WORLD SPORTS CAR, USRRC, ALMS
Team History (Part 7)
By 1994, the GTP era had ended and IMSA created the World Sports Car series as its flagship category. The team bought a Spice prototype and put a Ferrari 348 engine in it. The cars were supposed to run with production-based engines, but soon purebred race engines became the norm. Dyson Racing participated in eight of the nine races, not running the 12 Hours of Sebring, with the team’s best finish a third at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Dyson Racing moved to the Ford-powered Riley & Scott chassis in 1995 and began an eight-year run that netted the team 36 wins, including two epic victories (1997 & 1999) at Daytona’s prestigious Rolex 24.
In 1995, Dyson Racing scored nine straight podium finishes, from Road Atlanta to New Orleans, including five wins and a 1-2 finish in the season finale at New Orleans. By a bare two points James Weaver missed winning the drivers’ championship.
Butch Leitzinger was third in the 1996 IMSA World Sports Car Championship. The team garnered seven podiums including a hat trick sweep of the last three events of the season.
The peak of the late-nineties era of Dyson Racing began in 1997; the team took the top three positions in the championship. Butch Leitzinger won the title, followed by Elliott Forbes-Robinson and James Weaver. They started the year with a win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and were on every podium for the season, with five wins out of eleven races.
The following year was equally successful. Butch Leitzinger won his second consecutive IMSA World Sports Car championship. In 1998 Dyson Racing also contested with its Riley & Scott cars the U.S. Road Racing Championship, organized by the Sports Car Club of America under the revived Can Am banner. The team swept the series, with James Weaver taking the title, followed by Leitzinger, Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Dorsey Schroeder.
Don Panoz bought IMSA in 1999, and the American Le Mans Series was created, but the change of ownership did not slow up Dyson Racing. Elliott Forbes-Robinson won the inaugural ALMS Championship and he shared the SCCA’s Can Am Championship with Butch Leitzinger. The team added a second Rolex 24 victory to its record book, besting the Ferrari 333sp and covering a record distance that would not be bettered for nearly two decades.
Rob Dyson, on the nineties: “For 1994, we bought a Spice and adapted the Ferrari 348 engine to it. I called Bob Akin again and said, “Bob, I’ve got a Ferrari engine I’ve got to trick up to run in this Spice.” He replied, “Well, you have to see Ted Wenz.” So we went to Wenz and he and Peter Marcovicci did a phenomenal job of rebuilding the engines, they were great engines. And the fans loved them. They had a great sound to them. The sound was loud and throaty, 8-into-1 exhaust, straight pipes– and it wasn’t like the shrill Ferrari 333SP.
“Bob Riley came on as a consultant during the summer of 1994 and had helped us make the Spice work a little better. He re-fabricated some uprights and some other pieces to make them work better. But he kept on saying, “I don’t want to sell you parts; I want to sell you a car.” So Pat Smith and I went out to Indianapolis late in the season and looked at what Bob had drawn up. As soon as he showed me what he had done, with the separate coils and shocks and the overall packaging, I said, “We will take two.” The aerodynamic concept looked ideal for American circuits. And it was quite innovative and service-friendly. You could literally change all the springs in the pits, in five minutes. And that is what got us into the Riley & Scott Mk. III.”
“The rest of the decade was a thrill for the us. When I look back on it, it was amazing how consistent and front-running we were for the next five seasons. Rules changed but the Riley and Scott Mk. III-Ford was so well-suited for all conditions, and we had such a strong working relationship with Goodyear, and the best drivers, and a lot of consistency with the crew and car preparation, so success came naturally.”
“Winning at Daytona that first time, in ’97, was overwhelming. I had been trying for more than a decade and as a team we had come close before. And the way the race panned out was dramatic. To this day, we have no idea how the engine survived. One of the pistons had cracked very badly and Butch did a superb job nursing the car the to the finish. We had entered two cars in the race, but our #16 entry dropped out early. There were no restrictions on drivers crossing over into other team cars back then, so all three of the other car’s drivers (Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver) took stints in our #20 car that I shared with John Schneider, EFR and John Paul, Jr. So it was a total team effort, and it really set the tone for the success that followed over the course of the next three seasons.”