by John S. Allen


WGI – that’s Watkins Glen International – is a beautiful circuit.  It’s over three miles long, and has lots of changes in elevation which allow spectators plenty of splendid viewpoints, and gives the drivers a worthwhile challenge.  The circuit is located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, an area so named because of the long, narrow, almost parallel lakes which look like the fingers of an outstretched hand.  Every year Watkins Glen hosts an SVRA meeting, and for 2001 the event was known as the Zippo US Vintage Grand Prix of Watkins Glen.  Zippo, you may be interested to know, are manufacturers of cigarette lighters, and their proud boast is that a Zippo lighter will never cost you a cent to repair, because since the inception of the company they have always repaired Zippo lighters free of charge, regardless of the product’s age.  You may think you’re reading an advertisement here, but, hey, sponsorship is what helps to put race meetings together, so if you do happen to be a tobacco addict (I’m not), buy a Zippo lighter and support vintage racing, OK?

The Zippo GP, held from September 7th to 9th, featured just about every class of racing car you could think of, with a minimum age of about ten years, the fastest being Michael Lauber’s 1990 Sauber Mercedes C11, which put up a practice time of 1m42.302s (which, by my reading of the timing sheets, was the best lap of the entire weekend), and the newest being Donald Stiles’s 1991 Porsche 962/168.

However, the special interest for our readers lay in the principal race – the New York Governor’s Cup.  The featured marque was Shelby, and the twenty-six cars which started the event all had Shelby connections.  There were Cobras galore (including a pair of Daytona coupes), and plenty of GT350s too.  Naturally, it was expected that a GT40 would win, and so one did, but not exactly as had been expected…

  

There was a fair sprinkling of GT40s present at Watkins Glen. Heading the list, numerically at least, was 1015, carrying race number 1, the pale blue Mark IIA which finished second at Le Mans 1966; it was entered for Bill Murray, of Longmont Colorado.  Race number 2 was on George Stauffer’s black Mark IIA, 1046, the ’66 Le Mans winner.  George made it quite clear right from the start of the weekend that he was going to drive in the race, rather than race in the race; 1046 is just too precious to risk in serious competition.  The third original Mark IIA was #5, the number carried by Ken Quintenz’s gold and pink 1016, which finished third at Le Mans ’66.  There were three other Mark IIs at the event, these being Lee Holman’s lovely white and blue Mark IIA, 201, race number 40, George Stauffer’s pristine red and black Mark IIB, now numbered as 1047B to prevent any confusion between it and the real 1047, and Bill Ostrower’s superb silver and blue Team Snakespeed Mark IIB, which is numbered 1031, although its right to that number has yet to be established.

There were other versions of the GT40, too.  Mark Is were entered for Darren Quintenz (#25, 1025, in white and blue), Tom Mabey (#12, 1037, the surviving Comstock car, now back in its original white with green stripes), and Rob Walton (#6, 1075, the Gulf-liveried double-winner at Le Mans), whilst Steven Volk, of Colorado, brought along his bronze Mark IV, #3 (J7, the Andretti/Bianchi Le Mans 1967 lap-record holder).  1075 was at Watkins Glen strictly for show only, as the old warrior is, like 1046, worth too much to risk in the cut and thrust of racing.  Although Rob Walton is based in Arkansas, his 1075 is kept in Nevada, and nowadays is actually used on the road, its carers using it for occasional trips out for Sunday lunch.  In addition, Phil Gaudette and the guys from ERA were present in force, amongst their Cobras their lovely blue Mark II prototype sharing display space with a customer-owned dark metallic blue Mark I.

Apart from the 11-lap Governor’s Cup, there were other practice and race sessions for the GT40s, which gave us the opportunity to see most of them on the track.  1047B and 1075, plus ERA’s cars, were the only GT40s there for the show alone, so all the others had some track time.

 

Rob Walton’s CSX2286 was on pole, with a time of 2m11.827.  Exactly who was driving the Quintenz family’s cars was not clear, as the entry list was sometimes at odds with the timing sheets and the names painted on the cars – the final results sheets showed Ken Quintenz driving both 1016 and 1025!  The race itself was very interesting, largely for who won it.  Third place went to the Quintenz family’s 1025, which, livery apart, is virtually in Gulf trim (albeit with a 351 engine), second spot went to Rob Walton’s Daytona Coupe, (only 2.1 seconds behind the winner), and the winner was – 1016.  So what’s special about that?  Well, it was the only Holman & Moody car in the race…and given the rivalry between Shelby and Holman & Moody, the irony of that was not lost on everyone.  Incidentally, Carroll Shelby himself wasn’t there, but his absence was more than made up for by the appointment of Dan Gurney as Grand Marshall for the event.  During Friday’s festival, held in the streets of Watkins Glen, Gurney was chauffeured around in Lee Holman’s Ferrari 250TR, which gave Lee no end of amusement, as few realised that the car was actually made from a cut-down 330GT; there never was a real left-hand drive Testa Rossa, was there…?

Not all the GT40s saw as much of the track as they might have done.  1015 didn’t make it past practice (broken rocker arm), and 1037’s gearbox problems saw it lay so much oil on the track that all those immediately behind it in the final couple of corners went skating, while 1037’s driver Tom Mabey took his car to the pits, probably quite unaware of the chaos in his wake.  1037, alas, was back in its box before the real racing started. 

The weather for the whole of the weekend was absolutely splendid, with lots of warm sunshine, and Watkins Glen’s final race meeting of the season was a tremendous success.  My thanks go to Julie Giese and the event staff of WGI for providing me with the opportunity to get close to the action.