Fifty years after the first Formula Vee race in the world was held at Daytona International Speedway, Volkswagen gathered some of the stars who raced in the category and it's faster sibling, Super Vee, to celebrate the golden anniversary. Among those gathered were veterans of sports car racing, Indy cars and rallying.
As it turns out, Super Vee was rather instrumental in the careers of several of these drivers, and a fond memory even if it wasn't.
Arie Luyendyk (LEFT: preparing for demo laps in the original Nardi F-Vee)
Indianapolis 500 winner in 1990 and 1997; winner of seven CART/IRL Indy car races
What part did Super Vee play in your career?
I stuck around in Super Vee way too long, but I had to. It played a big part in my career because I won the European championship in 1977, then I did Formula 3 in '78 and '79. But in between I always did a few Super Vee races. Then I couldn't get enough sponsorship to go to Formula 2, and I did Super Vee again in 1980. Because I finished second in the championship, I was invited to come to America. The first five were invited – they would ship our cars over for the last race in Phoenix.
I'd never seen an oval in my life, but there I was. I didn't even drive my car; it didn't work, so I drove the backup car of an American team, I think it was Bill Scott Racing. Their driver, Peter Kuhn, won the American championship and they had an older Ralt as a backup, so I drove that.
I saw the Indy cars there, and thought, “That's what I want to do.” So I set my goals for America. I did that one race in Phoenix, finished sixth, and a team owner, Wilbur Bunce, said, “Do you want to come drive for me?”
Why was the category so successful?
The racing was good, but what you saw is you had guys driving there that, like me, stayed there a while. The reason for that is you could race in Europe in Super Vee and with the prize money you could offset the racing costs and have some money left in the bank. The prize money for our standards was really good.
A lot of good guys came out of there, especially guys from Northern Europe, the Swedes and Finns. [Keke] Rosberg, for example. There was a lot of good talent in the series. It was the same in America. It was almost a feeder series for Indy cars. Michael Andretti, Geoff Brabham, Pete Halsmer, Al Unser Jr. … All of them came from this series.
What is your fondest memory of the series?
My fondest memory is winning the championship in America, because it really propelled me into Indy cars. But I've got a lot of good memories. One race that stood out was at Nurburgring in 1980. I qualified nine seconds faster than the second guy, because it was raining. It rained in the race also and I just ran away. As far as performance goes, that's one of my best memories.
Unofficial world rally champion, 1978
What was your experience in Super Vee?
My experience is only two or three races and a lot of training. I started in rallying, but then I felt I might want to go circuit racing. At that time it was good training. Now in Europe, you start in formula cars at 10 years old. In 1970 I started at 18, and everybody said I was too young! But the class was very good. It didn't have too much horsepower and that was important. I learned a lot.
What can racing a Super Vee teach a rally driver?
I started rallying, then circuit, then back to rally. I would say I'm much better in rallying. In circuit racing, my driving style – normal rally driver – was too aggressive. I tried too hard. That's the main handicap of a rally driver starting in circuit!
PPG Indy Car World Series Champion, 1991
What impact did Super Vee have on your career?
That was my breakout year, when people started to see what I was about, because you were able to race in front of Indy cars. People started to take notice of me at that time. I was able to go on and win the championship in 1982 and six races that year. It was a very important year in my career in getting myself to the big cars. I raced against Arie [Luyendyk], Al Unser Jr., Josele Garza…[Geoff] Brabham was a year or two before me. This was the place to go if you wanted to get to Indy cars.
Winner, 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1986 and '87; 1990 DTM champion
See who was driving there … Niki Lauda, Helmut Marko, those guys … it was an absolute career booster. And it was affordable, because it was Volkswagen parts. Most of all, it was tough competition.