2018 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion: New Blood
Ahhh, August....our favorite month of the year.
We always look forward to August because it means that we're heading down to the Monterey Peninsula for Car Week! Gearheads make this pilgrimage every year and with different motivations, and there are many motivations. Our primary drive (pardon the pun) is the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. This year was particularly notable for a couple of reasons. The first thing to note is that this was the first Reunion since Laguna Seca signed a new primary sponsorship deal with WeatherTech, paving a way to a more stable future with many changes and improvements already underway. It also marks the first year that the event featured a Japanese manufacturer, and Nissan was more than willing and able to represent it's brand and to celebrate its 50th anniversary of corporate involvement in motorsports.
We applaud the organizers on their decision to choose Nissan/Datsun at the featured marque, not only because it is long overdue, but also because we feel that in order to keep events like this (and vintage racing in general) alive, it is imperative to bring new audiences. As the paddock clearly displayed, the Nissan/Datsun community were ready, willing and eager to show the crowd what the brand, its history and it's community are all about. More than 50 of the 551 total participants selected out of over 1,000 applicants based on authenticity and race provenance were attributed to the Nissan and Datsun brands.
Now we don't purport to be Nissan/Datsun fanboys or aficionados, though we do love a well executed 510, early Z cars, modern and ancient GTRs and just about anything with a little age and some fender mirrors and/or overfenders. That said, Nissan corporate and Nissan collector/driver/and media personality Adam Carolla brought the heat for the weekend.
The hottest of the heat, was the glorious 1969 Nissan R382 Group 7 racing car. Admittedly, we didn't even know if this cars existence, but now we have come to know and understand a part of Nissan's racing past. This 600 horsepower 6 liter DOHC monster beat out Porsche and Toyota to win the 1969 Japan Grand Prix. This thing is as lovely as it was menacing in its day. The example Nissan brought was understated and stunning.
The second car of note is one that many in our demographic have a soft spot for. For many of us, it's a treat to get to see a car we've driven a million times in any number of racing games and simulators. It's an even bigger geek-out when we get feast our eyes on one we've only seen in the digital realm, and one that we never thought we'd ever see in the flesh...er um carbon fiber. This thing was as impressive in real life as it is in any video game. The Nissan R390 GT1 road car was glorious from any/every angle. It was long, lean, sexy and powerful...everything needed to compete at Le Mans and everything it needed to achieve 220+ mph speeds. We won't soon forget being in the presence of the 3R90.
For those not familiar with Adam Carolla's vehicular exploits, let's just say he's kind of a big deal these days. Though his automotive tastes are broad and wide, he has a soft spot for classic Datsuns and Nissans, and he collects and races them to boot. Some of these cars (approximately 10 of his collection) were actively and successfully campaigned by actor and philanthropist (and King of Cool), Paul Newman. Carolla brought a few of these cars (and a vintage Hino hauler too!) from his collection to share. We got up close and personal to he and his 1988 Turbo Z on the pregrid, and it was glorious!
And among all of the vintage racing goodness from Nissan/Datsun was a car so new, it isn't even on sale yet. Straight from its debut at Goodwood appeared Nissan's collaboration with Italdesign, the GT-R50. This thing was cool...really cool! Yeah, it's gonna have turbos and like 700 horsepower, but that rear end! We came upon the car for the first time on one of the track's service roads. It was about to depart for one its numerous pressers. It was unmistakably GT-R...a bit reserved, but with great little details and styling queues...but then we got around back and then....WOW! Simple, shocking, amazing...that is all.
Not to be outdone by it's Japanese auto making rival, Mazda brought its "A" game too, as they have for the last several years. Under their prominently placed tent were several heavy hitters and crowd favorites. The two that stood out for us were the iconic, "Charge" liveried 1989 767B that competed at the 1989 24 hours of Le Mans race #wankel. The other Mazda on display was one that we've been waiting to see, in person, all racing season. We are unabashed fans of Reinhold Joest and were pumped when plans were made public that he was going to be in charge of Mazda's WeatherTech racing effort this year. We were thinking that our first opportunity to see it would be at the upcoming WeatherTech race at Laguna Seca. Imagine our surprise when we happened upon the gleaming ruby colored RT24-P. This thing is ridiculously good looking.
Mazda also treated, well everyone within 5 miles with working ears to a an audio display that has become somewhat of a tradition at the Reunion. At a quiet time in the afternoon's schedule, they rolled the aforementioned 767B, a 1990 787, a 1991 RX-7 IMSA GTO, and the spectacularly fantastically looking 1992 RX-792P into the sunshine for a rotary racing rev-off. The sound of all of those uniquely pitched beasts at once is unforgettable and loud....really really loud.
As has become the trend in recent years, the Reunion does more than just highlight a single featured car and/or manufacturer. It has become a social outing and showcase for manufacturers both great and small. This year featured significant displays by Audi, Jaguar, Ford, Singer/Michelin and Porsche. All in attendance were treated to up-close access to Ford's latest GT (and their first gen, both in Gulf/heritage livery), the New Audi e-tron BP 18 prototype, and the all new Jaguar I-Pace HSE (which also set the track's record for an unmodified electric vehicle (with Randy Pobst at the wheel), and yes, the drool-worthy new Singer you've been seeing all over social media! Yeah, the event is the "Historic Motorsports Reunion," but everyone seems to love the new stuff and commensurate car swag and test drives that come with them. We give a special shout out to Jaguar for providing sweet hats for anyone willing to give up their email address and automotive preferences!
THE SPECIAL DISPLAYS
As much as we love all that stuff, we don't make the three hour drive for any amount of new hardware. We're vintage car types, and this event is our hallowed ground, and did it ever deliver this year. We don't know how the quantity of cars stacks up to past years, but the paddock was as full as we've ever seen it, and the quantity of entrants was only exceeded their quality. This abundance made for larger than usual racing groups, thus more of what we all want to see. From the moment we arrived it was clear that this was a big one. The paddock was packed to capacity with cars spanning multiple eras and multiple discisplines of racings such as early IMSA GT cars to historic Formula 1 and the beast of Formula 5000.
Among the moments was two time Formula 1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen taking to the track in McLaren's 1995 Le Mans-winning F1 GTR for demonstration laps. The McLaren F1 GTR, based on the monumental road going F1 and still considered the greatest hyper car ever created. The F1 GTR even 28 years later still brings chills with the sound of its BMW V12 screaming around the track sounding just as vicious as it must have those years ago when it took the victory at the famous Le Mans circuit. For many at the event it was their first time to come within range of a car that set the standard for all that follow.
We commend our hosts at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Nissan, all of the corporate sponsorship and track staff (both paid and volunteer) for putting on such a great show (and a special shout to Mother Nature for providing the spectacular weather!) Though we always fret about the future of vintage racing, this years Reunion showed the strong footing of this thing we love, at this place we love. Laguna Seca's much needed face lift coupled with the excellent choice of featured car/manufacturer, and the fact that the crowd was more diverse by every measure possible tells us the universe really wants more vintage racing. Life is good.
As is always the case, there is no way to condense the depth and breadth of Car Week, let alone this single event, into one story. We just give you our perspective and our musings and images from the few hours we spent at the track. Please take some time to look through the gallery below. As you probably know, our pictures are a lot better than our words.
Broadcast coverage of the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion will be available on Premier on September 23 (noon ET/9 a.m. PT), Encore on September 23 (5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT) and Encore 2 on September 26 (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). The livestream will also re-air on Motor Trend OnDemand and the Motor Trend YouTube page.
Next year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) on August 15-18, 2019.