Where Dreams Come True
Not long ago, Nick Daman (of Radio Le Mans fame) and I were having one of those rambling, pointless discussions that seem to surface only on Mad Friday at Le Mans, usually just after lunch.
Invariably, Nick and I end up talking about either Formula 1 or Group C. Since my idea of an F1 car is something designed by Rudolph Uhlenhaut, Ferdinand Porsche or Vittorio Jano that wears wire wheels and knock-offs, we usually talk about Group C. It’s an era in which, as Nick so eloquently put it, “is where history begins for most race fans.” Especially Le Mans fans.
Last year, in that same spirit of embracing the genesis of Le Mans sports car history, Paul Tarsey and I rode north to the Rue de Circuit, then on the Pontlieu hairpin that the new rue replaced. Here was the beginning of Le Mans as we know it; naturally I could not help thinking of Nick’s Group C cars on the ancient 10.726-mile Le Mans circuit.
As Paul drove back toward the circuit I asked, “Can you imagine Group C cars on the old course?” Paul actually said, “Blimey …” out loud. His eyes got big for a moment. Glorious.
That set me off; it doesn’t take much anymore. And I disappeared into my private twin-turbo, full ground-effects Group C fantasyland where great circuits of the past play host the recent descendants of the mighty Silver Arrows … and their like.
It made the potent memory my first trip to Laguna Seca in 1984 surface. Watching GTP cars slash through the Laguna’s few turns on the flat-out run toward Salinas was chilling – even to someone who had witnessed full ground-effects F1 cars through the uphill esses at Watkins Glen. I found myself breathing through my mouth at the speed and spectacle. The late Bob Carlson (Porsche’s ace PR guy and founder of Rennsport Reunion) broke the spell. He looked down and said, “And to think we actually once considered Laguna a ‘handling track’.” It was sobering and it made my wee mind rewind to race courses that existed long before certified geniuses like Trevor Harris, Tony Southgate and Norbert Singer got their first CAD software.
One of my better fantasies is a full IMSA GTP weekend at VIR. That vision kept haunting me last year when the ALMS went to VIR for the first time. Director Billy McCoy, producer Jim Roller and video editing genius Bob DeLano (that’s not hyperbole – his editing machine is called the “Death Star”; the thing is louder than an Audi R18) and I were having dinner. I asked “Can you imagine GTP cars here?”
ROLLER: Slow nod, knowing look and a small smile … “Uhhhh huh.”
McCOY: A thousand-yard stare, a pause in his wine and dining regimen, a slow head nod and … “Ohhhh, yeah … “
DELANO: A slowly building seismic laugh, then; “That would work.”
Indeed. So I also started to think about Spa where Group C did run. (I missed that, too). And the Nordschleife. (Ditto.) And Solitude – the “little Nurburgring” – near Stuttgart. Plus there are a few other ancient places that shriveled and died before the arrival of the ground-effects miracle and the Bosch Motronic revolution: places like lightning fast Reims or voluptuous Rouen – especially that downhill plunge through the Virage des Six Freres to the Nouveau Monde hairpin… shiver.
You likely never heard of Mellaha, about 10 miles outside Tripoli. When the 1937 Belgian GP at mighty Spa-Francorchamps went down at 104.426 mph (in the last season of 750-kg formula), the average race speed at Mellaha was 142.877 mph! The pole speed for the 1937 Mellaha race was 147.044 mph by Hans Stuck’s dad. Audi fans will be pleased that such eye-watering velocity came in an Auto-Union C-Type, speaking of Ferdinand Porsche.
1937. Honest. Now, transpose a Group C/GTP car on that stat and circuit.
Closer to home, St. Jovite in Quebec – the nursery of Can-Am – seduced us all on our first trip there more than a decade ago. A perfect place for a full ground-effects Group C car, non? Probably not. But it would be a great show in a beautiful place with a slew of great restaurants to help fuel such visions.
Charles Dressing is one of sports car racing’s foremost historians and is a walking, talking encyclopedia on the sport. Part of the ALMS broadcast and production crew, his blog appears every other Wednesday.