2015 Monterey Historic Motorsports Reunion
As promised, TLP gives you the straight poop on our favorite automotive event of the year (every year), the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, featuring the Shelby GT 350. 2015 was absolutely a standout event, for many reasons (we have been attending this event for 19 years, so we speak with some authority). Despite the oppressive heat, we were able to capture the sights and sounds of this spectacle so that you can see what makes this reunion so unique. There are few events in the world that can so ably host more than 550 classic sports and racing cars, plus all the other goings on including new car unveilings, Q&A sessions with legendary drivers, massive car corrals and racing...lots and lots of racing.
It's an event that brings back racing memories that span generations. Strike up a conversation with a random attendee and you will soon find yourself in a battle of "remember when..." It doesn't just resurrect nostalgia. The Reunion is about creating new memories and shared experiences among close friends, between parents and children. Racing is a passion that is best shared with others and the Reunion is there to solidify those bonds.
Aside from us average Joes, the Reunion brings out some, let's say, "more famous" auto enthusiasts every year. There are some people you can almost count on seeing annually like Jay Leno and five time 24 Hour of Le Mans winner Derek Bell, and 2015 was no different. Also In attendance were three time F1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart, sports car legend Brian Redman, Porsche Factory race ace Patrick Long, both Bobby and Graham Rahal, BMW hotshoe Bill Auberlen, endurance racing winner of everything Hurley Haywood, NorCal's finest Scott Pruett and we even spotted hypercar car creator Christian von Koenigsegg. There were certainly more notable figures than we've listed here, but we're a small operation, and can't be all seeing and all knowing (shock, I know). Perhaps the best part of the Reunion is the interactive nature of the event. We can't ever recall anyone being refused an autograph or denied a conversation with any of these personalities. Everyone is approachable and everyone goes away happy. (I can even recall one year when one superfan jammed a cell phone in Jay Leno's hand and insisted he talk to his mom! Being a class act, Jay talked to the guy's dear mother.) This level interactivity is seldom seen anymore. No matter how expensive event tickets get for most modern sports, proximity to those we've come to cheer or jeer is usually very great. Just to illustrate how close you can get at this intimate event, we've included a photo gallery.
We have mentioned before that the Reunion is the pinnacle of historic motorsports, unrivaled in North America. It's a weekend of action where every car, no matter how old or priceless, is pushed to the limit. This year the Reunion had 550 entries and the international historic motoring awards have nominated the Reunion as a finalist for Motorsport Event of the Year. We couldn't agree more. Yes, Pebble Beach, Concorso and the Quail fill their niche during car week but things get real at Laguna Seca. Were you not born yet during the heyday of IMSA GT racing or classic Formula 1, the Reunion has you covered with racing classes across the ages divided into 15 different racing groups. The racing was close and intense as the roar of engines pushed all drivers to their best. It was the best of gentleman's racing. Fair, but tough.
Fans in attendance are rewarded with the chance to see skilled modern professionals strap into the seats of priceless race cars. That was the case for 24 Hours of LeMans class winner (2005 & 2007) Patrick Long. Long challenged Group 4A which covers cars from 1973-1981 that raced in the FIA, IMSA GT, AAGT and GTU series. He was in a Porsche 3.0 Carrera RSR that, given the rest of the cars in the group (Corvettes, Mustangs and turbo Porsches) the RSR was underpowered, yet Long used his skill to put up a great fight in the corners and finished in 10th place. With the horsepower in this group the RSR would have likely finished in the bottom five of the pack if not for Long's racecraft.
Every other year the Reunion hosts historic F1 cars. This year was record setting 35 car grid among the largest classic F1 grids in the history of North America. If the modern F1 car has become antiseptic and devoid of personality, these classic beasts demonstrated all the noise and excitement that have been highlighted in recent films such as Ron Howard's Rush. Actually, Rush was on display in the Saturday F1 race as James Hunt's McLaren M26 and Niki Lauda's Ferrari 312 T2 fought through the field driven by Robert Kauffman and Chris MacAllister. A familiar name to F1 fans won the race as 1980 Williams FW07 took the checkered flag. There was even a sizable grid of beautiful vintage Formula 5000 cars, some of which haven't been back to Laguna Seca since they raced there professionally in the mid 70s.
The paddock (for us at least) is where the magic happens during Reunion weekend. We left Sunday with sore necks from the constant motion of scanning around every corner. There is more to gawk at than if Sports Illustrated was shooting the swimsuit issue in your front yard. Every inch was a story, a preserved historical monument in the form of automotive machinery testifying to the history of racing and car culture.
The paddock also contained several exhibitions from major car manufacturers. BWM made a particularly good showing as they displayed several historic racing BMWs along side their modern children like the beastly 2001 BMW GTR that raced in the American LeMans series. It was the first V8 in a BMW and left a red mist at every track as it brutalized the competition on every lap. It was so good that it was eventually banned. BMW also graced us with its 3.0 CEL Hommage R, a beautiful concept car celebrating 40 years of selling cars in the U.S. and its victories with the 1975 IMSA series.
Porsche, not to be one-upped by its German rival, displayed three landmark cars from their racing heritage, a Gulf liveried 917, the 1970 Porsche first overall LeMans winner and the LeMans LMP Porsche 919 hybrid.
A few steps away from the dueling German displays of racing prowess was the public unveiling of Ford's new Ford GT parked in the garage with its forbearer the Ford GT 40. A couple of steps down from there, Acura's redux of the NSX and a few more steps down the paddock revealed the Koenigsegg One:1, the car that has moved needle from hypercar status to megacar superstar...car with 1300HP that will cover 0-60 faster than you can read this sentence.
If that wasn't enough, Ford had a great interactive display featuring their new GT 350 Mustangs, Cobras and their internal production technology (and yes, a display featuring a flat plane crank) along side some pretty spectacular authentic GT 350s. There was a little something for everyone.
Honoring Denise McCluggage
The Reunion was also a special weekend as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca CEO/General Manager Gill Campbell honored the late writer and racer Denise McCluggage with a commemorative brick near the Corkscrew. Known as the First Lady of Racing, Denise was/is an inspiration to anyone who has ever written about cars. She passed away this year at the age of 88 and in addition to writing about cars, raced cars well into her 80s. At 80 years old she was spotted racing an Audi R8 around Sonoma Raceway. She plowed through gender barriers in the automotive journalism space much in the way she drove past competitors when on the racetrack. At one point in her career she had to convince her editors that she could better report on racing from behind the wheel rather than trackside as female reporters were prohibited from interviewing male drivers. We're certainly glad she did. Her contributions were so much more than simply breaking gender barriers. Ms. Mcluggage set a standard for automotive journalism that we're all still trying to follow.
The Reunion lived up to and exceeded expectations this year. The weather was uncharacteristically hot and fans were tired, but no one left without an ear-to-ear grin and a memory or ten.
Given the competition for your racing dollar these days, we still can't think of a better event to spend your money on. However, plan early, like January 2016 for the August 2016. If you wait too long you may be joining us in our motel which was 40 minutes away in Gilroy, California. But no matter what the cost, or what the distance from home, the Reunion is worth the wait and worth the cost.
Before we close, we'd also like to give a special shout out to Laguna Seca Public Relations Manager, David Hart for bailing one half of TLP out of a terrible situation. He's a great guy, with high octane in his blood, and he went above and beyond the call for TLP following a major TLP faux pas. Thanks Dave....we'll do better next time!!!!