Historic 24 Hours another Classic at Daytona

| November 16, 2015
The group-winning 1986 Porsche 962 in the Winners Circle - Photo by William Harp

The group-winning #99 1986 Porsche 962 in the Winners Circle – Photo by William Harp

Chip Harp, Valdosta Today

DAYTONA BEACH — If you are the least bit interested in speed and classic racing sports cars, you must add the Classic 24 Hours at Daytona to your bucket list.

2005 Le Mans-winning Audi R8 - Photo by William Harp

2005 Le Mans-winning Audi R8 – Photo by William Harp

Imagine attending a classic car show where every car is worth between from $200,00 to $5,000,000 and on display. Now image all of those cars are traveling at race speed, and for good measure, many driven by some of racing’s greatest drivers.  Here, you have the chance to actually live it at this event.

Held over several days, the race is organized by Historic Sportscar Racing, the preeminent historic sportscar racing event firm, and presented by IMSA, the nation’s leading sanctioning body of sports car endurance racing.  It brings together cars and enthusiasts from both North America and Europe, in an event designed to allow these historic cars to come alive again and perform as they were designed to do on the famous banks of Daytona.  Cars are divided into 6 classes, by age and pedigree, which then race an hour at a time for 24 hours.  Each class runs 4 hours over the 24-hour period.

That’s a lot for cars, some of which are older than most of those attending.

Not all of the stars are cars.

1979 Greenwood Corvette - Photo by William Harp

1979 Greenwood Corvette – Photo by William Harp

One of the participants is Gerard Lopez, principal of Genii Capital, a European investment firm.  Lopez made a fortune in I.T. and has since, at a relatively young age, invested a great deal of it into racing. Lopez, in addition to owning a stable of historic racing cars (which he actually races) including Ford GT40’s, Dodge Oreca Vipers, Saleens, and Lolas, is the principal owner of the Lotus F-1 Team.  The atmosphere at the event is laid back, allowing access to folks like Lopez for anyone who wonders into the garage and has a bit of nerve.  He was happy to discuss Formula 1 driver changes and even the beautiful French-built 1967 Matra 3-liter MS630 he brought to run, a car never before raced in the U.S.

Many famous drivers not only attend the event, but drive many of the cars (actual cars) for which they made their name.  One such driver is Brian Redman, winner of the 1970 Targa Florio with a Porsche 908 and the 12 Hours of Sebring twice, in 1975 with a BMW Coupé, in 1978 with a Porsche 935.  He also won the Spa-Francorchamps 1000km race 4 times (1968–1970, 1972).  Four of the famous “batmobile” 1973 BMW CSL’s that Redman drove were on hand, running in the event.

IMSA, and many of the drivers and owners at the event, has a special relationship with Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the organizers of the famous Le Mans 24 Hour race.  In a poignant moment before the event began Saturday, IMSA chief Scott Atherton paid an emotional tribute to the people of Paris and France, citing words from the French anthem.

The star of the show is the cars, and the variety and significance of cars on display many times leaves one speechless.  From lightweight 60’s-era Lotus similar to the one Dan Gurney drove to win the first Daytona endurance race, up to cars that ran just a couple of years earlier for titles, a full range from 1960 to present day is on hand, running at speeds exceeding 200 mph.

A 1971 Chevron B16 won the oldest group, beating an equally impressive 1969 Lola T70 Mk 3b.  These 5-liter monsters routinely ran close to 200 mph, utilizing a team of mechanics and engineers to keep the historical gems humming through the night.  Other cars winning their groups included a 1975 March 755 Can Am car, beating the famous 1979 Greenwood-prepared Corvette with its 8.3 liter V-8 that ran in Le Mans.  It was one of several Corvettes running, evidence of the marque’s rich history in sports car racing and in honor of Corvette race builder John Greenwood, who recently passed away.

The highlight for many at the event was seeing the all-conquering 1986 Porsche 962’s run.  During the 1980’s these prototype race cars dominated Le Mans, Sebring, Spa, and yes, Daytona with their complex 3-liter turbo-charged Porsche engines.  Sponsored by old-school cigarette companies like Rothmans, Leyton House, and others, these were the cars that filled the dreams of many young boys in their day.  Many of those same boys are now owning and operating these historic beasts.

Finally, seeing the Le Mans-winning R8 Audi’s run against the V-10 Judd-powered Pescarolo LMP machines topped the event.  These machines, owned by respective French, Americans, and Canadians, still moved around the track at well over 200 mph, battling against logic and time.  The Audi narrowly defeated the Pescarolo for the title.

It’s a great event, and close enough for anyone to enjoy.  See more on this incredible event through images HERE, or learn more about this and other historic races by visiting Historic Sportscar Racing.

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