Sunday, 26 January 2020

Visionaries who changed Motorsport and the Auto Industry at the Amelia Concours

A central theme of the Silver Anniversary Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is visionary leadership through innovation. It is also confirmation that The Amelia is as much - perhaps more - about people than cars.

Not only this year's honoree; Roger "The Captain" Penske will be celebrated at the Concours, but other visionaries who changed motorsport and the auto industry will be recognized. 

Mercedes Rennabteilung

1939 Mercedes-Benz W154/39. Photo courtesy of Revs Institute.

The Rennabteilung (racing department) that was created in 1936 to design and build the mighty Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz created the template for professional racing operations and swept all before them. Mercedes-Benz’s Silver Arrows changed the grammar of racing car design, construction and management. Mercedes-Benz created the Rennabteilung after a troubled 1936 season with the W25.

Led by engineer Rudolph Uhlenhaut the Rennabteilung quickly restored Mercedes competition successes and dominated the 1937, 1938 and 1939 Grand Prix seasons with the variants of three new cars. In the fifties a new generation of Silver Arrows won the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 1954 and 1955 Formula 1 World Championships and the 1955 World Sports Car Championship.

Mercedes-Benz produced grand prix car designs and an engineering orthodoxy -- engine in front, gearbox in back, coil/wishbone front suspension and de Dion rear suspension -- that endured until the emergence of the revolutionary rear-engined F1 cars of 1958. Mercedes-Benz team management shaped a new code of race car development and team organization that still echoes in the 21st Century.

Das beste oder nichts -- the commandment of Gottlieb Daimler to have the best or nothing -- still resonates within Mercedes-Benz and their World Championship-winning racing organization. To honor their inestimable contribution to motorsport the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance chose the mighty Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz as a signature class for the Silver Anniversary celebration

Harley Earl

Harley Earl and the 1951 General Motors La Sabre. Photo courtesy of General Motors
The Cars of Harley Earl class features the great stylist’s most famous dream cars and successful productions cars. Winnowing that group down was no simple task. 

Eight decades ago General Motors’ Art & Colour Section was the auto industry’s first attempt to invest the business of creating and selling automobiles with aesthetics as a marketable commodity. GM chief Alfred Sloan put Harley Earl in charge and Earl changed the car business forever. Every American auto company followed his lead employing designers who trained under or worked for Earl.

Earl created an industry within the biggest industry in the world, set the design and esthetic parameters for the American car industry and led General Motors from a 12 per cent market share in the 1920s to a 55-plus per cent market penetration during the decade when he retired. For nearly four decades Harley Earl was the arbiter of style for the entire American auto industry.

In the decade before he reached GM’s mandatory retirement age (65) he oversaw the creation and the rise of America’s storied, celebrated and sometimes unloved “tailfin era.” No matter. “Misterl” as his disciples called him, left his mark on the American industry and on the GM Technical Center at Warren, MI, the definitive monument to Earl’s towering contributions to GM and the automobile industry.

Porsche Firsts

1967 Porsche 910/6. Photo courtesy of Revs Institute.

In its Silver Anniversary year, the Amelia Concours also celebrates and honors the 50th anniversary of Porsche’s first -- of 19 -- victories in the world’s most important and prestigious sports car race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

By 1969 Porsche chief Ferdinand Piech must have grown weary of hearing his family’s famous Stuttgart marque constantly called “giant killer” or “underdog.” When new international rules were written for the 1969 World Championship he saw a loophole and organized a radical program creating the Porsche 917 that delivered Porsche’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory.

The 917 won Le Mans again in 1971 with yet another World Championship of Makes as a bonus. The international rules for endurance sports car racing were rewritten for 1972. Porsche turned their attention to North America’s unlimited Can-Am Championship, turbocharged the 917 and formed an alliance with Team Penske. That coalition swept through the mega-dollar/mega-horsepower Can-Am series winning back-to-back titles in 1972 and ‘73. With Penske’s organization and procedures it was all very reminiscent of the dominance of the Rennabteilung in Grand Prix racing decades earlier.

“In each instance a culture has been created within these organizations that accept only the very best. The result is people who see themselves as members of an elite corps and work consistently to that high standard,” said Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. “It works because of uncompromising principles and the insistence on the relentless pursuit of excellence. It creates legends and legendary cars. We’ve all benefitted from the efforts of these visionaries.”

The Amelia Island Conours honours "The Captain", Roger Penske at its silver anniversary

For its 25th edition during the first weekend of March, the Amelia Concours d'élégance, famed racer, team owner and international businessman Roger Penske will be the honoree. 

Roger Penske’s name is synonymous with motorsport excellence and success. Yet few appreciate his on-track accomplishments as a driver in the years (1958-64) before the creation of Team Penske. It began at an SCCA drivers’ school at Marlboro Raceway (MD) and just four years later he won the professional USAC Road Racing Championship title.

Roger Penske started 130 races in seven seasons and won 51 of them. He also finished in the top five in another 60 races. That record stands with even the greatest drivers. He won his first national championship -- SCCA D Modified -- in 1961 racing a Maserati T61 and a Cooper Monaco. Sports Illustrated named him “Driver of the Year.” It was merely prefaced. In 1962 he changed American road racing and left his mark on motorsport forever.

Photo courtesy of David Friedman.

In 1962 Penske created the Zerex Special sports racer from the remains of a Formula 1 Cooper that had crashed in the first US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. When the Zerex Special showed up at Riverside, CA that October for the LA Times Grand Prix everyone cried “foul.” But the car was legal even though the driver sat in the center, not in the usual position for a two-seat sports car. There was a small -- but legal -- second seat under an access panel. That meant Penske’s Zerex Special met the letter of the regulations precisely.

Penske not only won that race, he also delivered broad and positive publicity to his sponsor Du Pont. And when he put the names Du Pont and ZEREX on his unique red center-seat sports car it broke through the clutter at a time when the major American sports car racing sanctioning body outlawed commercial sponsorship. Penske’s Zerex Special was the biggest news in motorsport that October weekend, even displacing the competition debut of a new American sports car named “Cobra” to the inside pages. A week later Roger and his Zerex Special won at Laguna Seca and he was crowned the 1962 USAC Road Racing Champion. 

Photo courtesy of Bill Warner.
After sweeping the 1964 Nassau Speed Weeks, Penske retired from driving to concentrate on business. In 1966, Roger created Roger Penske Racing, which would eventually become Team Penske. It was a time of technical innovation, especially in road racing; wider tires and the new science of aerodynamics moved the performance boundaries and brought increased speeds. A pair of United States Road Racing Championships (1967 and ’68) and three Trans-Am Championships (1968, ’69 and ‘71) came quickly.

In 1972, Team Penske won racing’s biggest prize, the first of a record 17 victories in the Indianapolis 500. That was the same year Team Penske arrived in Can-Am - the Canadian American Challenge Cup - with the 1000 hp Porsche 917/10. There were nine championship races that season; Team Penske won six and took the title. A year later when the new Porsche 917/30 arrived with even more power, Team Penske won six of eight races and another Can-Am championship title for Porsche.

Penske applied the same concentration and effort that he brought to motorsport to his first car dealership in Philadelphia. It was the first rung on a ladder that would see Penske’s international portfolio bulge to over $31 billion in annual revenue and more than 63,000 employees worldwide. Known as “The Captain” for his lead-from-the-front management style, Roger Penske’s business empire is global in fame and reach.

Photo courtesy of Bill Warner.

“Remarkably, Roger Penske began to create the template for modern professional motorsport when he was still in his twenties,” said Bill Warner, founder, and Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. “I can think of no one whose contributions to all facets of motorsport deserve to be acknowledged as much Roger Penske’s. We’re flattered that he’s been able to make time to accept our invitation to be the Honoree of the Silver Anniversary Amelia Concours.”

Friday, 24 January 2020

LMDh announced as the future of global SportsCar Racing

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and North America’s sanctioning body for endurance racing, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), have today announced that agreement has been reached for a common future with convergence of the top categories of endurance racing.

Jim France, IMSA Chairman, Pierre Fillon, President of  the ACO (copyright Mike Meadows/IMSA)

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and North America’s sanctioning body for endurance racing, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), have today announced that agreement has been reached for a common future with convergence of the top categories of endurance racing.

On the occasion of the 2020 Rolex 24 At Daytona, the two sanctioning bodies unveiled the guiding principle for this platform – the introduction as the top category of competition of LMDh, which will be eligible for both the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  This joint platform responds to the wishes of numerous manufacturers.

The chance for automotive manufacturers to compete with the same car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, at SuperSebring or at Spa-Francorchamps, at the Motul Petit Le Mans or even Silverstone, will soon become a reality.

The ACO and IMSA have together established the basis for joint regulations to govern the new LMDh category.  The objective is that, from September 2021 in the FIA WEC and from January 2022 in the WeatherTech Championship, manufacturers will be able to enter the top category and compete in the two leading championships in endurance racing with this new model of car, LMDh.

The two sanctioning bodies were inspired by elements from each of their respective regulations, namely from the ACO’s Le Mans Hypercar and those in preparation by IMSA for the DPi 2.0. The result of this convergence, the LMDh car will be:

Based on a new chassis common to both ACO and IMSA, using elements of the Le Mans Hypercar and LMP2 chassis, and built by the four current LMP2 manufacturers: Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic and Oreca.  This chassis will also be used for the new generation LMP2.  

Its silhouette and design will be modifiable, developed according to the brand or style of the manufacturer which will provide the engine power for the car.  The car will use a common hybrid KERS system, on the rear axle.  In the future the top category of endurance racing will include both LMDh and Le Mans Hypercar.  A balance of performance system will ensure fair competition. 

Introduction of the new class is planned in September 2021 for the FIA WEC and at the Daytona 24 Hours in January 2022.  The lifespan of the new LMP2 cars should be 10 years as announced by Gérard Neveu, the LMDh homologation will be for at least 5 years said John Doonan.  More technical details for the car will be revealed in March at SuperSebring, in a presentation from the ACO and IMSA Technical Departments.

Pierre Fillon, President of the ACO: “This announcement today is the crucial starting point for a joint endurance racing future, supported by both the ACO and IMSA. The platform represents the convergence achieved by both organisations which is a great success story for endurance racing. A manufacturer will soon be able to compete in the top category of two championships, the FIA WEC and the WeatherTech Championship. We can’t emphasise enough, as it’s exceptional, how many opportunities this long-term sporting and marketing vision will open up.”

Jim France, IMSA Chairman: “When my father, Bill France Sr., brought the first Daytona Continental sports car race here to Daytona International Speedway back in 1962, he wanted to bring together sports car drivers, teams and manufacturers from around the world. With the ACO, IMSA and manufacturers aligned, today’s announcement proudly takes my father’s vision to the next level.”

Gérard Neveu, CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship: “The big winner today is endurance racing as the door is now opened to many additional competitors to compete at the highest level on both sides of the Atlantic with the same car.  The two sanctioning bodies should be congratulated for their vision and spirit of collaboration. Le Mans Hypercars and the new LMDh cars racing together at Le Mans or Daytona will be an incredibly exciting prospect for endurance fans across the world.”

John Doonan, IMSA President: “On the eve of IMSA’s 51st season of competition, future race fans will regard today as one of the most significant of all time for IMSA, the ACO and the world of sports car racing. Providing a common platform for top-level prototype racing globally has been a goal for the sanctioning bodies, our manufacturers – and most importantly, sports car racing fans everywhere – for many years, and we are proud to say the opportunity has finally arrived. We are grateful for the collaboration with our partners at the ACO and the open dialogue with our manufacturer partners that led us to today’s introduction of the LMDh platform.”