Tag Archives: Sports Cars

RIP Dan Gurney, 1931 – 2018

The great American race car driver and constructor Dan Gurney passed away at the age of 86 on January 14th.

A very good Autoweek obituary is here and a fine list of Gurney’s remarkable technical accomplishments has been published by Jalopnik.

A titan of motorsports and a tireless innovator for more over 60 years, Gurney survived the most dangerous era of Formula 1 in the 1950s and 60s and not only lived to tell the tale but thrived. Gurney participated in 86 Formula 1 Grand Prix and took victory four times, most significantly at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1967, where he drove a car of his own design and construction, the beautiful Eagle Weslake, to become the first and still only American to win as both constructor and driver in F1. If that wasn’t enough in that banner year for Gurney and the USA, he had only a week earlier triumphed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-driver A.J. Foyt in a Ford GT, again becoming the first all-American team to achieve that illustrious feat at the most famous 24-hour race in the world. It was on the Le Mans podium that a delighted Gurney first sprayed champagne on his teammates and the crowd after victory, something that instantly became a permanent tradition across all forms of motorsport.

Of course the podium celebration was not the brilliant Gurney’s only lasting contribution to racing. Blessed with not only movie star good looks but also an engineer’s keen mind, Gurney devised several technical improvements for racers and their cars that are still used today. Unusually tall for a driver at 6′ 4,” the big American became one of the first high level competitors on four wheels to adopt a full helmet and perspex face shield similar to that of those worn by dirt bike racers back in his Southern California home. He debuted the protective helmet designed by Bell at Indianapolis in 1968 and soon thereafter it became standard equipment for all drivers. In 1971 he came up with the now de rigueur Gurney Flap, a small right angle lip at the edge of the rear wing to increase rear downforce by creating vortices that enhance the airflow coming off the wing. In the early 1990s Gurney’s All American Racers team came up with a radical design for their IMSA Prototype entry that featured not only a small 2.1 liter 4-cylinder turbo engine by Toyota capable of producing a whopping 750 horsepower but also a monocoque chassis made entirely of carbon fiber, a radical proposition at the time, especially in sports cars. The AAR car also featured built-in aerodynamic assists from the front air intake holes and superior ground effects beneath. The result was the Eagle Mark III, a beast of a car that won the 1992 and 1993 IMSA  drivers’ and constructors’ championships going away, including a streak of 17 wins in a row.

To the very end Dan Gurney was still utilizing his prodigious gifts as a designer and innovator, playing a key part in the radical Delta Wing project and even helping design and fabricate the carbon fiber landing legs for the reusable Space X rocket. But he shone brightest as a driver. In his heyday he won races in Formula 1, Indycar, NASCAR and sports cars. Only the great Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have posted such a display of victorious versatility in all four major automobile racing categories. He survived several crashes in the unsafe cars of the 1950s and 60s, the second in a BRM at the 1960 Dutch Grand Prix that killed a spectator. It was then that Gurney remarked to legendary journalist Robert Daly that racing “is a cruel sport.” And yet even with a young wife and growing family Gurney persisted. Even through the deaths of his rivals and friends on the track over his long career — Wolfgang von Trips, Swede Savage, the Rodriguez brothers, Jimmy Clark, Bruce McLaren and Jo Bonnier  — Gurney persisted and kept his foot down. He had full faith in his ability to delineate a necessary risk from a foolhardy one and when he started designing his own cars in the late 1960s he finally had full faith in his equipment, as well. A wonderful story teller, a survivor of a deadly golden era, a rarely matched driver and innovator and an all-around gentleman, Dan Gurney lived a true racer’s life from his teen years as a hot rodder in Riverside trying stay one step ahead of they cops to his discovery by Ferrari’s man in America, the brilliant Luigi Chinetti, to his remarkable, decades-long career full of victories to his final moments on the Earth just a few days ago. As the Spanish are fond of saying about a truly exceptional person — ¡Qué Hombre!

Documentary view — Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans

(This article was co-written with tomvox1, who helped fill in the biographical blanks of McQueen’s Hollywood career)

Legendary screen icon Steve McQueen was not only one of his generation’s most interesting and successful actors but he was also a serious motorsports addict. An accomplished racer on both two wheels and four, McQueen began spending lavishly on racing machines just as soon as he started making money as an actor after his discharge from the Marines, where he had even attempted to soup up his squad’s tank. Tearing around Greenwich Village in a wire-spoked 1950s MG, he graduated to ever more exotic fare upon moving to California and hitting the big time with his starring role on the Western TV series, Wanted: Dead or Alive. As well as means, McQueen had exquisite automotive taste and would come to be identified with some of the most remarkable cars of the second half of the 20th Century: the 1958 Porsche Speedster, the stunning Jaguar XK-SS, the 1963 Ferrari 250 Lusso and, perhaps most famously, his personal gunmetal gray 1969 Porsche 911S and the Highland Green ’68 Mustang GT fastback from Bullitt.

Throughout the 1960s, running parallel to his rise as a Hollywood superstar, McQueen honed his craft as an expert racer. While truly gifted on a dirt bike, the King of Cool worked hard to become one of the top amateur sports car drivers in the US. In fact, despite being hampered by a broken foot in a cast, McQueen and co-driver Peter Revson drove their Porsche 908 Spyder prototype to an impressive second overall at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970, and first in the P2 class. After a gritty and inspired run, McQueen and Revson only missed out on the overall win when Ferrari drafted the great Mario Andretti into their second car as the laps wound down. It was the pinnacle of McQueen’s racing career but it was almost incidental to the real reason for purchasing the 908 in the first place: he was bound and determined to make the greatest racing movie of all time.

And that’s where the excellent documentary, Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans, picks up the story. In exhaustively researched detail, the film, a 2015 Cannes official selection, delves into how McQueen put the full force of his stardom and clout behind making his racing epic for good and for ill. Grabbing hold of a project originally titled “Day of the Champion” but now renamed simply “Le Mans,” his vision was to capture as realistically as possible the thrills he himself was experiencing in the cockpit of a high performance race car. And as the title now suggested, the indispensable backdrop for all of the action would be the greatest race of them all, the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. With a cast full of real-life professional road racers and innovative filming techniques, including converting the Sebring Porsche 908 into a 150 mph camera car, the aim was to mix actual race footage with realistic recreations executed at speed by top pros along with McQueen driving a Gulf-liveried Porsche 917 as the movie’s protagonist, Michael Delaney.


But despite the dedication and advanced technology brought to bear for the driving sequences and McQueen’s personal desire to eclipse John Frakenheimer’s 1966 Formula 1 epic, Grand Prix, as the the greatest racing movie of all time, production of Le Mans was star crossed from the get-go. Continue reading

Motorsport Books — Go Like Hell by A.J. Baime

The winter interregnum between the end of the major motorsport championships in Europe and America and the new seasons’ spring starts provides the perfect opportunity to catch up with some quality literature on the fine art of racing, the better to whet one’s appetite for the coming competitions of the new year. One of the more enjoyable reads a petrolhead can peruse is A.J. Baime’s excellent Go Like Hell, a terrific account of the epic 1960s Ferrari-Ford rivalry.

The subtitle of Go Like Hell pretty much sums it up: “Ford, Ferrari and their battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans”. The 1960s saw Ford go all out to try to take down Ferrari from their perch at the very pinnacle of international racing. Nowhere was that mission more ambitious than in the Blue Oval’s quest to somehow, someway win the greatest racing event in the world, the 24-Hours of Le Mans. It would be no easy task, as the Prancing Horse essentially considered the top of the podium in that epic 24-hour race their exclusive piece of prized real estate and Ford, despite their success in NASCAR, really had no international road racing experience at that time.

But they did have Carroll Shelby and a host of other 60s superstars. After winning the 1959 Le Mans in an Astin-Martin, Shelby had turned constructor and converted an underpowered British roadster into the all-world Shelby AC Cobra by dropping a big Ford 427 engine into that light chassis. Just like that, Shelby and his team of talented engineers and fabricators had created a giant slayer. Originally designed as a Corvette killer, the AC Cobra also turned out to be a Ferrari killer in its class. Shelby’s remarkable creation earned the GT class win and 4th overall at the 1964 24-Hours of Le Mans, beating out several Ferrari 250 GTOs for that illustrious honor. After coming to the conclusion that Shelby was simply superior at preparing a road racing car than their NASACR partners, Holman Moody, it was no surprise that Ford chose Carroll Shelby to spearhead the development of their new prototype, the legendary Ford GT 40, with all the resources of Ford’s factory backing at his disposal. That amazing car would go on to win Le Mans overall for a stunning four consecutive years, 1966-1969, including the amazing 1-2-3 finish in 1966.

1966 GT40s Le Mans. (09/08/2011)

1966: Ford GT40s finish 1-2-3 at Le Mans

But Shelby isn’t the only compelling character chronicled in Go Like Hell. There’s a who’s who of hall of fame drivers like Phil Hill, the former Formula 1 Champion for Ferrari who lends his wealth of experience to the new Ford team, Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, A.J. Foyt, the peerless Mario Andretti and the lost legend who may well have been the best driver you’ve never heard of, Englishman and development driver extraordinaire, Ken Miles. There’s a young Lee Iacocca, displaying the qualities of vision and leadership that would make him one of the most successful auto executives in the world in the years to come. And of course there are the dueling factory owners with their titanic egos and shared drive to win. Enzo Ferrari, whom the Italian press dubbed Saturn for the unfortunate penchant of his drivers — his surrogate “sons” — to be devoured by machines of his own creation. And Henry Ford II, known as “The Deuce” for obvious reasons, whose desire to beat Ferrari sprang not only from a proposed merger gone bad between the Detroit powerhouse and the de facto Italian national marque from Maranello, but also from a son’s need to pay tribute to his ill-treated and prematurely deceased father, the unfortunate Edsel Ford, whom Ford founder Henry Senior had humiliated and belittled.

Rumored to be in the works as a film under the direction of Michael Mann, Go Like Hell is indeed a cinematic concoction and a thoroughly enjoyable one. Baime’s meticulously researched page turner captures what many consider racing’s finest era almost perfectly, when lighter cars and higher horsepower broke speed records at a blistering clip and technological advancements changed the game nearly month to month. It also bears witness to the extreme danger of competing in that era, where several drivers might lose their lives in a season and mechanical failure at a place like Le Mans could well spell death not only for the driver but for scores of spectators, as well. You can practically smell the castor oil, hear the roar of the engines as they tear out of the pits and down the Mulsanne Straight at 200 miles per hour and feel your pulse pound as you wonder which cars can survive that most treacherous of 24-hours in a normally peaceful French countryside gone berserk with noise, action and teeming humanity. Read it and enjoy it for yourself. If Go Like Hell doesn’t get your juices flowing and primed for another grand season of motorsport you better just stick to baseball.

Race Alert — The 2016 Rolex 24-Hours at Daytona in on!

The unofficial start of the 2016 racing season is upon us with the great endurance race, The Rolex 24-Hours at Daytona, beginning today at 2pm. The complete broadcast and streaming schedule is below.

Jan 30
2:00 – 4:00 PM ET:
4:00 – 10:00 PM ET:
10:00 PM – 7:00 AM ET (Overnight Stream):
Jan 31
7:00 – 10:30 AM ET:
10:30 AM – 1:00 PM ET:
1:00 – 3:30 PM ET (Finale):

Ford GT

This year’s race features the highly anticipated return of a new, badass Ford GT to full competition racing some 50 years after the original prototype car wrested the crown of endurance champion from fearsome Ferrari at Le Mans with a 1-2-3 finish. This new version will be racing in the elite production car category of GT Le Mans under the stewardship of Chip Ganassi & Co. Ganassi has predictably chosen a veteran driver lineup for his two Ford GTs that features the versatile Joey Hand, Indycar veteran Ryan Briscoe, Rolex/Tudor/Weathertech series prototype ace Richard Westbrook and sports car specialist Dirk Müller. Notably absent is the legendary, long time Ganassi pilot Scott Pruett, who has gone off to join Lexus for his swan song. I wouldn’t expect too much from the great looking Ford right out of the shoot going up against a veritable fleet of extremely seasoned GTLM Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs and their Detroit neighbors, the archival Chevy Corvettes, especially in a grueling 24-hour contest. But as the IMSA-backed and newly sponsored Weathertech Sports Car Championship season wears on, the car and the program should come into its own if Ganassi’s and these talented drivers’ track records of success are any indication of future performance.

Either way, today’s race will feature some terrific day-into-night-into-day action that only a true 24-hour, multi-class motorsport spectacle can provide. And as a harbinger for the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and a big, juicy appetizer for all the racing to come in 2016, it’s pretty hard to beat.

Cars we want — 2017 Ford GT

No, we don’t usually get into the whole realm of supercars in this feature, as how many of us really have that kind of money? But look at this thing. Ford’s new GT is definitely worth dreaming about… and perhaps cashing out the old 401k a bit early for (I never did say I was a qualified financial advisor). With its pin-up worthy low slung looks a definite homage to the original Ferrari-slaying GT40 prototypes of the 1960s, this is a car that is at once aware of its illustrious heritage and determined to surpass it. Specifically built and marketed for a triumphant return to LeMans in 2016 on the 50th anniversary of the GT40s remarkable 1-2-3 overall finish in 1966, the new iteration will compete in the GTE Pro class of production cars against Corvette Stingrays, Ferrari 458s, Porsche 911s, Audi R8s, and Astin Martin Vantages. Which is maybe a bit unfair since not even those elite rides come close to the estimated 2017 GT’s $400,000 true-supercar price tag. Nonetheless, the Ford Motor Company is shrewdly betting on the historic resonance of their return to Le Mans to motivate a new generation of gearheads to worship at the altar of the Blue Oval. And if they’re not able to afford the GT perhaps they’ll at least pony up for a new Mustang.


With help in racing development from major league motorsport player Chip Gannasi Racing and their all-star lineup of drivers, including the venerable king of sports cars Scott Pruett and the excellent former DTM driver Joey Hand among other potential all-star cameos, preparation will include a twin-track effort in 2016 Tudor Series events in the States and World Endurance Championship races in Europe. Clearly, Ford is aiming to be competitive by the time they roll off the truck for their LeMans debut in mid-June of next year. That may be overly ambitious, as very few Le Mans programs are successful in their first year, and that includes Ford’s rocky early efforts to take it to Ferrari in 1964-5 before breaking through to dominance in ’66. In motorsport, as in all sports and life in general, you’ve very often got to fail before you succeed. But with a pedal-to-the-metal effort fully supported by the factory in Dearborn, the new GT should still get towards the sharp end of the field rather quickly.

As always in endurance racing, the cars’ durability will be key. With an all-carbon fiber monocoque and aluminum front and rear subframes it should be interesting to see how this new GT survives under variable loads at a big, hybrid road-oval course like the 24 Hours of Daytona. Continue reading

Race alert — The 24 Hours of Le Mans is live now

This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the grandaddy of endurance motor racing, is underway at the Circuit de la Sarthe in the Pays de la Loire region of France. You can catch literally all of the action live on the Fox Sports GO site or through their app by logging in with your cable provider ID and password. The complete broadcast schedule is below:

– FOX Sports GO (Saturday, June 13 at 8:30 a.m. to Sunday, June 14 at 9:30 a.m.)
– Saturday, June 13 (8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., FOX Sports 2)
– Saturday, June 13 (7 p.m. to 8 p.m., FOX Sports 1)
– Saturday, June 13 (11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., FOX Sports 2)
– Sunday, June 14 (3:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., FOX Sports 1)
– Sunday, June 14 (7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., FOX Sports 2)
– Sunday, June 14 (9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., FOX Sports 1)

Can Porsche put an end to Audi’s remarkable run of dominance in P1? How will Nissan’s Nismo fare in its debut race? And of course it’s time to find out who’s the top dog in GT: Corvette, Ferrari, Astin Martin or Porsche. Watch the whole thing live or tune in at your convenience — you’re bound to see something dramatic, unexpected and likely hair raising. After all, it’s Le Mans.

12 Hours of Sebring alert

For those who enjoy multi-class sports car racing, the Tudor United SportsCar Championship offers up another American classic later this morning: The 12 Hours of Sebring. Beginning at 11am from the famed old airport track in western Florida, this bumpy 3.74 mile circuit is often said to be harder on man and machine than the 24 Hours of Le Mans. You can catch all the action, which is often spectacular and quite dangerous despite the flat course, live on a variety of Fox Sports platforms and IMSA.com’s live stream, as below:

Television Broadcast:
  • 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM ET (LIVE)

    FOX Sports 1

  • 12:30 PM – 07:00 PM ET (Live)
    FOX Sports 2
  • 07:00 PM – 10:00 PM ET (Live)


  • 10:00 PM – 11:00 PM ET (Live)
    FOX Sports 2
  • 08:00 AM – 10:00 AM ET (Recap)
    FOX Sports 1

    So all you sports car fans out there, strap in and buckle up for 12 hours of multi-class mayhem Sebring style!

Cars we want — Alfa Romeo 4C

There is something delightfully impractical about Italian sports cars. They seem to sacrifice any pretense of driver and passenger comfort for the overall thrill of intoxicating design and performance. And there is no Italian manufacturer that embodies raw style over practicality more than Alfa Romeo. The debut of the simply named but exotic 4C, their pocket pasta rocket, also coincides with the return of the legendary marque to the American market after a generation’s hiatus. That means it’s time for Alfa enthusiasts to celebrate anew. Sure, its seemingly reasonable under-$60k base price can easily swell to the mid-$70s with options like “radio” and “tires”. Nonetheless, it may be time to reallocate some profits from the ongoing bull market in order to put your assets into the 4C’s form fitting bucket seats.


An attractively visible reinforced carbon fiber tub is designed to meet U.S. crash test standards but only boosts the imported 4C to a still-featherweight 2500 pounds because of the almost total lack of metal bodywork. The heavily turbo charged engine with an eyebrow-raising 21.8 psi pumping into the tiny 1.7 liter block kicks out 238 horsepower for an impressive 10.4 power to weight ratio. Put another way, this slinky pocket-sized supercar will go 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and can be cranked up to a top speed of 158. Which is bound to feel pretty fast in something only slightly bigger than a Gucci loafer.


Predictably for an Alfa, the 4C has plusses and minuses galore and it shows a definite split personality in terms of design attributes. With a laudable nod to purists, the car is equipped with a throwback fully manual steering rack that, while a bit of a handful in an urban environment, is sheer driving joy on any kind of twisty open road. It’s like going back in time to the golden age of roadsters. Likewise, the brake set up is super tactile in a less-is-more kind of way, making for almost balletic throttle to brake interplay. And the 4C is also classical in its mid engine layout, leading to exceptional balance and confident rotation through corners, a real driver’s car in terms of agility and unity with the road. And what gearhead wouldn’t love the over the top symphony of Latinate exhaust noises upon throttle application and gear shifts, not to mention the head turning only-from-Italy good looks?

But, as has been mentioned in nearly every review of the car, Alfa’s parent, Fiat Chrysler, has inexplicably declined to offer the 4C with a manual transmission, which borders on a criminal omission.

Continue reading

Getting ready for the 2015 Rolex 24-Hours at Daytona

It’s finally that time of year when we begin to shake off the winter doldrums and high performance engines roar to life once again. Today sees the start of the legendary 24-hour sports car marathon at Daytona International Speedway that serves as the unofficial start to the new year’s motorsport seasons in the Western world. This year’s Rolex 24 is the second that will be run under the banner of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship, which last year merged the two predominant US sports car series, American Le Mans and Rolex Grand-Am, into one competitive body. It features four distinct classes of race car in order of power and performance: Prototype (P); Prototype Challenge (PC); GT Le Mans (GTLM); and GT Daytona (GTD).

rolex 24-roar2015

It should be interesting to see if the balance of performance within the top Prototype class has been evened out after the old Grand Am coupes, technically “Daytona Prototypes”, essentially blew away the Le Mans-style “P2” chassis last season.  But as the LeMans-style prototypes began shifting to enclosed cockpit bodies as the year wore on they gained competitiveness and in fact it was the Honda-powered Ligier P2 of Ozz Negri driving for Mike Shank racing that claimed pole for today’s race ahead of the big Daytona Prototypes. So perhaps that bodes well for overall competitiveness on this demanding hybrid road/banked oval course and the series as a whole going forward. One thing’s for certain: whoever wins tomorrow afternoon after 24-hours of grueling, flat out racing in a crowded, multi-class field will have earned a place in motorsport history. They will also have earned our gratitude for at last kicking off the 2015 racing season in earnest. Wishing everyone a safe race and may the best car and driver team win!

Here is the complete 53-car entry list for the Rolex 24

And here is the broadcast and streaming schedule — with a little work and a lot of coffee you can watch the every minute of the Rolex 24-Hours of Daytona from the drop of the Green to the Checkered flag:

Saturday, Jan. 24 (All Times ET)

– 2-4 p.m. (FOX Network)

– 4-8 p.m. (FOX Sports 2)

– 8-10 p.m. (FOX Sports 1) 

Overnight (Jan. 24-25)

– 10 p.m. – 7 a.m. (IMSA TV on IMSA.com – live video streaming and commentary)

Sunday, Jan. 25

– 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (FOX Sports 1)

Cars we want — Maserati Ghibli S Q4

All right, so the Ghibli is Maserati’s “entry level” 4-door model with all the attendant compromises that implies for such a storied luxury marque. But it still flies that stylish Trident flag very impressively. Especially considering you can have all that panache and performance in a 5-seat sedan for a bit over $70k for the deluxe “S” version, certainly comparable with the attractive but Teutonically restrained (and much, much more common) Audi S7 and Mercedes CLS.  And if the interior quality is not quite up to the Germans in terms of quality and tech savvy, the sexy exterior and only-from-Italy engine note is guaranteed to turn many more heads. And isn’t that a big part of why you fall in love with Italian luxury cars in the first place?


In its most appealing “S Q4” configuration, the Ghibli features rear-biased all wheel drive and a Maranello-designed twin-turbo 3.0 liter engine that puts out an impressive 404 break horsepower with 406 lbs of torque, which can shoot the rather hefty 4100 pound chassis from 0-60 in a decent 4.7 seconds. With the option to control the 8-speed automatic transmission semi-manually via the steering wheel paddles and the symphonic Sport mode selected, the Ghibli excels as a mid-size performance machine, more growling jungle cat than sedate sports sedan. Of course, you pay the price in gas mileage for all that uniquely Italian exhilaration at just about 20mpg highway and so you’ll constantly be filling its 21-gallon tank. But that’s because you’ll be driving the hell out of this beautiful machine.


Quibbles about the Chrysler-borrowed interactive touch screen system, which probably controls too many facets of the interior functions, and seats that look great but are not actually that comfortable are put aside when you put your foot down on windy, uphill roads and the Ghibli really begins to shine. With exceptional power-to-weight distribution and road handling ability, especially if you opt for the pricey but telepathic Skyhook adaptive suspension, plus an ingenious system for electronically controlling the torque distribution between front and rear, the car seems to perform better the faster you go and the curvier the road. Chances are, it will have you singing like Pavarotti as you blaze your way up California’s Route 1 or New York’s Taconic. Control, power and finesse in a beautiful package that always turns heads, all at a price that won’t break the bank? Now that’s amore.


Road & Track’s positive review of the S Q4 is here.

Car and Driver’s rather less complimentary review is here.

And a video review from Hooniverse.com: