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SVRA Zippo United States Vintage GP 2007
at Watkins Glen International

2007 Zippo Vintage GP

While the Sportscar Racing Association (SVRA) and its dedicated staff perform an excellent job of hosting many vintage auto races every year, the Zippo Vintage Grand Prix, undisputedly continues to be the top banana among the organizer’s arsenal of stellar productions. Clearly, holding this spectacular outing at one of the most historic (and surviving) road racing labyrinths in the country, Watkins Glen International (WGI), doesn’t hurt this must–see experience either.

To address the universal complaint regarding seat time, this year’s GP presented by Mike Stott/UBS, tested the waters as a four–day event (five days counting test day) this past September 6–9. However, analyzing all the merits of making this expanded edition the norm, Competition Director, Carl Jensen, casually indicated this probably would not be happening again anytime soon. So with the sun shinning, a packed house of entrants tightened their five–point harnesses and began their initial qualifying rounds on Friday, I mean Thursday.

Joining SVRA’s standard menu of 10 groups of Optima Batteries sprint races and two MotorCheck On–Site Analyzer lengthy enduro slugfests, the race weekend also featured BMWs and Pre–War machinery with their own races, and welcomed a slew of museum quality “Bugatti” art to battle in the 8th U.S. Bugatti Grand Prix Race for the New York Governor’s Cup. Of course, the 22nd annual SVRA Collier Brothers Memorial Trophy Race (or Collier Cup) for MGs was part of the advertised package, too.

Former IMSA Camel GTP, Formula One and endurance driver, Tom Watson, was honored as the weekend’s Grand Marshall. Veteran of numerous U.S. Grands Prix at Watkins Glen, he also teamed with Mike Hailwood to finish 5th OA at the Watkins Glen Six Hours of Endurance race in a John Wyer Gulf–Mirage Ford Cosworth in ’73. In 1986, he shared a BMW–GTP sled with David Hobbs.

With plenty of heated qualifying rounds and the event’s two formal protracted races taking center stage at WGI on Friday, the 15th annual Chemung Canal Trust Company Grand Prix “downtown” Festival once again offered an excellent detour from the blacktop action. Starting with the re–enactment of tech inspection at Smalley’s Garage (initial home of tech from ’49–’61), the daylong emporium of everything and anything automotive lining the entire length of the hamlet’s main artery and original GP straightaway, Franklin Street, concluded with the curb–hugging crowd favorite, 150 racecars having driven down from the track to circumnavigate the original 6.6–mile road course circa 1948.

Established in 1993 to pay tribute to the great drivers who have competed at the Glen since 1948, Oscar Koveleski, John Watson, Innes Ireland, and five others were this year’s “Drivers Walk of Fame” inductees, and their names were etched on individual granite markers embedded in the Franklin Street sidewalks.

What began as another exciting full day of more qualifying sessions and then qualifying races, Saturday deteriorated when rain and lightning were added to the mix later that day, forcing race officials to prematurely end the on–track activities. Fortunately, the moist conditions couldn’t quell the lure of food, a few brew–skees, and delightful camaraderie shared by the vintage auto racing gang, all courtesy of Syd Silverman and Vintage Motorsport magazine.

Awakening to more rain and a morning fog setting the stage of what would become a crowd–thinning theme throughout the day, Sunday’s scheduled races commenced despite the adverse environment. With Harry Gentry capturing the Group 1 spoils in the day’s initial contest, several other groups were lucky to take the checkered flag before the worsening weather forced the Group 5 race to end on lap four, ending the morning sessions. Driving maestro, Travis Engen took that victory.

With lunch served, digested and the balance of the planned race schedule adjusted to accommodate the presence of even more miserable and wet conditions, the contestants for the 8th Bugatti GP for the Governor’s Cup bravely took the green with nearly a full grid, followed by a diluted MG presence for the prestigious Collier Cup honors. The former shootout was won by Peter Giddings (1926 Bugatti Type 35B), while the latter “wet track” battle was won by John Targett (MGB). Obviously, Targett’s English blood felt quite at home in the wet!

The MG gang also doled out the following: Collier Cup – Bill Shields; Denver Cornett Jr. Trophy – John Targett; T Cup – Jeff Brown; Bucher-Decker Trophy – Joe Tierno; and the inaugural Bill Glanville Memorial Cup presented to Gregg Kuzuhowski by Bill’s widow, Suzanne.

The long race weekend and nature’s watery challenge resulted in a steady flow of entrants leaving early as the remaining feature races soldiered on with a minimal amount of warriors. Despite the premature migration and nature’s wrath, winners were crowned (please check SVRA’s website for a complete list), putting a period to the four–day experiment. ....Walter Pietrowicz