On the road with Simon Arron

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FLORIDA COCKTAIL

Daytona Speedway, November 11-15: added to the calendar in 2014, an evolving event is already a classic in both name and nature​

The question was politely received, but couldn’t be answered. Not then, at least. It was January 2014, I was attending my first Rolex 24 at Daytona and my attention had already been mildly diverted by news of a fresh historic fixture at the circuit, 10 months hence. Lola T70s restored to the celebrated banking? Who wouldn’t want to watch that? The event was definitely happening, I was told, but nobody present knew a great deal about it.

But happen it did. The first Classic 24 at Daytona – actually 24 separate 42-minute races for six different car groups, each of which raced four times – attracted about 135 entries and organiser HSR (Historic Sportscar Racing) clearly did something right, for second time around that had swelled to 190. That I should be present to watch was among my finest privileges of 2015.

Most things in America tend to be crafted on a bigger scale (pizzas and road cars, to name but two): the same applies to its race meetings, but not in a disproportionate way. Testing for the Classic 24 began on Wednesday, in a vast, empty stadium in which multi-coloured plastic seats are cleverly designed to make the place look permanently busy (a very effective slice of trompe l’oeil, that), and the track was then almost constantly in use until beyond noon on Sunday.

The main event was by no means the sole focus. In addition to the Classic 24, there were several races for various HSR historic classes and these threw up some unlikely combinations. Wall-to-wall Porsche 911s were a given, of course, but it’s not every day that you see a 1980s Sports 2000 Tiga tracking a fairly recent NASCAR Sprint Cup racer, or a Chevron B36 defending against the same: it was equal parts colour, noise (no decibel restrictions here) and bewilderment (but in a good way).

Given that this was but chapter two, the potential for evolution is enormous – particularly if more Europeans start to commit. There were already quite a few, mind, and front-running Brit Olly Bryant was active in several cars – including a ’65 Mustang that he guided to victory in the eight-lap American Challenge, opening race of the weekend.

And then there was the final round of the 2015 Trans-Am Championship, a series I’d never previously seen in the metal and which instantly became one of my favourite inventions. The cars (mostly Camaros, Mustangs, Corvettes and Dodge Challengers, although there were several overseas interlopers including a Jaguar XK) look the part, sound even better and appear to run out of tyres and brakes after a handful of laps, which adds a frisson of spectacle. A 70-car entry didn’t hurt, either. 

In 2011 Amy Ruman became the first female racer to win a Trans-Am race: here she judged things perfectly to take her Corvette to an eighth victory of the campaign and make history as the first woman to take the title.

Competition in the main event varied from group to group, many of which featured heritage Daytona names: Jochen Mass, Jürgen Barth, Gijs van Lennep and Bobby Rahal, to cite but four. Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan had to withdraw at the last moment, but former GP driver Jean-Marc Gounon shared an 8.3-litre Greenwood Corvette with his son, Porsche racer Jules, and was quite happy to let the 20-year-old do much of the graft. “Why not?” Jean-Marc said. “He’s much quicker than me nowadays…” Elsewhere, Brian Redman and Dieter Quester raced BMWs of different vintages – Redman in an ex-Quester 3.5 CSL from 1972, the Austrian in a 2009 Alpina B6 – at the respective ages of 78 and 76.

No outright winner is declared, in order not to detract from the achievements of those in each group, but unofficially Doug Smith/Butch Leitzinger (2005 Audi R8) and US-domiciled Scot David Porter (2007 Pescarolo) completed the greatest distance, 87 laps apiece in the most closely contested division. They were only a whisker apart going into the final race, but Smith/Leitzinger eventually prevailed by 42sec.

And if such cars sound a little bit too fresh for a ‘historic’ event, they were by no means the newest. The Classic is open to almost anything from 1966, when first the circuit hosted a 24-hour race, and the entry included several very recent 911s and a current-model Lamborghini Huracán finished in a particularly violent shade of green.

Other group winners were Gray Gregory/Randy Buck (Chevron B16), Robert Blain/Ron Maydon (March 75S), Christian Zugel/Mark Patterson (Porsche 962), Dean Baker (Riley & Scott) and Robert Spence/Scott Jachthuber (Porsche 911).

But this is about more than just cars and competition. The whole setting is sumptuous. It’s a chance to watch pelicans defy the laws of physics as they track the coastline, to explain to the catering staff that poached eggs on toast means exactly that (i e you don’t want a mountain of potatoes on the side), to see snowy egrets dive into the surf to catch fresh breakfast, to admire a bald eagle on the wing and to savour the growing anticipation as you head along International Speedway Boulevard while the sound of vee-somethings becomes ever less distant. And then you peel left through the gates, proceed through a tunnel and find yourself on an infield access road, running almost shoulder to shoulder with a Ford GT40 on the adjacent banking.

If the weekend ended right there, you’d return home happy.

FAWKES LIFTS TRUCKS

Brands Hatch, November 8: race promotion as an art form​

There’s more than an hour before practice begins, yet already the public car parks are looking quite full. At a British clubbie. Seven weeks before Christmas. The area usually reserved for officials and media? Limited-access only, because it’s doubling up as a run-off area for the adjacent monster truck demonstration…

Grass-roots race meetings sometimes attract fewer spectators than they do competitors, yet others develop a cult following that does little but snowball. This is one such.

For some seasons now, Brands Hatch has hosted the final round of the British Truck Racing Association Championship and topped it off with fireworks display, funfair and other family-friendly peripherals. The public seems to like this, so much so that it was quite difficult to find a viewing point to the outside of Paddock Hill Bend when lorries were first let loose on day two. I doubt I’d seen the area quite so congested since the 1986 British Grand Prix.

The customary support categories (Legends, Pickups) were also on the bill, along with Intermarque silhouette racers (basically short-oval hot rods tailored for circuits) on the first day and the marvellously diverse Motorsport News Saloon Car Championship (including Ford Escorts, upper- and lower-case Minis, a Boss Mustang, a Toyota Starlet and a Citroën BX) on the second. In many ways it was like the Brands Hatch winter clubbies of 30 years ago, with huge grids… but, this time, a commensurate audience.

For all its smoky spectacle (not necessarily one for the purist, I concede), truck racing is prone to long delays, simply because that much kinetic energy can do a lot of damage when unharnessed. I’m told the gravel traps at Paddock had been made deeper for the weekend, to prevent strays running most of the way to the M20, but there were still a few time-consuming collisions. One involved Division One truck title rivals Stuart Oliver and Matt Summerfield, the latter of whom eventually prevailed, while a colossal diesel spill triggered a one-hour clean-up – not ideal when there’s so little spare daylight.

That led to races being shortened and, in one instance, cancelled, but the place was still absolutely rammed when fireworks of a different kind commenced.