MONTEREY, Calif. – As this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion came to a close Sunday, the highlight for IMSA fans was a panel discussion on the Prototype class with former drivers and engine builders.
A large crowd gathered in front of the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Paddock Stage to spend 45 minutes with these gentlemen as they entertain the fans with stories from past eras.
Here are some of the thoughts from the panel about their time around this class.
Tom Milner worked for Ford when the Prototype class first started and got the job because he lived in the United States at the time. What does he remember about their cars is simple.
“The cars had the most spectacular huge flames shoot out of the side and migrated around the car,” he said. The fans really loved that!”
Milner has been around IMSA since the beginning as he ran in the first race at Pocono in 1969.
“It’s amazing that IMSA has been around for 50 years and it is hard to imagine the first race was in 1969,” he said. “I was there. Mrs. (Peggy) Bishop gave me a check for $300 because we came in third and back then, that was a lot of money!”
Milner enjoyed a successful career and left the crowd with this thought. “As a sports car racer you want to win the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring and then you can retire,” he said. “I’m happy to say, I’m retired!”
Porsche’s Alwin Springer explained how they had to change the 962 Prototype before it could race.
“The 962s were different so we had to change the front axle,” he said. “The driver had their feet in front of the axel so we had to change the chassis so the 962 could race in IMSA and put their feet behind the front axle.”
Jerry Woods was an engine builder for Chevrolet and remembered how competitive the racing was in the class.
“There was a lot of innovation that could be done to the cars and the engines,” he said. “Learning about the Chevrolet motor was another animal. You had to respect the workers who built these engines.”
John Morton remembered his time in a Nissan.
“The Nissan era where the car wasn’t very unsuccessful, I wasn’t involved in that!” he said. “I only joined them after that, and it was a winner. “It was really cool to be driving the fastest car on the track and with the fastest driver Geoff Brabham.
“I ended up on the GTS team and won Sebring in 1994 and our class at Le Mans that year,” he added. “I had a good run with Nissan and Datsun as they were known then.”
Former driver Davy Jones recalled his win in 1986 with John Andretti in a BMW at Watkins Glen.
“The car, in the end, took a little bit to sort out,” he said. “There were a lot of little wrenches to figure out. When you ask a driver what their favorite race was, they usually answer with ‘the one I won.’ That is true with this one as I will always remember winning at The Glen.”
Parker Johnstone, who won three championships in an Acura in the 1990s, spoke about what he loved about the Porsche 962.
“The 962 is the easiest race car as I have ever driven,” he said. “The car has all this leeway that makes it a great endurance car.”
Jörg Bergmeister first started driving in Prototypes with Riley and Ford.
“Prototype racing was intense and wheel-to-wheel,” he said. “What I liked about the car is that I fit in it as being 6-4 and that was sometimes difficult. It was good fun and even better racing.”
Didier Theys is no stranger to winning the most iconic races. He is a two-time overall winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona and has also won at the Twelve Hours of Sebring. He is known for driving the Ferrari 333 SP.
“The horsepower the car had was a lot to put on the ground,” he said. “I enjoyed driving the Ferrari. The car was great to compete in and try to win a race. But when you see the engineers there, you feel the passion about it. Then you win, go to the factory and have the red carpet treatment – that was special.”