Friday done, and a threat of rain Saturday morning dismissed as one more weatherman miscalculation, CSRG President Jon Norman, a very quick racer in his historic Alfa Romeo GTV, and CSRG’s race director Tom Franges, a former Formula 3 Cooper pilot, called the 44th season opener’s mandatory drivers’ meeting outside the track’s registration and media building. This was the first really big vintage racing event of the year in northern California and one that also featured MG cars coming in from all over the county. [Dennis Gray has more on that.]
When I sat down to chat with Franges in Registration, Tom told me, “The drivers are getting back into the groove here, and some are starting fresh, and,” he added with a laugh, “we work very hard at manipulating the weather.” Tom raced his Cooper for 13 years before the doctor told him it was time to stop, but he stayed involved in vintage racing and speaks of the CSRG philosophy.
“It’s really about the people and people talking about the cars,” Franges said. “What happens out on the track is relatively unimportant because we’re racing against ourselves for the most part. Where you finish is not going to change your career path anymore. Penske and Ganassi are not going to call.” The official CSRG Philosophy is written on its website [csrgracing.org] and it makes good sense. Basically, it’s race and have fun but don’t do it to win at all costs.
Nice job of matching duct tape to paint, with compliments to Goodman Racing’s crew. What happened was—during Saturday morning practice, John was nose-to-tail behind a Lotus, about to get around, when all of a sudden …
“It was Lotus oil,” said John, after hearing through others that it either came from the Lotus’ drain plug or that its engine let loose. “I went through the oil and my tires started going sideways and the rest is history,” John said to us at one of the J&L paddock tables. “But I almost saved it! The car’s still in great shape.” No serious damage then? “I don’t call duct tape ‘damage’,” he said with a chuckle, looking over at his cosmetically blemished Devin.
Meanwhile, Pete Thelander and Carl Moore worked their ways through their own racing groups’ Saturday practice sessions on track.
While Carl was on track in his Lotus 23B, I de-briefed Pete on what he was finding out about his MG NE, after missing a bunch of races last year because of a health issue. Pete was glad to get back into it here at Infineon, feeling fine again, even though the early April Saturday afternoon had turned summer-hot. “The car minds its P’s and Q’s and doesn’t give me much trouble,” Pete said, while cooling off in his paddock tent’s shade. I looked at his Magnette’s old drum brakes and novel pre-selective gear box and felt time slip away to the 1930s with its big bands and war clouds, the decade into which he and I were born.
I asked, “How are those brakes, Pete? They good for stopping?” He grinned and said, “You don’t brake this thing very hard. You know, because it’s so ‘aerodynamic’! Right? You get off the throttle and it almost stops!”
“Reverse aerodynamics!” I said, mocking the MG’s locomotive-like front end. Yes!” said Pete, “But it’s fun. I don’t do too many races and it doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. People appreciate seeing it,” he said, “and I bring it out for their benefit as much as for my own.”
On the other hand, in qualifying for tomorrow’s race, Pete was not that pleased. His lap-time transponder hadn’t worked, and he would have to start—who knows where?
Some thirty years after Pete’s tall, blunt-nosed NE was in its prime, along came Carl’s sleek track-hugging Lotus. Colin Chapman’s race cars in those early 1960s were making huge strides in design and performance, and the 23B with strengthened chassis and Lotus-Ford 1594cc 4-cylinder twin-cam was a racing star.
With a prototype “B” engine fitted in Jimmy Clark’s Lotus 23 at the Nürburgring 1000km in 1962, the result, if too brief, was sensational, as Clark led the bigger Ferraris, Aston-Martins and Porsches in a show of superior development. That reputation has survived to live on in Carl’s yellow #29. He qualified second here behind younger pole-sitter Harindra de Silva’s more powerful, particularly torquey Nerus BMW/M10-powered Elva #196.
As seemingly good as it was going for Pete and Carl, a few problems were surfacing in John’s Goodman Racing Devin and Ferrari entries.
First, John’s Devin was having issues. The oil catch tank was proving to be not large enough, and engine oil was being picked up in blow-by. A larger tank easily solved that one. But the threat of another woe lingered. Oil pressure was not holding as it should for ideal engine performance. As with so many disquieting situations in racing, particularly with these older cars, this was coming down to one of “let’s try it and see”.
While Mike Collins ministered the Devin’s throttle, Goodman crew chief Walter Gerber watched over the engine bay until all the loose oil on the 500-hp 327 Chevy toasted away and the motor smoked no more. The Devin SS was deemed good to go for John in Sunday afternoon’s “Group C” race, a category in CSRG terminology “representative of the larger engine displacement sports and GT cars as raced in the U.S. under the racing rules of 1967 and earlier.” With Corvette power alive beneath his Devin’s hood, the competition for John to beat would be frequent winner Terry Gough’s 1965 Corvette roadster # 75. I’ve ridden Infineon’s road course as passenger with Gough to witness the meaning of g-force and what that bad white Vette of his does.
Looking again at the red V12, the first indication of trouble with John’s Ferrari was back a while, during Friday’s afternoon practice. Somewhere, for some reason, a problem made itself known in the car’s water plumbing.
Returned to the paddock, Mike Collins found that a stuck water valve had prompted the leak. The Ferrari’s cooling system had been recently augmented with a water heater device more commonly seen in F1 cars that allowed hot water to run through the engine on start-up. But when the valve failed, no water passed, causing a boil-over while still on the race grid. In little time the malfunctioning gizmo was removed, and the car was ready again for a later Friday afternoon practice where the Ferrari ran fine again for John.
As Collins later explained, cold starts can be damaging to these older aluminum block engines and the “hot box” water trick was feasibly a way to go. In this case, however, it wasn’t.
John, following a good track session with his Ferrari on Friday afternoon, did well enough in Saturday’s qualifying run. He was set to start mid-pack for Sunday’s “Group F” race “representative of the earlier ‘Wings and Slicks’ sports racers and Open Wheel cars raced in the U.S.” With slicks, stick, and horses, it was bound to be wild. But before that, we turn to MG NE Magnette power again, and Pete Thelander.
“I’ve finally after fifteen years got an engine that’s up to NE spec,” Pete told me, “and I’ve now got all the seventy-five horses that I should have. I’ve been running short for all these years! I actually got hold of an original NE block that says ‘NE’ on it. The first engine I rebuilt for when I restored it lost oil pressure, then I put back in the little short-stroke ‘K’ engine and maybe I was getting fifty horses out of it. Sometimes I had to go down to second gear to get up the hill here to Turn 2. But that’s no more. I get up it in fourth gear, then downshift to make the corner. It’s almost like learning to drive the car all over again.”
After Pete’s Sunday races, not one but two, in his MG—he drove Group A and, an hour and a half later, again competed in the big-field all-MG go at the end of the day—he was bone-tired, but stoked. “That was a workout!” he said, toweling his face. “We had good runs and pretty well stayed out of the leaders’ ways. My car is incredibly quicker than it used to be. I’m still amazed by it.” So—Pete Thelander arrived, tested and tried what he brought, and learned what he has to work with for the rest of the season.