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HSR’s Bobby Rahal Historic Races 2007
at Autobahn Country Club

2007 Bobby Rahal Historic Races

Fashioned as a “members only” operation since its official opening in 2005, the 320–acre Autobahn Country Club (ACC) located in Joliet, Illinois, happily unlocked its gates to the gang of Historic Sportscar Racing, Ltd. (HSR) participants this past August 23–26. Designated the Bobby Rahal Historic Races, the inaugural outing presented by Napleton Porsche of Westmont (Illinois), not only represented the first invited sanctioning body to play on the Autobahn’s normally “closed–to–the–public” road course, but signaled ACC’s initial foray into the world of a limited–ticketed–spectator event as well.

Utilizing both the North and South individual courses, the welcomed HSR interlopers enjoyed the full 3.56–mile combined configuration. And while several drivers did voice their concerns regarding the track’s limited width and bumpy surface in spots, most did agree the race circuit was very challenging.

Penned by renowned racecourse designer, Alan Wilson, the Autobahn layout obviously included plenty of turns. Twenty–one, in fact, and knowing Wilson’s characteristic penchant for grand prix circuits, each turn was more than a sole act, but an incessant flow of nearly two dozen augmented twists (to make up for ACC’s natural, flat terrain) all working in concert together.

Scheduled was HSR’s familiar menu of scheduled group races: two Rolex Enduros; the Klub Sport Porsche Challenge; two Historic Stock Car races; and the Historic GTP/WSC/LMP, Big Open–wheel Single Seater (B.O.S.S) Formula Cup, and IMSA Bishop Cup series’ contests. Moreover, the eras of single–seat Can–Am cars (1977–1986) and Shelby Can–Am racecars (1989–1997) were celebrated, too. Honoring the event’s namesake, Rahal, and his successful Can–Am effort, Rick Bell was present racing his proverbial steed, the ex–Rahal 1979 Phophet Lola T333 which Rahal took to first place at Laguna Seca, and a pair of seconds at Trois–Rivieres and Riverside, all in ’79.

Unfortunately, our early Thursday arrival to get our feet wet in our new surroundings would literally be an understatement as our introduction to Joliet had us finishing our burgers and coffee mocha shakes in the fortified inners of the local Steak ’n Shake we were patronizing. It was only 6pm, and if the jet–black skies and grandiose lightning display didn't get our attention, the wail of tornado sirens assaulting our aural senses quickly did. Luckily, the twister threat eventually evaporated, but not the torrential rainfall and heavy wind gusts that continued through the night, soaking the track before tapering off early Friday morning. The damage was done, as only a handful of contestants tested the very treacherous and slick blacktop during their respective a.m. practice sessions.

With the sun now part of the late afternoon, the event’s first formal race, the Klub Sport Porsche Challenge, concluded the on-track activities. Fritz Seidel’s 911 took the green and never looked back for the win.

Disappointedly, the early forecast of severe weather forced organizers to cancel the planned Historic Race Car Show (and party) at the historic downtown “Jewel of Joliet,” Rialto Square Theater (circa 1926). With the food and drink relocated to the ACC’s clubhouse, we all enjoyed a Blues Brothers tribute band that belted out “Soul Man,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” and other songs originally performed by “Joliet” Jake E. Blues and Elwood J. Blues (initially portrayed by Saturday Night Live (SNL) icons, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, repectively).

With even more overnight rain and a wet track facing everyone once again, Saturday's track familiarization process continued, and ended with the first Rolex endurance race. Posting a fastest lap of 2:25.855, Ralph Thomas and Bob Woodman’s Lola B2K/40 outran a duo of Trans–Am Mustangs driven by Don Soenen and Paul Reisman.

Another social followed with competition director, Ken Fengler, presenting the “Workers Choice Award” (a signed checkered flag), to a well–deserving HSR veteran competitor, Larry Ligas.

The drying process continued as Sunday’s race schedule took center stage with many of the group’s grids thinned by attrition and other reasons. Still, racing commenced, winners crowned (check www.hsrrace.com for results), and most who hung in there, admittedly had a good time.

Witnessing firsthand the ACC’s plunge into the uncharted “public outing” territory, I have no problem forecasting that this basically untested “dance floor” surrounded by corn and soy fields will be vintage racing’s newest sandbox for years to come. With a present business model that includes the track’s rental availability for corporate and/or private events and parties, and future planned amenities to include a public car museum, banquet hall, condos, and much more, heck, the creation of these "members only" country club formats just might be the necessary factor that saves amateur road racing in this country. ......Walter Pietrowicz