WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

From the Most Coveted Ferrari to a Cutting-Edge McLaren, Here’s What You Can Expect at the 2021 Velocity Invitational

From the Most Coveted Ferrari to a Cutting-Edge McLaren, Here’s What You Can Expect at the 2021 Velocity Invitational

A few years back, a book signing event sent me to Sonoma Raceway, in Sonoma, Calif., for a weekend of vintage racing in June, which unfortunately overlapped with a certain wedding anniversary. “Come to the track,” I begged my wife. “It’ll be fun.” Good sport that she is (and possibly swayed by the promise of a Michelin-starred dinner in nearby Healdsburg), my better half came along despite a friend’s warnings of inedible track grub and motorsports ennui. It didn’t take long, however, to realize this wasn’t a usual race confluence after having to peel her away from the raw oyster bar and champagne-tasting table. Needless to say, we had a memorable time—against all testosterone-fueled odds.

While the event we attended is now defunct, the inaugural Velocity Invitational is coming to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, in Salinas, Calif., from November 11 through 14. The latter is about as close as you’ll get to a spiritual successor for that late, great, foodie-focused weekend. Velocity Invitational’s founder, Jeff O’Neill, is no stranger to fine food and fast cars; the vintage racer and vintner has long considered the two spheres fully compatible. He launched the aforementioned 2019 Sonoma Speed Festival, which strove to appease both sides of the seemingly paradoxical fine cuisine/racing equation. The gathering paired local culinary offerings with a broad array of storied machines—from 1930s Grand Prix racers to Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 car, which broke the track’s lap record that weekend.

Owned by Tom Price, this Ferrari 250 GTO—one of only 39 examples ever built—will be entered in the 2021 Velocity Invitational. 

Photo by Larry Chen, courtesy of Velocity Invitational.

Recently, the team behind Velocity Invitational invited Robb Report to experience a few notable machines for a preview of this year’s first-ever running. First up: the holy grail of all race cars, the Ferrari 250 GTO. With a history of dominance on the racetrack and only 39 examples produced, the curvaceous two-seater has earned mythical status in the collector-car world, helping explain why it has traded hands for upwards of $70 million.
GTOs are rarely driven in anger, though that didn’t stop O’Neill from piloting the Ferrari like a V-12-powered bat out of hell while we rode along in the passenger seat. This particular GTO, owned by O’Neill’s friend Tom Price, presents the familiar hallmarks of a race car—snarling power, a minimalist construction bordering on flimsy, and a slinky aluminum body befitting an anime cartoon. Hunkered behind the wheel, O’Neill tosses the GTO into a corner, gooses the throttle, and drifts the front-engined GTO through a corner, its fat sidewalls squishing under load as the 3.0-liter V-12 belts out operatic, multi-harmonic strains. After several laps in the near-priceless Italian model, it becomes easier to dissociate the car’s staggering value from its singular purpose of going fast (and looking impossibly pretty while doing so). Perhaps that’s why this race car is so much more than a rolling hunk of metal. Yet at the end of the day, it’s also simply that, albeit one that’s exponentially more special than most automotive rarities.

The front-engined Ferrari 250 GTO is powered by a 3.0-liter V-12. 

Photo by Larry Chen, courtesy of Velocity Invitational.

For more hands-on inspiration we were tossed the keys to a smattering of eclectic racers which will be participating at Velocity Invitational. The abject cuteness of the Austin Mini Cooper S might steal the show, but its diminutive 1,275 cc power plant and 1,300 pounds of bantamweight fury make it a hilariously engaging vehicle to drive at speed. “Try not to lift,” advises Don Racine, a guru when it comes to racing the Mini, noting that the Lilliputian front-drive car easily spins if the throttle doesn’t stay pegged through corners. With its huge steering wheel and surprisingly spacious cabin, the Mini feels strangely vintage while simultaneously ahead of its time. It also gives the big, expensive models a run for their money with its deft maneuverability and playful agility.

The 1,300-pound Austin Mini Cooper S is a bantamweight fury. 

Photo by Larry Chen, courtesy of Velocity Invitational.

Next switching to an Alfa Romeo GTA Junior, O’Neill’s personal car, reveals a nearly opposite experience. The balanced front-engine, rear-drive configuration lends it a more manageable persona. With a sonorous 1,750 cc engine propelling slightly more mass, it’s also less hair-raising than the frantic Mini; this is a car that builds confidence with its approachable nature.

The Alfa Romeo GTA Junior features a balanced front-engine, rear-drive configuration. 

While the GTA comes across as sensually pleasing, the ultimate gut punch arrives in the form of the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Trans-Am car once campaigned by racing legends Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. The Blue Oval sounds like a beast, even at idle, despite packing “a bunch of mufflers,” according to the car’s mechanic. Although the first few thousand rpm prove surprisingly tame (despite an unholy racket emanating from the race-prepped V-8), the last few thousand rpm are riotously thrusty, leading to an 8,000 rpm crescendo of power. Proving that 1960s Trans-Am drivers like Jones and Follmer were made of meaner stuff, it takes Herculean core and arm strength to wrangle the Mustang into corners; a heave and a ho, and the blunt tip of this weapon eventually points itself towards an apex, where it rumbles ahead with broad-shouldered insouciance.

This 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Trans-Am was once campaigned by racing greats Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. 

Photo by Larry Chen, courtesy of Velocity Invitational.

Also part of the field is a McLaren Speedtail, a hybrid hypercar whose central seating position pays homage to the legendary McLaren F1. Whereas the classic race cars broadcast their intentions through exuberant sheet metal and rowdy dynamics, the 1,035 hp Speedtail is stealth in its ability to reach 250 mph. Instead of relying on conventional mirrors, two screens on either side of the driver seat display rearward views– which is largely irrelevant today because the Speedtail passes the vintage machines like they’re standing still. Yet there’s a surprising gracefulness to this McLaren, accentuated by its lengthy, wind-cheating bodywork that tapers into a fine point at the tail.

The 1,035 hp McLaren Speedtail can reach 250 mph. 

Photo by Jason Henry, courtesy of Velocity Invitational.

While attendees are unlikely to achieve these levels of firsthand motoring bliss from the bleachers at the upcoming Velocity Invitational, the spectacle of 10 categories ranging from 1910-era racers to contemporary Formula 1 cars is enough to keep even the most jaded gearheads absolutely heady.

Learn more about Robb Report’s 2022 Car of the Year events taking place in Napa Valley here and in Boca Raton here.

Watch Highlights of the California Coastal Rally, and Look for More Down the Road

Watch Highlights of the California Coastal Rally, and Look for More Down the Road

Wanderlust. Through the course of the last year, all of us have caught it, the symptoms increasing with each passing day as the world compressed to within the walls of our respective homes for much of the pandemic. Dreams of escaping on a road trip with good friends, enjoying fine dining and accommodations at top resorts and rediscovering the freedom afforded only by the great wide open seemed, for a long time, to be as plausible as a journey to Mars. This past week, however, a select few found an antidote, Robb Report’s 2021 California Coastal road rally. Here’s a glimpse at some of the action. (Video courtesy of WayUp Media.)

From June 6 though 10, a cadre of 50 Robb Report RR1 club members in 27 supercars and exotics ventured through some of the Golden State’s most picturesque landscape between Santa Barbara and Napa Valley. With all Covid health and safety protocols strictly adhered to, the automotive parade marched just shy of 574 miles in three drive days.

After settling in at Santa Barbara’s Ritz-Carlton Bacara on Sunday, all the guests made a beeline to check out the other cars on display that would be joining them on the rally (additional eye candy was provided by Lugano Diamonds and Napoli-based menswear designer Isaia). Rally sponsor Porsche brought variations on its 2021 Panamera—including the GTS—and Cayenne for test-drives, while also supplying a couple of vehicles for the entire run.

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara. 

Photo: Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara.

Monday covered 260 miles, leaving freeway traffic within the first hour to join Pacific Coast Highway in San Louis Obispo. After a coffee break at Morro Rock, a 581-foot volcanic molar in the mouth of the surrounding bay, it was on to aptly named Ragged Point flanked by the Santa Lucia Mountains and crashing surf hundreds of feet below.

Monday’s drive break at Morro Rock. 

Photo by WayUp Media.

The route then snaked through Big Sur and Carmel before reaching one of the most revered circuits in the country, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The field of entrants made two laps in formation on the same track that motorsport’s greatest names have tested their mettle against each other and the infamous set of consecutive turns known as the Corkscrew. Fittingly, another mecca for automotive enthusiasts (and golfers) was the evening’s terminus, Pebble Beach and the tony Inn at Spanish Bay.

Edward Walson and his 2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale entering the Corkscrew at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. 

Photo: Courtesy of Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The 7:30 a.m. rolling start on June 8 was the earliest of the rally, as another 216 miles were on an already stacked agenda. After taking in the scenery of famed 17-Mile Drive and breakfast at the Beach & Tennis Club at Pebble Beach, it was on to an exclusive viewing of Bruce Canepa’s assemblage of race cars and classic automobiles, some even for sale, guided by the racer himself. Even the most jaded collectors were drooling over a lineup that includes the 1969 Porsche 917K that took the checkered flag at Daytona, the 2,500 hp 1967 Shelby Super Snake Dragster and the 2009 Audi R15, one of the three examples that swept the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2010. Needless to say, there was plenty to discuss over dinner and drinks by the fire at Bodega Bay Lodge later that night.

Bruce Canepa and his 1988 Porsche 959SC restoration at his namesake facility in Scotts Valley, Calif. 

Photo by Robb Rice.

The final drive day, while only about 98 miles in length, was the most challenging. Despite breathtaking views, drivers couldn’t afford to turn their attention from the road, as hundreds of tight s-turns outlined the way to Napa Valley, finally relenting upon approach to the new Montage Healdsburg, site of the concluding gala dinner and overnight stay.

The view of the vineyards and suites at Montage Heladsburg. 

Photo: Christian Horan, courtesy of Montage Healdsburg.

“This was the first group event for us,” says Jonathan Weizman, “Anybody you sit next to, you find something in common with.” And his wife Anna noted that they felt “an instant connection” with the others. Tom Papadopoulos, a veteran of numerous rally-style programs, brought his daughter Cali as his driving companion and found the event to be “sporting, elegant and with great people who take it a little less seriously and have a really good time.”
Although this was the first rally of its kind for Robb Report, plans are already in the works for the next installment as it becomes a regular part of the curated experiences offered to RR1 club members—those who seek the road less traveled, especially now. After all, wanderlust has no permanent cure.
To receive more information on the 2022 edition, please visit here.
More stories from Robb Report’s California Coastal Rally:

The California Coastal Road Rally, Day 1: Revving Up the American Riviera
The California Coastal Road Rally, Day 2: Racing Through Laguna Seca on the Road to Pebble Beach
The California Coastal Road Rally, Day 3: A Visit With Bruce Canepa Fuels the Drive to Bodega Bay
The California Coastal Rally, Day 4: The Road to Napa

The California Coastal Road Rally, Day 2: Taking a Corkscrew to Pebble Beach

The California Coastal Road Rally, Day 2: Taking a Corkscrew to Pebble Beach

The 12-cylinder power train remains surprisingly quiet as the 2021 Bentley Bentayga Speed accelerates up the incline leading to turn eight at Northern California’s renowned WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. A moment later, the posh SUV traces the serpentine line that drops five stories in 450 feet, a combination of turns, aptly named the “corkscrew,” a section that momentarily disappears upon initial entry due to its steep nature. What’s a 7,165-pound family hauler doing on one of motorsport’s most infamous series of twists? It’s just what can happen on the second day of Robb Report’s 2021 California Coastal road rally.

After the initial concours-style display in Santa Barbara on June 6, the cadre of nearly two-dozen exotic automobiles embarked yesterday morning on the roughly 700-mile scenic tour that departed the Ritz-Carlton, Bacara at 9 a.m. PDT. The route’s preliminary stages were predominantly on highway, the marine layer eventually acquiescing to reveal a sun-dappled landscape along the way.

The first rest stop, the base of 581-foot Morro Rock. 

Photo: Courtesy of WayUp Media.

The day’s destination was the Inn at Spanish Bay, a favored basecamp for many devotees of August’s Monterey Car Week and, specifically, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. But, naturally, there were sights to see along the way. These included the 581-foot Morro Rock and the Ragged Point Inn and Resort for a Mexican-themed lunch paired with vistas of the seemingly endless coast. All the while, attention was tempted away from the single-lane stretch of road and drawn to the sea’s watercolor hues of turquoise, azure blue and emerald green punctuated by jutting cliff bands and a rock-strewn shoreline.

Crossing Bixby Bridge on Pacific Coast Highway toward Carmel, Calif. 

Photo by WayUp Media.

As compelling as the natural landscape was, rally participants were focused on the late afternoon’s bucket-list moment, an invitation to do a couple of parade laps at one of the most storied racetracks in the country. Built in 1957, Laguna Seca was developed as a safe venue for motorsport after the open-street Pebble Beach races, attracting a number of the world’s best drivers of the era, resulted in a fatality the year before.

Some of the California Coastal road-rally crew lined up near the starting line at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. 

Photo: Courtesy of WayUp Media.

“When you come to Laguna Seca, you can feel the spirit of sports-car racing, it was one of the homes of sports-car racing in America,” says Barry Toepke, director of Heritage Events at Laguna Seca. “You can sense the spirit of all the legends who have been there before—Sir Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney . . .they’ve all driven this track,” he adds. The litany of motorsport royalty that competed on this particular circuit made our group photo at the starting line an even more timeless memento.

Car of the Day
Since departing Santa Barbara, one vociferous Prancing Horse has consistently jockeyed for pole position, the 2019 Ferrari 812 Superfast owned by Michael Sisk and his wife. Introduced in 2017, the rear-wheel-drive model touts 789 hp and 529 ft lbs of torque from its 6.5-liter V-12 engine, output that allows the grand tourer to cover zero to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds and top out at 211 mph.

The 2019 Ferrari 812 Superfast owned by Michael and Mickala Sisk. 

Photo: Courtesy of WayUp Media.

“Even though it’s an incredibly complex car, it’s very simple to drive” says Sisk, a longtime Lamborghini owner who notes that this is his first Ferrari. “I call it sheepishly quick, you don’t realize how fast it is until you look at the speedometer—it’s just smooth-fast. And it’s a front-engined car, which is the big difference. I’m an old Corvette guy from back in the day, so being able to buy an exotic with a front engine makes it cool.” As for why he brought the aptly named Superfast to the rally, Sisk put it plainly: “This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Course Changes
After the signature bagpiper strode across the grounds of Pebble Beach’s fabled Inn at Spanish Bay, the sound of clinking glasses signaled the start of the four-course dinner, preceded by an hors d’oeuvres selection of seared ahi tuna, potato croquette with bacon and Applewood smoked cheddar and chicken confit croquettes with sriracha aioli.

Dining at dusk on the lawn of the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach. 

Photo: Courtesy of WayUp Media.

The evening’s featured vintner was Cuvaison, one of the original wineries in Napa, founded in 1969. Cuvaison’s 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, En Cigare, was partnered with the papa pomodoro starter, followed by the winery’s 2018 Pinot Noir, Adda, accompanying English pea risotto with pancetta-wrapped diver scallop. For the main course, osso bucco was mated with Cuvaison’s 2018 Merlot, Arcilla, before the culinary experience culminated with lemon panna cotta and blueberry compote paired with the winery’s 2017 Brut Rosé, Méthode Champenoise.

Steve Rogstad, winemaker for Cuvaison. 

Photo by Marc Fiorito, courtesy of Cuvaison.

“Cuvaison has been around over 50 years,” states Dan Zepponi, CEO of Cuvaison. “We’re a single-vineyard estate that’s certified sustainable, solar powered, and that’s what we really believe in. Let the land tell the story, but you have to take care of the land and respect it, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Cuvaison’s 2017 Brut Rosé Méthode Champenoise. 

Photo: Courtesy of Cuvaison.

The Road Ahead
There’s truly no rest for the weary as engines start at 7:30 a.m. PDT on June 8. A slow roll through renowned 17-Mile Drive, with breakfast at its Beach Club, will be the first fuel stop before a high-octane visit to racer Bruce Canepa’s automotive museum and restoration facility. It’s there that a peek at one of his approximately $2 million Porsche 959 restomods may inspire a new buyer or two.

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