With so many automakers celebrating some kind of anniversary this year, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the other automotive and motorsports anniversaries that are scheduled to take place this year.
For their part, Volkswagen wanted to make sure that Formula Vee gets its proper recognition as a series that’s turning 50 years old this year. So before the start of the 24 Hours of Daytona over the weekend, Volkswagen led the way in celebrating 50 years of Formula Vee with a parade of the finest cars from the series.
Formula Vee traces its roots back to August 1963 at the Daytona International Speedway. Back then, the inexpensive racecars only made use of 1.2-liter engines that produced less than 40 horsepower with chassis taken from the Volkswagen Beetle. The success of Formula Vee in the US made its throughout Europe and on July 4, 1965, Formula Vee officially held its first race in Europe in front of 50,000 fans at the Norisring circuit in Nuremberg.
Since then, the series gave birth to Formula Super Vee, as well as the already established Formula Vee 130.
The 50th anniversary of Formula Vee was attended by some of racing’s biggest names, a lot of whom also trace their roots in the series. Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk was there, as were U.S. star Michael Andretti, Daytona champion Didier Theys, Le Mans winner Hurley Haywood, former DTM greats Hans-Joachim Stuck, Leopold Prinz von Bayern, Klaus Niedzwiedz and Dieter Quester, and rally icon Markku Alén.
"That was a highly emotional experience, celebrating the beginnings of Volkswagen Motorsport against such an impressive backdrop and together with such great names from the world of racing,’ Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito said.
"The revival here in Daytona, where it all began with the first Formula Vee race, has reunited many of these legends and that is something of which we are very proud. Vee are family – just like Volkswagen, Formula Vee is one big family."
With a lap of honour just before the start of the famous 24 Hours of Daytona, Volkswagen celebrated 50 years of Formula Vee with a parade of the finest cars from the series. Former Formula Vee drivers that went on to become world stars in motorsport were also there. Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, US star Michael Andretti, Daytona champion Didier Theys, Le Mans winner Hurley Haywood, the former DTM greats Hans-Joachim Stuck, Leopold Prinz von Bayern, Klaus Niedzwiedz and Dieter Quester, rally icons Markku Alén and Formula Super Vee 1976 European champion Mika Arpiainen all graced the 5.729-kilometre-long International Speedway circuit with their presence. One of the engineers of the early years, Kurt Bergmann, and the very first Formula Vee car, the ‘Nardi’, owned by the founding family of Hubert Brundage, gave the event added appeal. This car was driven at the revival by the two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk.
‘That was a highly emotional experience, celebrating the beginnings of Volkswagen Motorsport against such an impressive backdrop and together with such great names from the world of racing,’ said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. ‘Formula Vee accompanied many later motor sport legends like Hurley Haywood, Niki Lauda, Jochen Rindt or Emerson Fittipaldi as they took their first career steps. The revival here in Daytona, where it all began with the first Formula Vee race, has reunited many of these legends and that is something of which we are very proud. Vee are family – just like Volkswagen, Formula Vee is one big family.’
Formula Vee in the USA – the success story began in 1963
Formula Vee began in August 1963 at the Daytona International Speedway track. Using a 1.2-litre engine capable of just under 40 horsepower and the chassis from the Volkswagen Beetle, motor sport enthusiasts constructed a highly inexpensive Formula racing car – and created something of a boom which soon spread throughout Europe: on 4 July 1965, the official German and at the same time European racing premiere of Formula Vee got underway in front of 50,000 spectators on the Norisring circuit in Nuremberg. It was the beginning of a success story to which another chapter was added from 1971 when Formula Super Vee was launched – a second Volkswagen racing series parallel to the established Formula Vee 1300. The Volkswagen power trains had 1.6-litre engines which were initially capable of 120 horsepower, but within a few years that figure had reached almost 200 horsepower.
Arie Luyendyk: ‘For me, it was like taking a trip back in time. I gained my first racing experience in Zandvoort in a car just like the ‘Nardi’. My father won the West European championship in 1972; as a fifteen year-old lad, I was already tinkering about with Formula Vee cars. While surfing the Internet, I found the car in which my dad won back then and I am now having it restored.’
Hans Joachim ‘Strietzel’ Stuck: ‘A magnificent feeling! I am an emotional kind of guy and I was really looking forward to this lap here in Daytona. To sit in a Formula Vee car again after more than 40 years and then to drive around these high banks was fantastic. Even though I gave up racing two years ago, I regretted the decision for a moment as I reached the chequered flag. Anyway, I really enjoyed the weekend, because I was with good friends like Dieter Quester, ‘Poldi’ von Bayern and Arie Luyendyk.’
Michael Andretti: ‘Seeing the Formula Vee cars brings back wonderful and funny memories. The time I spent at Conte Racing with Super Vee was an important springboard for my later career. Back then, we drove alongside the Indy Series, which meant that a lot of team owners were looking on and spotting talent. And thanks to my success in Formula Super Vee, people saw that there was more than just one Andretti (laughs).’
Markku Alén: ‘Absolutely brilliant; a highly emotional moment for me. I drove in Daytona for the first time and would never have believed that the high banks were quite so extreme – and I now have even more respect for the drivers in the IndyCar Series and 24-hour race. The last time I sat in a Formula Vee car was in 1970 in Helsinki. It gave me goose pimples sitting in the cockpit, even if it took almost 20 minutes to get out of it again. Alas, we are not getting any younger or thinner (laughs).’
Prince Leopold ‘Poldi’ von Bayern: ‘That was a brilliant weekend! When you sit in a Formula Super Vee car again after such a long time, a lot of fantastic memories come flooding back. I am very happy and grateful to have been present at this event – in the same car as back then and the whole thing on such a historic racing circuit. Driving in Daytona around these high banks was a wonderful feeling!’
Dieter Quester: ‘You feel as if you’ve been transported back 30 or 40 years in a time machine and it’s a great feeling! For me, it was the first time in a Formula Vee car since 1969 and it was a great deal of fun, just like it was back then. I would have loved to have driven an extra few laps – and of course driven a little faster!