The 2017 Rolex Reunion Celebrates 60 Years of Racing at Laguna Seca
Each year at the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion there's usually a featured marque — a storied brand or race car builder celebrating an important anniversary or milestone. But in 2017 there was no featured marque with a dominating display in the paddock.
Instead, this year's event paid tribute to the site of the reunion itself: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The track originally opened in 1957 as a safer and more permanent site to host the Pebble Beach Road Races, which had been held since 1950 on the scenic but dangerous roads of nearby Pebble Beach.
After its opening, Laguna Seca quickly became one of America's most distinguished circuits with its challenging elevation changes and picturesque scenery, and would go on to host everything from SCCA Trans Am to Indy, American Le Mans and MotoGP.
To help celebrate the anniversary, this year's Rolex Reunion featured a special display showcasing notable vehicles that have raced and won at Laguna Seca over the last 50 years. The result wasn't just an impressive showing of Laguna Seca's history, but the history of American Motorsport itself, with race cars representing the '50s right through to today.
The earliest racing machine in the exhibit is this 1956 Porsche 356, which was a brand new car when it finished third in the '56 Pebble Beach Road Races — the final event on the street course prior to the opening of Laguna Seca.
Then we have perhaps the most historically important car in the display: the 1956 Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa that Pete Lovely drove to victory at Laguna Seca's very first race after its opening in 1957.
The car continued to be campaigned in sports car racing through the early 1960s. Its value today should easily total somewhere not in the thousands but in the millions.
Moving into the 1960s now, we have the '63 Shelby King Cobra that was raced by Dave MacDonald at the 1963 Monterey Pacific Grand Prix. Here he won the 100-lap marathon after starting in the 13th position on the grid.
Laguna Seca was also a regular stop for the SCCA Trans Am series during its late '60s and early '70s glory days. That era is represented here by the School Bus Yellow Boss 302 Mustang that George Follmer raced during the 1971 and 1972 seasons.
Also representing the wild decade of the 1970s is the 1,500-horsepower Porsche 917/30 Can Am car that Mark Donahue won the '73 Monterey Grand Prix and Can Am championship with that same year. Race cars have never been scarier.
Indy Car also had a long history with Laguna Seca, beginning with the 1983 Monterey GP, which was won by this 1983 March driven by Teo Fabi. This particular car was borrowed from the Indianpolis Motor Speedway Museum for the special display.
On the sports car side of things, the '80s were dominated by prototype racers, like this Porsche 962 that won the '85 Laguna Seca 300 km race and also secured podium finishes in the same event in '86 and '87.
During the following decade, it would be the Toyota-powered AAR Eagle Mk III that put the IMSA GTP field on notice, beginning with its debut at Laguna Seca in 1991.
Not to be left out of Laguna Seca's history is motorcycle racing, represented by this 1990 Yamaha RZ500 that Wayne Rainey won the FIM championship with after seven race wins, including one at Laguna Seca. The track even went as far as to name one of its corners after the legendary rider.
By the late 1990s, sports car racing had continued to evolve. It was this BMW V12 LMR driven by JJ Lehto and Steve Soper that won 1999 Visa Sports Car Championship, with its sister car also winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year.
With the turn of the century came the rise of Audi's sports car program. This 2005 R8 LMP took second place at the Laguna Seca race that year, part of a dominant period for the Audi R8 in international sports car racing that included six American Le Mans titles and five 24 Hours of Le Mans wins.
Last but not least is the car representing the current era of sports car racing at Laguna Seca: the K PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 that claimed the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge GT Championship during last year's Monterey race.
While it was certainly a different feeling without a large manufacturer showcase in the paddock at the Rolex Reunion this year, this impressive collection of Laguna Seca racing history did not disappoint.
Here's hoping we have another 50 years of racing memories in store at one of America's greatest race tracks.