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BBS A Fixture At American Race Tracks

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On: Thu, Dec 17, 2009 at 5:06PM | By: John Welch

BBS A Fixture At American Race Tracks

Most casual fans may not think to deeply about the wheels underpinning most sports car racers. Could the fact that ninety percent of the IMSA GTP and GTO cars ran BBS wheels have anything to do with it? A casual fan couldn't tell them apart; they were all gold. In the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties BBS dominated the European and American sports car scenes, not because their rims are prettier, but because they worked. In fact, they were, and still are, the best.

Grandtouringprototype.com is an excellent way to completely destroy a work day. There is a quote at the top of the site's homepage explicitly warning husbands from viewing the page when they should be tending to their wive's needs. A situation like that will surely end in divorce. The definitive source for videos of IMSA GTP racing, this page will kill some time.

Besides a dizzying collection of IMSA Grand Prix from the glory days (re: late seventies to the early nineties), GTP.com also provides extremely interesting interviews with the people who made the sport great. Craig Donnelly and John Slagle are two of those people. Donnelly joined BBS in 1980, and Slagle in '86. These two guys were responsible for rebuilding the legendary three-piece BBS rims used by every GTP manufacturer from Porsche to Nissan. The iconic gold and silver wheels have given way to solid, forged magnesium one-piece beauties, but their excellence has remained the same.

"Back at that time we had a lot of the guys that came into the GTP cars were coming out of the 935 Porsches," said Donnelly. "They were Group C cars from Europe which, obviously, BBS had already been making wheels for. And a lot of the car manufacturers that were based in England like March and Lola; we had relationships with that we just continued those relationships here with already existing teams that we were servicing."

This article contains many interesting stories - the German engineers at BBS who chalked the extra wear caused by American tracks up to the "heavy American air" (??); rushing back and forth from airport to racetrack; building rims in the backs of rented mini vans. "The term ‘Heavy American Air’ became kind of a standard when we were discussing things with the Germans then. Because we were giving them stress and downforce load numbers like nothing they were seeing in Group C, they said it was all due to the heavy American air, which created more downforce and more stress and all this. That was kind of humorous."

"A lot of people took for granted that BBS was always a dominant wheel company but in almost every case, most of those customers at one point or another had started with somebody else,” Donnelly said. “Nissan, for instance, was on Dymags when they first started. And AAR were with three wheel companies before they ever came to BBS. And a lot of times other wheel companies failed and we would sort of be the last stop for them to make."

Though both men have new titles within the company, they can still be found at the race track on Sunday. Also, even though most teams run a one-peice wheel these days, there are still opportunities to service the old goldies by hand. In fact, the wheel designs are so engrained in their memories that they can identify old cars by their wheels. "Craig can tell you, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans they have the historic Group C race for about an hour before the 24-hour race and my colleague, Eric, who was Craig’s colleague there in 1978 or whatever, we were laughing because we’re going around these cars just a short time ago and I can’t tell the cars anymore from the bodywork, but I can tell it by the part number of the wheel. ‘Oh yeah, that was an old Tiga, that’s a Lola . . . we could go back in our memory bank and literally look at the part number of the center . . . we used to use a 4-1/4 inch outer and 8-3/4 inch inner on this car . . . And he was just laughing because he was remembering the same things."

The rest of the article can be read by clicking on the Source, but I warn you - if you have any sort of "GTP Addiction" like I do, you will go to this site and grow a beard. I'm not kidding.

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