I’ve been researching the possibility of participating in a new endurance race for a few years now: the South African 9 hour. And with recent news of SRO adding a round in Africa to their Intercontinental GT Challenge, this may actually happen for me.
Like most other events SRO hitch their wagon to an established event, and the South African 9 hour has been run for years. While it’s not huge in it’s current form there is some variety like CN prototypes among GT3 field and other support classes. Kind of like the Gulf 12 hour in Abu Dhabi but more locally focussed. The California 8 hour was small too last year. But it was fairly exciting. News of Kyalami being bought and refurbished last year sort of hinted at bigger and better things to come. And this is pretty awesome.
While there’s no guarantees anything will actually materialize, it certainly gives me something to look forward to and plan out. The race won’t be until the end of the 2019 racing season, early November. Plenty of time to save up money with my new job, and request the time off I would need for the 16 hour flight from NYC to Johannesburg. Sign up for some rewards cards to optimize my hotel and airline redemptions. Research the MX5 Miata community to organize a meet. And maybe even plan a side trip to Madagascar or the Seychelles. Who knows? The possibilities are endless.
But for now I’m excited to see what pans out from this. I have participated in most SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge events, Spa 24 hours a few times. Bathurst 12 hours, Sepang 12 hour, California 8 hour at Laguna Seca… Suzuka has rejected me for my first event in Japan but I’m hopeful the South Africans would be more welcoming.
I’ll be writing the individual posts over the next few days so please stay tuned…
The trip went absolutely wonderfully. It’s been a while since the last event so I was well rested and enjoyed the experience very much. Instead of paying for a cheap flight I broke down and burned some frequent flyer miles to get to California. Which meant I could do some crazy routing to finally fly directly into Monterey. On the way over I used my Alaska miles that I got by converting Virgin America points (which Alaska bought out)… luckily two out of the three legs of the trip were actually on VX which was super enjoyable. I love their Airbus A320’s. I flew New York to San Francisco. Instead of getting off the plane and driving two hours, I spent the next four hours in the air over California. First taking another VX flight to San Diego where I connected to an Alaska Air operated by Horizon prop-plane Bombardier Q400 to fly back up to Monterey. My goal was to fly over Laguna Seca and take some shots, but 7:30pm this time of year meant complete darkness… so the only visual I have of the track is what I saw… it’ll stay in my mind instead of captured on a cell phone camera.
Car rentals at MRY weren’t cheap… as expected. But instead of paying $400-500’s for convenience I instead booked a car from Hertz Local Edition in Seaside (and Salinas as a backup)… it was only $162 which is a great deal for a two week rental. Got a Hyundai Accent which got a solid 33mpg! And because I’m so broke I tried not to do too many California road trips… ironically when I returned the car I had put 805 miles on it, which surprised me!
The two events at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca were fantastic!
I got a chance to get a ride in all versions of the NC Miata… the early years NC1 – my buddy Daniel from Gerogia who drove his 2008 all the way cross-country for this event. Then hopped into the same NC2 I drove around the track last year (the owner let me drive it again which was awesome!) And finally my host in Prunedale owns an awesome looking NC3 which I was lucky to ride in again. We met at the Miata’s at Laguna Seca event last year and him hosting me for the duration of the trip was probably the only thing that made this all possible.
I can’t say enough positive things about my Cali visit this year. It’ll probably be a while before I get a chance to go again, so I’m going to savor the memories and share them on this blog along with many pictures.
I’m really happy to say that the West Coast trip of 2017 has been booked. I had the privilege of participating in my first Miata’s at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca event last year followed by an exciting weekend of Pirelli World Challenge at the same facility, and this year I’m going to repeat the trip. Flights have been booked. Events registered for, the only thing left to do is find cheap accommodation.
First, I cashed in some airline miles to actually fly into Monterey (MRY) this time. No more flying to the Bay Area (SFO, OAK, SJC) and driving two hours. Instead I wanted to see the track from the air and there’s no better way than to fly into the Monterey Regional Airport which takes the final approach right over the circuit.
Second, I can’t wait to volunteer again with the organizers of Miata’s at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca event. It was such an amazing opportunity last year I couldn’t pass it up this year: https://www.miatasatmazdaraceway.com/
Third, PWC is going to be a blast because of a potential race that may actually take place this year. I may sound a little skeptical because the SRO advertised a US round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge a year ago at COTA with a proposed 6 hour race, which never happened, and now the California 8 hour enduro is on schedule but suspiciously very little information is available about it. At the very least I think the PWC event will take place, and last year it was great fun to volunteer it. But as a fan of endurance racing I want to see this California 8 hour race happen. More importantly I love the concept of teams flying in their talent… race car drivers, engineers, crew and renting local vehicles to compete instead of flying all that machinery in with them (from Europe, Asia, Australia, etc.) The concept is cool, there are certainly plenty of PWC and IMSA teams that wouldn’t mind making some money from rentals in this way, but will it actually happen? We’ll wait and see.
I will have a few days of downtime between events, so my goal (besides finding cheap accommodation) is to find something to do from Monday to Wednesday in early October. I’ve done road trips up to San Francisco and down to Saint Luis Obispo last year. This time I’d like to do something different.
PS. as an avgeek I used some of my recently converted Virgin America miles to book a flight with Alaska Airways whom have absorbed VX… lucky for me, I’ll still get to fly Virgin’s A320’s.. and the routing I booked is a little crazy. I’ll do JFK-SFO on a VX A320, connecting to SFO-SAN on a VX A320, my first flight into San Diego, for absolutely no other reason than to connect to a puddle jumper Bombardier Q400 on Horizon Air to do SAN-MRY. It’s going to be fun arriving Monterey on a little propeller plane. On the way back I’ll fly United Express Canadair CRJ-200 MRY-LAX, connecting to a red-eye transcon Boeing 757 on LAX-EWR route. So many dots and lines for my flight map thanks to frequent flyer miles.
Greetings from an amazing first day of the PWC at LRP.
I love this track.
I love this series.
I love this assignment.
This is my first time since last year working as a back-up starer for a pro event (or for any event period) and it just so happens that last year it was PWC at LRP as well.
Despite the wet weather and the alternating mist and light rain, the racing has been especially good. Only the PWC series are present though they are broken up in bits to make more racing happen. There’s the Sprint X headliner featuring GT (Pro-Pro), GTA (Pro-Am), GT Cup (Am-Am) and GTS (up and coming Pro’s)… the TC group grew so big with all the new BMW 235M’s that they get to race on their own… I think I counted over 30 cars, and it’s especially nice to see the familiar yellow Turner cars #95 & #96 re-join the series. TCA and TCB round out the support races with a pretty large field as well. Really neat to see this racing up close from the Starter stand. I love it! Didn’t take many pix, but the few I did I’d like to share:
And so my day went absolutely perfectly… I truly enjoy working Start and my PWC series colleagues were awesome to me. Despite the rain I thought the racing was very good. No stupid crashes. It was very competitive, very tight and mostly clean with minor incidents here and there (only a few full course cautions)… so I’m grateful for that. Lime Rock Park fed us at the end of the day and I was happy to spy a bunch of Mazda’s at the track including a Miata parade early in the morning and a few Mazdaspeed 3’s and 6’s in the camping area.
I decided not to tent it in the wet, and instead opted for the 2 hour and 100 mile trek home… which was fine in the evening, but I’m sure tomorrow morning I’ll be regretting it. Oh well… looking forward to another great day at the track!
What a way to end an amazing month in Europe by volunteering the best endurance race in the world: the Total 24 hours of Spa at Circuit Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
I was looking forward to Spa 24h for the whole year since I have worked last year’s event. This year the race did not disappoint. My Belgian or rather Flemish friend Pol was kind enough to chauffeur me around for the past few weeks, and Spa-Francorchamp visit was the last stop on our journey. The first order of business was to go to Spa city center for the driver’s parade and autograph session. To me that’s the most amazing thing the series does, instead of bringing spectators to the circuit they bring the cars and drivers to the people. It was super packed, as usual, and the cars were amazing.
At the track we were assigned Posts 11 and 12 at the exit of Double Gauche (Double Left) turns about in the middle of the course. It was a super active section of the track with the first red flag popping out as a result of a smash of Piquet Jr. into our station. We had a few more major crashes, several big fires. It was nuts.
My favorite part as always was making it out to the Pits to check out the cars up close and personal (even though I got very close in town also during the parade).
It was nice to finally see the new Mercedes-AMG SLS GT3’s which cheated during qualifying grabbing spots one to six… they were penalized and started from the back with a five minute penalty… the nice thing many of them still finished in the top ten at the end of the 24 hours.
I love this place… can’t wait to return to Spa-Francorchamps!
If there was one word to describe this race weekend it would be: VARIETY! There was excellent variety of cars in each class of the series. My station assignments gave me a good variety of action from different parts of the track. And there was a great variety of fellow marshals I got to work with as a corner captain. In this post I’ll share some of the experiences I had and some of my lessons learned.
First, the cars!
World Challenge Vision organization sanctioned by SCCA PRO has opened the field up to GT3 and GT4 cars from around the world (mostly Europe) to participate in the event, which really spiced up the field compared to previous years. I remember when the top battle in PWC was between the Cadillac’s and the Volvo’s. Not anymore! This time around there was an excellent representation of the best sports cars in the world right now. The GT3 field featured McLaren MP4-12C’s, Nissan GT-R’s, Audi R8 LM’s and LMS’s, Porsche 911’s and 911 R’s, new Cadillac’s, old BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, new Acura RL’s, Aston Martin’s, Bentley Continental GT’s, etc. And a very competitive field of Porsche 911 GT3-Cup cars. The GT4 field featured the whacky cars that haven’t been previously really visible stateside, like the KTM X-bow’s, SIN R1 GT4’s, Maserati Gran Turismo’s, a couple of older Lotus Evora’s, some relics of the past like Ford Mustang’s and Chevy Camaro’s, Aston Martin DB7’s, Ginetta G55’s, and others. Even the TC field was full of surprises. Turns out that with the introduction of the Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, the previous models had no place to go racing, so they ended up in both TC and TCA fields. Sporting a 2.5L motor and a big wing in TC and the standard 2.0 and the lip Mazdaspeed spoiler in TCA.
I loved all the variety!
I already mentioned all my awesome station assignments in my post card thread. But it was truly fantastic to work Turn 1 for the first race of the season in the TC/TCA/TCB class. To my great surprise we went through the whole thing without a full course yellow! Both of the TC/(A)/(B) events went off without safety car periods even when there were plenty of incidents and some amazing hard racing, but the more professional drivers in the GTS and GT/GTA/GT-Cup were far more messy and up to their usual tricks. I think we started more than one of the GT/(A)/(Cup) events with a full course on the first lap. There were some heavy hits too, especially in the GTS races and practices. Both Sin R1 GT4’s were taken out on stations within a my view from Turn 9. It was such a shame to see that, but by the same token it was hard racing.
And finally to the lessons learned. I was lucky enough to be the corner captain for all of my station assignments, which was great because it taught me how to better work with people especially those with less experience than me. It’s always a fine line to try to teach others to work to your expectations without offending someone or giving them information that is contrary to what they have had learned before. I had this sort of issue at Turn 1 and 9 where I let the guys make their mistakes during practice believing that by the time a race came around we’d be on the ball. But it surprised even me how mistakes were made that I was not anticipating. This included waving double-yellow flags like in Formula 1 where this series only relies on a single-yellow. Or debating whether a yellow should have been waved over green when a car spun just prior and directly across form our station (since I was on flags I waved green, but my rookie coworker suggested he’d wave yellow in that instance… and he would be wrong to do so (I have already blogged about a similar situation from the IMSA race at Watkins Glen last year)). All in all we were incredibly lucky to have stuff happen right in front of us. Plenty of spins, some of them quite dramatic. Some light contacts between cars and smashes into the barrier, etc. I think we all walked away from this weekend with a little more experience than we started with, which is an excellent opportunity! I don’t think anyone was bored the entire weekend.
And so it was a great start to my American racing calendar. I’m really grateful to everyone that made my experience an outstanding one. And of course I’m very much looking forward to more of the same (excitement) starting with my next trip tomorrow when I’ll be driving down to Florida for two back to back Pro events: Grand Prix of St. Pete and Sebring 12 hour. Wish me luck!
PS. It would have been even more variety if the Intercontinental GT Challenge had made it’s scheduled debut this weekend. However, even though it never materialized it was neat to see Mr. SRO himself wandering around the paddock… yep, I saw Stéphane Ratel at CoTA!
Hey remember that new Intercontinental GT Challenge series?
After volunteering Spa 24 hour in Belgium I’ve been obsessing about all things SRO, for a variety of reasons. One of the better ones being the quality of race cars participating in their events. This was true at Sepang 12 hour a few months ago, another event SRO decided to work together with SIC to put together and bring to the world. The SRO partnership with V8 Supercars, the new owners of Australian GT that runs the Bathurst 12 hour race around Mount Panorama was officially the season opener of the new series.
The event didn’t disappoint.
While the fields were smaller than the previous few years, the quality of racing improved in my opinion. There were fewer incidents including major ones at the top of the mountain like last year’s massive Nissan GT-R impact. The few incidents that did occur were relatively minor and many of them happened to happen right in front of me at Post 23, the very last corner before the main straight. I was so lucky to be assigned this spot, words can’t describe. The race set several records, including the fastest time for a GT3 car as well as the most laps done in 12 hours with fewer safety car periods compared to previous years.
Another lucky thing for me was the fact that a Kiwi driver took the victory in a Kiwi car: Shane Van Gisbergen driving the #59 McLaren. Coincidentally the next stop on my road trip was New Zealand.
The views from my post were absolutely awesome, both looking upstream and downstream. Though I did find myself having a lot of trouble with the Blue flag. More than once I managed to blue flag the wrong cars and that pissed me off, especially since I thought I knew these cars pretty well. Luckily we had the positioning tower directly across from us in pit lane, so after kicking myself with the first few mistakes I would glance over at the tower to see what order the cars should be running in and if the two were close enough I went ahead and blue flagged for the leaders.
The other disappointment wasn’t so much in the race as with the organizers. V8 Supercars decided not to allow the groups of owners holding a car show on the outside of the track to do a parade lap during the lunch break like they did in previous years. Instead they gave all the track time to a few Ferrari owners that for some unknown reasons thought they were race car drivers. I saw one guy wearing bright red racing gloves in his new Ferrari 488, while also wearing a short sleeve shirt. It was a bit upsetting to me personally because I was eagerly looking forward to jumping into one of the many MX-5’s that showed up to the event specifically with the understanding they were going to do a parade lap, a lap that never happened. Go figure!
Luckily there was a lot going on trackside to let me get over the missed opportunity of riding shotgun in an MX-5 around Mount Panorama. Besides a few spins and beached cars in our sand trap we had a few side to side, metal to metal contacts occur. As well as an exploded engine that happened just before the post as the car proceeded to cruise into our runoff. It was something else really, watching an old V8 Supercars Marlboro livery Holden Commodore blow an engine and a massive fireball coming around the car from the bottom of the front end. It was pretty amazing, something I haven’t seen happen so closely and vividly before.
The true highlight of the event for me was the people I had the pleasure of spending the time with. The team I was paired with at Post 23 was pretty amazing. Our post chief was really down to earth, positive and helpful. When I talked to him about my Gout flare up, he was very understanding. As was the rest of the team. Our communicator Dave runs a Mazda related web site called OZMazda which was cool. And a young girl from Queensland marshaling at Bathurst with her father who was posted at the next station gave me a hand with a bunch of incident reports I had to write as many of them happened on my watch while holding the radio in our rotation. Which by the way was actually an old American landline system using the same exact box we use at most street circuits including Long Beach, Baltimore and Belle Isle. The hum coming out of the headset was unmistakable.
Huge thanks to my friend Paul Kelly from Victoria for organizing my sleeping arrangements at Bathurst by not only providing a tent, sleeping bag and pillows, but also setting it all up for me and helping tear it down in the end. That was such a huge help! Also big thanks to Paul for driving me and the rest of our group to town every evening after track activities were over, all these delicious meals we had were thanks to his initiative to get us some real food (off track).
I got lucky on so many levels working this year’s Bathurst 12 hour. The weather was amazing, it started out a little cool but towards the end of the week I was frying in direct sunlight, it was literally burning thru my jeans. The post assignment was perfect. The team I worked with was super. And all the friends I got to catch up with over the four day visit really makes me miss the whole experience already, can’t wait to return to Australia again… hopefully next time I’ll get to do something completely new like one of the street races around Gold Coast… hmm!
Another trip of a lifetime is in the books! Although I shouldn’t call it “lifetime” because I know sooner or later I’ll be departing on other one. In fact with an amazing trip of a lifetime just a few months ago to Southeast Asia, I would call this the trip of the year, or at the very least trip of the month: February 2016!
This post will be a brief overview: a debrief, of the trip overall followed by a number of specific posts about the individual events I’ve marshaled, the experiences I had hanging out with the local MX5 clubs and catching some sun in some very exotic places as part of the vacation that tied this trip together. I had such a blast!
To start, I flew to Australia via Hawai’i. And unlike my first visit there a few years ago after Korean Grand Prix, I decided to get off the plane at Honolulu and actually spend the night in Waikiki Beach. The Polynesian theme for the rest of the trip truly began there. Besides enjoying an amazing sunset that I shared with a few folks at home via Facetime, I got to experience some of the local cuisine just outside of the touristy area. I loved it!
Of course an overnight stay in Paradise wasn’t enough, at all! But it was just a start to my South Pacific adventure. I’m kind of glad I broke the trip in half because some of these longer flights of 10+ hours have started getting to me, tiring me out completely. This time I was travelling with an extra handicap I hadn’t encountered on previous trips. I had a flare up of Gout Arthritis just a few days before leaving and my right foot was in terrible pain, something akin to walking on glass. The pain wouldn’t really go away for the entire trip but since I couldn’t do much about it I just learned to live with it.
Next stop: Sydney! The flight arrived in the early evening and after a quick clearance at Immigration I headed to the CBD to get some sleep before heading out for Bathurst early the next morning. Like Waikiki I decided to stay in a hostel near Central station for convenience and it worked out really well for me.
In the morning I managed to arrange a lift with someone from the MX-5 community in Sydney. It’s really nice to see how close the Miata community is to Motorsport and specifically marshaling. The lady who’s car I got to check out on my first day in Australia volunteers as a Steward while her son is a flag marshal, who was kind enough to let me tag along for the two hour drive to Mount Panorama. While I could have taken the train all the way to town, I found it far more interesting to have some company along the way. It was especially interesting when we were on the hunt for Meat Pies for lunch while passing through Lithgow. That’s where I spotted something I really wanted to see on my trip, a Miata trailer. The owner drove past us as we parked up near the bakery and while he was stopped on a red light I tried to snap a fuzzy shot of his car.
I will talk about my experiences at Bathurst 12 hour and Mount Panorama in a separate post but suffice to say it was an interesting experience. While it wasn’t my first visit there, it was definitely a little different from before. For the first time I camped right at the track. A fellow Aussie marshal Paul from Victoria was kind enough to supply me with a comfortable tent, some pillows and a sleeping bag, which helped a lot so I didn’t have to drag all that stuff with me. Not only that he was our designated driver taking a whole group of us out to dinner in town every night, which was fantastic. It was the first time I consistently stuffed my face with proper Australian food including roast lamb and a variety of other local pub dishes.
After the event I headed back to Sydney for a few more nights in a CBD hostel. I had a few things planned but the stay was way too short. Luckily I did manage to squeeze in a lunch at Bondi Beach which I was really looking forward to as well as a nice MX-5 cruise from Kirribilli to Balmoral Beach with a meeting spot just under the Sydney Harbour Bridge which was pretty spectacular. So many cars showed up! I was pleasantly surprised and very humbled to see so many owners give up their weeknight for a little cruise along the Northern Sydney suburbs for some fish and chips. Again I will write more about it later but I can’t express my gratitude enough to have had this opportunity!
Next stop: Auckland! A short hop and skip over the ditch (as they refer to the Tasman Sea) and I was in New Zealand. The flight arrived after midnight and I was off to my hostel in the CBD. Early next morning another MX-5 meetup awaited me, and after a short 4 hour sleep I was in a beautiful JDM-import Roadster heading to Papakura for my next adventure which I’ll describe in it’s own post. In a way it was another Fish & Chips run but this one lasted for over 300km visiting some scenic and twisty roads across the entire Northern Island from West (Waihu) to East (Coromandel Peninsula).
As if this incredible two car road trip (as I jumped out from one car to the other at every stop we made), couldn’t get any better – it did! The day ended on a boat in Auckland Harbour where we had a nice dinner joining another MX-5 owner while he and his family celebrated the mum’s birthday. This was my first time on the water on the North Island something I was putting away until later while living in Auckland and never actually following through with, until now. It was really amazing.
Believe it or not I actually got to marshal while in New Zealand. It was only a one day meeting for Auckland Car Club at Hampton Downs but I certainly got my money’s worth with plenty of spins and spills on Turn 2 where I was lucky enough to work. It was such a good pleasure to catch up with a bunch of people whom I started my marshaling with while living in New Zealand a few years ago. And it was nice to see the improvements done and are currently ongoing to Hampton Downs under Tony Quinn’s ownership.
Besides Hampton Downs, Anna Scott – who hosted me for the weekend, took me to Pukekohe Raceway Park and showed me the improvements done there after Aussie V8 Supercars moved to their event there from the streets of Hamilton. I had such an incredible time I’ll have to write more about it in another post.
Although I had already spent two weeks on the road which seemed to have gone by in a flash, I still had one more exotic stop on this incredible journey: Rarotonga in the Cook Islands! I was really looking forward to this visit because it was something I planned to do while living in New Zealand back in 2012. Now the dream came true. I didn’t know what to expect but the reality surprised me in a very pleasant way. The tiny island of Rarotonga was very clean, friendly and welcoming for my visit. The resort I booked (my first stay in a proper hotel on this trip after all the hostels in Hawaii, Sydney and Auckland I decided to splurge and pamper myself) was fantastic. I got to tour the island, sample some delicious Polynesian food and completely relax on the pristine beaches with baby blue water crashing over the corals just off shore. What an experience!
The trip home at the end of this vacation took me back through Auckland where I was a total zombie while shopping for souvenirs to take home. Luckily I was able to meet up with friends for lunch and dinner and that kept me awake long enough for some much needed sleep on my 11 hour flight back to LAX.
Huge thanks to all the people that helped me along on this trip. I couldn’t have done this without you!
Two things are inevitable in Motorsport: excitement and disappointment. Unfortunately after the excitement of finding out that the SRO would debut at the Circuit of the Americas this year with the Six hours of the Americas, disappointment followed learning the news that their appearance was cancelled.
Officially the SRO says the event has been postponed until October of 2017 but with the lack of information made available leading up to the March 2016 event, I highly doubt there will be anything to look forward to two Octobers from now.
I am disappointed, especially after booking my flights specifically to see the Intercontinental GT Challenge on American soil after experiencing it in Malaysia for the Sepang 12h and Australia for the Bathurst 12h. But the good news the SCCA-PRO: Pirelli World Challenge is a decent show to experience. I have had the pleasure of working a race with PWC at COTA during the Australian V8 Supercars visits to America a few years back, and I’m looking forward to seeing PWC succeed on its own.
Another invitation to return to the Circuit of the Americas this season, this time for the Pirelli World Challenge which plays a support race to the brand new format from the SRO: the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Sounds familiar? It should be. SRO is going head to head with WEC creating a global endurance series championship including Sepang 12 hour which I just did in Malaysia and Bathurst 12 hour which I’ll be going to Australia for in February.
The COTA event is definitely on my to-do list!
Here’s the invite e-mail from Brent McNaul, Lone Star SCCA flag chief:
Happy New Year everyone, entering a new racing season. Pirelli World Challenge is returning for a 4 day run at Circuit of the Americas, Thurs thru Sun March 3rd-6th (Thurs is a test day). They’re running all their classes again making 3 race groups (GT/GTA/GT Cup, GTS, and TC/TCA/TCB).
And there’s a very special addition this year, making the 4th race group… A new racing word for us this year, and it’s a special one… Blancpain. It gets better. NIGHT RACING. The SRO Blancpain GT Endurance series from Europe have their inaugural US debut on Satwith a 6 hr enduro, and it runs well past sundown Sat evening until 9:15pm.
Cadillac, Ferrari, McLaren, Maserati, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and many other manufacturers, plenty of top Pro sports car racing. Add it to your calendar and make plans to join us if you can.