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David Soares on The Green Lawns and Blacktops of August

  I’ve been blessed to have lived most of my life on the shores of the Monterey Bay
and to have regularly experienced the phenomenon media wags have lately taken
to calling “Monterey Madness” or the “Monterey Hysterics.”  However, during my
adulthood I’ve tended to stay away from the big car shows on the golf courses,
whose vast expanses of lawn have for some reason always reminded me of the
cemeteries where we interred grandparents and other deceased persons.
Automobiles belong on asphalt.

  I was a lad of 11 or so the first time I went to a car show at the Lodge at Pebble
Beach; Lucius Beebe was recently deceased and Charles Addams was still
cartooning the program.  The cars I remember were mostly English, nice guys
popping the hoods of softly patinated XK-120’s and firing up the motor for a wide-
eyed boy; old family limos seemed to win best-of-show if Harrah didn’t come.  It
was mostly cracked leather and crazed cellulose.  When Owen Owens’ chrome-
laden Mercedes S tourer won best-of-show in ’71 it creeped me out the same way
as when I saw a hooker south of Broadway on a family expedition to North Beach.
The “Pebble Beach restoration” became more over-the-top and out of touch with
reality, and I haven’t been to that car show for a good 15 years.

The Willing Conscript

  After the ’71 concours I was finally able to cajole my way over to the race track for
my first Can-Am.  That was my deal: loud and fast and dirty.  I was hooked for life.
As I got older and nostalgia became an option, the high August weekend would
find me taking advantage of being at the track on Friday and Sunday when the
crowds were over at the cemeteries looking at the dead.  I was more interested in
the living.

  This year I was lured to a new event, the third edition of what is modestly billed as
“The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering” on the fairways of Quail Lodge in the Carmel
Valley.  It turned out to be a kind of self-indulgent Grande Bouffe that’s an apt
metaphor for the state of things in motorsport at the turn of the 21st century.

  The “Entrant Selection” committee was made up of car-party animal Gordon
McCall, historian Michael T. Lynch, and tour organizer Mathias Doutreleau.  My first
impression was that somebody might also be remembering the XK-120’s at the
Lodge thirty-five years ago.  On the lawn were a hundred or so nice examples of
agreeable cars that were of the kind that someone might actually drive.  No Rolls
or Hispanos or Avions Voisins, but conveyances more along the lines a few nice
older Porsches (nothing racier than the former Scooter Patrick Carrera-6) and an
Alpine A110.  The 275 GTB’s in the Ferrari display were of the single-cam short-
nose variety and the small Zagato display included a Lancia and an AC along with
the Astons, Ferraris, and Maseratis.

  Almost everything on the field appeared to have a current plate hanging off the
back, or at least to potential of digging some divots out of the green and heading
up Carmel Valley Road over to Greenfield without scraping off the exhaust pipes.
The stunning ’32 Daimler Double-Six Sport Saloon of J. Peter Ministrelli looked out
of place among mostly nice drivers arrayed around the field.  I even recognized a
couple of low-rent cars that I had considered on offer over the past couple of years.

You can always eat at JOE'S….

  It took me about an hour to figure out that the cars parked on the lawn were just
decorations to divert the crowd while they indulged their senses. The Quail
provides a Roman orgy of drink and food like no other – and like the Love Boat
was it’s all-inclusive.  I had invited a couple of my neighbors along, a cabinet-
maker and a rocket-scientist (no kidding).  They thought that the cars were nice
and all, but their heads were soon turned to the food troughs – and the chance to
have a first-rate noontime booze-up with the swells.

  The dining and drinking portion of the event started at 11 with a conga-line toast
by the Peninsula Hotels bell-boys pouring Louis Roederer Brut Premier
champagne – in real glasses, drink your fill.  Do you want Sweetwaters, Atlantics,
or Kumamotos from the Oyster Bar?  Eat a dozen, with shallot vinaigrette.  Here’s
an ounce of Osetra caviar, guys.  Grab some Blinis.  Enjoy.  Salmon, chicken, BBQ
artichokes, Greek specialties, paella with big fat prawns -- all perfect; all you can
eat.  There was plenty of everything and the well-bred crowd never jostled.

  It just got crazier. No offense to the entrants, but the cars seemed an afterthought
to all this sensuality.  I’ve never been to an event with a premium caipirinha bar at
either end of the field; non-stop Tanqueray No. Ten martinis; 5 year-old tequila
shots; beers and wines galore.  My personal favorite was Microbus magnate and
Porsche racer Ben Pon’s Bernardus Vineyard, where sales manager Robert
Baker kept pushing fabulous sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and Marinus
Bordeaux-blend on us in quantities that fully made up for the price of admission.
When it all got to be too much, Illy Caffe was pulling perfect espressos and
cappuccinos to go with the cigars being hand-rolled under an umbrella by a recent
defector from Havana’s Monte Cristo cigar factory.

Considering Vic Elford…

  As we enjoyed our torpedoes my friends cracked blonde jokes with late-night
host Jay Leno (who seemed to be enjoying the “Right Crowd and No Crowding”
aspect of the event) but I was drawn to a different celebrity, Vic Elford, who was
sitting at the edge of the madness autographing copies of his new autobiography
“Vic Elford: Reflections on a Golden Age in Motorsports” for the few who cared.  Vic
and his charming wife Anita were in fine form, coming off a recent dinner with
renowned bon-vivant Kerry Morse.

  Vic happily regaled us with tales of testing a 908/3 for Peter Falk in the damp on
the old sudschleiffe and winding up sliding sideways along a hedgerow at 70
mph with his feet sticking out the front of the car.  He related that his long rally
experience made him one of the few to truly love the early 917’s looseness,
although he felt that “poor John Woolfe” had no business in the car.  It wasn’t like
all the whining about equal competition you hear today, “you just got in and drove!”

  This turned our discussion to the current state of sportscar racing, and Vic’s
disdain for spec racing and “performance equalization” formulae.  Elford started to
lament that the Audi had been “penalized” by IMSA – perhaps he’s more open than
I am to Dr. Ullrich’s propaganda because Ferdinand Piech wrote the foreword to
his new book.  I pointed out that the Audi hadn’t been penalized at all (other than a
fueling-rig adjustment) and that Rob Dyson’s Lolas had been simply been given a
weight break.

  In my view, the Dyson weight-break has nothing to do with the R10, as the diesel
Audi’s 1-2 performance at Road America proved on the following Sunday.  The
rules-makers haven’t spoken publicly, but it’s pretty obvious to me that the
problem being addressed is that the P2 Penske Porsche has been spanking the
supposedly higher-class P1 Lola all year long.  Tim Mayer and Doug Robinson of
IMSA made clear in their first Technical Bulletin (# 06-01) dated 19 December
2005 that “Balance of Performance” adjustments, “will not generally be made to
the top cars to limit advantage gained, but rather shall be made to assist cars that
face limiting factors, so as to narrow the performance differential within each class
to an appropriate level for sporting reasons.”

Take as prescribed….

  Neither the Audi nor the Porsche has been “penalized.”  Others have been given
weight and fuel breaks to create a more competitive field.  I feel that Dr. Ullrich’s
high-handed comments about “random” and “unjustified” regulation changes so
that “our life will be made artificially difficult” are misguided.  Is the ALMS nothing
but a Vorsprung durch Technik demonstration run?  What does Audi prove when
its millions of Euros do nothing but crush a guy who makes motorhome toilets
and is trying to self-finance the development of an artisan English car straight out
of a Cambridgeshire industrial park?  It vexes me to no end when the technical
director of the most dominant team in motorsport starts crying “it’s all about me”
when somebody gets a break that clearly has nothing to do with his team,
especially when he’s making threats to pull out of the series at the first sign of
having actual competition.  They Dyson weight-break is about the Porsche P2, herr
Doktor!  Take a chill pill.

  Meanwhile, the Fields and Intersport keep plugging away against the Porsches
in the 3-car “real” P2 class with only an early-season restrictor break.  The points
from their perseverance at Sebring to a second overall and the Porsches’ fragility
have kept them on top against a team that is in another class altogether.  We
haven’t read in press releases that Intersport’s “further participation is under
discussion,” have we?

Meanwhile, back on the green…

  Vic Elford is without a doubt one of the true giants of sportscar racing – and of all
racing.  He was a great rally driver, winning often in the most grueling events
including the Monte.  He won Porsche’s first great overall victory in the 907 at
Daytona in 1968, won the Targa Florio, at the Nurburgring, at Sebring.  He helped
develop some of the great Can Am cars including Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2J.  He
drove all three versions of the formidable Porsche 917 langheck to the front of the
field at Le Mans in ’69, ’70, and ’71.  As we looked over the field of this
“Motorsports Gathering” and discussed the latest bitching and moaning about
sportscar racing, I could only discern two true racing cars: a 1974 Gurney Eagle
F5000 car and a 1964 Elva Porsche sports racer.  During the day it really grabbed
peoples’ attention when someone ran up and down the access road in Stewart’s
spare 1971 Lola T260 Can-Am car from the Bonham’s auction tent.  But every one
of the cars on the lawn was certainly a sportscar.  There was a logic to the car
choices on the field.  Lynch and McCall were reminding us of the roots of the
sportscar: road racing, where the cars were designed to adapt to the circuit rather
than vice-versa.

  There are only four great road racing circuits left in the world: Le Mans (despite
the FIM wasteland on the Dunlop hill), Sebring (I know that it’s an airport, but the
roads predate the circuit), the nordschleiffe of the Nurburgring (built as a circuit but
not designed as one), and Spa-Francorchamps (the Ardennes cow-paths still
recognizable beneath the re-profiling).  It can be no coincidence that these circuits
all still host endurance races for sportscars.  With some exceptions, everything
else is a lawn show for the swells to swill French champagne.

  I suppose that I’m in the minority in my support of IMSA’s weight and restrictor
adjustments.  As much as Ingolstadt would like a bunch of demonstration runs,
wins don’t count unless they’re against competition.  On the Quail Lodge field the
contrast between Michael Lynch and Gordon McCall’s selection of a bunch of old
sportscars that were clearly driven and not just a bunch of trailer queens in the
midst of Sir Michael Kadoorie’s orgy of Peninsula Group self-indulgence, had the
effect of making me mad about Dr. Ullrich’s trashing of one of the few series to
still be based on road racing.


  Meanwhile, across the Grade at Steve Earle’s 33rd Monterey Historic Automobile
Races another global player in the auto biz did its usual act of maximum
marketing traction from minimal track action.  I’m trying to remember if anything
Toyota has ever turned a wheel in anger at the MHAR, but the spin-meisters
Toyota Motor Sales took notice of the uniformly positive reception of the GT-
One/Eagle GTP/Celica JGTC/Group 7 demo run last August and blanketed the
ostensibly “Mazda” Raceway with “presented by Toyota.”   The boys and girls from
Torrance who made the Prius the “official car of Magical Thinking” may not have
ever been in the show, but they made this year’s Historics their show.

  They took the “Toyo” from “Toyo Kogyo” (that’s Mazda, folks) and added some “ta”
by hiring a big crew of fresh-faced youngsters to cheerlead kiosks placed at the
important spectator choke-points around the track to hand out pallet-loads of
Toyota-branded sport bottles of water, packets of sunscreen, earplugs, credential
holders with lanyards, and canvas clobber-bags.  They arranged noon-break
demo laps from the one-hit wonder 2000GT’s (beautiful) and from the Gurney
Celica IMSA GTO car, and displayed a Ganassi Lexus DP with the new Camry
Nextel Cup taxicab in the infield.  Ricardo Zonta showed up with a 2006 Bernie-
Kart and set an unofficial lap record that the fellows from Maranello failed at a
couple of years ago.  I have to admit that I even started sipping the Toyota Kool-Aid
when SCP's almond rancher Terry Burkhart was invited to ride shotgun in the
Lexus GS course car Sunday afternoon.  The car was adorned with a beautiful
Bugatti 35B profile graphic – in true Toyota Motor Sales fashion getting more
traction from somebody else’s brand than the people who spent tens of millions
on it
did (remember the pirouetting Veyron a few years ago heading towards turn
two ?) !

  It’s a sorry state of affairs when over 400 cars turn out for the Monterey Historics –
almost all road racers – but only 22 started that same weekend in the ALMS race
at Road America.  I just hope that somebody with a bigger checkbook than me
looked up from his Brut Premier and caviar at all those sportscars on the lawn and
had the same realization that I did: that road racing matters – and we still have the
opportunity to build a racing series around those great surviving road races.
Because of that, despite the glitz and gluttony, I think that The Quail may manage
to carve out its place in the Monterey Week.

                                                                                                          David Soares
                                                                                                 Last week of August 2006

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