We get a special tour of ‘The Quail, A Motorsport Gathering’ – one of the highlight events during the Pebble Beach Concours week – by 4-time Indy Car Champion Dario Franchitti, and we also interview motorsport legend Mark Webber, who talks about F1, EVs & more.
Photography: Rolex & Anniruddha Jain
We met Mark Webber at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering – a signature event leading up to the Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance, held annually on the Monterey Peninsula in Northern California. ‘The Quail,’ as it’s called, celebrates some of the most exquisite, rare and expensive automobiles in the world. It has the atmosphere of an intimate garden party with unparalleled access to the cars, and the people behind them.
Webber was attending the event in his capacity as a Rolex ‘Testimonee’ (that’s the word Rolex uses to describe celebrities who endorse their watches). With its long history in motorsport, Rolex is present today in Formula 1, Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship (WEC). It also supports classic car events like The Quail, The Monterey Motorsports Reunion and the Goodwood Revival.
Its Webber's first time at the Quail, so we join four-time Indy Car champion and 3-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Dario Franchitti (also a Rolex Testimonee), for a tour of the event. Dario is a true petrolhead and has fascinating insights to share about a number of vehicles that are on display. Dario looks at a Porsche 918 and says, ‘this is a sad story. I drove a pre-production car and didn't like it. But that was very early in the development. I then drove a production car and immediately asked Porsche if I could get one. They said, “sorry we just sold the last one.” You know who they sold it to?’ He points to Webber!
We stop next to a new Ford GT and Dario casually mentions that he has one on order. The GT, he says, is a brilliant car but has two problems. One is that the windshield tends to crack because the car is so stiff, and the other that the fuel tank is really small. Mark points to the small panel gap between the fender and door points out how hard it is to get those right. He is clearly a Porsche man.
Next, we examine a stunning Bugatti EB 110 and Dario has a memorable story to share. He says, ‘I was 21 years old, and driving for Mercedes in Germany. An old friend I was staying with asks, “do you want to drive a Bugatti?” I say Yea! So, we turn the corner and his mate has two of them sitting right there. One was the Schumacher one, and the other was the standard one. We go on the Autobahn, and I was trying to keep up with the Schumacher car. The speedo was at 300, then 310, and then 320, and the door seal blew out!’
I ask Dario what's in his personal collection and what he likes driving. He says, ‘Carrera GT, just bought a Singer, my dad’s old 930 – found it and restored it – Ferrari 355 Spyder, have had that from new, Ferrari F40 that I’ve had for 20 years, Daytona Spyder (European Spec), Aston Martin V8 Vantage, amongst other things.’ As a follow-up, I ask, ‘What are your top three from those?’ Without missing a beat, Dario says, ‘Carrera GT, F40, Daytona Spyder. The Carrera GT, I fell in love with it.’
We pass by the Singer stand and Dario tell us, ‘My brother does the development on it. Mine is on order – they have the check, and I just signed the contract. I’m going to put baby seats in the back.’ I ask Webber for his thoughts on the Singer? He says, ‘Not for me, don’t mess with a supermodel. Botox never works.’
Dario walks up next to a Ford RS 200 Rallycross car and says that he used to have a picture of it on his wall. Webber asks ‘Didn't Jenson Button's dad drive this sort of car? Dario says Jenson’s dad drove an earlier version. It’s an intense car, goes from 0-100 on gravel in 2 seconds.
Next, we stop to see a trio of McLaren F1 supercars, including an LM (Le Mans spec) car that is registered for use on the road. Webber raced against the McLaren F1 at Le Mans back in the day. He says, ‘This was a missile in a straight line.’ He asks to come take a look at the back of the McLaren F1. He bends down and says, ‘If you think about when you’re racing, your eye line is here (pointing to about 24 inches from the ground). See how much you can see. When you have two of them side by side it's like trying to pass a bus.’ Dario says if there was one car that he could have, it would be the high downforce McLaren F1. He mentions that there is one for auction tonight (It sold for just under $20 million). Dario says the Carrera GT is epic, but the F1 has an all-time great engine. He goes on to add that Gordon Murray, the designer of the F1, is now building a new car, the T50, that has a V12 which will rev to 12,000rpm. It has a fan for downforce, like the old Brabham race cars, weighs next to nothing and has a central seating position. I have a sense Dario will be getting himself one of those!
I ask Dario about his favourite Rolex. He says, ‘it's got to be the Paul Newman Daytona.’ He goes through his phone and shows a picture of the sister watch that he says belongs to Newman's daughter, which she uses every day.
While Dario continued the tour commenting on Koenigsegg, Aston Martin, the Acura NSX (that he helped develop), I was able to pull Webber aside for a few quick questions:
What are your thoughts on the recent Red Bull Formula 1 driver changes – is it fair to drop a driver halfway through the season?
Yes, it's a serious business. Red Bull are trying to get second in the constructors. Gasly is not delivering.
Do you think Albon will be able to step up?
He’s not going to do any worse, so if he’s better, great. If he can get 10 points every weekend instead of 5, it’s important.
What about budgets, should they put caps in place?
No, if you want to race F1 you need a big budget.
Does F1 need Balance of Performance, as they have at Le Mans?
No, no, no! That is so corrupt already. That’s a bad idea.
Is Lewis (Hamilton) the best of all time?
He’s getting there. He is going to beat Michael’s win record, isn't he? He has already beaten the pole record. He’s going to beat the podium record. He’s better than Michael anyway – he’s better than Michael was! Now, is he better than (Alain) Prost, because Prost was better than Michael…
In your book, is Prost the best?
Yes, he is. Michael was amazing, but Lewis… It's very controversial when I say this, people are like, “it’s an insult to Michael because he’s not in great shape right now.” But the facts are that Lewis never goes off the road. He was last in the steward’s office in 2013. Michael was in the steward’s office every third race. Lewis is so good that he’s able to keep a margin.
What would it take to get you back in a race car?
It's fine, I’m retired (grins and sticks out his tongue). I do some go-karting, maybe some dirt bike riding – I get the fix that way.
As a driver, do you have a preference between vehicles powered by internal combustion engines and electric vehicles – especially now, having developed the Porsche Taycan?
I was really against electric till I drove the 919 (Porsche race car). That whole car was brought alive by its electric components. That opened the eyes of us racing drivers to electric vehicles – the torque and power are just incredible. Yes, the acoustics are zero, but in terms of its stealth power, it’s quite a cool sensation.
Was Tesla the benchmark for the Taycan?
Yes, they’ve been doing it for a while, so you have to tip your hat to them. They’ve done some things quite well. But I think Porsche is optimistic that its (Taycan) going to go very well and the performance is incredibly high. People aren't used to doing 28 launch control starts in an electric vehicle. The car is designed for performance, not range. Who is doing over 250 miles every day anyway?
Do you feel the weight of the battery on the Taycan?
Every electric car is heavy, they will get the weight down eventually. Everyone in the industry is working on it. It's a huge headache for the EV industry.
Is Porsche going to push the kind of autonomous driving technology that Tesla is big on?
Well, it is the VW Group, so we’ll see.
As a driver, do you welcome autonomous tech?
I think it’s further away than we think. We will probably see it in our lifetime. We see it on planes of course. If people knew how much the computers are doing, they wouldn't get on a plane.
Will Porsche ever push Hydrogen?
It's hard to say. If all the car companies put their money into it, then maybe. Right now, the internal combustion engine is pretty unloved. But electric is probably the future.
What are your favourite Porsches, apart from the race cars?
The 918 and GT3 RS 4.0-litre. With the 918, the biggest headache was getting the packaging and the (front-rear) torque split right – but they did it. The shape is timeless, it will come good.
What’s your favourite Rolex?
I love the Oysterflex Daytona (smiles and shows it on his wrist). It's so comfortable and it's just such a good product.