Gurney in the Spotlight: Formula 1 Adds Sizzle
Day Two- Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Northern California has provided cooler-than-normal temperatures for the 2010 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, which started yesterday and runs through Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, so fans have been thankful when morning mist has lifted, seemingly on cue, by noon each day to let the sun shine on more than 600 historic automobiles racing in 19 different competition groups. The event has now put two days of practice and qualifying behind it, and the races that count will kick off after lunchtime over each of the weekend days ahead.
It is Southern California-Newport Beach to be exact–that has supplied the headliner for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion: Dan Gurney, a driver, manufacturer, and innovator who has had more impact on motorsports than perhaps any other American. Formula 1 is only one of the many aspects of racing he has touched, and the Historic Grand Prix race being held here and featuring authentic vintage Formula 1 racing cars from the FIA 3-liter Formula that ran from 1966-1983, finds itself inextricably linked to Gurney the legend.
“Being here at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is like a step back in time for me,” said Gurney. “It brings back all sorts of great memories.”
The Driver, Constructor, Team Manager, Legend
Originally from Port Jefferson, N.Y., the 79-year-old Gurney moved west shortly after high school and developed his driving skills weaving through the Southern California orange groves. He eventually competed in 20 countries, driving in 51 different makes of cars and racing in 312 events, winning 51 of them and posting podium finishes a total of 98 times. Of the seven Formula 1 races he won, four were Grand Prix Championship points races, and his seven Indy Car victories and five NASCAR victories were rounded out with endurance race victories at Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring and Nürburgring, making him one of the most accomplished drivers of all time. Yet considering all this, perhaps the most significant of Gurney’s accomplishments has been winning the respect of his peers and the admiration of his fans, both of which emanated clearly when Gurney strolled through the crowds today at the expansive Gurney Feature Tent that is a main attraction here.
Gurney reflected back on his prime, when cars were fast, drivers colorful and tragedy seemed always lurking around the next corner. “We were certainly driven by enormous passion for the sport, and we had great respect for those who came before us…we weren’t thinking about future history at the time,” said Gurney, revealing that his role model was a man named Phil Walters, better known as Ted Tappet, who “could move through traffic gracefully without knocking anybody off the road.”
“The racing has improved in terms of safety,” continued Gurney, with a nod to better gas tanks and successful experimentation with aerodynamics, “but otherwise the drivers are about the same; they all are out to beat each other.”
While discussing the transitions during his Formula 1 years, Gurney said, “I drove the 2.5-, 1.5- and 3-liter cars. The 1.5-liter cars were pretty agile, but as for driving the various formulas, there was really no big difference. Indy cars, on the other hand, were more powerful, but of course they were also heavier and more cumbersome. Stock cars were more difficult to drive, and it was very difficult to beat anybody; in fact, driving the most agile stock car was like docking an aircraft carrier.”
The Gurney Flap, an aerodynamic aid that attaches to the trailing edge of a race car’s wing, was invented, he said, out of necessity. “We were up against it, and we needed more speed but didn’t know how to do it, so I had this idea. We tried it, and it worked.”
When Gurney’s days as a driver came to a close in 1970 he concentrated on his All American Racers enterprise, building Eagle race cars for his AAR team as well as for select customers. When asked what he felt might be his most rewarding experience as a constructor he said, “The most remarkable period for us would be the 1992 /1993 season with our Toyota powered Eagle GTP car. We won the last 17 races that we entered, and that is some kind of achievement. In fact, today we still hold the lap record at Daytona that we set in 1993 with P.J. Jones behind the wheel.” Gurney smiled, adding, “they have changed the track since then, but they have made it faster, which makes our accomplishment that much more satisfying.”
Gurney highly regards the growth and popularity of vintage racing and enjoys seeing enthusiastic gentleman drivers behind the wheel of the cars that he and his peers made famous. “I’m sure these guys are as crazy as we were,” said Gurney. “I don’t know what it is about human beings…we all have an affinity for the internal combustion engine and all the sounds and smells of it as well as all the history. It’s great to see decades touching each other and new generations appreciating similar things.”
Tonight, Gurney’s son Alex Gurney along with driver Duncan Dayton will be celebrated at a Rolex dinner at Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge. The younger Gurney will drive one of his father’s Eagle Racing Cars in an exhibition lap tomorrow, as will Dario Franchitti in the Lotus 19 that both Dan Gurney and Jim Clark once drove here at Mazda Raceway. Duncan Dayton will be racing on Sunday the Lotus 79 Formula One car that provided Mario Andretti with his 1978 World Driving Championship.
Historic Grand Prix – Preserving Motorsport History
Formula 1 celebrates its 60th year of the modern era in 2010, and to celebrate Historic Grand Prix (HGP) has brought 34 authentic Formula One cars to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. These extraordinary 3 liter machines will confront Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s challenging twists and turns on Sunday, but fans caught plenty of action today when they completed qualifying.
Formula 1 owners have had the opportunity to race in various vintage races over the years, but it was not until 2000 that HGP was formed to govern their events and maximize the show their cars can provide. HGP has appeared at all the major race circuits in the USA and Canada, and it has provided support races for the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis and the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. “We do about six events a year,” said Phil Reilly, one of the founders of HGP, “and some of them are pretty high profile events. It’s a small group of owners that are proud of what they are doing with their cars and like spending time with the enthusiasts who want to tour our exhibit at each event.”
James King (Belleville, Ill.), who owns the 1976 March 761 and is also one of the organizers of HGP, said, “All of us driving these cars were admirers of those who drove them in the day, and some of us tried to get there in the day and got as far as our talent or budget would allow, but to actually be in one of these cars today is a pretty rare feeling. You can read about it, you can watch it on TV, but when you are actually in a Formula 1 car and you come up on a Ferrari 312 T4 formerly driven by Gilles Villenerve from 1979 when he finished second in the world championship…it’s a pretty incredible feeling.”