2016 MCGP - Before the final
The interest in automotive classics existed in Russia and USSR for many years in one form or another. Some kind of the beginning of that can be attributed to 1966, when the Sadovoe ring street in Moscow saw the column of veteran cars. In early seventies different cities of the USSR saw the foundation of dedicated clubs, members of which began to organize exhibitions and parades with participation of retro cars. Magazines started to feature articles and notes on automotive history. In rather recent times Russian clubs started to run regularity rallies, which sometimes incorporated additional exercises, like slaloms or special stages on racing tracks.
But the fans of historic racing cars were looking abroad, where enthusiasts took their rarities to genuine races, battling wheel-to-wheel, breathing a second life into old engines and plunging into the atmosphere of a long-gone period competition. Isn’t it great to race at Le Mans against Stirling Moss in a car which is older than yourself?
At the post-Soviet area the idea was first captured by the Latvians, where in 2010 a once-famous Dzintara Volga race has been revived - an old Bikernieki track near Riga was driven by the owners of competition cars of ex-socialist camp: Volga, Lada and formulae. A year later the race grew into the full-scale series ran through Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and starting from 2012 got a new name - Dzintara Aplis, which it carries to these days.
The relay was taken over by Nizhniy Novgorod: in 2012 NRing track became the birthplace for the National Light Series (NLS), with a separate category for historic Volga - GAZ 24. Finally, in 2013 Moscow also received its own historic competition. Moscow based Old Time company, dealing with classic cars, held a first round of the Moscow Classic Grand Prix (MCGP). Initially participants competed against the clock in a time-attack mode (separate start for the best lap time), but little by little the series grew up into its current state: historic racing in several categories with a mass-start and time-attack runs as a complement for those who don’t want to risk their cars.
In addition to an appealing format MCGP appeared to become the ground for motorsports veterans gatherings: some of them come to watch racing and chat with the old friends, some - to take part in racing. The number of the latter is quite significant, and there is no separate classification for them: ‘grandfathers’ compete against the youngsters, and the outcome is not easy to predict. Which is not very surprising, in fact - the field has some champions running: Alexander Potekhin, Edgard Lindgren, Alexander Nesterov, Leonid Protasov. For the final round Alexander Nuzhdin and Alexey Varavin are expected to join. Some uncrowned veterans also joined, as well as acting Russian racing drivers.
Looking at the preliminary starting list of this year’s first round one could surely state that the Russians liked the idea of historic racing. Around 150 applications from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Moldova meant some serious international racing weekend. As a landmark, a four-class Russian touring car championship had less drivers during the whole season.
Undoubtedly, the series attracts more people thanks to this year’s coupling with other automotive events. During the first round AvtoVAZ, in honor of their 50th Anniversary, set up a special Zhiguli Cup as a separate race for the MCGP participants on Ladas. More than twenty cars opened a Sunday program of the Moscow WTCC round. As opposed to other MCGP races, this heat used the long configuration of the Moscow Raceway. In July Russian classics shared the tarmac with the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge participants, who had a special stage on the farther part of the track, accompanied by the sound of MCGP practice sessions.
Together with the Baltic colleagues from the Dzintara Aplis a once-famous Cup of Peace and Friendship was revived - a major competition in the East in the past, which was held up in a number of disciplines, including circuit racing. Both rounds of the 2016 season (at Moscow Raceway together with MCGP and at Bikernieki track in Riga) are already up, and in the next year the calendar will be complemented by a third round at Smolensk Ring.
Thoroughbred racing cars with open wheels have also had a special place in motorsports both abroad and here. Formulae have permanently been a part of Soviet racing since 1955, when the MZMA factory came up with their rear-engined Moskvich G1. However, a separate category for them came only in 1958 - before that the amount of such cars was negligible. But in following years the open wheelers have become the pinnacle of Soviet motor racing. Tallinna Autoremondi Katsetehas (TARK) factory began mass production of racing cars, and automotive clubs around the country got the opportunity to send their drivers to race against the best national drivers in competitive cars. Back in the best years USSR Federation of Automobile Sport classification featured up to 5 different formula classes, and dozens of cars raced at the same time.
Sadly, only a handful of early formulae survived up to date, but nevertheless the MCGP also features some true rarities. The oldest formula running in the series is a little 350cc Estonia 15 of Formula Molodezhnaya (Youth), produced back in 1975. A bit younger is a 1.6-liter Estonia 18M from 1977. But still, the basis of both open wheel classes are Estonia 21M and 21.10 from eighties. Notably, MCGP is the only running formula competition in Russia these days. Unfortunately...
The leader in Formula 1600 (Mondial) after two rounds is a 1998 and 2000 Russian champion Alexander Nesterov driving a white Estonia 25 №4. He’s got three wins and one second place (each round consists of two races). Mathematically, there is also a chance for Kirill Budovskiy from Moscow in a №25 Estonia 21.10, who came second during the first race of the previous round, but was forced to skip race 2 because of the lack of rain tyres. But to get the season victory Kirill would have to win both races of the final round, given that Alexander Nesterov would fail to score.
Among the Formula 1300 (Easter) participants the biggest chance to win the season is in the hands of Edgard Lindgren, who was second in both previous rounds. However, those who were faster than him previously - Andris Grikis and Andrey Boyko - would not be present on track this time, and multiple USSR and Russian champion, who will turn 81 (!) this December, has a great chance to end up on top of the list in his black Estonia 21.10 with a legendary №71. Another veteran driver, Viacheslav Shumilov from UGMK Motorsport team carrying №81 and driving Estonia 26 - the last production Estonia - will try to turn the tables his way.
Needless to say that cars from Togliatti have been the most popular make in domestic motorsports starting from seventies. Circuit racing, rallying, cross and rally-cross, hippodrome racing and even rally-raids… It’s hard to find a discipline where the classic Ladas never took part. Zhiguli are also a majority in Moscow Classic Grand Prix.
Zhiguli 1300 is the most humble category judging by engine displacement among the touring cars. Only 1.3-liter and 900 kilos of weight. Speed-wise these cars are not much slower than their bigger brothers, but still most prefer some larger engines: usually there are not many 1300 category cars on the start, whereas the second round saw only Igor Tashaev, who failed to finish and stopped trackside in a thick smoke. It is quite possible that the victory will go to the driver who only took part in the first round, but won both races - Martins Lagzdins from Latvia.
Zhiguli 1600 is the most numerous category. While the minimum weight is up to only 950 kilos, additional power compared to 1.3-liter cars is more notable. The third round already features nearly 20 cars, but Andrey Kozlov from Moscow has got the biggest chance to win this season after winning three races and scoring one second place. He is pursued by Mikhail Frolov and Pavel Fedorov, both from St.-Petersburg.
Zhiguli+ class permits much bigger changes: 2-liter engines, different carburettors, intake and exhaust manifolds, revised gearboxes etc. At the same time, the weight remains at the level of 1300 cars - only 900 kilos. The fastest cars here are the 2101 of Mikhail Zasadych, fresh from the track of the Russian championship, and 2105 of Evgeny Vertunov, seriously prepared in Germany - these two are separated by just 20 points.
Moskviches ruled the USSR tracks before Lada came in. Pretty quick for those years, they were enviably durably and had a chance to participate in a number of great events abroad, including the exhausting London-Sydney and London Mexico marathons. In 1971 Scaldia, a Belgian importer, entered three Moskvich cars into the 24 race at Spa-Francorchamps, with two of them making it to the finish, although not among the winners. Like Zhiguli, Moskvich cars are divided into three categories.
Moskvich 1600 - for cars equipped with 1.6-liter engines. Despite a similar displacement, they are nevertheless slower than the Lada cars: the effect of the age difference. STrictly speaking, the only driver with some points in his (or, rather, her) pocket is Natalia Goltsova driving a №37 Izh 412 of UGMK Motorsport. However, the coming round promises some wider competition, and in a certain scenario everybody will be able to become the season’s best.
Moskvich 2000 has a bigger field. The fastest one among the drivers of 2-liter cars is a series organizer Alexander Smirnov, who has got his leadership nearly secured. However, on paper there is also another bidder - Mikhail Savinich at the wheel of a Moskvich 408 produced as far back as in 1969.
Moskvich+ category, similar to Zhiguli+, allows some more serious modifications: engine displacement is unrestricted, allowed are Lada rear axles, different carburettors and manifolds, as well as the usage of recently discontinued Izh 2126 cars. Still, there are not many competitors here, and the first round results were put together with Moskvich 1600 participants, while the second round was declared invalid (same story with 1600 category, though). Maxim Basilier on a 1971 Izh 412 №15 has the largest points coming into the final round.
Volga races were always an attraction. Being slow on the one hand, on the other hand the rear-wheel drive ‘barges’, known for their questionable handling, allowed drivers to put on some real racing show, which rarely ended up without the cars coming off the track, some spins and collisions. They have become the most common car in domestic circuit racing in sixties - both as a touring car racer and as a donor of parts for self-built sportscars and formulae. It would seem that Volga was not the most suitable car for speed competition, but such popularity has an easy explanation: most of the racing drivers back in the days worked as drivers at taxi stations, where Volga was the car of choice. In seventies a new generation came into production - GAZ 24, which soon appeared on racetracks and was kept there until early nineties. No wonder that Volgas have become a rather popular class in MCGP series.
The basis of the category are 2.4-liter cars equipped with ZMZ 402 engines, standard for GAZ 24. Station wagon cars are also allowed, but so far there was nobody willing to try that. In this category the battle is expected between the current leader Andrey Chesnokov and Denis Samsonov, who has won both races of the second round. Lev Mogilevskiy can also fight for the victory this season, as he is not so far behind. A serious competition came from the Baltic drivers, but the last round (as well as the previous one) will see a reduced number of foreign guests: Normunds Dobums and Janis Bitenieks from Riga and Arunas Petrovas from Vilnius.
Volga 406 class was created for cars with carburetor version of ZMZ 406 engines, although nearly standard, owing to that these cars with more modern engines lose to the 402-powered Volgas. Still, there are those who enjoy racing these mastodons. Those are, for instance, Ivan Konovalov from Moscow with his three victories in past four races or his main rival Vadim Yastrebov from Krasnogorsk.
Basically, a category incorporating all of the foreign cars, which are (yet?) a minority in MCGP races. Only Youngtimer-1 class participants (produced before 1984) take mass starts, while the more recent Youngtimer-2 cars are present only in time-attack.
Despite the low numbers, there were some rather interesting cars among the foreign entries. a FIAT X1/9 Dallara driven by the ‘Russian German’ Daniel am Ende was a star of the June round of the series, winning a combined race for Youngtimers, Zhiguli+ and Moskvich+. And the second round welcomed a rare guest from Latvia - a high-quality replica of the famous Ford GT40 MkIV - a New Zealand built one-off Heron MK4 with a Chevrolet small block, which set the best lap time in that weekend running in time-attack mode.
Rather popular are different variations of Austin Mini - with 1.0 and 1.4 engines. British minicar performs very well at the short layout of the Moscow Raceway lacking long straights, showing consistently good results in the races. Among the Mini drivers this season were Daniel Am Ende, Ivan Demukh, Danila Shamalov and Alexander Drogin.
Finally, it is hard to imagine historic racing without Porsche. The Stuttgart make was represented by the fast, but sadly unreliable 1980 Porsche 911 of Alexander Drogin, running at the first round, and a rare 1971 911 ST of Mikhail Tyurin, familiar to the series followers from the previous season.
Current leader among the Yougtimers is Daniel am Ende, which will be back in FIAT X1/9 Dallara for the finals. He will be accompanied by the familiar cars: three Austin Mini (1.0 and 1.4) and Porsche 911 ST.
The 2016 final will take place on October, 1-2 at Moscow Raceway, and several days before the event there is already a hundred of applications. Moreover, the third round will be a start and finish point for the Golden Autumn retro rally, rounding up the historic rally season in Moscow.