1971, HSO, Intersection Diaries, Laguna Seca, Mopar, trans am
Laguna Seca is an odd kind of racetrack. The start of every lap feels like rushing through a wild night of booze and gals only to, time and over again, stumble into a slow morning of recovering from the drop in the abyss. One flies past the start-finish straight and barely scrubs off any speed through the following fast left sweepers.
Then briefly stomps the brakes for turn 4, soon stamping the accelerator down again for the flight up the hill… And then the track drastically shifts its allure. It starts with what must be the steepest drop on any track anywhere in the world: the Corkscrew. And then it’s just languidly sliding down the hill right-left, right-left, like a lazy lizard: “Play my song the mighty Bird whispered, golden skin and eyes of flame, painted heart and painted nails, they run their pistons down the scales.”
A look at the starting grid made one think that the European TA2-cars were far more apt at this snake dance then the American brutes. Of the 17 cars on the grid, the Euro midgets secured the five first spots, with freshly crowned Le Pihive on pole. The top three was completed by two of Ford’s All Star’s team champions, drafted in to honor Le Pihive’s championship. There was a car for old Italian rot Giuseppe Scaccia and a second for British ace Richard “The King Of” Coxon.
Ray Riddall and Martinelli completed the top 5 in their usual Alfa’s.
Only then followed the first of the 5-liter cars, Plaçais and Parker in that order. Two roosters who were to decide on the championship honors in the TA1-class. Many expected quiet a spectacle as their two massive engines would be in a hurry to get the better of the other down the initial fast part of Laguna. Only to find all those TA2-cars disturbing their orbit.
And what about BMW? Not one Bavarian car showed up at Laguna. With the championship lost, the Munich factory had, to many a regret, pulled the plug on the series. No Goissen, no Voigt, no Lampure… It was a somewhat disappointing end to a season that, after a promising start, turned out to be a rocky road for the Motoren Werke.
As the starting flag dropped, the surprise of the 5-liter beasts at the slowness of the small 2-liter cars’ get away was bigger than anyone had anticipated. Plaçais was so stunned by the rate at which he was flying past the TA2-cars, that he ended up lifting the throttle, convinced that he had jumped the start…
It did not stop Alfa-boy Martinelli to grab first place and lead the dance through turn 1. His lead would not last beyond that first turn however, as a cocky Coxon and a lean Le Pihive shot by.
Parker was on Plaçais’ bumper, but the French Cuda-driver kept the advantage. It would however take Parker, who has a solid reputation for strong opening races, only a few laps to make it past Yves… The Javelin and the Cuda would stay in that order, scotched together for pretty much the entire race.
On lap 18, Becnel shoved the nose of his Firebird up the behind of White’s Mustang. That put an end to Jason’s race on the spot. Which the Detroiter seemed to welcome as a relief rather than an offence.
Becnel limped on but would retire soon afterwards, on lap 22.
At the front, Le Pihive was giving it everything he had, hoping to conclude his championship winning campaign in beauty. Teammate for the day Coxon however seemed too fast for Pascal, who after the race also complained about his gearbox being tuned a tad short for the race. It did not stop Coxon from imposing a scorching tempo, softly edging away from the entire field.
In the closing stages, a slight misunderstanding between Le Pihive and Plaçais while lapping put an end to any hope Pascal had of catching Coxon.
The King of Coxon thus also crowned himself the king of Salinas and Monterey. Le Pihive dully followed him home second, be it one lap down. Martinelli took the final podium spot for Alfa Romeo.
The quibbling 5 liter pair of Parker and Plaçais finished in 4th and 5th, with second Escort wild card Scaccia coming sixth. The Italian driver complained about a poor fuel strategy.
And so the Trans-Am 1971 series came to an end, two worthy champions anxious to meet the cusp of the winter break in their sunny parts of Southern France: Yves Plaçais and Pascal Le Pihive. Two boys from the Midi who made it to the top.