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Velocity Invitational: Mario Andretti, epic races, big crowds

LAGUNA SECA – The Velocity Invitational, a motorsports festival held Oct. 14-16 at WeatherTech Raceway, was a nod to the adage that good things come in threes.

First, there was living legend Mario Andretti, 82, behind the wheel of a modern Formula 1 car for the first time.

Second was exciting split-second race finishes that thrilled the crowd of more than 15,000.

 The McLaren Formula 1 car of World Champion Jenson Button at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca during the Velocity Invitational.
The McLaren Formula 1 car of World Champion Jenson Button at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca during the Velocity Invitational. All images © Mason Bloom/2022.

Third was the tens of millions of dollars worth of vintage race and hypercars gracing the track. It made the Velocity Invitational one of the country’s more unique motorsports experiences.

While the three-day event featured hundreds of vehicles across 10 different groups and classifications, it wasn’t hard to argue Andretti’s turn on the raceway was the highlight for many fans and for the driver himself.

Andretti’s appearance at the Velocity Invitational was the culmination of an invitation from McLaren CEO Zak Brown some years ago. Andretti expressed he’d love to get behind the wheel of a modern F1 car and Brown ultimately made it happen.

A McLaren F1 GTR, a 90s hypercar and endurance race car during the Velocity Invitational
A McLaren F1 GTR, a 90s hypercar and endurance race car during the Velocity Invitational.

Andretti, of course, is racing royalty. He won the Indianapolis 500, the F1 World Championship and many other races. Despite the differences presented by the McLaren when compared to previous vehicles he’s driven, Andretti had a hard time concealing his enthusiasm about the experience.

“At this stage of my life, to have this chance is huge,” said Andretti in an interview with MotorSport. “No one will ever understand how much I love driving a racing car. Zak Brown just gave me a gift that I can never I’ll never be able to repay him for, to be honest with you.”

While Andretti contributed the celebrity presence to the Velocity Invitational, there was other exceptional driving during the event including the Group 1 feature race. Driver Paddins Dowling took the checkered flag in his 1934 English Racing Automobiles (Era) R2B, briefly ahead of runner-up Charles McCabe. Group 1 consisted of 1927-1937 sports and touring cars. Dowling felt a couple of cars had an edge.

Living legend Mario Andretti was a special guest at the Velocity Invitational at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Living legend Mario Andretti (front center) was a special guest at the Velocity Invitational at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“The two Eras were generally faster than most of the grid,” Dowling said. “I knew it was going to be between myself and Charles McCabe, the number 6 Era. I had a great time. It’s a great track to race on, he was great to race against and it was really fun.”

The two Eras were battling throughout the race and had an extended lead over the rest of the pack. Late braking and perfect throttle application coming out of turn 11 helped Dowling overtake McCabe just before the finish line. Dowling, who resides in Rancho Santa Fe, California, has owned his 1.5-liter, supercharged R2A for 10 years.

The contrast between Andretti’s McLaren, Dowling’s Era, and the hundreds of other vehicles made for a fun weekend. Andretti wasn’t the only Indy and Formula 1 driver behind the wheel of a McLaren. Pato O’Ward of IndyCar came and F1 champion Mika Häkkinen took turns behind the wheel of Ayrton Senna’s 1990 F1 World Championship-winning car, the McLaren MP4/5B-07. They did the same with Alain Prost’s MP4/2B-3, which won the 1985 F1 World Championship.

The Era that won the Group 1 race by only a few seconds on the final day of the Velocity Invitational.
The Era that won the Group 1 race by only a few seconds on the final day of the Velocity Invitational.

Beyond the McLarens, American trans-am muscle cars, Ferrari 250s, and Porsche 911 RSRs participated in practice sessions, qualifying and sprint races leading up to Sunday’s 10-lap feature races.

The paddock area featured an array of the latest and greatest hypercars from Guntherwerks, Zenvo, and Czinger, many of which tore up Laguna Seca during multiple runs at speeds of more than 150 miles per hour.

Even rally fans had something to cheer about courtesy of Seattle’s DirtFish Rally School. DirtFish brought several rare cars including the Group B Lancia 037, MG Metro 6R4, and the Peugeot 206 WRC of World Rally Championship fame. Alister McRae and his son Max McRae drove and drifted selections from that lineup.

Paddins Dowling, who drove and owns the Era, holding his trophy following his vVelocity Invitational at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Paddins Dowling, who drove and owns the Era, holding his trophy following his vVelocity Invitational at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“Velocity Invitational was introduced with a vision of revitalizing the motorsports experience for all generations of enthusiasts and their families to enjoy,” said event founder Jeff O’Neill in a statement. “This is the only event in the United States [with] motorsports at this level.”

Group 1 winner Dowling agreed.

“It’s a great track to race on and it was really fun. Jeff O’Neill puts on a marvelous show. This is the best historic event in America.”

Mason Bloom is a reporter for TheWeeklyDriver.com. When he is not writing about industry news, new car reviews or covering live motorsport events, he is a sophomore at Aptos High School in the California central coast.


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