, both of
which sparked huge interest from competitors and fans alike.
Killer. not filler
There are many things to excite us in modern motorsport; things like the high
revving engines of F-1 with their 17,000 plus RPM redlines. Yet, one senses that a
good part of us want to go back to the days when we could see drivers wrestling
with their cars, over coming their flaws and making them perform far beyond what
their creators though possible. Even someone as great as Michael Schumacher
is limited by the bounds of his equipment. It is as if today’s racers say, “You can
go this far, and no farther, no matter what your abilities.” Compare that with Juan
Fangio flinging his Maserati 250F around the old Nurburgring in 1957, setting five
consecutive lap records as he made up more than a minute and a half to pass
his Ferrari rivals and win the German Grand Prix – all in a car whose broken seat
kept slamming him into the sides of the cockpit, and this at the age of 47.
I think that maybe I’m dreamin…
Monterey was dedicated to Ferrari, a marque with more than its share of
beautiful race and street cars. Still, if one wants to see how far down the path
we’ve come towards sameness and efficiency, just compare the mid 1960’s
P3/P4 design with the last of the Italian sports racers, the 333SP.It’s like
comparing Chopin to Hip Hop. My business in racing, and I accept its changed
form. Yet, in my heart of hearts, I want to return to an earlier time when racing was
not nearly so sterile; when it was it was about spirit rather than mechanical
genius. Fortunately, I can do so with others who see things as I do in a love of
things past. They may not be better, but they sure have character. And, that not
only gets my attention, but keeps it.