Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix September 2006
With time, there is change. Mistakes are forgotten and accomplishments are over shadowed with new achievements. To relive the past, one could read a book, visit a museum, watch a movie, or talk to someone who can conjure up memories of that point in history. Nothing can compare with traveling back in time and creating new memories and experiences. A study of the past is a realization and admiration for all that has been accomplished since then. Living by standards of the past is unacceptable in modern times. What was the pinnacle a few years ago is well below par to what is expected today.

The pre-war group at the PVGP is a race that is truly unparalleled in terms of generating respect and admiration by those watching. The loud engines do all they can to keep the vehicle in motion as it climbs the steep Schenley Park hills. The real fun occurs in the corners. The thin tires shreak, as if in pain or trumpeting their ability to hold the car on the road. It is amazing they do not just snap in two or that the rubber comes loose from the wheel. The driver, with hand outside the vehicle firmly griping the shifter, sends the vehicle into the next gear applying more power and taking the vehicle to its limits. There is a serious look on their faces as they concentrate and hope to all that is holy that at the exit of the corner, the vehicle is still in their control. To help the car, the head and body is tilted in the direction of the corner, as if car and driver were one. As they came out of the corners, the excitement ends and a look of relief can now be found on the drivers face. If it were not for the loud engine it would appear that on the straight stretches the vehicle and driver were not even trying. Comparing their speeds to modern vehicles would be a battle of the tortoise and the hare. Times have changed but the past never ceases to impress.

On a track, when a vehicle goes off course they are greeted immediately by a sand trap or rubber barriers. At the PVGP when a vehicle goes off course it is introduced to dangers that motorists experience everyday. Jersey barriers, trees, curbs, and rock walls are very unforgiving. This is a serious race with potentially dangerous and serious consequences. The stakes are high but so are the rewards.

Groups
For this year's PVGP race there were seven groups with the final group being the Jaguar Marque race. Many of the cars entered have raced this course in prior years. For some, it's a race for position while others are battling against themselves, trying to improve their personal best time. A quick glance of the entrants reveals that most of the drivers are from Pennsylvania or the surrounding regions. Other drivers had a farther commute. Oliver Collins, a frequent visitor of the PVGP, made the trek from Toronto, ON. Alan Patterson with his Elva MK4 came all the way from California just to compete.

The PVGP is a very European race with most of the entrants driving cars from Europe. Most of the groups are filled with Porsche, Lola, Lotus, Aston Martin, Austin Healey, Elva, Turner, MG, Jaguar, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Maserati, Saab, and other European beauties. The Group 7 race was a marque race reserved for Jaguars, the 'Marque of the Year' for the PVGP.

Group 7
Jaguar has made some very beautiful machines during its lifespan and seven of them were entered into the Group 7 Jaguar Marque of the Year Race. The favorite was the Jaguar C-Type purely on looks and its alluring paint finish. Jaguar produced only 54 examples designed specifically for racing. Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead drove the C-Type to a LeMans victory in 1951 cementing its dominance and capabilities in history. This feat was repeated in 1953 with Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt piloting a C-Type to an astonishing victory at LeMans. The legendary Stirling Moss has driven a C-Type during his prestigious career adding to the pedigree of the model.

At this year's Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Peter Patterson drove his C-Type to a third place finish. First place went to Tivvy Shenton in his XK140 and second to Gary Hagopian in his Jaguar XKE.

Group 1
Frequently called 'Pre-War,' this class includes classic sports and racing cars of the era that ran at the 24-hour LeMans in France and Brooklands in England. Typical examples include Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Aston Martin, Bentley, Maserati, BMW, and Fraser-Nash.

After twenty one minutes of racing, the Group 1 had its winner. Jeff Jacobson carefully negotiated his 1931 Morgan Areo eight laps to a first place finish. Close on his heals was Frank Mount in an MG TB. Though there are plenty of opportunities to pass on this course, the starting position is still crucial to a good finish. Some of the cars favored better during cornering and braking while others had more horsepower and could make up time on the straight-stretches before slowing down before the dive into the corner. The Morgan Areo may have had a four-cylinder engine but it was finely tuned and enough to ward off the higher powered eight-cylinder machines. Where the Morgan truly shined was in the corners where its low center-of-gravity and good weight-distribution made it appear as though it were traveling on rails. Having only three wheels, two in the front and one in the rear, undoubtedly helped on the sharper corners.

Group 2
The Group 2, Post-War Sports Cars Under 1 Litre & Preservation Cars, winner and runner up were both driving a pair of 1959 Turner MK1's. They were so evenly matched that their fastest lap times were different by just .4 of a second. At the drop of the checkered flag it was Paul Bova from Stamford, CT in his Turner beating the local favorite Jim Southwood of Wexford, PA in his Turner.

Group 3
In the Group 3, Sports Racers and Formula Cars, it was dominated by Lotus taking seven of the top nine positions. The two non-Lotus machines were driven by Robert Gett in his 1959 Lola MK1 managing a fifth place finish and Larry McKenna in his 1959 Stanguellini finishing 8th. Richard Fryberger finished first in his 1958 Lotus XI followed by a pair of Lotus 18's driven by J.R. Mitchell and Christian Morici.

This group is always fun to watch. The small aerodynamic vehicles sit very low to the ground and have no difficulty gliding through corners or under heavy braking. The race almost appears to be a well choreographed ballet with each vehicle moving in a fluid motion. Sports racers are specially-prepared race cars based upon production sports cars. They have been modified to participate as dedicated racers. Formula Juniors are small, open-wheel race cars built largely from production car parts. Included in Group 3 are marques such as Lola, Cooper, Lotus, Stanguellini, and Elva.

Group 4
Group 4, Under 2 Litre and Preservation (Pre 1960), was filled with marques such as MG, Triumph, Turner, Alfa Romeo, Elva, and Jaguar. There were a few vehicles from the late 1940's but most hailed from the 1950's era. The MG vehicles proved to be the fastest of the day capturing four of the top six spots. Turner and Elva vehicles showed their capabilities by finishing in second and third respectively. With average speeds of 54 mph, this was a fun group to watch, especially knowing that after World War II Europe was excited to get back into racing and these were the vehicles that satisfied their cravings. MG borrowed heavily from their pre-war designs giving them an opportunity to provide the public with a sports car that was economical and fairly practical. Companies such as Elva, the name 'elle va' means 'she goes' was created for the production of formula junior and sports racers. Success on the track elevated the company to another level and soon road-going cars were created. The cars could be driven to the track, raced, and then driven home. In the PVGP Group 4, these are the vehicles that can be seen racing around the track.

Congratulations to Manley Ford in his 1952 MG TD for completing the eight laps ahead of the 23 other entrants.

Group 5
Group five featured companies such as Jaguar, Porsche, Aston Martin, Morgan, Austin Healey, and MG. This Group, Over 2 Liter Pre-1960, was lead by 1955 Jaguar XK140 driven by Tivvy Shenton, also the winner of the Group 7 Marque Race. Just over three seconds later he was followed by a Jaguar XKE driven by Gary Hagopian. A very capable looking Aston Martin driven by John George was able to secure the third position. Engine sizes varied between the vehicles with some powered by four-cylinders while others had six-cylinders; all were under two liters in size. The Jaguars and Aston Martins were some of the larger vehicles in the class and due to the additional weight used the larger engines. The smaller Porsche, Austin Healeys and MG's were powered by four-cylinder units which were adequate given their size.

Group 6
Group 6 was the Small Bore thru 1965 - Modified and H Production group. This group includes cars from the early to mid-60s. Although this is not an actual VSCCA class, cars include late-model Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Triumph, Mini Cooper, Saab, and Lotus.

Roy Hopskin in his 1975 BMW 2002 easily placed first in this class and set a fast-lap time with 2:24.170. Don Black in his BMW 2002 had a faster lap time with 2:22.357 but was only able to complete 4 of the 8 laps before being forced to retire. George Vapaa came in second with his 1968 Saab Sonett II. (Yes, a Saab!) The Sonett was the company's first production sports car and production began in 1966. Saab continued to improve the Sonett with the introduction of the Sonett II which was designed to be competitive in racing groups such as SCCA. The Sonett II represents the culmination of SAAB's two stroke engine technology in a production vehicle. However, with the introduction of US emission control standards in the late 1960's, the 'stroker' engine was replaced by a Ford V-4 four stroke engine in late 1967. The Sonett II V-4 and the later Sonett III with a similar engine were produced through 1974. A total of 10,219 Sonetts were produced.

Jeff Snook in his 1961 Triumph TR3A finished in third place.

Course
The 2.3 mile course traverses through public streets of Schenley Park located in Pittsburgh, PA. There are 19 turns, including 2 hairpins, stonewalls, curbs, fountains, bridges and beautiful lawns filled with thousands of spectators providing the European charm. The city and people of Pittsburgh are wonderful hosts and the venue is the best public street course racing in the United States.

Conclusion
The PVGP is a celebration that can be seen throughout the photographs we captured over the weekend but they can hardly compete with the actual experiences and enjoyment of attending the event. The car show held the day prior completely transforms the massive Schenley Park into a vintage parking lot. With so many vintage and classic automobiles in one place it is both overwhelming and exciting.

The Vintage Race provides the drivers with a chance to compete for a few laps feeling like some of the great racers of the past. It gives the enthusiasts a chance to experience great racing on a picturesque course.

Last year we were invited to attend the check-giving ceremony where the proceeds gathered from the Vintage Grand Prix were given to the various charities. The experience was very moving and the spotlight on the Autism Society of Pittsburgh was very educational and informative. The PVGP not only raises funds but also raises awareness about the charities they sponsor. 2005 was a banner year for the Grand Prix and its charities. Through sponsorship, merchandise sales, donations and driver entry fees the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, presented by Shop ‘n Save, set a new donation record of $150,000 - the largest single donation in its 23-year history. The funds will be split equally between the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School. PVGP Executive Director Dan DelBianco was very pleased with the results stating, 'This now brings our total donation to $1.9 million and puts the goal of $2 million well within our reach for 2006. The support of our volunteers, sponsors and local government officials is tremendous; to create a world wide vintage racing event on city streets is duplicated nowhere else in the country. And when you take into account that the event is free to the public,' added DelBianco, 'you soon realize how amazing an accomplishment it is to give to the charities.'

The October 27 check presentation was renamed the 'Victory Lap', because it was a unique opportunity for everyone who toiled throughout the year to relax and enjoy the recognition. Presenting Sponsor Shop ‘n Save's Rich Haeflein summed it up best when accepting a framed PVGP race flag he announced 'Shop ‘n Save is extremely proud to be part of such a worthwhile event that contributes so much in the communities served by our independent retailers.'

A great race for a great cause!

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