From the streets of Monaco to the Ovals of the USA, this CART team owner lives for motoring success
One of the highlights of last years Monaco Grand Prix Historique was the sight of Graham Hill’s BRM P261 in action. This is the car in which Hill won the 1965 Monaco GP, and it was an emotional moment when it took to the fabled street circuit. Its American owner, Bruce McCaw, is an accomplished racer of vintage machinery, but is also taking the USA’s most challenging racing field, CART’S Championship Car Series (formerly Indycars), by storm. In only four seasons, McCaw has taken his PacWest team from a standing start to repeated wins in the formula. In 1997 drivers Mark Blundell and Mauricio Gugelmin scored four wins between them, giving PacWest the same sort of success profile that McCaw seems to invoke in all his enterprises.
As President and Chief Executive Officer of PacWest, his role is more than merely the team owner: he takes a crucial part in the team’s management. Yet even this high-profile racing achievement is a small part of the McCaw empire, which has seen him elevated to membership of the Forbes index of America’s 400 richest men. The son of a telephone company pioneer, Bruce also went into communications, but has since broadened his range of interests into insurance and aviation. Cars, though, have been a fixed passion as a break from the demanding daily round of business.
“I was always interested in racing and high performance cars. I raced in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s, in an Austin-Healey and and Elva Mk7. I won a number of races, and finished quite well in national standings. Now I drive in vintage Formula One and CanAm.”
Does that help with the job of running the race team? “I don’t claim to know the drivers’ jobs, but I think having raced lets me understand whether a driver is switched on or is struggling. I have driven current Indycars but these current guys are professional athletes; it’s not a business for dabbling in.”
How many CART races does he get to? “All of them. If you’re not at every race, you’ll never be able to understand some of the problems. Though once in a while I might miss part of a weekend to get to a historic race.”
And how many historic races does he make? “I do maybe six in a season. Driving Graham Hill’s BRM at the Monaco historic meeting was an experience I’ll never forget, racing the car which had won at that very circuit.”
What was it like to tackle those famous streets? “I found the track straightforward to learn, but you have to go fast; you need an absolute rhythm to be spot on all the time. And we needed more set-up time on the P261. The tyre pressures are critical, and it took a while to get it working well.” That learning curve may have been under pressure, but the lessons will be invaluable in the coming season.
Like many vintage racing people McCaw also has an interest in aeroplanes. But he doesn’t collect WWII warbirds, as is fashionable now. McCaw’s innate business orientation means that instead he co-founded an airline. He retains a commercial passenger jet licence, and like Niki Lauda, he flies some of his airline’s runs. But there is no vintage hobby equivalent of the cars here. “Old aeroplanes are too problematic; you’re better off in a modern.”
What about this season’s plans? “We have exactly the same package for the Indy team, and we look forward to more success.”
It’s a typically understated assessment of the probable situation. PacWest is in an enviable position: on the rise, with a short but steep success record, a spate of wins in hand, and a proven driver team who are raring to go. It would not be a surprise to see PacWest collect the title in America’s most demanding and prestigious racing arena.
Another plan for 1998 is to organise some sort of event to commemorate Frank Nichols, designer of Elva cars, who died last year. He was a friend of McCaw, who feels he would “like to run something in his honour”. He still has the Climax-engined Elva he bought 30 years ago. “I used to maintain it myself, but in the 1970s money became a bigger issue you had to have fresh cars each season.” It must be a luxury, then, to be able to take a 70-strong team of top Indy people, two respected drivers, a hot engine package (Ilmor Mercedes-Benz) and four competitive Reynard chassis to every CART race.
Apart from the Nichols event, McCaw aims to tackle some of the high-profile US old-car gatherings. “I don’t plan any European historic events this year but I usually do the Monterey races and several others, like the Colorado Grand which I’ve done several times. I have a Ferrari 375 being readied for that at the moment.”
The work on the Ferrari, and McCaw’s other cars, is being done in the workshops of another of McCaw’s business undertakings, which buys, sells and looks after classic cars – “mostly British, because a large percentage of the good cars are British”. In McCaw’s own collection are a McLaren 4B, a brace of 1928 Stutzes, open and closed, and a 6 1/2-litre Bentley coupe, while he is currently building a replica of the Austin-Healey Sprite with which he began his racing in the 1960s. He and his wife will race this in the coming season. From day to day, Stuttgart provides the wheels, in the shape of a Mercedes E500, the factory hot-shot, with a Ferrari 456 for those weekends away.
However, such fine machinery is only a part of the pleasure for this busy and successful man. “My interest in cars parallels my interest in aviation. I enjoy the equipment, but I like the people most of all. Interesting people go racing. And it’s fun to be able to race with people who are your heroes, like Stirling Moss.” GC