Event Recap: The Best Racecars from the Last Era Shine at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion 2022
Car Week. For the automotive enthusiast, those two words distill so much action across so many disciplines. Spotting all the popular hypercars? Gathering the most beautiful classics? Launching the newest concepts? Buying something unique and historically significant (and monumentally expensive)? It all happens for one fleeting week in Monterey County in the middle of August.
The most significant event for you though, kind Last Era reader, is the Monterey Historics. Properly known as the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion 2022, the racing festival brings many distinct classes of historic race cars to the famed Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. The track needs no introduction: 2.238 miles in length and made up of 11 turns.
Best known of the turns are found in the back end of the circuit: The high speed Turn 6 left-hander takes you up a steep climb past the turn 7 kink and into turns 8 and 8a, better known as the Corkscrew.
That steep climb turns into a 10-story drop as the course falls left, then right then left again into the banked Turn 9 or Rainey Curve.
The Reunion ran from Wednesday to Saturday: one day for practice, one for qualifying and two race days. There’s other events on track as well. On Sunday the track held its inaugural hillclimb. That takes competitors on a single-car timed run from the main straight to the top of the corkscrew…in the opposite direction to normal race traffic. For the absolute diehard, there’s also the Pre-Reunion. That’s held on the weekend preceding the Reunion. Think of it as shakedown and practice races. Not all the cars entered in the main event participate, but there are cars that run Pre-Reunion that do not show up the next weekend and vice versa.
Every year the Rolex Motorsports Reunion has a special feature, and this year it was celebrating 100 years of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Four classes traced the history of the famous twice-around-the-clock enduro. In total, 14 individual race groups took to the track, along with special demonstrations that varied every day throughout the weekend. These classes were:
Group 1: 1958-1963 Formula Junior
Group 2: 1955-1966 SCCA Sports Racers
Group 3: 1974-1979 Formula Atlantic
Group 4: 1955-1966 SCCA Production Cars
Group 5: Ragtime Racers (antique racecars)
Group 6: 1922-1951 Le Mans
Group 7: 1952-1971 Le Mans
Group 8: 1972-1982 Le Mans
Group 9 Le Mans Legends parade laps
Group 10: 1981-2005 Le Mans
Group 11: 1955-1969 Saloons
Group 12: 1966-1972 Trans Am
Group 13: 1966-1985 Formula One
Group 14: 1981-1991 Trans Am & IMSA GTO
My top pick for racing action comes from Group 4’s races. This class pitted the ascendant British-American Horatio Fitz-Simon in a tiny Lotus Elan 26R against seasoned historic racers Philip Kadoorie and Ford CEO Jim Farley, both running Shelby Cobra 289s. Horatio qualified for the front row in second position, and while Farley got the jump at the start, it was not enough to unsettle Fitz-Simon.
For much of the race Philip and Horatio traded places at the front, and a nail-biting series of corners ensued once they hit lapped traffic from the corkscrew onwards. Horatio finally found his chance on the penultimate lap, passing the leader inside turn 9. The now-displaced Kadoorie attempted a comeback, resulting in a trip to the gravel. Despite the mishap, there was no contact between the seasoned racers. It was proper, good, clean racing all around.
Fitz-Simon took home the win in race 2, but all eyes were at the back of the field as Kadoorie started from 32nd and last place. A massive charge saw him finish in third place. Not a bad result for a 15 minute race!
The group best representing Last Era’s ethos would be Group 10. This covers the magical era of Group C, GT1 and LMP racecars. 17 cars formed this group.
Malcolm Ross putting the Le Mans winning 962-003 through its paces
Five Porsche 962s made sure the Stuttgart marque was well represented. Pat Long was back in the saddle of the Leyton House 962C.
Mazda brought a trio of 4-rotor prototypes (767B, 787 and Kudzu DLM4).
Zak Brown piloting the XJR-10 down the corkscrew
McLaren CEO Zak Brown brought back the same Jaguar XJR10 he raced in Long Beach. Cal Meeker entered his trusty Spice-Buick and made it through the whole weekend in top form.
Rob Kauffmann entered an early Eagle-Toyota to represent IMSA GTP cars.
Oldest car in the group was a 1981 Lola.
An Audi R8, Pescarolo and a Panoz represented the newer end of the field with the LMP era.
All eyes, however, were on the pair of cars BMW brought out to celebrate 50 years of M. No less than a 1996 McLaren F1 and a 1999 V12 LMR would suffice, each model bringing a Le Mans win to the Bavarian manufacturer (though not with these exact cars).
Laguna Seca has just the right amount of space to let these high power/high downforce cars shine. I’ve only had a trackside photo vest for less than a year but I’ve found my favorite spots to watch and photograph are right under the flagstand at start/finish and the outside entry of turn 6. You get REALLY close to the cars and almost uncomfortably so. With time, your confidence builds up…but consult with the marshals to avoid problems and ALWAYS have an escape plan!
Unlike Long Beach, this race was no mere parade. For most of the races, veteran campaigner Gunnar Jeanette in a Joest Porsche 962 fought tooth and nail with BMW factory driver, Nurburgring 24 and Daytona 24 winner Connor De Phillippi in the V12 LMR. Connor would win both races, but it was always a close contest.
If you’ve never been to Car Week, spending Saturday at the track is the best thing to do! Track sessions go from 8AM to about 5PM, but the run groups only come out once a day. If you’re wanting to see a particular class, plan accordingly! Set an hour or two aside to walk the paddock.
Aside from the garages, the Heritage Display gathers some historically significant and priceless race cars that don’t compete in the normal races. Chat with the mechanics and even the drivers themselves! This isn’t a modern Grand Prix, so there’s no veil of secrecy and a wall of guards to separate you from any of the magic.
Adam Carolla in Paul Newman's 1979 Porsche 935
The track is very walkable but take advantage of the golf cart shuttles to get you where you need to go. They’re free to use but they’re driven by volunteers whose associated charities gladly take a donation. Just drop that off at the tip jar in the front seat. Despite having a photo vest, I can confidently tell you that even a casual spectator and amateur photographer has great vantage points without fences blocking the way. Cameras are welcome and encouraged, and there’s no limit to how big a lens you bring in. But the most important bit of advice I can impart is to hydrate and constantly. Car week will physically beat you up for days on end, don’t ruin it with a leg cramp or severe dehydration. Take care of yourself, plan ahead, and understand that you won’t see even half of what’s on offer - it’s just not possible. And that’s OK! Car week is excessive by its very nature. Just relax and enjoy all of it. We’ll definitely be back next year; hope to see you around!
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