Monday
Mar142011

Retro Cool

Click on image to view full GalleryThe annual Race Retro show at Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry in the English West Midlands, has come to be associated primarily with runs by classic rally machinery on its live stage. It caters to all forms of historic racing, however, and the exhibition halls at this year’s event offered up jewels from the past of F1 and other single-seater formulae as well as classic sportscars, motorcycles and even go-karts. There was also a proper grimy, oily autojumble to counterbalance the more genteel offerings of vintage clothing, touring holidays and speciality champagne in the trade area. This was appropriate, as unlike the sometimes suffocating ‘Concours’ events of this world, Race Retro is a show that is all about using classic racing machinery for its intended purpose, and using it hard.

Group C/IMSA GTP cars are much in evidence in historic racing these days, and there were several notable examples on display. The first was a Dauer Porsche 962 that formed one side of the ‘Andretti vs Unser’ battle at the 1991 Daytona 24 Hours. A team of drivers from both families entered in identical Jochen Dauer-built cars, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be the titanic battle that was billed, as the Unser car retired shortly before midnight, while Jeff, John and Mario Andretti piloted this example to fifth place. The car is currently for sale with a view to it being raced in the primarily UK-based Masters Historics series this season.

Over on the Group C Racing organisation’s stand, alongside Sauber Mercedes and Spice Group C machinery, was a Nissan GTP-ZX Turbo IMSA car. With a chassis by Lola, and mantained and run by the veteran Datsun and Nissan preparation specialists at California’s Electramotive Engineering, this car was so named as it shared its VG30ET V6 engine block with the contemporary Nissan 300ZX road car. The GTP-ZX holds the significant honour of being the first car to defeat Porsche’s all-conquering 962 in IMSA competition, and it went on to win the IMSA constructors’ championship in 1989 and 1990 before making way for the NPT-90.

Group C Racing are one of the major draws at the annual Silverstone Classic festival, and that event’s Race Retro stand basked in the glow a 1989 Spice SE 89P, finished in the distinctive Applebee’s livery of the factory GM Pontiac team, which Spice prepared cars for. Paul Newman was one of the drivers who took the wheel of this machine 1989-91 racing career in the IMSA series, and it will be seen in action at Silverstone this July.

The Group C/IMSA contingent were put in the shade by one other incredible car, though – a Lola T310 Can-Am racer, possessed of the most insane-looking set of inlet trumpets I have ever seen on a competition car. Driven by David Hobbs, the T310 was the last and most outrageous of Lola’s Can-Am creations, packing an 830bhp Chevy V8 into an extremely low and wide 730kg body. It will be seen along with similar machinery in the Canadian American Challenge Cup revival series, which visits Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria and France over the course of the coming season.

Erstwhile F1 racer and now full-time organic farmer Jody Scheckter leant two significant machines from his career to Motor Sport magazine’s stand. First was the inelegant but effective Wolf WR1, which won the new team’s debut race in 1977 – a feat that would not be repeated until Jenson Button’s victory for Brawn GP at the 2009 Australian GP. Beside it sat the more iconic Ferrari 312T4 from the 1979 season, which the South African driver, who was champion that year, drove to victory in the Belgian, Monaco and Italian Grands Prix.

As well as top-line prototypes and single-seaters, there were also the slightly less glamourous, but no less interesting, GT cars, including a 1964 Elva GT160, one of only three prototypes of this very elegant BMW-engined coupé built by the now long-defunct British company. The first of the three chassis raced at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1965, and while this particular example has no period race history, it has been a welcome participant in historic events over the past number of years.

Just a short walk away from the carpeting, heat and velvet ropes of the exhibition hall, a selection of Britain’s top historic rallying exponents were sending mud and grass flying amidst the chill of an English February. Some of the cars were being driven more enthusiastically than others, but it was an impressive and varied lineup by any standard, with ’70s stalwarts such as the Vauxhall Chevette, Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, and Ford Escort Mk2 all out in force The event’s biggest draw, Group B, was represented by Austin Metro 6R4s, Audi Sport Quattros and a Peugeot 205 T16. There were also a couple of more obscure models such as a Nissan 240RS and British favourites the Triumph TR7 and Rover SD1. Tip of the hat to the driver of the distinctive yellow Ferrari 308, however – its rorty Maranello V8 made a sublime noise as he threw it around the tight track with wild abandon.

The presence of two of the late, great Colin McRae’s most familiar cars, a Subaru Legacy and the later 555-liveried Impreza in which he first made his mark on the world stage, was probably the most poignant inclusion for the assembled British rally fans. The final highlight was the presence of 1988 and 1989 World Rally Champion Miki Biasion. The veteran Italian, who still competes on long-distance rally raids, was taking no prisoners behind the wheel of his Group A Lancia Delta Integrale, as evidenced by some battle damage to the rear corner when the car returned to the paddock area. Although his was one of only two Lancias to be used in anger on the track, a display inside celebrated the rich rallying history of the Italian marque, including numerous Delta Integrales, and a ‘recreation’ of the mighty Delta S4 – its rear spaceframe constructed from scratch based on blueprints supplied from the factory. Such replicas have the potential to divide purists, but there was no doubting the superb workmanship involved and the striking presence of the finished article.

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