SVRA – U.S. Vintage Grand Prix (story)

Joe Colasacco (#8), driving his 1963 Alfa Romeo TZ-1, leads Henry Gentry (#4) in a 1964 Ginetta G4 up through the esses.

Joe Colasacco (#8), driving his 1963 Alfa Romeo TZ-1, leads Henry Gentry (#4) in a 1964 Ginetta G4 up through the esses.

Victory Lane Magazine, October 2015, Vol. 30, No. 10

Story by Terry Johnsen

Watkins Glen International, July 24-26, 2015

The Glenora Wine Cellars U.S. Vintage Grand Prix presented by WELLIVER, took place at Watkins Glen International on July 24-26, 2015. SportsCar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) brought their amazing series to the spiritual home of U.S. sports car racing for the event. Racing visionary Cameron Argetsinger, had a dream and brought European grand prix style racing to the United States in 1948, beginning with the races through the Village of Watkins Glen (1948-1952). The permanent venue was later established and has been the site of many memorable and historic races over the years. There is no better venue to host an event entitled the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix (USVGP).

The Glen is where I saw my first sports car races in 1973. It was a weekend that featured the Can-Am and World Championship of Makes series. It was magical. Today, The Glen still holds that fascination and allure. The 2015 U.S. Vintage Grand Prix brought back those wonderful memories that captured my imagination.

Mid-September has been the traditional spot on the vintage racing calendar for the USVGP, but because of the enormous repaving project, the event was moved to July. Work has already begun on The Boot section of the course, and this year’s USVGP used the 2.454 mile short-course configuration. Speaking with the competitors, the opportunity to drive the short course met with overwhelming approval and excitement.

Preparation for the event began on Wednesday and Thursday of race week with registration, testing, and inspections. Friday’s schedule consisted of practice and qualifying for the ten racing groups. Saturday included additional qualifying and then the competition began mid-day with “The Collier Cup for MG’s” race. Peter Uzdavinis (#25) driving a 1964 MG Midget took the win with Richard Navin (#246) following close behind in his 1968 MGB. Third spot on the podium belonged to Richard Rzepkowski (#74) in his 1971 MG Midget. The top three separated themselves from the rest of the field, yet there were plenty of close battles throughout. Peter captured the best race lap of 1:35.349. He said afterwards that it was his first time on the short course, and there was plenty of non-stop action.

After the first set of sprint events for each of the groups, the racing schedule for Saturday concluded with the “Vintage/Classic Enduro”. A field of 33 cars from race groups 1, 2, 3, 4, 5a, 6a, and 8 competed in a 60-minute enduro, with one required pit stop. Roy Walzer (#17) covered 31 laps and took the checkered flag in his 1963 Lotus 23B. The driving team of Sean & Daniel Brown (#85C) claimed second spot on the podium in a 1975 Ford Escort RS MKI. Third place belonged to Joseph Riolo (#93) in his 1972 Datsun 240Z. The fastest lap of the race was claimed by Sean & Daniel Brown with a 1:24.581.

Sunday’s schedule featured the second race for each of the ten groups. The second enduro of the weekend took place just before the lunch break. The “Historic GT/GTP/ALMS Enduro” was a 90-minute race for groups 5b, 6b, 7, 9, 10, and 11. The race required two pit stops. Lee Brahin (#4B) drove a 1999 Dallara Infinity and took the win by a margin of one lap over Bruce Hamilton (#85), driving a 2008 Dallara Infinity. Third place was awarded to Travis Engen (#2), in his 2005 Audi R8 LMP. The early pace setter in the field was David Porter (#18) behind the wheel of his 2007 Pescarolo 01 Judd. David captured the fastest lap of the enduro with a 1:05.856.

Following the National Anthem and opening ceremonies, the two headline events took center stage. First up was the “New York Governor’s Cup featuring Chevron Cars”. This race celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the storied marque. The ten-lap race was run at a fever pace. This field of cars also featured the most colorful and attractive car liveries of the weekend. Dominick Incantalupo (#27A) drove to victory is his beautiful yellow and red 1973 Chevron B23. Second place went to Turner Woodard (#73) in his blue and yellow 1975 Chevron B31. Third place was awarded to David Jacobs (#33) in his yellow and green 1971 Chevron B19. David also captured the fastest lap with a time of 1:29.665. Jeff Wright (#4A) driving the vivid pink 1978 Chevron B45 FA, described the action as very competitive, good clean racing.

The featured marque for the 2015 U.S. Vintage Grand Prix was Alfa Romeo. The Nuvolari Trophy was awarded for the “Alfas At The Glen Race”. Jay Iliohan (#220) took the win in the stunningly attractive, red and white 1968 Alfa Romeo T33/2 Daytona. The car took your breath away it was so beautiful. Second place went to Terry Stahly (#32) in his 1972 Alfa Romeo GTV. Third place belonged to Joseph Colasacco (#8) who drove a 1963 Alfa Romeo TZ-1. The real head-turner of the weekend belonged to Peter Giddings (#31) in the blood red 1935 Alfa Romeo TIPO C 8c-35. Everyone wanted to be near it and see this pre-war racing specimen up close. The roar of the engine was impressive and gave us all a reminder of the power of these vintage machines from a golden age.

Throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday, each of the ten racing groups competed in two sprint races. The Saturday events ran to a 25-minute window and the Sunday races to a 30-minute window. SVRA categorized Group 1 as “small bore” mass-produced sports cars and sedans built prior to 1973. Pre-war and MGt’s also raced in this group. Dave Morgan (#19) took the win on both days in his 1968 Austin Mini Cooper S. In Saturday’s race, the eventual second place finisher Bob Koons (#61) held the lead throughout in his 1961 Lotus 20, but Dave ultimately nipped him for the win in an ultra competitive race. Second place in Sunday’s race was awarded to Larry Coste (#199) in his 1965 Mini Cooper S. Jim Holody (#511) took third position on both days in a 1959 MG A Twin Cam.

Group 2 is classified as open-wheel cars built prior to 1973. Bobby Brown (#79) driving his 1971 Brabham BT35 took the win on Saturday in a heated battle with second place finisher Bruce Hamilton (#76) in a 1970 Brabham BT36. A late yellow flag bunched up the field, and when it turned green Bobby got the jump on Bruce and retained his slight lead into turn 1. He then held on for the finish. Travis Engen (#1) took the win on Sunday in his 1970 Chevron B17b. Marc Giroux (#59) followed closely behind for second place in a 1969 Brabham BT29. Travis took fastest lap honors on both days, with a best time of 1:18.694 on Saturday.

Groups 3 and 4 were on track together and were described as follows: Group 3 cars are medium-displacement, mass produced sports cars and sedans built prior to 1973; Group 4 cars are limited-production sports cars built prior to 1960. Joseph Colasacco (#8) driving a 1963 Alfa Romeo TZ-1 and Harry Gentry (#4) driving a 1964 Ginetta G4 swapped first and second finishing places on each of the days. Joseph captured the Saturday win while Harry took home the honors on Sunday. Harry Gentry also registered the fastest lap in each of the races, with a best time of 1:28.982 on Saturday.

Group 5 included WSC and World Manufacturers Championship cars that raced in 1960-1972. It also included the Can-Am cars prior to 1969, along with front engine “specials” built after 1959. Ken Mennella (#000) dominated both races in his 1963 Corvette GSRep. The power and pace of his beautiful blue and white Corvette could not be matched. He also took fastest lap in both races, with a best time of 1:24.351 on Saturday. Travis Engen (#1) claimed second place on Saturday in his 1962 Lotus 23B. Roy Walzer (#17) finished in third spot on Saturday in his 1963 Lotus 23B. He also captured second place on Sunday. Simon Lane (#59) brought home third place on Sunday in a 1959 Chevrolet Corvette.

Group 6 cars are known as the “big-bore” mass-produced sports cars and sedans built prior to 1973. On Saturday, Curt Vogt (#23) driving a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 showed everyone who was “the boss” in race 1. Art Herbert (#63) piloted his 1967 Jaguar XKE to a second place finish after a tough battle with Bob Lima (#33) in a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette. Sunday’s event was billed as the “Dick Mooney Memorial Race”. Jack Busch (#61) took the closely contested win in his 1967 Jaguar XKE, ahead of Bob Lima in second place and Curt Vogt in third spot. Curt Vogt captured the fastest lap in both races with a best time of 1:22.025 on Sunday.

Group 7a are the Sports 2000 racers. This group of cars is designated as having been built from 1984-2008. Brent Gernert (#70) drove his 1991 Swift DB5 to victory on both days. The Saturday race may have been the best demonstration of driving of the whole weekend. Jeff Wright (#116) drove up through the field in a 1990 Lola T90/90 and made a daring pass into turn one on the last lap to claim second place ahead of Bryan Gernert (#77) in a 1986 Swift DB2. Jeff took second place on Sunday as well, just ahead of Chip Vance (#4) in a 1987 Lola T87/90. Jeff claimed the fastest lap in each race with a best time of 1:20.483 on Sunday.

Groups 7b and 11 competed together during the weekend. 7b featured Can-Am cars racing after 1967, and World Championship cars racing after 1970. Group 11 featured prototypes, Trans-Am, and FIA GT cars. David Porter (#18) drove his 2007 Pescarolo 01 Judd to victory in both races, along with capturing the fastest lap in each. His best time was a 1:05.437 on Sunday. Travis Engen (#2) claimed second place in both races while piloting his 2005 Audi R8 LMP. John Burke (#62B) took third position on Saturday in a 1999 Riley & Scott MK III, while Jacek Mucha (#07) finished third on Sunday in his 2006 Swift JMS 016 CP.

Group 8 featured mass-produced sports cars and sedans from 1973-1985. Sean Brown (#85C) was declared the winner of Saturday’s race. He drove a fast and nimble 1975 Ford Escort-R. Joseph Riolo (#93) finished second in a 1972 Datsun 240Z, with Tom Briest (#71) following close behind in his 1970 Porsche 914/6. Sunday’s race was a spirited battle between Jim Hamblin (#18) in a 1969 Porsche 911, and Sean Brown. Jim took the win, along with the fastest lap of the race, with a 1:24.992. Joseph Riolo took home Sunday’s third place honors.

Group 9 is known for their “slicks and wings”. These are open wheel race cars from 1973 to 2008. Justin Frick (#09) claimed victory on Saturday in his 1997 Lola 97/20. Bruce Hamilton (#85) carved his way through the field and ultimately followed Justin across the line for second place in a 2008 Dallara Infinity. John Burke (#55) finished third in a 2001 Swift 014a. Sunday’s race saw the field bunched together for a restart with four laps to go. Marc Giroux (#30) in a 1997 Lola T97/20 and John Burke swapped the lead back and forth, lap after lap. Marc finally pulled clear for the win. Mark Sherwood (#3) finished third in a 1995 Ralt RT41.

Group 10 featured various GT sports cars and sedans from 1973-1999. NASCAR Cup and Nationwide Series cars also mixed it up in this group. Jeffrey Bernatovich (#90) was the class of the filed in his ferocious 1990 Chevrolet GT1 Corvette. Jeff took the wins in both races. Robert Mailand (#7) claimed second place in each race driving a beautiful 2006 Chevrolet Corvette. Robert Pawlowski (#2C) captured the third place finish in race 1 in his 1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Keith (Seymour) Prescott (#71) finished third on Sunday in a 2000 Dodge Charger.

The U.S. Vintage Grand Prix weekend also featured many activities for fans to enjoy. Most notably were the Chemung Canal Trust Company Auto Show, and the Jaguar Driving Experience. In between races on the track you could hear the squealing of tires as fans put high performance Jaguars through their paces on a short auto course in the paddock. Fans had the likes of racing greats Roberto Guerrero and Davy Jones as driving coaches. Each person I spoke to walked away from the experience pumped up and thrilled beyond expectations. It was a huge hit.

I hope everyone in attendance was able to stop by the display for the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC). The center is based in Watkins Glen and holds a vast collection of racing archives and memorabilia. The display was promoting their major fund-raiser of the year, the car raffle. A beautiful 2015 Toyota Camry XSE V-6 was prominently placed beside the booth. With a simple act of donation to preserve auto-racing history, a lucky fan could possibly win the chance to drive home an amazing car. The raffle runs through December 12th (2015). Visit the website for details:

Overall, the Glenora Wine Cellars U.S. Vintage Grand Prix presented by WELLIVER was an overwhelming success. The weather cooperated and racing was never disrupted. Despite the change of the traditional calendar date, which could have had a measurable effect on planning for each of the competitors, the car count was still strong. Pam Shatraw of SVRA expressed that the turnout by fans, and in particular the campers, was beyond expectations and sealed it for everyone. I too camped out just as I did back in 1973. That’s when I fell in love with sports car racing. The Glen left an indelible impression on me, and I can’t imagine a better venue to celebrate the history and traditions of road racing in America.

Together, SVRA and Watkins Glen International presented a first class event. The competitors put on a great show and the spectators were able to sit back and revisit the sights and sounds that first ignited their passion for the sport. The magic is alive and well.

—————————– TJ 2015

About terryjohnsen

Writer/photographer of vintage/historic sports car racing. See you at the track! Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terry Johnsen and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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