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December 13, 2017
 

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Monday
Oct052009

FUMES

October 7, 2009



One of the all-time greats.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 10/5, 12:00pm) Detroit. Publisher's Note:
As part of Gil de Ferran's final turn as a professional racing driver, the likable Brazilian is paying tribute to one of his mentors - the legendary Jim Hall - at Laguna Seca this weekend during the ALMS finale. de Ferran won the 1995 "Rookie of the Year" award in CART while driving for Hall and captured his first win win at the Laguna Seca season finale that year. The following season de Ferran won again at Cleveland to give Hall a final victory as a team owner. Paying tribute to Hall, de Ferran adopted the No 66 - as displayed on so many of Chaparral's successful sports racers - for his own de Ferran Motorsports team. Now, to mark de Ferran's final race behind the wheel, the No. 66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a will compete at Laguna Seca in Chaparral's iconic white livery. This week I am including an excerpt from my book, The United States of Toyota, about Hall - who remains one of my all-time racing heroes - to mark the occasion, and below that is a Q&A of Hall that de Ferran Motorsport recently conducted which I know you'll find interesting, including how the famed Chaparrals came to be painted white. I hope you enjoy it. - PMD

Jim Hall - The Brilliant Visionary

The story of Jim Hall, the west Texas oil man and mechanical engineer, and how his personal vision engineered the transition of American sports car racing from the end of one era with his first front-engined Chaparral (which was a direct descendant of the magnificent Reventlow Scarabs) to the ground-breaking mid-engined Chaparrals is one of the great stories in all of motorsports history.

Some of the advanced technical concepts making their debut on the Chaparrals in the '60s were composite chassis technology (which Hall learned from his love of flying and what was being done in aircraft construction), the manual gearbox with an automatic clutch mechanism (commonly referred to at the time as an automatic transmission – a first for racing applications), the exploration of aerodynamic principles as applied to racing cars, including movable aerodynamic devices (driver-controlled front and rear-mounted wings) and the "black art" of ground-effects technology (this came to life in the Chaparral 2J, which used fans powered by an auxiliary engine to "suck" the car down on to the pavement to achieve unheard levels of cornering performance), and much, much more.

The fact that General Motors engineers, designers and aerodynamicists were knee-deep in all of this and contributed immeasurably to the Chaparral program makes the Jim Hall story that much more intriguing. It was during the time when GM was helping Jim through the "back door" of Chevy engineering, while Ford was running its racing program out in the open. Even though I happen to prefer the Ford approach – competing openly and promoting its involvement – it still doesn't detract from what a few dedicated people were able to accomplish with the incredible Chaparrals.

It was an era when GM not only had prodigious talent and depth in their engineering staffs, but when they also had people running those staffs who appreciated the benefits that could be derived from competing – for the vehicles they would build in the future and for the people who would be working on those vehicles.

It was a different time and a different era, there's no doubt.

In the summer of 2002, Jim Hall brought all of the Chaparrals to Elkhart Lake’s Road America for the vintage festival. Of all the automotive images and sounds I'll remember from that weekend, there is one that will always stand out the most...

As I watched Hall come into view on the track in the 2E, the high rear wing and gurgling sound of its V8 Chevy signaled his arrival before the rest of the car became visible. And then for one brief fleeting moment, it seemed to hover there in the shimmering heat waves, its ghost-like white presence momentarily lost...somewhere in a blur of time...

It’s no coincidence that the Chaparral adventure for Jim Hall and GM peaked right at the end of the ‘60s. The unbridled passion of a Bill Mitchell, the raucously successful cowboy-esque shenanigan of a Carroll Shelby and the visionary brilliance of a Jim Hall would soon give way to a darker and more somber chapter for Detroit.

And the “Glory Days” would be lost forever.



Jim Hall will be present at Laguna Seca with several of his celebrated Chaparrals. Here are his personal thoughts about what's sure to be a very evocative and emotional weekend at the California venue, courtesy of de Ferran Motorsports:

 

Q: What are your memories of working with Gil de Ferran for those two years in IndyCars?

 

Jim Hall: "One of the things I always enjoyed about Gil was his interest in the cars as well as his really strong work ethic. He always wants to do the best he can do for the team and himself - it's a real joy to work with someone like that."

 

Were those two wins the high points?

 

"No question about it, those wins we had at Laguna in 1995 and Cleveland in 1996 were very special to us both."

 

How do you feel about the de Ferran Motorsports entry running an evocative Chaparral livery at Laguna Seca in deference to the role you played in helping Gil's career?  

 

"It's very nice that Gil has chosen to honor me in some way at what's obviously a very special event for him. We certainly had a good run with him for a couple of years before he got an opportunity to move on to a better paying drive. He did a great job for us and I really enjoyed watching his career develop thereafter. It gave me a lot of satisfaction seeing him do so well.

 

"He kindly gives me a lot of credit for the part I played in boosting his career along but Gil did it for himself - he's the guy with the talent, the skill and the work ethic needed to succeed. I give him at least 99 per cent of the credit... but I greatly appreciate the fact that he's thankful for the part I played in his career. But certainly he did it for himself."

 

Gil also pays great tribute to legendary team owner Roger Penske for whom he won two IndyCar titles in 2000 and 2001 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2003. Roger also, of course, has strong ties with Chaparral having raced for the team with you back in the Sixties.

 

"Yes, Roger and I raced against each other as amateurs a long time ago and have known and competed against each other a good deal over the years. It's been a long enjoyable relationship; we are still good friends. I was really pleased that Gil worked out a relationship with Roger that was successful for both of them."

 

As well as running a special livery at Laguna Seca, Gil has run the 66 number made famous by Chaparral on his ALMS cars for the past two seasons. What's the history behind the number 66?

 

"The 66 was actually a random thing. I was taking a car to Nassau in the Fifties. It was a new car coming from England that I first saw at the dock. There was a young man standing there with a paintbrush in his hand who asked me if I would like him to paint the numbers on it. I looked in the program and I had been assigned 66, so I said: 'sure - paint it on'. That number then stayed with the car and later I thought, 'I like that number and no one else seems to be using it, so I just stuck with it'. Really it was just a random number but it came to mean a lot to me over the years because I ran it wherever I could. It was nice when Gil called last year and said: 'what would you think about me running number 66 on my car'. I replied: 'if you want to then that's great - go for it'. So I was pleased with that."

 

The No. 66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a will race in the famous Chaparral white at Laguna Seca to mark Gil's final race - what are the origins of the evocative white livery?

 

"It was originally called 'GM fleet white' - I guess they put it on their fleet cars. It's not quite a pure white; it's a little bit off. It doesn't look like a refrigerator as it has a very small amount of yellow in it. The reason we ran it and liked it was because we live out here in Texas where the sun shines hard every day and if you sit in a dark painted car it gets hot. We started racing in the South West and at circuits like Riverside and Las Vegas as well as other places where it's a hundred degrees, so white was a pretty practical color."

 

The history books suggest that Laguna Seca is a pretty special place for you and thus the perfect backdrop for a farewell event like the one Gil is planning.


"Yes, I won races there in the early sixties; Roger and Phil Hill also won there in Chaparrals and Gil won there for us in IndyCars - so it's a special place for both of us. I held the lap record there for years. Laguna is one of my favorite tracks in the country and a great spot for us to enjoy Gil's last race."

To mark the occasion, three pretty special cars are joining you at Laguna Seca.

"We're bringing the 1995 Pennzoil IndyCar which I believe is Gil's actual winning chassis from Laguna. We're also bringing the Chaparral 2 - it looks just about as it did in mid-1965 with fixed aerodynamics. The other car we are bringing is the Chaparral 2E which is our first high-wing CanAm car, and my favorite Chaparral."   

Jim Hall at speed in the final development of the Chaparral 2E in 1968 - with wider fenders to accommodate the massive new wheel-tire combintations available at the time - which is also referred to as the 2G. For more info on Jim Hall and his fabulous Chaparral racers, go to www.chaparralcars.com.


Publisher's Note: It was a very special moment for racing fans everywhere when Jim Hall (in his all-time favorite Chaparral 2E), Gil de Ferran (in the Chaparral 2) and Simon Pagenaud (in the de ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a painted "Chaparral" white in tribute) toured Laguna Seca (Mazda Raceway) yesterday (Thursday, October 8th). The American Le Mans Series’ Monterey Sports Car Championships presented by Patrón marks the final race of de Ferran’s outstanding career. But Thursday was also very special for de Ferran, who counts Jim Hall as his mentor and one of his racing heroes. “I can’t tell you the emotions of the entire experience,” said de Ferran, who flanked Hall’s Chaparral 2E with Simon Pagenaud on the other side in de Ferran Motorsports’ Acura ARX-02a. All three cars were painted in the famed Chaparral white livery, de Ferran’s tribute to the man who gave him his big break in North American motorsports. De Ferran drove for Hall’s IndyCar team in 1995 and 1996, with the pairing’s first victory coming at Laguna Seca in 1995. “Being here for my last race, Jim being here, driving a Chaparral for the first time…it’s just great,” de Ferran said. “I could still be in the car now and be quite happy about it.”

It was hard to tell who had a bigger thrill out of the event – de Ferran, Hall, Pagenaud or the scores of onlookers. Fellow drivers, crew members, team and manufacturer execs…they were all caught up in the moment. The three-car parade did three laps around Laguna Seca.

“That was something really special…really fun,” Jim Hall added. “I don’t think I was quite as quick as I used to be! I told Gil that he’s now one of a handful of people who have ever driven a Chaparral.”

“It was a really big moment,” said Pagenaud, far too young to have seen the Chaparrals race in the 1960s. “We’re all fans of motorsport and love it. That’s what made this so special to be with these two legends. When we were going around, one of my engineers said into the radio, ‘Remember this because this is a part of history.’”

This story is a reminder that we're never too old to reach out for our dreams. I wish I could have been there, but I'll be smiling for a long time to come every time I look at the photos. Thank you to the ALMS media folk for the update. - PMD

 

Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Indianapolis, IN, 1981. Jim Hall in the pits at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during practice for the 1981 Indianapolis 500.

 

 

See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, October 8, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.

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