2010 Vintage Volvo Challenge

Sears Point Infineon Race Course, 2010 Vintage Volvo Challenge

Sears Point - Infineon Raceway
April 9 to 11, 2010

From our May 2010 Newletter

This great event was organized by Alan Berry who lives near San Diego, California, and Vintage races a very nice and very fast 64 PV544 (numbered 544 on the door). Alan bought the race car 2 ½ years ago and it is the first Volvo of any kind that Alan has owned. He chose it he has fond memories of the 544 series, from the time when he was growing up in Vancouver, BC. Prior to the 544 Alan raced a mini Cooper, but found it too expensive to operate. Something was always breaking and it would wear out a set of front tires in a single race weekend. Racing the PV544 has been a pleasure and the costs have been far lower. Last year he got the idea to organize this Volvo only race. He set about compiling email addresses for every Volvo racer that he could find in North America. Next he found a race event that would accept a Volvo only grid within an existing Vintage Race weekend program. Initially he considered Laguna Seca raceway but finally decided on the Sears Point event. With a great deal of persistence and good organization he had 20 confirmed Volvo racers lined up to attend and in the end there were 15 Volvo powered racers on the track.

Alan Berry
Allan Berry, race organiser, with 544

I was able to attend the race because Rose and I were holidaying in San Diego and that time and we could drive up and act as pit crew for Gil Stuart. Gil had hauled his PV444 all the way from Nanaimo to Palm Springs for a holiday and back to San Francisco for the race.

Driving from San Diego to San Francisco seemed simple enough. The plan was to start from San Diego on a Wednesday morning on a route that called for a short jaunt North on I5, then onto secondary freeway I405 heading coastward, and finally onto 101. 101 is the coast highway and we thought it would be a nice secondary road that would take us North towards San Francisco. Seemed simple. Not bloody likely. I5 was a gazillion lanes in each direction, all moving very fast in morning rush hour. 405 was much the same thing, but their nod to being a secondary freeway, was to make the lanes narrower. It was a bit like passing through a funnel, the narrower the lanes the faster the traffic went. I thought I had planned for all this. My trusty 122S was equipped with a 4:10 differential and overdrive to make it “freeway friendly”, with 70 mph coming up at 3150 rpm and 80 mph at about 3500 rpm. What I had not factored in were the marauding herds of large SUV’s that frequent these freeways. I could not figure out what motivated the beady eyed automons that pilot these urban assault vehicles. It finally dawned on me that to them, any car that is old, must be slow, and consequently belongs behind them, regardless of what speed it is travelling. This made for a terrifying trip.

Please find a selection of photos throughout the article and links to larger versions of all photos at the bottom of this page. Photos coutesy of Gregg Morris.

By noon we had finally been flushed through the LA basin on 405 and we stopped in Oxnard for a well deserved collapse. After 4 hours of freeway madness, my mind was jelly and I would have happily given up and gone back to San Diego if it were not for the fact that I would have had to drive back though the same madness, and that wasn’t going to happen. It had to get better, and it did. Hwy 101 was still a freeway but less frenetic and passed through picturesque coastal communities like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obisbo. We finally stopped for the day at Pismo Beach, exactly half way to San Francisco. This a very long state. We stayed at the “Cottages” hotel and it was just beautiful, located high overlooking the Pacfic surf. After a walk and a glass of wine the trials of the 250 mile day washed away and we were able to enjoy this beautiful part of California.

Gil Stuart with his 444.
Gil Stuart with his 444.

On day 2 we continued on our way north to San Francisco. Instead of continuing north on Hwy 101 we took the famous coast Highway 1. This road is heaven for a car guy. When the car magazines test cars in California this is often the road they choose to drive and photograph. It is like connecting 4 Duffy Lake Roads end to end and throwing incredible coastal scenery into the bargain. At the North end of Highway 1 we entered the “Bay Area” and trusted our GPS to find a way through San Jose and San Francisco to our hotel near Sear’s Point Raceway. What followed was an intricate series of freeway and City streets that finally had us crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in rush hour, reaching the Novato Oaks Best Western Hotel in late afternoon. We were not the only ones to come to San Francisco to support Gil Stuart’s racing effort. Dave McAree and his son Michael, drove Mike’s new Jetta Turbo Diesel from Langley, BC and of course got obscenely great gas mileage compared to my old Volvo. Mike Maur from Lake Chelan, and Terry Erickson from Seattle made the trip in Mike’s new-old 1800ES. We all enjoyed supper together in the California sunshine. Tomorrow would be racing.

Infineon Raceway Map
Inineon Raceway

On Friday morning April 9th, Rose and I headed to the Sears Point, (now called Infineon Raceway) for the first day of practice. The track was reasonably close to the hotel so I decided I didn’t need the GPS to find it. Who knew that if you took one wrong turn, it would mean travelling 12 miles across a giant marsh on a divided highway with no turn arounds. We weren’t early.

The weekend event that Alan Berry had chosen to join, was the season opener for the CSRG, (Classic Sports Racing Group). The event was actually celebrating 100 years of Alfa Romeo and there were lots and lots and lots of Alfas of every model and year, over 60 race cars and tons of spectator cars. There were also an amazing collection of other vintage race cars such as Elvas, Ginetas, Jaguars, Porches, Triumph, MG, sports racers, and Formula cars and even a chain drive Honda S800. What Alan had negotiated with the organizers was a Volvo-only practice session and Race on both Saturday and on Sunday and that the Volvos could race in the multi-marque grids as well. This meant that Volvo vintage racers could potentially be out on the track 4 times each day. That is a lot of track time.

Amphitheatre grandstands.
Amphitheatre grandstands.

What a beautiful track. It is 2.52 miles long and set in green (in spring) grassy hills. The track has huge changes in elevation and lots of corners, off camber, blind and otherwise. The track facilities are like a 5-star hotel. Not a port-a-potty to be seen. There is a giant galvanized steel and aluminum grandstand near the start finish line and other huge amphitheatre-like seating galleries set into the hillsides. Sitting in these you half expected to see lions eating Christians rather vintage Volvos chasing Vintage Volvos.
To Quote Gil Stuart after his first practice session. “I have already received my money’s worth, and the pucker factor is way up there.” That is saying a lot given Gil’s Scots ancestry. After the start finish straight there is a really steep up hill run with a flat top and an immediate hard right. Gil says he crested the hill too fast and found that the PV444 under-steered badly while airborne and oversteered like hell when it hit the ground, (on the two outside wheels). Hang in there baby. Fortunately it settled on all four wheels instead of the driver’s door handle. That was followed by a series of blind curves and hugely increased pulse rate. This track could take some practice. There is not just one blind curve, there are a bunch of them and they all do something different at the blind exit. You better not forget what curve you are at.

Fiat Topolino
Fiat Topolino

A quick tally of participants noted, 2 120s, 4 1800s, 2 142s, a 444 and 544, and two Marcos and a Volvo-powered Byers Special, and a couple of Saabs. One of the Saabs was a 1966 96 2-stroke that sounded like a demented outboard and the other was a very quick Sonnet. More cars are due or the first race-day, Saturday. Cars were coming from far and wide. Gil was the only Canadian, but there were cars from California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and one intrepid father son team from New York State.
I spent some time walking the paddock observing the selection and quality of the other (non-Volvo) race cars in attendance. They were amazing. A few I could remember seeing at the Seattle Vintage races, but most were new to me and there were a lot of them. There was one car huddled in the paddock that really caught my attention. It was not a racer, it was a neat looking little black coupe. It looked vaguely familiar, but I could not identify it. After I had made a number of laps around the little car, searching for a clue to its identity, someone took pity on me and explained the car. It was a Fiat Topolino, tastefully lengthened in the front to accept an MG front suspension and, would you believe, a Volvo B16 engine. He reluctantly showed me the engine but would not let me photograph it because it was not up to the appearance standards set by its wealthy owner. Looked fine to me. This must be one fast little mouse.

Saturday was the first day of racing. The cars had an opportunity for 4 track sessions today. Each was 20 or 30 minutes and with this technically demanding track these guys have to be fit. All the cars and drivers were here now. John Parker from New York State had arrived late Friday night and was found sleeping in his truck at the gate when the track opened on Saturday Morning. John and his son had driven virtually non-stop from New York to attend the event. Apparently a week before they left, the race car engine, transmission and diff were apart and not in the car. It was an extraordinary effort to assemble the car and drive across the continent to attend this event.

Infineon Raceway MapInfineon Raceway MapInfineon Raceway Map
Track Paddock

All the drivers were interesting characters. I tried to talk to as many as I could. Billy Rynhardt from Salt Lake city brought a 63 122 race car that had been a racer from day one. It was one of Volvo’s competition cars sent to the States for the early Sebring races. Ole Anderson, drove a Volvo powered Byers special that was unearthed, restored and driven very well by Ole. He is 78. Most of the cars at the raceway were in nicer cosmetic condition than they would have been in their original race days. John Voss’s car was the exception and all the better for it. Road warrior Volvos are legendary. John had campaigned his 122 2dr in this years famous Mexican Road race the Carrera Pan Americana, a brutal and exhilarating race that commemorates the construction of the road from Panama to the US border. The paint on John’s 122 was dull and there was lots of rough body work, but it came from 85th to finish 26th in Mexico and leant a nice dose of reality to this Vintage event. Everyone who attended deserves mention here but there is not room.
The weather deteriorated a bit on Saturday. It was a variable day, sunny once in a while and cold and spitting rain at other times. It did not affect the races and the first Volvo-only practice and race of the day was unique in my experience. Very neat. Remember these cars come from all over the place and raced in different vintage and non-vintage series. That means that it was not a level playing field. Even in the Vintage organizations there are significant variations of acceptable race equipment. For instance if you want to race at the Seattle vintage races your Volvo must have SU carbs, where as the cars from everywhere else wore dual side draft Webers. One light-speed fast 1800S raced by Bruce Akerman in non-vintage events, weighed only 1700 pounds, had removable front bodywork connected with Zeus fasterers and had a partial tube frame and wildly modified suspension. It had the potential of lapping all the Vintage race Volvos on the track, and these were some of the fastest Vintage Volvos in N. America.

Gil was getting the hang of this track. His track times were dropping every time he went out. He was no longer daunted by the track, he was memorizing it. He knew the 444 was not going to sweep the field but he was getting the best it could provide. His 4 man, one woman and one Chihuahua support crew was spurring him on. I don’t think anyone at the track had as many or as enthusiastic a support crew.

At the end of racing on Saturday, Alan Berry organized a group photo shoot of all the Volvo powered cars in attendance. At that very time we were doing the post race inspection of the trusty PV444 and Dave McAree noticed a drip of gas from the rear SU of the 444. Gil prodded the hose from the carb to the float bowl and it promptly fell off, turning the drip to a stream and nixing our opportunity to be in the photograph. Gil rightly decided that it was more important to fix the carb, and then participate in the last race of the day, than be in the picture. We replaced the jet in record time and the $7.50 per gallon race gas stopped flowing on to the ground.

The trouble with Californian weather reports is that they are to damned accurate. They called for rain Sunday. Ominous. Rose and I had to drive back to San Diego starting Sunday, so I relied on Dave McAree for Sunday’s race and weather report. Pissing rain and very cold was the weather part. This is California, it is not supposed to do this. The weather got so bad that they combined the races and deleted the Volvo-only part. Unfortunately during the race Alan Berry hit something and damaged his nice red 544 and conditions were so poor that the organizers called the race early. But wait. Who was in the lead. The oldest car on the track, Gil Stuart and the 58-444. What’s a little rain to Gil, he thrives on the stuff. He comes from Nanaimo where rain is not unknown, and Gil is a rally driver as well as track driver. Who is second, John Voss in his Pacific North West road warrior 122. Good for you both.

I was really sorry to hear that Alan hurt his beautifully prepared 544. I hope it is not too serious, but more importantly, Alan was not hurt. Thanks from all the Vintage Volvo fans for organizing this first of a kind West Coast event. I hope it happens again.


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