There are times when even a serious car guy needs a little nudge to get up early and head out in the dark to cover a motorsports event. So, we’re happy to report that our Jim Palam saw the light, set his alarm and got the story for us! Here’s his coverage of the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival, where legendary cars, drivers and fans soaked up the sun and racing fuel at Laguna Seca!
Velocity is a vector quantity that refers to “the rate at which an object changes its position.” Turns out, that’s a good thing because it was “Velocity” that made me change my mind at the last minute and agree to go cover Saturday events at the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Even though I was looking forward to doing nothing that weekend, there I was at 5:30 AM riding shotgun in my neighbor John Adams’ ’16 Shelby GT350 Mustang heading north, in the dark, in the fog.
John races vintage sports cars in VARA events, so the road trip conversation was rapid, illuminating, and pretty much all about fast cars. Before I knew it, we were already in the paddock and talking to John’s friend Bob Kullas who was racing his Chevron B-16 later in the day. Bob’s Chevron, right, last of the 23-built, weighs about 1,300 pounds and gets 260 horsepower from its Cosworth 2 L YBM motor.
It was now 9:00 AM, the weather couldn’t have been any nicer and the entirety of the raceway was beginning to fire-up. Attendance was strong but not as packed as the bigger Laguna Seca events, so there was easier access to festival offerings like wine tastings, supercar demonstration rides and panel discussions – but Bob & I were here for the cars – the fast cars. Since I was on-assignment and headed trackside, we went off on our own adventures for the day. We would re-connect later in the day with big grins on our faces and new stories to tell.
Kudos to the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival event organizer Jeff O’Neill and his hard-working team for making this three-day motorsport festival a world-class event that would please both drivers and spectators. There were 9 race groups, a Ragtime Racers special exhibition group and a special night race pitting 20 spunky Minis up against six mighty Mustangs. If they launch this festival again in 2022 be sure to vector your velocity and set the direction to Laguna Seca.
One of Saturday’s highlights for me was spending some time with the Porsche 917 when the Canepa Team fired it up in the Porsche exhibition area. I then made it over to the Cooper Tire bridge and positioned myself trackside for this shot of Car # 2, lead photo, top, as it accelerated hard coming out of turn No. 4. So, does its powerful Flat-12 motor sing? Just think Metallica meets Pavarotti: it’s loud and delicious ear candy!
One of many spectacular cars I discovered at this awesome event was the Czinger 21C, arguably one of the most technologically-advanced Hypercars produced. Designed and built in Los Angeles by human and AI systems, its flat-plane crank V8 and e-motors deliver a peak output of 1,250 horsepower. To learn more, go to https://www.czinger.com
“At this time there is nothing in the world any quicker, any better handling, any more advanced technically, or any more fun to drive. It is, to me, the perfect race car,” said Mark Donohue, discussing the integrated perfection of the Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder in 1973. The car was so powerful and dominant that it forced officials to change the rules for the Can-Am Series back in the 1970s. Here’s the blue and yellow legend charging through Turn 4 during one of the many Velocity exhibition races.
One of the big draws to the Velocity Invitational was the promise of special exhibitions from famous race teams, like McLaren Racing and its Formula 1 racecars. I made the mistake of stopping by their tidy and well-appointed garage to grab this shot of the ear-splitting McLaren MP4/13. This is the car that Mika Häkkinen, The Flying Finn, piloted to win the Australian Grand Prix in 1998. My mistake was not wearing ear plugs!
Another legendary McLaren on display and on the track at the was the Lewis Hamilton driven, slope-nosed McLaren MP4-27. I caught it roaring out of Turn 3 on Saturday morning. MP4-27 was also driven by Jenson Button and made its racing debut at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix.
I had just positioned myself behind the Start/Finish line K-rail at Laguna Seca when I caught a flash of red coming up behind me on pit row. It’s not often you see a Concours quality Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta on the race course – particularly one without a racing number. If you crash your 250 GT, you’ll be looking at $9M and up to replace it – if you’re lucky enough to find one. Part of the beauty of the Invitational was the inclusion of historically significant race cars and priceless collector cars like this perfect 250 GT.
Not to be outdone by McLaren, Porsche also made a big splash with a large and impressive presentation of some of its iconic racecars – including the L&M ‘72 Porsche 917/10-003, driven by George Follmer to win the 1972 Can-Am championship. In this twin-turbo 12 cylinder Can-Am screamer, George won at Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. One of the goals of this car was to promote Porsche Audi dealerships in North America.
This beautiful ’57 Porsche 356A raced Southern California & Arizona SCCA E/Production in the late-1960s and through the 1980s. It also competed in the Benson Arizona Hill Climb and numerous rallies. The car was restored for vintage racing by Mike McNally in 2003 and later sold to Paul Frame in 2008 who continues to crank the car’s 1,620-cc, 4-cylinder motor to high revs in Western States vintage racing events.
If you just looked at the curved nose, or should we say “beak” of this iconic Indy car you might be able to guess that it’s a vintage Eagle. Indy fans would recognize that this is Dan Gurney’s famous 1966 Indianapolis Eagle. This was his first Eagle (chassis #20), originally fitted with a 255-inch Ford V8 and was an AAR (All American Racers) entry at the 1966 Indy 500.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about 190 mph Superbikes on America’s greatest racing courses? If you’re thinking tall and thin Supermodels holding big umbrellas you’d be partially right! MotoAmerica brought their leggy showmanship plus eight of their top riders to the Velocity Invitational to put on exhibitions of racing skills and paddock area panache. Its racers blasted the 2.238-mile Laguna Seca course on powerful Superbikes and high-performance V-Twin Baggers.
Four-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes is on the outside on P1 as he leads MotoAmerica teammates Bobby Fong on P2 and David Anthony on P3 in a knee-scraping charge coming out of Turn 10 during Saturday’s exhibition race.
This extremely rare ‘51 Lancia B20-GT Competition ‘low-roof’ racecar was driven by Felice Bonetto in the 1951 and 1952 La Carrera Panamericana, which had the unfortunate distinction as the most dangerous and deadly race in the world. I’m guessing the hub caps would have been removed from Car No. 91 for racing, but they added just the right touch of sparkle as it motored politely through the paddock area Saturday morning.
This McLaren Senna GTR in custom Gulf livery was just one of the audacious cars one could discover at Velocity. Its Neon Orange wheels are reminiscent of the McLaren Special Operations team’s Super Series 675LT livery. Early Velocity Invitational marketing efforts hinted at lots of flamboyance from event partner McLaren – including their historic McLaren F1 race cars and a chance for some lucky fans to strap in and experience the ‘98 MP4/98T two-seat Formula 1 demonstration car for a thrilling ride around the circuit.
The Shelby Daytona Coupe was the brainchild of designer Peter Brock and only six were ever built. It’s not only their rarity but their place in American racing history that makes the chance of owning one slim to none – unless you’re the son of Walmart founder, Sam Walton. This is Rob Walton’s ‘65 Shelby Daytona Coupe, the same $15-million racecar he crashed in 2012. Deep pockets and a love of racing has kept this Weber-carbed, 289-powered icon on the track and in the public eye for years.
I captured this resting shot of a genuine, factory-built 914/6 GT early Saturday morning before the paddock area began to buzz with activity. One of only 16 customer cars for 1970, this racing legend was sold new to French-Canadian automotive journalist and racing driver, Jacques Duval. It was first raced at the 24 Hours of Daytona by Duval and co-drivers Bob Bailey and George Nicholas. In 2020 this racing “Teener” sold for $1M at the Gooding Auction and it’s still being raced.
It has seating for three, electrochromatic glass that darkens at the touch of a button, a carbon fiber monocoque chassis, a 4.0-liter V8 Twin-Turbo with electric motor, and a claimed top-speed of 250.4 mph. It’s the drop-dead gorgeous McLaren Speedtail that was introduced in 2018 in a very limited edition of just over 100 cars. Ironically, it is not street legal in the United States due in part to its lack of side mirrors and no side-mounted airbags. And yet, 35% of the Speedtails built were sold to U.S. customers!
The “Ragtime Racers” are an exhibition group for pre-1920 race cars. They travel to various events across the U.S. and Canada. While they may not have been the fastest cars at the Velocity Invitational, they certainly were among the most popular. Fans in the paddock area applauded as the well-rehearsed, white-coverall-clad pit crews climbed in and around, over and under their behemoth speed machines prior-to and after races.
It was approximately 1:30 PM on Saturday and I was tucked behind the K-Rails near Turn 4 waiting for the Porsche 914 Exhibition Laps when I heard what sounded like a whining lawn mower heading my way. That’s when I spotted them, go-kart size single-seaters that had been hand-made to look like 1920s and 1930s racecars. I was up-close and trackside for the Cyclekart Grand Prix! I couldn’t stop smiling as I grabbed some action shots and realized that while Velocity is the rate at which an object changes its position, that motion can sometimes be relaxed – and a whole bunch of fun!
Words & Photos © Jim Palam @ https://www.jimpalamphotos.com/
For more information about the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival, please visit https://velocityinvitational.com/