Racing cars are capricious creatures. Whether new or old, they have a mind and character of their own, which they often use to plot against their owners. A modern, state-of-the-art race car will work fine for practice and qualifying, but it somehow breaks down five minutes before a race. Vintage race cars, then, are even finer. Outdated technologies and engineering from the past can make it difficult to maintain and prepare for roadside service. I ran into someone who knows a thing or two about preparing vintage cars for racing while at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in Laguna Seca.
Malcolm Ross has been involved in motorsports all his life. The Ohio native has been involved in racing as a lifelong team owner, driver and fan. If he has wheels and a motor, he probably ran. His current stable of vintage race cars is extravagant: a 1965 Lotus 23B, a 1991 Jaguar XJR-16 GPT, and a 1985 factory Porsche 962c in Rothmans livery. And those are just the machines he took to Monterey Car Week. Several former Formula 1 cars are sitting idly at home ready for the track, including a Mansell-Berger 1989 Ferrari 640 and an Alonso 2007 Mclaren-Mercedes MP4.
Ross shared with me what it takes to get cars of this caliber ready for a race weekend. Specifically, he was curious about the Le Mans-winning Porsche 962c. Of course, I knew the answer all along—we all do. It takes money, time and patience.
“We actually started the restoration of the Porsche about a year or a year and a half ago,” Ross said. “We had to do a full rebuild on the Porsche engine, so the prep has been in the works for a while. On top of that we had to check everything to make sure everything was ok. We also checked the tub and chassis Breakables and consumables [tires, brake parts, other items that break easily] They’re also important to prepare for before a race.”
“Porsche Motorsport North America handles everything that has to do with engine rebuilds, so I can’t vouch for them if there have been any delays or issues, to be honest,” Ross added. “But it’s always been a challenge to find parts for these vintage race cars to some degree.”
Ross’s Porsche 962c chassis number 003 has a long history on the world stage, including in the biggest endurance race of them all. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1986 with Derek Bell, Hans-Joachim Stück and Al Holbert. The previous year he took a pole position at Le Mans, where he managed to finish third. The car ran until 1988 before being retired.
“I always do my best to exercise the car collection so I don’t have too many garage queens,” Ross said. “Cars always come and go depending on what is being prepared for what event. The process [of prepping] varies by car.
“There’s a certain amount of respect you have to have for the cars because at the end of the day they are old teams,” Ross said. “I like to push as best I can, but crossing the finish line first is not my main priority. If it happens, fine, but it’s a classic race. It’s about the car, not me.”
Although I was curious about the Porsche, I just had to ask Ross about the process of preparing his F1 cars for a track outing. Knowing how complex F1 cars are to maintain and operate, I thought even starting the engine of a privately owned sampler had to be a nightmare.
“We have two F1 cars, the ’89 Ferrari 640, which was the first year of the paddle shifters. The other car, the 2007 McLaren Alonso, ran 10 or 11 races that season, including nine podiums and two wins.” Ross said. “The Ferrari is not difficult to prepare for a race, I just don’t fit into it.” [too tall] so I don’t drive it that often. However, the McLaren is a task, it is not ideal. You have to get an engineer from McLaren and an engineer from Mercedes F1. I would like to be able to run it, but I have not found an event that motivates me so much. Maybe Road America.”
Because the F1 team in 2007 was technically McLaren-Mercedes, the overall mechanics of the car were handled primarily by McLaren, but the transmission by Mercedes. As a result, running the car required bringing in personnel from two different companies and probably from two different countries.
“You get a whole pack of guys from Mercedes and McLaren to start the car,” Ross said. “In F1 cars I’m not too consistent, I’m too big and I don’t fit in very well. I’d like to try a couple more times with Alonso’s car, but we usually spend a lot of time trying.” to make it fit there properly. But it’s an amazing car: 19,500 rpm. Is something”.
As I said earlier, a lot of this information isn’t exactly news. You have to have the funds and the knowledge if you want to play with the fancy toys. But it is one thing to have a relative idea, and another to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Maybe I no longer complain about spending a few bucks on a new set of kart tires.
It could be worse. I could be stuck on a flight with staff from Europe to help me start the engine, let alone go for a ride.
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