Amelia Island Concours Should Be on Every IMSA Fan’s Bucket List
Tuesday, March 26, 2019

When did you fall in love with IMSA racing?

Did you fall in love with sports car racing recently, or do you go back a little ways? Are you a first-generation fan, or was your love of the sport passed down from a parent or grandparent?

Regardless of when your affection for the sport began, you owe it to yourself to someday get to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance near Jacksonville, Florida if you ever have the means. The Concours is traditionally held every March on the weekend before the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

And that’s by design. The Concours – held at The Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island – is the perfect kick-off to a week of racing that culminates a couple of hundred miles down the road in Sebring.

“We like it to be kind of a show that leads up to Sebring,” said Bill Warner, the founder and chairman of the Amelia Island Concours. “My first Sebring was 1960 and it’s always had a special place for me in the history of racing.

“Of course, it’s kind of crude compared to some other racetracks, but it’s very challenging, probably more so than Le Mans, as far as a challenge to the builders and the drivers and the integrity of the cars. We wanted to be before Sebring, so that people coming south would go to the Concours d’Elegance and then literally four days later, they’re at Sebring for practice, qualifying and the race.”

Think of the Concours as a real, live racing history book. Along with memorable – and in many cases, extremely rare – passenger cars, the Concours always features a variety of different race cars. IMSA race cars from various eras – as well as sports cars from eras that preceded IMSA – are always part of the program. So are the heroes who drove them.

“They put together the right people,” said IMSA Senior Director of Race Operations, Mark Raffauf, who is a regular attendee and was a panelist in two different seminars during this year’s Concours. “That’s the other aspect of Amelia Island, when you look at cars, every significant guy that raced in IMSA that’s around is there. There’s a lot of personality there as well.

“Guys like Derek Bell, Brian Redman, Hurley Haywood, Jacky Ickx this year, Rob Dyson, they’re part of the show. There’s quite a few cars that are brought on request from manufacturer collections, whether its Nissan or Toyota or so on and so forth, so there’s always cool stuff, but the people are part of it.”

The cars are displayed on what is called the “show field.” The rest of the year, the field is a fairway on the Golf Club of Amelia Island.

There’s also a featured guest at each year’s Concours. Belgian driver Ickx, a six-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and an eight-time Formula 1 Grand Prix winner, was it this year and there were a number of his cars on display on the field. Last year’s featured guest was past Formula 1, IndyCar and Indy 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi.

“We come up with themes,” Warner explained. “One, the honoree cars, of course, like the cars of Jacky Ickx this year. We’ll do a special theme like the 35th anniversary of the 962 Porsche. We’ll feature cars of IMSA. We’ll do classics, we did Custom Coachwork Volkswagens, we did the 30th anniversary of the Gatornationals (drag race) with six top fuels, two Funny Cars, two Pro Stocks, and we’ll crank ‘em up, make noise and have a good time with that.

“When we announce our classes, we’ll get people who apply and we’ve got a great database, so we know where a lot of the cars are, so it’s all by invitation. It’s not like you show up and pay 20 bucks and put your car on the field. There’s no cost to entering a car, but you’ve got to have an invitation and the car has to fit the various themes we’re doing.”

As Warner mentioned one of this year’s themes was the Porsche 962 race car, which Raffauf referred to as maybe the “Car of the Century” in endurance sports car racing with wins everywhere from Daytona to Sebring to Le Mans. It was an icon in IMSA racing, especially the No. 14 Lowenbrau Porsche 962 co-driven by a pair of sports car legends – and unanimous selections to the “50 Great IMSA Drivers” list – Al Holbert and Derek Bell.

Both Bell and that Lowenbrau Porsche were on the field.

“To have HR1 (HR stand for ‘Holbert Racing’), the Lowenbrau car there, which Derek co-drove with Al Holbert, and to be able to stand next to the car as a fan and be able to talk to Derek about driving this car on the field, it’s cool,” Raffauf said.

The Concours is kind of like the automotive equivalent of the Westminster Dog Show. Cars are displayed, engines are fired, and they’re judged with awards like “Best in Show,” “Best in Class,” “Best Sound on the Field,” or this year’s “Most Historically Significant IMSA Car,” which went to Rob Dyson’s No. 16 Porsche 962 that won at Lime Rock Park with driver Drake Olson back in 1985.

“Any car that wins an award is brought up front and presented,” Warner said. “We like people to see them and hear them and watch them go.

“Otherwise, you might as well just have a picture of it hanging on the wall at home if you don’t drive them.”

There’s a lot of conversation and “bench racing” going on at the Concours also. Raffauf and Bell both were part of a seminar in one of the Ritz-Carlton’s ballrooms on the Porsche 962. Raffauf also participated in a seminar hosted by NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham and included other luminaries like NASCAR crew chief Andy Petree and Jim Busby who participated in both IMSA and drag racing entitled “Racing Around The Rules.”

“They talked about how they bent the rules or raced around the rules and that was really interesting,” Warner said. “Ray Evernham brought his three tape measures, one that measured short, one that measured long and one that measured accurately.

“We had the nitrous oxide bottles from the Whittington brothers Porsche 935. We had a bunch of pieces. Mark Raffauf was on the panel too, now that the statute of limitations is off of it. They just talked about how they bent the rules to win.”

Warner estimates that the Concours draws more than 20,000 attendees over the weekend. It kicks off with a free show for the public called “Cars and Coffee at the Concours.”

“That’s open to locals who bring their cars out,” Warner said. “We get some great cars. We had cars come all the way from California and Texas just for that. It’s a non-judged display for the public to come out and see what it’s like.”

To see what it’s like for yourself, make your plans now to be at the Amelia Island 2020 Concours on March 12-15. More information is available at www.ameliaconcours.org

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