SVRA's 1999 Zippo US Vintage Grand Prix

Watkins Glen International, Sept 9-12, 1999

By Mike Piera

Posing in the outfield


Schedule :

Thur, Sept 9 : Practice (travel day for me)
Fri, Sept, 10 : practice and one hour enduro race. Also downtown GRAND PRIX festival, with vintage cars running on the old downtown street circuit.
Sat, Sept 11 : Qualifying races, Collier cup for MGs, PORSCHE CLASH race for 911 based cars, NASCAR race.
Sun, Sept 12 : 1 hour enduro, followed by feature races. Also IMSA GTP race.

Our second vintage race of September was held in Watkins Glen, NY, at the southern tip of Lake Seneca. This long weekend hosted a myriad of activities for car enthusiasts, topped by the races on the famous Watkins Glen racecourse. My assistant John Manifold and I left Thursday Morning with the 911 in tow. We made good time and arrived in the early afternoon. We received our credentials at registration and went in search of a paddock spot. Most people were already set up as there were practice sessions on this day, but I did not think I needed the extra track time as much as I needed to keep my time and money outlays to a minimum. We found a spot behind Jim Newton's Auto Associates 18-wheeler, next to the six 911s that he brought for himself and customers to race. Auto Associates did the excellent body and paint work when my car was built, and installed the 2.7RS engine which they had previously built. I purchased my car with a 3.2 Carrera engine but I wanted to prepare it for PCA racing in stock class so I traded for this engine. This is the same engine which I had sold to an Auto Associates customer about 10 years ago, from my 1972 911S, come full circle! Others in the AA group were Prescott Kelly in his rare silver/red/white 2.5 liter 911ST, Jim Newton in his blue 911 GT4S "rally" car with a potent 2.7 engine, John Horton in another well prepared silver GT4 2.8 car, Jim Hamblin in a VERY fast, red 3.3 liter 911 race car, and driving instructor Steve Pfeffer in an EXTREMELY fast, silver wide-bodied 911 with a 3.4 liter engine. I would be competing against Prescott, Jim Newton, and John Horton in the class for medium displacement sports cars - a pack of 911s and a Ford Capri (flashbacks of Brian Redman from last week!). As usual, my car with it's stock 210HP engine was by far the weakest in the group, but power is not everything and I hoped I could still have a good showing.

There were practice sessions going on as I took the car to the tech garage after unloading it. Tech went well and I received an SVRA logbook with polaroids of the car taken on the spot. Now I have three logbooks (PCA, SCCA, and SVRA). I was too late for my practice group so we mounted my ancient BFG R1s for Friday's practice and watched other cars on the track. Other groups included Group 1 for little sports cars like Minis, MGs, etc; Group 2 for low powered formula cars (Ford 1600 engines mostly); and Group 4 for old cars with big engines, like Jaguars, Allards, and some fast small engined cars like Elvas and Lotus. Several of these 1950s roadsters had US-made V8 engines and sounded awesome! Group 5 was made up of older, fast sports racers and Can Am cars like Ford GT-40s, and several Porsche models (907, 910, 906, etc). Group 6 was a large group of V8 powered sports cars like Corvettes, Shelbys, Camaros, and also Jaguar XKEs. Group 7 and 9 were Cam Am, Indy, GTP, and other assorted monsters like McLarens, Chevrons, 962s, etc. Group 8 was mostly 60s sports cars with medium sized engines like Elvas, old Corvettes, Lotus Elans and Super 7s, 2.0 Liter 911s, and small sedans like the Datsun 510 and Alfas. Group 10 was my group and consisted of mostly 70s fast sports cars like 911s, newer Corvettes, IROC Camaros, and even a few Porsche 935s. For some reason there were several very recent cars like a ZR-1 Corvette and several 1990s Corvettes and 911s. Last but certainly not least were the NASCAR stock cars - over twenty cars with all their old sponsorship and noises intact. These were mostly early 90s cars not unlike the cars that are currently raced. Gene Felton from Georgia restores and sells these cars and brought several with him to race. They sure looked like a lot of fun, about as fast and safe as any car you could race. There was a Busch series car for sale for only $20K, it would have fit my trailer nicely but not sure if the Porsche Club would allow it at their autocrosses...

Passing myself

Passing Prescott and a car that looks somewhat like mine.

Friday we were scheduled for a short warm up, so we got to the track about 8am. I seemed to remember the track pretty well and the car felt pretty good on the old BFG tires. I had some good dicing with 911s and a Datsun 240Z. I checked some lap times and was going about as fast as I had gone last year on Hoosiers (2:21) so I felt very good. I was hoping to get in to the teens, as the fast PCA F cars that I usually aim for, got in the 2:17 range at the 50/50 race last year. I was confident that the one-race-old (Mont Tremblant) Hoosiers would get me in that range on Saturday and Sunday. I had flipped the front tires due to outer shoulder wear so they should make it through the weekend. However people had advised me that the track was now VERY abrasive due to concrete patches put on most turns where the NASCAR machines were digging up the pavement. But I found the tires wore fine and noticed very little wear all weekend. Must be my meticulous driving! ;-)

After our longer practice Friday afternoon, everything was going fine so we got ready for the Watkins Glen Downtown Festival, which was something I will never forget. We assembled with 150 other cars, from each of the Glen's five decades grouped by years, near the Pyramid concession booth. All sorts of cars were there, including a GTP Porsche 962, which made many people wonder how it could clear the streets in and around the town. At 4:15, each group was led downtown, which was about 10 minutes away, by an official car, taking part of the original road course along the way. When we got near the town we saw thousands and thousands of people lining the streets, which were set-up with hay bales like the old days when they actually raced through the main streets in the town. The original 6.6 mile race course had the start/finish line in the center of town and ran up hills, over and under bridges, around farms, over railroad tracks, and back down a LONG fast hill along the lake. It was first used in 1948, and after four yearly races the course was moved to different public roads away from the town due to a young spectator's death. Then in 1956 the 2.3 mile closed course at the current location was created. In 1961, the US Grand Prix (world championship Formula one) race was held at Watkins Glen, until the last F1 race in 1980.

Parked on the main street downtownMike with car, on Franklin StreetThe Martini and Gulf 911s downtown

We parked our car right on the middle of the main street, Franklin Street, along with the other 150 cars, and immediately there were thousands of people milling about the cars, taking pictures, asking questions, eating and drinking. There was a blues band playing from a bar's balcony, and many concession tents set up to sell everything from Garlic to Race posters. I walked down the road, checking out the cars and people, and stopped at my Hotel to wash up and change clothes. We were parked for about an hour or so, then the oldest cars from the original race made a lap of the original circuit, and worked their way through our two lines of cars to make their way back to the front of the lines. Here are the original cars:

The oldest cars, from the original race

Then it was our turn, and we had the US and Canadian National Anthems sung, after which we started our engines. The open exhausts echoed off the buildings and the crowd was anxious to see the cars in motion. We started moving slowly, then at the start finish line the green flag was given to us and we accelerated, making lots of noise alongside the appreciative crowd. We then turned up the hill, a tight right-hand turn followed by a tight left-hand turn towards the Seneca Lodge. The VERY loud 911s of Jim Newton and Prescott Kelly were directly in front of me, and they accelerated briskly up the hill so I did likewise; like a slow autocross with human pylons lining the course four deep! Along the old road course were groups of people congregating at strategic corners and bridges. We made sure to open it up going under the railroad underpass, which made everyone smile. Over the stone bridge we were a bit over-enthusiastic, a few cars getting a bit sideways under power but completely safely. We were going pretty fast through the turns and taking it easy on the straights. Cars slowed down to a near stop over the bumpy railroad crossing, then we went down the fast downhill Big Bend with the gorgeous lake views. I could never race on that turn, it scared me just to keep up with the group ahead of me. We then got closer to town, and the people were congregated at Milliken's corner, a tight left hand turn just before the right onto Franklin Street. This time we did not stop, but kept going for another lap. Here we are following Prescott Kelly's 911 ST downtown.

Following Prescott through town

After the start/finish line we accelerated VERY briskly up the hill, I won't tell you how fast we got going but it was fun!!! My co-driver John was quite frightened, he would not make a good navigator for rallys. He could not believe that we were being allowed to drive our race cars on the streets at _slightly_ above legal speed limits, with policemen waving us by all along the way. Below we were on the old course waving to the fans and a photographer. A very 1973 period wave, I must say.

Peace Wave to the fans

We took another lap on the old circuit, came back downtown, and then headed back up to the racetrack with the escorts. If I had my headlights in place I could have pulled off downtown and driven back later myself, as I have one of the few street registered cars that were racing.

Back at the track, we tucked the car in under its cover and tent for the night and made our way back downtown in the Jeep. There were still thousands of people enjoying the night with closed-off roads, classic car displays, bands on the main street, and lots of food and drink. There sure are a lot of beautiful young ladies in Watkins Glen, John still has a stiff ... neck.

Saturday morning was an early (ugh) driver's meeting, followed by plenty of time to change tires and mount the Hoosiers. Also we flushed and bled the brakes with fresh ATE blue. I later changed my distributor cap and rotor which were ugly and black. It seemed to help a lot on the top end, the car was breathing VERY good now with open supertrapp mufflers. I was hitting 5th gear going up the hill in the esses before the straight, so I must have been obtaining more speed. The Hoosiers felt lighter and more nimble, but I did not have much of a chance to push it in this short am practice. RENNLISTer Wil Ferch showed up to help, along with Mike Lannan and Dave Evans, two of which were able to obtain crew passes from me and save some money. Wil helped me with some front end noises I was hearing, and Dave, who owns a body shop, brought some newfangled waterless spray-on car cleaner/protectant that is perfect for race cars. They worked on my car and got it looking great, removing lots of oil and tire pieces from the practices.

After lunch was the IKEPOD - PORSCHE CLASH race, a race just for 911 variants. There were about 30 cars entered, everything from a 1966 911 2.0 liter, to the powerful 935s. I was gridded 14th with a 2:21, and I was in the 911B class with A being most powerful and C least powerful. Jim Newton and the other 2.7/2.8 cars were in my group. John Horton got by me early on, and I had some good battles with the 911SC/3.2 PCA F car of Bill Dawson, with several passes back and forth. Later I found out that he was the one who rolled his car and later got stuck in the gravel trap at the 50/50 race last year and was sent home... I should be more careful whom I am racing with. Towards the end of the race there were yellow and white flags all around, and coming up the esses I saw Steve Pfeffer's car crunched into the wall. He was running amazing times in the 2-minute range, just behind a 935 and close to the lead. I heard that a car ahead of him (black 935?) was out of control, so he slowed and was hit from behind. A shame, as he was one of the best drivers in the group and had a really nice 911. Now there was more work for Auto Associates but the car was pushed to the back of the trailer truck as it was much too damaged to fix at the track. The 935 of Steve Southard won overall and collected a nifty $4,000 IKEPOD mechanical watch. 2nd overall was Jim Hamblin from the AA group who ran 2:09s. First in the B class and 5th overall was Jim Newton, who also collected an IKEPOD watch for his efforts, running in the 2:14 range. Just behind Jim and 2nd in my class was Stevie Hynes in a red 911. I ended up 5th in my class behind John Horton.

I was able to get down to a high 2:17 in the IKEPOD race, which was getting very close to where I thought I should be and confirmed that I was a lot faster than last year. It also gave me a good position for the qualifying race which was only 30 minutes after the finish of the IKEPOD race - I was 9th in the group of 50+ (!!!) cars. I did even better in the qualifying race, getting down to a high 2:16, and moving up to 4th in the group. Unfortunately, two of the cars ahead of me were in my class - Jim Newton on the pole with a 2:14 and John Horton with a 2:15. Behind me in my class was the Capri with a high 2:17 and a bunch of 911s in the 2:20s. Somehow Stevie Hynes only got a 2:25, but earlier session times were used for gridding for the feature race if you were slower in the qualifying race. This is a good idea in vintage racing so that you don't have to go crazy in the qualifying session to get a clear fast lap. After the qualifying race, we cleaned up the car, packed up for the day, and headed to the Glen Club for the Vintage Motorsport Magazine Party and dinner. The chicken was excellent and we finished and left early to get rest for the main event on Sunday.

Sunday we checked out of the musty GMI Villager Motel and headed to the track. There was no practice session for us, just the feature race after lunch. We watched the other races, one was the one-hour "6-hour Classic Enduro", which I could have entered but did not want to wear out my tires, car, and body that much. There was a required 5-minute pit stop but driver changes were optional. Prescott co-drove with his crew cheif, Erik Apotheker, who is also a PCA club racer. Jim Hamblin offered a seat to Steve Pfeffer in his 911, so Steve had a chance to race even though his car was inoperable. John Horton was scheduled to drive solo, but a pin on his transmission broke on the way to the grid so he was out. Luckily Scott and the AA crew fixed him up after the enduro so he could race in the feature race. John went to the pits to help out the other enduro drivers, a fine gesture. John Manifold and I drove around the outside of the track and stopped at each grandstand to check out the enduro racing and my opponent's driving styles. Jim and Steve had an excellent race against a fast Datsun Z. The fast GTP cars were also racing, so there was a lot of passing. After lunch was an IMSA GTP race with the 962, Marches, Lolas, etc on the track again. It seemed they were on the track almost every session... many did not make it to the last races with all that track time.

Our race was about 2:00, and I discovered that the faster group 10 cars which had been practicing with another group would be racing in our group. So my 4th grid position was changed to 19 out of 44 cars, with my car in the slowest class of the group. This would make it hard to pass if there was lapped traffic or if someone got ahead of me. I was gridded on the outside, with a 400+ HP Corvette ZR-1 on my right, with the Capri just behind me and a late model 911 (993) behind me on the right. John Horton's 911 was right in front of me, with Stevie Hynes' 911 on his right and Jim Newton in the row ahead. I always get a terrible start against these much more powerful cars, so I wanted to get a good jump at the green flag. People in the middle of the pack at the Glen don't usually wait for the green flag to start racing, so I accelerated as hard as I could rounding the last corner before start finish line. I hit redline in 2nd gear and shifted to 3rd, still flat-out, when I saw the green. The '74 3.0 RSR Martini 911 of Jim Rench, which is in a faster class, got a great start and passed me. But somehow I had lost the ZR-1 and Capri! I followed the Martini 911, and was actually gaining on the group ahead who were accordian-ing into the 1st turn with John Horton on the left of the track. I decided to try to pass John on the right, drove up alongside him, broke hard and deep, and got to the apex before him - cool!!! Here, John is on the left, Stevie in the middle and Jim Rench on the right :

Passing in the 1st turn

I accelerated hard, drifting wide at the track-out, and had a good run up the hill staying ahead of John and actually catching the cars ahead of me - unbelievable! Here you can see John just behind me coming up the esses :

I saw the red 911 of Stevie Hynes and the Blue 911 of Jim Newton just ahead of me, that put me in 3rd place in class, where I hoped to be to get a podium finish. After the Martini 911 got by Stevie, I followed close to Stevie's red 911. Here we are at the heel of the boot turn, where I got quite close :

Following the red 911, Martini 911 just ahead

By the way, At the October 24, 1999 HSR race at Roebling Road, Stevie Hynes, from Mendham, NJ, clinched the Monoposto Racing's Grand Champion award in Formula 70, thereby earning the 1999 Gilles Villeneuve Trophy.

A super-fast GT1 Corvette, who for some reason started at the back of the pack, pulled alongside me heading to the esses. I lifted a bit to let him by safely, as he was getting a bit loose.

The GT1 Vette passing at the bottom of the esses


Then I got back on the gas, but he and the cars ahead pulled away by several seconds - Argh!!! I can't believe how such a small lift at the start of the esses can cause such a loss of speed by the top of the hill. Now the red 911 was several seconds ahead. When the track cleared ahead of him, Stevie was able to rip off some fast laps, using 101% of the available track and curbs. I was running consistently a few seconds behind him, but a long way ahead of the group of cars behind me, which I could not even see. This was pretty boring, just lapping and waiting for Stevie to make a mistake so I could catch him.

Soon we saw yellow flags, and I quickly caught up to Stevie, just what I needed! Unfortunately it was a full course yellow and the cars behind me caught up too, including the ZR-1 and the 911SC/3.2 that I was apprehensive about racing. We soon found the cause of the yellow - another red 911 was embedded in a huge foam block outside the last turn. It looked like someone tossed it dart-style, engine first, into a foam dartboard. There were parts of his car on the track and wreckers at the scene. Poor John Horton was involved in this incident too, and was finished, but his car does not look bad. Watkins Glen had broken several cars already but no drivers were seriously hurt. The track is just not very safe in the esses with the guardrails so close on both sides. It is like driving into a blind alley and hoping to see the flags or warning lights, and that they will be seen and obeyed by those behind you. There were three serious incidents there this weekend, maybe the Glen can come up with a safer way to run that part of the circuit. Just past the accident scene we were directed to the pits, but immediately sent back onto the track, still under full course yellow so no passing was allowed. I turned my in-car video camera back on but the tape ended just as we came out again. I kept close to Stevie and tried to keep my tires warm. I noticed that my brakes were now VERY spongy; strange as we were going slowly and not using the brakes much. I hoped they would be OK when (if) we started racing again. On the third yellow lap, we came out of the last corner and I noticed the wrecker was gone - an open track! I realized too late that Stevie had pulled ahead, so I accelerated, but the cars behind me got by... shoot!!! The ZR-1 passed which did not worry me, but then the 911SC got close too. The SC was faster than me up the hill, and got by under braking at the chicane. I knew I was faster than he was, but it would not be easy to pass. I thought the long, tight right-hand turn at the toe of the boot would be best, as I had passed a lot of people there. I could brake late and hard into it, using the banking to slow and rotate the car, and get on the gas very early to rocket out onto the following straight. So I dove into the turn, right on his tail, and took a tight line when he drifted a bit wide. I fought up to him on the inside, keeping him away from the apex, hoping he would not chop me off. He was fair and I pulled alongside exiting the turn, and my momentum allowed me to pull ahead and pass him on the following straight. I then did a few good turns to keep him behind, and he was soon gone from my mirrors. Excellent!!

Now I was catching Stevie in the red 2.7 liter 911, who was being held up by a PCA D-class 993. The 993 was very powerful, with a huge 3.6 litre engine, but not doing so well in the turns maybe due to Stevie filling his mirrors. This allowed me to get right up with them and join in the chase of the 993. I was hoping Stevie would try a move, which did not work, and allow me to pass. I knew my best bet would be the toe of the boot again, so again I dove in hard and deep, and went for my magic inside line. The 993 was on the outside, Stevie just behind him, and I was rapidly gaining on the inside! Coming out of the turn, Stevie pushed towards the right so he would not get stuck behind the 993 if I were going to get past. He left me enough room but managed to get on the right of the 993, with me on his right, still gaining on the pair! We were three wide going down the straight, coming up to a tight right hand turn. I was dead even with them, maybe a bit ahead, heading towards the apex, but did not think I could make it through the turn very fast from that severe inside line. I lifted a bit early before the braking point and they did not, so they jumped past me. I slowed just enough, fell in behind them and got on the gas hard in case they had over-cooked the turn. But they exited just fine, with me still right on their tails. I followed them through the last few turns, then saw the checkered flag was out! I did my best to get by them and we finished in slightly overlapped formation in the same order, a very close 3rd in class finish. I had moved up from my 19th grid position to finish 15th overall, with Jim Newton taking another class win, about 14 seconds and five cars ahead of us, about the fastest 911 to finish. I had some very fast race laps, when I saw them I could not believe they had timed a 2:15.2! Stevie had gone a tick faster, the 993 a few ticks slower. The overall winner in our group was Paul Fix II, in an ex-trans-am Roush Mustang, who had turned an incredible 1:55 lap in the race. Jim Newton had gotten a 2:11.3, about 3 seconds faster than qualifying. Press HERE for the full race results that I scanned in and OCR'd.

After the race, probably my last race of the year, we packed up as quickly as possible and hit the road. The car held up great all year although there were several marginal items I will need to work on over the winter. And I had still not done much to make the car faster, there were still a few tricks I could do. I had another podium position without having to drive over my head, maybe could have gotten second place if I had paid more attention at the restart or drove harder when I was aside the two 911s.

Pepsi Welcomes my 911

See you next year!!!

For another SVRA Glen race report, see - go to 1999 race reports for more pictures.

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- Mike