Perhaps the only thing more heavenly than hearing a cacophony of uncorked engines at full tear is actually witnessing a fleet of irreplaceable metal come screaming over the hills. The Rolex Motorsports Reunion is one of the highlights — possibly the highlight — of the Monterey Historics.
The Motorsports Reunion is a rare opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest race cars fulfilling their destinies. The rules state that only historic race cars that have seen battle at sanctioned events are eligible to put tire to tarmac. Thus, incredibly valuable machinery that should be sitting in a museum gets driven in a very angry manner. That the entire event takes place at one of the world’s great circuits, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, is simply icing on a very tasty cake.
Even a simple crawl around the paddocks is a feast for the senses. Spectators part like the Red Sea as racers rumble through the infield. Crews tinker away as cameras click. The smell of gasoline and hydrocarbons float into your nostrils. The sheer heat of the sun bakes you from above, and below, reflected off the asphalt. And then there’s the cars.
With this being a US event, Nissan’s early strength in American motorsports meant Datsuns made up a large portion of the Japanese cars.
Perhaps the most famous present was Bob Sharp Racing‘s Datsun 240Z, once driven by Paul Newman, underwent a fresh restoration a few years ago. It is currently owned by Dave Stone, who won the Rolex Award for Excellence for his piece of racing history. Considering there are multi-million dollar, 100-year-old Bugatti race cars around, this is quite an honor.
Nissan USA’s official entrant was the Le Mans-winning Z32, currently owned and maintained by Stillen Motorsports. In 1994 this very car won the IMSA GTS class of the famed 24-hour French enduro. Its identical sister car won the 24 Hours of Daytona, leading Nissan to capture the overall GTS championships that year.
The engine is based on the 3.0-liter V6 found in a street legal 300ZX, but built to a whopping 800hp fed by two massive turbos. Nissan brought Steve Millen and most of the original pit crew back together to run the car. It still wore its 20-year-old Le Mans entry sticker inside the cabin.
The AAR 1986 Toyota Celica competed in IMSA GTO and in a span of three years took seven first place finishes. It had little in common with the roadgoing Celica, which by then had switched to an FF or AWD layout. The race car was built to be RWD from the ground up in order to compete with Mustangs, Corvettes, Porsche 911s and Mazda RX-7s.
Furthermore, whereas the street legal Celicas were equipped with Toyota’s S-series motors, the race car employed a built 4T-GTE twin-cam, the same used in legendary Group B rally cars. The 2.1-liter inline-four made 600hp, propelling the 2,000lb car to 175 mph. After retirement, Toyota gifted the car to driver Chris Cord.
Mazda also showed up with some cars that should be familiar to long time readers of JNC, the IMSA GTO FC RX-7, 787 Le Mans sister car to the winning 787B, and the RX-792P.
We already saw how JNCs have made an impact on Monterey’s auction scene this year, but it was also the first year a couple of landmark JDM cars made their presence known at the Motorsports Reunion.
Jim Froula’s hakosuka Skyline, done up in the livery of Motoharu Kurosawa’s famous Works GT-R, is as far as we know the first C10 to ever race at this important event. It must be stated that this is not an actual Nissan Works GT-R, but a stunningly built replica with a stroked 3.1 L-series. To see it dicing it up with vintage Porsches, 240Zs, and Mustangs paints a beautiful picture of what could have been if Nissan had imported them to the US.
This year also saw the first ever Toyota Sports 800 to be invited to the Motorsports Reunion, according to Club4AG. The Dainichi yotahachi‘s owner, Mr. Tamaru, spent approximately $100,000 on restoring his car, and driving it at the Historics fulfilled a life long dream of his.
Another ex-Paul Newman car, the Bob Sharp Racing Z31 300ZX, is now owned by comedian Adam Carolla. The car underwent a full restoration and is featured prominently in Carolla’s upcoming Paul Newman documentary, Winning. We were invited to a small screening showing about 15 minutes of the film (Carolla’s team is still editing the final cut), but from what we saw the film looks to be a fantastic peek into the life of a man most know as an actor.
Behold, a race S13 that is not meant for dorifto. This Nissan 240SX hails from 1991, a good decade before most in the US knew about drifting. It was campaigned in the IMSA Camel GTU class by Leitzinger Racing, among others. Bob Leitzinger was the most successful of S13 racers, however, and the S13 won IMSA GTU’s manufacturer’s championships for four years straight starting in 1991. How does your drift missile like them apples?
This Datsun Roadster was built as a tribute to Floyd Link, part of the BRE crew in 1970. It is finished in the livery of the 1970 SCCA D Production class winning car of Jim Fitzgerald. Again, it must be pointed out that this is not the original, but a loosely based replica. The engine, a Rebello-built 2.0-liter unit, puts out an impressive 229hp in a chassis weighing just 1,880 lbs.
Beyond the Japanese marques, however, was a number of non-Japanese that might be of interest to JNC readers.
Ray Langston’s Porsche 962 raced only three times in the 1987 IMSA GTP season. Its red and black Yokohama livery should be familiar to any observer of Japanese motorsports, but in this case it was campaigned in the US and is paired rather nicely with fellow sponsor Coca-Cola. It never won a race, but the fact that it was actually raced in period qualifies it for the Motorsports Reunion.
The Nisseki Trust Porsche Typ 962 Group C racer’s claim to fame was winning the 1987 Norising World Sports Prototype Championship. After that, it was purchased for use in the Japan Sports Prototype Championships where it landed on the podium in several races but never achieved an outright win. Its livery colors are unmistakably late 80s Japanese, though it should be pointed out there are two identical cars with this livery — the original one with racing pedigree, which last sold for about $500,000, and a replica built from spare parts that last sold for $180,000.
Last but perhaps most important is the pink-on-white Porsche 935 K3 of Gozzy Kremer Racing. Though it blew a head gasket and could not finish at Le Mans in 1980, it is notable for the fact that one of its drivers at Sarthe was Tetsu Ikuzawa. Ikuzawa famously overtook a Porsche 904 with a Prince Skyline 2000GT at the 1964 Japan Grand Prix, a moment that many consider the dawn of the Skyline legend.
The infield at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a large place. One of the best ways to get around is by motorbike, and JNMs are a common sight. Unfortunately my two-wheeler knowledge is rather limited, so aside from the fact that the Honda Cub EZ90 looks like a barrel full of fun and the other Honda is achingly beautiful, I can’t tell you much more.
Lastly, we were able to catch Joel Anderson flogging a Datsun 240Z along the circuit’s infamous corkscrew. The car was recently restored to 1970s IMSA spec by our friends at Z Car Garage of San Jose. We’ll have an in-depth look at this Z in an upcoming story, but for now, memories of Monterey will have to suffice.
In case you missed it here are some other sights from Monterey: Part 01 — Bringing a Skyline GT-R to the NISMO booth, Part 02 — The Auctions, Toyota FT-1 Graphite debut.