Z Cars add Zest at the Velocity Invitational

Z Cars add Zest at the Velocity Invitational

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Twenty-eight cars comprising race Group 7 gathered together beneath one of several giant white tents erected in the Laguna Seca Raceway paddock for the Velocity Invitational. After an inaugural event at Sonoma Raceway in May 2019 and public health interruptions, the group re-named and re-located to the Monterey Peninsula. A vintage racing vision inspired by Goodwood re-emerged on the second week of November and Group 7 shared the spotlight with distinguished company.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

The Speed Journal’s resident driver Jeff Francis was among the drivers in Group 7. He steered a white 1970 Datsun 240Z prepared by Larry Oka amidst a stacked field. Velocity Invitational organizers intentionally clustered cars of the same race groups together under tents rather than have cars scattered across the grounds in the shadow of their transporters. What drivers and crews give up in terms of easy access to their service truck, they gained in camaraderie. The easy ability to engage with others, compare notes, and even help each other builds the great atmosphere of a vintage event.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

The white 240Z, with number 54 in red and white on the doors and hood, had good company with other Datsuns of the early 1970s. The number 54 brought history from racing professionally in IMSA and Trans Am events on the West Coast in the 1970s and early 1980s. Other Z cars in the paddock raced at the top levels of sportscar racing in the same period. For example, the 1976 IMSA GTU Championship-winning 240Z campaigned by Transcendental Racing added yellow and orange flavor. The privateer car’s driver history includes notables such as Jack Scoville, Brad Frisselle and John Morton.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Nearby, a yellow 1973 Datsun 260Z originally raced by Different Drummer Racing came with decades of IMSA and SCCA racing history. Another Z car, the #49 black 1972 Datsun 240Z with yellow, orange and red accents made famous by privateer Joel Andersen, brought its own decades of IMSA and SCCA racing history. The car actually did time with the Bob Bondurant Driving School before Andersen bought it in 1977. The Bondurant connection is somewhat poignant. He passed away on November 12 after an extraordinary life. While he hadn’t been physically present, his memory was shared among many during the Velocity Invitational weekend.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

After a session or two, the Datsun’s were found to be spritely in the corners, and the bigger horsepower cars like the Porsche 911 RSR’s were strong on the straights. The mix of strengths produced lap times in different ways. In total, seventeen Porsches of various flavors sprinkled through the Group 7 field. Six Datsuns, a pair of BMW CSLs, a Corvette, Triumph and Alfa Romeo filled out the grid. Most were born in the early to mid-1970s, but a few came with late 1960 birthdates.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Group 7 was one of ten race groups that provided the backbone of the Velocity Invitational event. Extraordinary exhibitions of Porsche 917s, Ford GT LM race cars, McLaren Formula One cars, and others raised the event beyond a mere vintage race weekend. Read more about these highlights in The Speed Journal’s feature here.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Organizers made the event comfortable and welcoming for drivers. A special lounge overlooked the hot pit lane and start/finish line offered indoor and outdoor spaces to rest, refresh and meet new and old friends. Apparently, nobody had ever built a pavilion with that kind of view at Laguna Seca. The building shook – in a good way – when a full field of race cars thundered past. The lounge served as a crossroads during the event. It wasn’t difficult to find familiar faces or meet new friends. Special guests such as Formula One and sportscar veteran Stefan Johansson mingled with the drivers. While Johansson may be best known for his skills behind the wheel, he also is a dedicated artist and had selected work from his own hand on display.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Vintage cars require maintenance and racing involves risk. Unfortunately, the Friday afternoon practice challenged Group 7. An oil line issue for a Porsche transformed turns 4 and 5 into a skating rink. Two of the Datsuns went off and sustained modest body damage. Both recovered to race but the moment of excitement created extra work for the crews. The Porsche could not have had much oil left given the amount of speedy dry track workers put down to clean it up.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

One of the great things about vintage racing is the chance to compare cars and pace from different decades. A Porsche or a Datsun in Group 7 might be fast to the eye, but how do different cars compare on the same track at the same event? Yes, tire life and time of day can have an impact but comparisons make for interesting bench racing comparisons. The fastest cars of Group 7 were Porsche RSRs with lap times in the mid 1:37 range with the quickest Datsuns in the low 1:38 range.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

By comparison, an ex-Niki Lauda 1976 Ferrari Formula One car lapped in the 1:30 range, a 1969 Porsche 908/2 circulated in the 1:34 range, and 1964 Shelby Cobras logged times in the high 1:39 range. The mighty 1989 Porsche 962 lapped in the 1:24 range. Of course, modern McLaren Formula One machinery claimed the fastest laps of the weekend with times in the 1:10 neighborhood.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

The race groups spanned about seven decades of motorsports history. Classes grouped cars from similar eras such as pre-war cars like Bugatti, sports racers from the 1950s like Jaguar and Aston Martin, sportscars from the late 1950s and 1960s such as Ferrari and Cooper, 1960s racers such as Lotus and Elva, Trans-Am cars from the late 1960s and mid-1970s, Formula One cars with giant tires and wings from the 1970s and IMSA GTP cars from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

The Velocity Invitational featured McLaren Formula One exhibition laps and also road car laps for guests. LMP driver and McLaren driving instructor Andrew Evans is one who steered a 720S around the Laguna Seca track providing hot laps for enthusiasts.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Schedulers granted Group 7 a prime spot to wrap up Saturday racing action. The last race of the day lapped Laguna Seca Raceway as the sun dipped behind the hills to the west. From the top of the corkscrew, the waters of the Monterey Bay were visible as the skies slowly shifted from blue to orange to pink. Auxiliary headlights illuminated several corners, but some parts of the track remained in relative darkness. The rare chance to race Laguna Seca in the twilight and relative darkness was an experience not usually available during vintage races, so it was yet another twist that made the Velocity Invitational an exceptional event. Experienced Laguna Seca racers knew the track without the benefit of headlights and used the track knowledge to their advantage.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

Francis took the green flag in 13th position for the 25-minute race, but the field was not tightly packed at the green flag. The third place Triumph slid sideways at the top of the corkscrew, slowing others and further splitting the field in addition to costing himself spots. The white #54 Z diced with Tim Pappas in his 1970 Porsche 914/6 GT and the pair traded places before the race settled down.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

With about 17 minutes to go, Francis was running in 10th. He made a move on a Porsche RSR coming into turn 5 and hit a slick spot due to another Porsche that had pulled off course further up the track. At full tilt, the first stab on the brakes threw him into a 360 spin. The world revolved around the Datsun and the rear of the car bumped against the inside wall. When everything stopped, the car was pointing in the right direction at the inside of turn 5. The Datsun fired right up and rejoined the race well back in the field, and was able to recover spots to finish 11th at the checkered flag.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

The encore event on Sunday ran under the mid-day sunshine. As is sometimes the case in historic racing, several cars did not make the starting grid for the second race. Compared to the Saturday feature of spins and oil spills, the race was relatively uneventful. The white #54 Z started in 11th and finished in 9th, after spending most of the race locked in close combat with a 1973 Porsche RSR. Porsches claimed the top three positions and Datsuns the following three positions.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

The Speed Journal is all about driving experiences. The opportunity to race a vintage car against others of the same era at an event very intentionally designed to produce a quality experience for those involved is part of what made the Velocity Invitational an event worth attending. The added spice of feature cars such as the Ford GT LM, Porsche 917 and McLaren Formula One cars served to push the event beyond merely a fun vintage racing event.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

When the right ingredients are mixed together, the possibility for magic to spark improves. The Velocity Invitational is striving to be a friendly and hospitable event for magic to create moments that would be unthinkable otherwise. It will be interesting to watch as the young event continues to build and gain strength.

Velovity Invitational Datsun 240 Z

The Speed Journal would like to thank the Velocity Invitational organizers and team for their assistance and hospitality.


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