Portland 2000: The Sequel
The Y2K edition of the ALMS at PIR welcomed back a growing sports car racing fan.
Another year older, another year wiser. We'd all made it through Y2K, I was now a teenager: anything and everything seemed possible.
In the racing world, Audi had become the dominant force in Sports Cars. In Formula One, Ferrari would finally defeat McLaren and take their first Driver's title since 1979 with Michael Schumacher. Indy Car/Cart would see Penske return to the top with Gil De Ferran scoring the team's first title since 1994 and an up and coming racer named Juan Pablo Montoya would win the Indy 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Racing seemed to be returning to one of its golden eras. Sports Car racing was beginning to see a resurgence in America with the American Le Mans Series. Factory teams from Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Panoz had arrived as well as GTS teams from Dodge and Chevrolet. There was a threat from the newly-developed Grand-Am racing series, a similar concept loosely tied to the International Speedway Corporation based in Daytona, Florida, with certain privateer teams from the previous ALMS season joining it in 2000. Surely, like CART and the Indy Racing League, both series could survive.
(Well, we'd hoped...)
Anyway, after my trip the previous year, I was really looking forward to seeing the ALMS in Portland with my Dad. This year, the event was in September. I was as prepared as I could be for the experience: I had an American Le Mans Series yearbook from the previous season (with pages bookmarked with post-it notes which I wanted to try and get autographed.) I had photos of myself with the drivers from the previous year I wanted to try and get signed. I also remembered strategically where to find the Race Programs and any other memorabilia I'd like to purchase.
Again, my Dad had planned for us to arrive early Friday morning at Portland International Raceway for the Practice Sessions to give us the best chance to meet the drivers and see the cars during the least stressful day of the race weekend. After the three-hour trip from Seattle, we arrived at the track's main entrance, made the walk from the front gate to the spectator bridge which crossed over the main straight into the paddock. It was like walking up to the entrance to Disneyland: I knew the excitement on the other side and was ready to take it all in.
Sure enough, I came over the other side and one of the first people I ran into was...
1. Allan McNish
Allan McNish (left) and myself (trying to take it all in :-) in the Portland Paddock (photo c/o David Pitt.)
One of the first drivers I met in the paddock was Allan McNish. Then a factory Audi driver, he had won Le Mans for Porsche in 1998 and would leave Audi at the end of the year to help develop Toyota's new F1 team in 2001 and race for them in 2002. He later rejoined Audi, winning two more 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was extremely friendly when I met him.
I remember a friend of my Dad's, Dan, meeting McNish as well at the track. The two talked with each other about the then brand-new Audi TT and how much they both enjoyed driving it.
2. David Brabham & Jan Magnussen
I found the two Panoz drivers separately and, having brought a print of the photo taken with them the year before, had them sign it.
Meeting Jan Magnussen and David Brabham (Photo c/o David Pitt.)
We still have proudly displayed in our family's racing display case.
Panoz Roadsters in Portland Paddock (Photo c/o David Pitt.)
3. J.J. Lehto and Jorg Muller
J.J. was again driving the V12 LMR for BMW Team Schnitzer in 2000. I was able to have him sign my program this year (again still thankful for what he did for me the previous year.)
J.J. Lehto talking with a local news station in 1999 (photo c/o David Pitt.)
I remember meeting his teammate, Jorg Muller as well.
“Jorg Muller (back left driver with H & R hat), Augusto Farfus and Uwe Alzen BMW Motorsport's BMW M3 GT2 Le Mans 2010, Drivers' Parade” by David Merrett is licensed under CC BY 2.0 - Flickr
He signed my program then sped off on a motorized version of the craze of the period: the razor scooter. Think of what BMW potentially missed out on: the M Scooter!
Mechanics attending to a BMW V12 LMR in the Portland paddock, 2000 (Photo c/o David Pitt.)
4. Stefan Johansson
Another driver I met again was Stefan Johansson. Again, he was extremely nice and friendly.
Stefan Johansson (left) with myself (eyes open this time!) (Photo c/o David Pitt.)
Since his racing days, he has become a driver manager. One of the drivers he now manages is former Indy Car Champion Scott Dixon. I've visited the Indy Car practice days the past two seasons and have seen him around the paddock. Sometimes I wonder if I re-introduced myself if he'd possibly remember me?
5. Johnny O'Connell
Johnny O'Connell (left) with myself (Photo c/o David Pitt.)
Another Panoz driver I met in the paddock was Johnny O'Connell. After signing my program, he asked my Dad and myself what we thought the weather would be like that weekend? A race car driver trying to find an unfair advantage wherever they could. I remember telling him we were from Seattle but can't remember what we recommended.
Panoz Paddock Area in Portland, 2000 (Photo c/o David Pitt.)
6. Mimmo Schiattarella
Schiattarella was another former Formula One driver I wanted to meet. He drove for the Simtek team in 1994 and 1995 (for which David Brabham also drove in 1994.) Like Erik Comas and Alex Caffi the year before, Schiattarella was happy and almost surprised a fan would recognize him in the paddock.
Schiattarella (left) with myself. Team Owner Rafanelli (in the background on the right) (photo c/o David Pitt.)
His team boss Gabrielle Rafanelli was also there. I met him, he signed my program and was very joyful and courteous.
Lola B2K-10/Judd in Rafanelli team garage, Portland paddock, 2000 (photo c/o David Pitt.)
7. Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor
Another driver I met again was Max Angelelli. Now driving the factory Cadillac prototypes with teammate Wayne Taylor, Angelelli was again extremely friendly.
Max Angelelli (left) (photo c/o David Pitt.)
Taylor arrived shortly thereafter and, he too, signed my program. Like Brabham and Magnussen the year before, Angelelli and Taylor had a self-depreciating sense of humor in terms of having to go up against Audi, BMW and Panoz in the race that weekend.
Even then, it did seem there was a family atmosphere in the team, particularly between Angelelli and Taylor. After the Cadillac team disbanded, the two continued together racing in Grand Am, and later IMSA, for the Wayne Taylor Racing Team (with prototypes powered by Cadillac engines, ironically.)
2000 Cadillac Northstar LMP - Max Angelelli driving - on the Main Straight at PIR (photo c/o David Pitt.)
8. Karl Wendlinger and Oliver Beretta
Another two drivers I met that day were Karl Wendlinger and Oliver Beretta. Both former Formula One Drivers, they were now teammates at the Oreca team driving the legendary Dodge Vipers.
Oliver Beretta in the #91 2000 Dodge Viper GTS-R, Portland paddock, 2000 (photo c/o David Pitt.)
Beretta, like Comas the year before, drove for the Larrousse team in Formula One in 1994 driving in ten races.
Wendlinger first drove in F1 for the March team in 1991. He was also a member of the Mercedes Junior team, which also included Michael Schumacher, and the two of them drove at Le Mans in 1991, as well as other various World Sports Car races.
Having driven for the Sauber F1 team in 1993, he was signed again for 1994. At that year's Monaco Grand Prix, he suffered a massive crash during practice and was left in a coma. Having recovered, he drove in selected races for Sauber between 1994-1995, with his last Grand Prix being the Australian in 1995.
Karl Wendlinger (left) (photo c/o David Pitt.)
He then focused on Sports Car Racing, first with Porsche finishing third overall at Le Mans in 1996 and then with Dodge/Chrysler winning the GT2 class at Le Mans with the Oreca Vipers in 1999 and 2000.
9. David Donohue
David Donohue (photo c/o daviddonohueracing.com.)
Another Oreca Viper driver I was fortunate to meet was David Donohue. Donohue was the son of my Dad's favorite racing driver, Mark Donohue. As we met him, my Dad told him a story about meeting Mark Donohue back when my Dad was a teenager.
He told of how Donohue, one day during an Indy Car practice at Ontario Motor Speedway, seemed to be struggling with his car and back in the pit lane talking with his mechanics. Donohue had noticed my Dad in the paddock wanting an autograph. Donohue then left the pit and walked several yards over to my Dad in the paddock to sign his program.
David Pitt (center) with Mark Donohue's 1972 Indy 500 winning McLaren at IMS Museum in 2018 (photo c/o Michael Pitt.)
This gesture made my Dad a fan for life. Showing not only how grateful drivers can be but planting the seeds of motor racing fandom to new generations. He's remarked how drivers he's met who showed fans courtesy and respect, like Donohue and Peter Revson, died far too soon where as others with more global renown (*cough* Mario *cough*) could be within inches of fans and yet fail to even acknowledge their existence and take their fame as a given.
10. Reinhold Joest, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich & Ralf Juttner (The Audi Holy Trinity.)
2000 was the year Audi scored their first victory at Le Mans with the legendary R8 prototype:
2000 Audi R8, Portland paddock, 2000 (photo c/o David Pitt.)
Having secured a third place with Team Joest at Le Mans in 1999, Audi returned with three R8s to the 2000 race and finished first, second, and third. Having watched their success at Le Mans, and in the ALMS that season, I had learned of the team's three head figures:
Reinhold Joest (below) who owned the team:
Reinhold Joest (photo c/o David Pitt.)
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the face of Audi Sport:
"Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport" by David Merrett is licensed under CC BY 2.0 - Flickr
and Ralf Juttner, the team's Managing Director:
Ralf Juttner (photo c/o joest-racing.de)
I first approached Joest, then Ullrich approached us both. As each signed, both warned me they were "not ze driver!" I assured them I knew but still wanted to meet them and ask for their autographs. Juttner appeared last and gratefully signed (I remember him being interviewed live on Speedvision immediately after their win at Le Mans in 2000.) There too he seemed nice, grateful and had a great sense of humor as well.
Audi R8 Internals #1 - Portland Paddock 2000 (photo c/o David Pitt.)
Audi R8 Internals #2 - Portland Paddock 2000 (photo c/o David Pitt.)
Another year and another great experience with the ALMS in Portland. The drivers and team members were very approachable, the cars were awesome as ever and it was a great way to again bond with my Dad through motorsport. We left that afternoon, again looking forward to next year, and drove back to Seattle. That wouldn't be the end of our 2000 ALMS Portland experience however...
During the race itself, there was an on-track incident where a GT Porsche, not knowing the lead Audi R8 was behind it, cut in front of head heading into the right-hander at the end of the main straight. While the R8 survived with just a scratch, needing new front bodywork, it continued on to finish...
The week or so after the race, one of the R8's front-wing dive planes appeared on eBay, from one of the marshals that cleaned up the wreckage. We were able to purchase that piece and still have it displayed proudly, along with other racing mementos, in our racing display case.
R8 front-wing dive plane (photo c/o Michael Pitt.)
Photo of display case photos (c/o Michael Pitt.)
The Portland ALMS was scheduled for another early September date in 2001.
I , too, would return...