Marcos Diary - Trials and tribulations of living with a 30 year old car!

Subj: 1998 - Racing To California

Having watched sportscar races and CART races from Laguna Seca for years, I suggested to Mandy that maybe we abandon the kids (at their grandparents) for a few days and take a trip to San Fransisco to see the FIA GT race. I was a little surprised that she didn't hit me with something or question my sanity, but as time passed and air ticket prices rose, I'd got pretty close to deciding not to go.

However at the last minute we decided to go - we booked the flight on the Monday before the Friday morning flight. Hell, you've only one life to live and if you don't do something impulse and reckless once in a while, what's the point in being here?

The Virgin flight was long (almost 11 hours), but good, with an overdose of current films and very acceptable food. With the time differences we arrived around 4:30PM, picked up our rental car (after a short period of concern over vouchers which turned out to be with our tickets, unsurprisingly) and drove down to Monterey, around 100 miles south. The rental car amazed us, having manual windows and no central locking, but it handled better than anything else I'd driven in North America (being a Japanese Mitsubishi) and went Okish. -

On arrival in Monterey we found a motel with space for 3 nights (from a coupon book, we'd picked up at the airport) and agreed different prices for each night! The dearest was Saturday, because of the races! The Surf Inn, was comfortable, clean and provided a cursory breakfast for the $45, $69 and $35 per night for the room.

We were very tired by then, but woke early, to cloudy and grey skies, but, heh, remember the song? ''It never rains in California…". I'd ordered a ticket for both days to allow me to take in the Professional Sportswear Race on Saturday (for $5 extra it seemed too good a deal to miss), so we made a quick visit to quaint, quiet Carmel.

Californians seem to think Carmel is like an English village, which says more about how few of them stray beyond the continent of North America than Carmel, but it was a pleasant and calm place. The bad news was, after strolling on the beach, that it started to pour (and I do mean POUR!) with rain . Mandy happily dropped me off at Laguna Seca in the rain, after picking up tickets ordered over the internet and she, probably wisely, went shopping and wine tasting.

I, on the other hand had spent a fair chunk of cash and traveled thousands of miles to watch cars go round the hilltop circuit, so rain or shine I was going to see some racing!

Fortunately, just before the race began the rain stopped. Unfortunately as it stopped, fog rolled in and the race started under the pace car. Good news for me, though, was that Marcos No 71 was run in the race by Euser & Buurmann. It started last, but tore through the field to finish 9th overall and 2nd in GT2. The race overall was an excellent battle between BMW's Riley and Scotts, Ferrari 333SPs and early leaders Panoz. British driver Steve Soper was up to 5th in his BMW at one point, but retired. Early on, in damp conditions a Mustang crashed at the Corkscrew, having missed the braking point coming into it.

The race was finally taken by the second BMW powered R&S in the hands of ??? and ???.

FIA GT practice followed the PSC race in dry conditions. The Vipers were the class of GT2 again, but Cor Euser's faster Marcos was 2nd in GT2, with a Porsche 911 in third place. A thrilling GT1 battle ensued, with the two works Mercedes, battling for overall championship victory, crossing dirt and the pitlane on the approach to the last corner.

Mandy arrived to pick me up (loaded with shopping) and, after returning to the motel to shower and change into some dry clothes, we ate a great Mexican meal in a hotel in the Pacific Grove area of Monterey.

Sunday dawned bright, but windy. Straight after breakfast we drove to the circuit and arrived for the FIA GT warm up. The Marcos was again 2nd in GT2 behind one of the Vipers. In the race, Cor Euser took the GT2 lead after an incident out of our sight (and that of Eurosport's cameras, so we never found out what happened), but retired (along with the slower second car) just before one-thirds distance with differential failure. Ricardo Zonta and Klaus Ludwig won the race outright after a good battle with Mercedes team-mates Schneider and Webber. AViper again won GT2.

Straight after the race we jumped in our hire car and drove south down Highway 1 to Big Sur. Along this stretch there is great scenery - winding along a mountainous coast road. After dinner on the Monterey Pier we returned to our motel for a third night.

The next day we drove North up highway 1 to San Fransisco. Unfortunately, fog obscured the most scenic section north of Santa Cruz, but we took a few moments to paddle in the Pacific and very cold it was too! On arrival in San Fransisco we drove to Fisherman's Wharf and grabbed a quick lunch. Using our coupon book we quickly found a motel for $55 a night only a short ($1) bus ride from Fisherman's Wharf.

We took a quick drive down Lombard Street's world famous twisty bit and visited a colleague who is setting up a new office in SF. Then we walked to Chinatown and had a meal in restaurant with huge lanterns hanging from high ceilings. San Fransisco doesn't have an extreme climate, but it was cool enough for us to need to buy fleece jackets to ward off the cool night air.

The next morning we went to Fisherman's Wharf on the bus with plans to go to Alcatraz, but we discovered all the trips for the day were sold out so we booked for next day and rushed back to get our car from the motel to go to the Wine Country. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and looked for Larkspur (where Mandy's sister was about to move to from the UK), then drove on to the Sonoma and Napa valleys, passing by Sears Point circuit. First we stopped in to look at Buena Vista, California's oldest Vineyard and then went onto Chimney Rock where we tasted 3 wines (The ?? Fume was good. The Chardonay not brilliant , whilst I liked the Cabernet Savignion, but Mandy didn't and it was $28 bottle so we only bought a bottle of the ?? Fume).

We also visited William Hill, which did a great Pinot Blanc which was only $12 a bottle so we got one. There was also free tasting here. After that we returned to the motel (The Sea Captains on Lombard street - not beautiful, but clean and fairly comfortable for a short stay) and had a Pizza in a restaurant in the Cow Hollow area, near the motel.

Next morning, we returned to Fisherman's Wharf for the trip to Alcatraz. As we queued for the boat we noticed the Sea Lions on Pier 39 (over 120 on the day we were there and that is not a lot apparently). The boat ride to 'The Rock' was short and scenic and followed by a gentle stroll up to the Cell Block. The self guided tour (with a cassette player) around the cells gave a good impression of what the prison was like and of its history. There were also the excellent views back to the city and Bay and Golden Gate Bridge.

Back to the coast and after a quick lunch we took the cable car (You've got to do it once, but, for me, that was enough so slow and uncomfortable was it) to Union Square where many of the major department stores are. There were some bargains, notably electrical and in the Disney store, but people often say that this is the dearest area of the US.

That evening we ate an excellent meal of Meat loaf in a traditional diner (which stayed this side of twee), including some great milk shakes.

After dinner we took our hire car around the San Fransisco Bay, crossing Golden Gate , Richmond and Bay Bridges. Then up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower (which was closed) to admire view over bay and city at night. We rounded off our tour with another run down on Lombard Street each.

Next day we had to fly home, but with a 4:30 flight we had time to stop by the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park and visit Fort Point, the never used in anger fort under the Golden Gate Bridge intended to guard the harbour mouth known as Golden Gate. The fort itself is only slightly interesting but has great views of Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco bay and out to sea. We then grabbed a sandwich at Safeway by the Marina and then headed to the rental car return area near the airport.

The return flight was only 9 hrs overnight, but we had little sleep. We returned to a cold, but bright Britain.

Back Home Diary Page Forward