Victory Lane Magazine, June 2015, Vol. 30, No. 6
Story by Terry Johnsen
Road Atlanta, April 24-26, 2015
The weekend of April 24-26 marked the 38th Annual Classic Motorsports “Mitty”, Presented by Hagerty, and Sanctioned by HSR. The event drew huge crowds each day, enjoying an equally large field of vintage and historic racecars of all shapes, sizes, and makes. HSR General Manager, James Redman, noted that the field of over 360 cars was the largest in recent years. In particular, the registration for Groups 2 and 3 were capped weeks before the event due to their meeting full capacity, leading to a growing waitlist. Also, VIP ticket sales sold out and they sold out of programs on Friday. The response overall was amazing.
BMW was the featured marque for the event. 2015 marks the 40th year anniversary of BMW’s classic win at the 1975 Sebring 12 Hour race. The unmistakable #25 BMW CSL was on display for the fans to see. Legendary driver Brian Redman was also in attendance, co-driver on the 1975 winning team with Allan Moffat, Sam Posey, and Hans Stuck. He provided his thoughts and reflections about BMW and his amazing career during multiple interviews with the HSR on-air track announcers.
The Grand Marshal for the 2015 Mitty race meeting was Boris Said. During his long and distinguished racing career, Boris has driven the BMW marque to great heights. A long time fan favorite, Boris was seen throughout the weekend visiting with fans, signing autographs, and talking about his past races. During the Friday night social for teams and drivers, Boris noted that Road Atlanta has always been one of his favorite tracks. He experienced success here by winning three SCCA Run-Off events, along with wins in Trans-Am and Trucks. He also announced that he had just signed a multi-race agreement with Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, starting with the following weekend at Talladega.
Personally, The Mitty has always been on my short-list of must-see events. It met and surpassed all of my expectations. I was struck by the organization and structure of the HSR experience. It certainly rivaled the professionalism and efficiency that I’ve experienced while attending IndyCar, IMSA, and NASCAR events. The on-air commentary team of Joe Bradley and Jeff Wright provided the fans with an entertaining and enlightened running commentary through out the weekend. Their race coverage, interviews, and automotive story telling acted as the perfect daily soundtrack.
The Mitty weekend featured a packed schedule. There was always something for the fans at the Speed Fest. The Turn 7 test track featured a GT Radial Ride & Drive, along with the Traqmate Skidpad Challenge. The vendor and display village featured numerous food and merchandise tents, a swap meet, and a Concours D’ Lemons that was judged by Boris Said. Also, throughout the track were various car corrals, campsites, and enthusiastic fans enjoying the picturesque rolling landscape of Road Atlanta.
The first race of the weekend took place at the end of the day on Friday. The Bob Woodman Tires International/American Challenge sported a huge field of sixty-five cars. These drivers set the stage for the weekend. It was one of those races that deserved additional time. But, in the end, Larry Ligas (#61) took the well-deserved win in his 1961 Jaguar XKE. Curt Vogt (#123) driving his 1970 Ford Boss 302 followed close behind taking second-place. The entry of Jachthuber/Spence (#163) captured third spot on the podium in the 1972 Porsche 911/ST.
After a rainy Friday night and damp early Saturday morning, the clouds parted and racing resumed with the BMW M Performance Parts Feature Race. BMW was the featured marque of The Mitty, and this race included a nice variety of BMW’s from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. Sixteen cars took the green flag, with Phil Daigrepont (#4) leading throughout in his 1976 Toj-SC 204. Dave Thorman (#111) drove a solid race and secured second place behind the wheel of his 2004 BMW E46/M3. Bob Summerour (#201) charged to a well-deserved third spot finish, driving his 1973 BMW CSL.
In a weekend filled with highlights, certainly at the top of the list would have been whenever the Masters USA grand prix series cars took to the track. The appearance of these gorgeous Formula One cars provided for many fans their first glimpse of these powerful and historic machines. A field of ten cars from the 70’s and 80’s F1 era wowed the crowd with their throaty roar and famous liveries. Two drivers in specific went above and beyond and matched their cars with the distinctive helmet designs of the former F1 drivers. John McKenna (#27) drove the 1974 Viceroy Parnelli VPY-4, wearing the silver helmet of Mario Andretti. Andrew Beaumont (#11) drove the 1974 John Player Special Lotus 76/1, capping it off with the blue and gold trimmed helmet of Ronnie Peterson. This was racing nostalgia at its best!
The Masters USA series featured two sprint races, held on Saturday and Sunday. Both races were won decisively by Gregory Thornton (#10) driving the blue and gold Monaco Fine Arts Gallery sponsored 1976 March 761. The Saturday race saw second place awarded to James Hagen (#6) in the green 1983 Benetton Tyrrell 011. Third place went to John McKenna in the Parnelli, but only after an intense battle with Keith Frieser (#17) in the black 1973 UOP Shadow DN1. The Sunday event saw Keith Frieser take second place in the Shadow, followed closely behind in third place by James Hagen in the Tyrrell.
Saturday’s racing activity finished strong, led by the running of the B.R.M. H/P Enduro Challenge. This was a one-hour enduro, with one mandatory five-minute pit stop. Close, tight racing kept the order of finish in doubt up through the final lap. Travis Engen (#2) captured the win in his elegant 2005 Audi R8 LMP. The margin of victory was clocked at 0.932 of a second. Jim Booth (#15) took second position in his 2013 Radical SR8/RX. Juan Lopez-Santini (#810) rounded out the podium finishers in his 2008 Porsche 997 Cup car. Five cars were on the lead lap at the finish with another five cars just one lap down.
The Saturday evening schedule brought an exciting close to a wonderful day of racing. Based on how the morning began, it was hard to believe that the evening would be capped off with a beautiful sunset and perfect temperatures. Because of the overwhelming success of the Daytona Historic 24 at the end of 2014, HSR has added more night racing to their 2015 calendar. Paying homage to the history of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, two night races were included for The Mitty.
The first night race began at 8 PM and featured a convincing performance by Oliver Bryant (#69) in his 1965 Ford Mustang GT. Solidly in second place was the Eberhardt/Ellsworth entry (#38) in a 1972 Porsche 911. The race-long battle that caught everyone’s attention was for third spot on the podium. Lap after lap, the Beighton/Hammond (#45) 1966 Ford Mustang GT and the Yves Scemama (#05) 1973 Porsche 911 fought it out. I watched the race from the vantage point of Turns 6 and 7. It was an intense duel, and one that summed up the spirit of the overall event. Both competitors left nothing in reserve. Ultimately, the Beighton/Hammond Mustang took third place honors.
The last night race of the evening began at 8:33 PM. It was now totally dark. This was perfect. Watching an auto race in the dark, with lights blaring, strikes at the heart of why enthusiasts love endurance sports car racing. It was a hard fought race, but this time for the overall win. The Spencer/Grupp (#20) 1993 Kudzu DG3-Mazda took the surprise win over the ever-present 2005 Audi R* LMP (#2) of Travis Engen. The Mazda seemed to come to life and thrived on the cooler evening air. Juan Lopez-Santini (#810) took his 2008 Porsche 997 Cup car to a strong third place finish.
Sunday’s track activities began bright and early at 8:20 AM with the B.R.M. Vintage Enduro Challenge. Like all of the enduros, this was one hour in length, with a mandatory five-minute pit stop. Forty-nine cars participated, filling the track with racing battles throughout the field. The Alan and Jonathon Ziegleman pairing (#128) won the race in their 1973 Porsche 914/6 GTR, with a 3.174 second margin of victory. Driving an equally strong race was Sean Brown (#185) in his 1975 Ford Escort RS. He finished second, just nipping Lee Giannone (#112) in a 1966 Porsche 911.
The final enduro of the weekend was the B.R.M. GT/GTM Enduro Challenge. Thirty-nine cars participated in this event. The intensity of the racing never let up as cars pounded the corners and tried to shave valuable tenths off their lap time. Dave Thorman (#111) pulled out a 2.949 margin of victory behind the wheel of his 2004 BMW E46/M3. Fritz Seidel (#85) drove a strong race and finished second in his 1973 Porsche 911 IROC. Bill Riddell (#05) earned a hard fought third place in his 2012 Porsche Cayman-S. Eleven cars were on the lead lap at the finish. Each one was a potential podium finisher in this ultra competitive race.
The 2015 Mitty weekend also featured two sprint races for each of the nine groups, held between Saturday and Sunday. Each race was seven laps in length and left no time for anyone to hang around. The drivers ‘went for it’ at the drop of each green flag. Groups 2 and 3 (Vintage Production) featured large fields for each of their races. In Group 2, Douglas Campbell (#61) captured race one in his 1964 Ginetta G4, while Ray Morgan (#05) took first place honors in race two on Sunday, driving his 1964 Merlyn Mk6. In Group 3, Patrick Wilmot (#1) swept the first step of the podium in each of the sprint races, behind the wheel of his 1984 Ford Mustang.
Group 4 (B.O.S.S. Series) saw the same two top finishers is each of the races. Jack Mucha (#07) driving the formidable 2007 Panoz DP01, crossed the line in front of Mark Brannon (#17) in his 1997 Lola T97/20. Group 5 (Production Sports Cars) presented a strong showing by Jody O’Donnell (#46) in the 1969 Chevy Corvette, who took second place in race one, but made the step up to first place in race two. Larry Ligas (#61) took the victory in race one in his 1961 Jaguar XKE. Group 6 (Historic GTP/Group C, World Sports Cars) bore witness to a classic battle waged between Jacek Mucha (#07) in the 2006 Swift JMS-016P, and Toby Bean (#64) in the 1991 Chevy Intrepid. Jacek took the victory ahead of Toby in race one, and then the two swapped spots on the podium for race two.
Group 7 (Championship of Makes) was led by the duo of William Thumel (#71) in his 1968 Lola T70 Mk IIIb, and Jim Stengel (#16) in the 1972 McLaren M8F. The two thundered around Road Atlanta capturing first and second respectively, in each of the races. Group 8 (Historic Stock cars) was dominated by the threesome of Mark Furcini (#42) in a 2004 Dodge Charger, the Grahame and Oliver Bryant entry (#10) in a 2005 Dodge Charger, and Brian Norman (#9) in a 2006 Dodge Charger. They finished each of the races in that order. Each race proved to be a ‘pedal to the metal’ stock car battle royal.
Keeping in step with the trend of intense racing, Group 9 (IMSA Historic GT) did not disappoint. Dick Howe (#19) driving a 1989 Ford Mustang took the win in each of the races. He was chased to the line by the strong pairing of Pete Kirill (#26) in a 2000 Chevy Corvette GT1, and Etienne Borgeat (#12) in a 2014 Porsche 991 Cup car. Good hard racing. It was a sight to behold. Group 10 (Modern Era Global GT) presented a Porsche fest. Juan Lopez-Santini (#810) drove his 2008 Porsche 997 Cup car to victory in each of the races. The Cullen/Beck entry (#125) took second place in their 2007 Porsche 997 Cup car, while the Freeman/Refenning entry (#16) captured third position in their 2013 Porsche 997 Cup car. Race two saw the Freeman/Refenning entry make the step up to second position. Francisco Melandri (#96) earned a well-deserved third position in his 1996 Porsche 964.
After all that, all I can say is….WOW!
The Mitty will now go on my short-list of must-see events every year. Road Atlanta and HSR presented a world-class event. I can only imagine what 2016 will bring. Make your plans now!