The Road to Rennsport – MOMO’s Rally to Laguna Seca
The Road to Rennsport – MOMO’s Rally to Laguna Seca
Early on a Thursday morning, before the sun had climbed up over the hills that surround downtown Los Angeles, Porsches converged to line the side streets of the Arts District. Outside of Magnus Walker's shop, between the brick warehouses and graffiti marked walls, the road began to fill with 911s of different eras. The fresh coffee and donuts drew a queue while owners prepared their cars and applied their rally decals. It was one of those mornings that buzzed with anticipation. Magnus Walker and the team at MOMO had invited a collection of Porsche enthusiasts to join them on a rally from Los Angeles up to the Monterey Bay area to attend the fifth Porsche Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca. Looking over the rally maps and talking about the weekend that lay ahead, the drivers caught up with old friends and made new ones over the shared excitement that came with the morning's start.
As soon as the sun broke cover and climbed higher, the boxer engines roared to life and idled in anticipation. Turning onto the Sixth Street Bridge and charging out of the city, the MOMO Road To Rennsport Rally was on its way. 911s, new and old, made their way through the streets before the morning rush hour took charge. The first stop in the rally log book was Willow Springs Raceway, one of SoCal's core tracks. With the course all to themselves, the Porsches took turns running hot laps around the desert track. For some, it was a welcome return to familiar apexes and for others, it was a first opportunity to put their Porsches through the paces they were intended for. As has been too common this summer, the tempature quickly rose with the sun's advancement, reaching towards the three-digit figures before noon had rolled in. The older aircooled cars sought out the quickly diminishing shade as owners gathered for lunch.
With sustenance in our bellies and a great desire to run away from the desert hills towards the ocean once again, the pack departed with their sights set on our final destination, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. When tasked with the drive from Southern California to the Monterey Bay, you're often faced with two options. The first offers you a scenic winding route along the coast via Highway 1, but its roadways are clogged by summer tourists and slow moving traffic. A faster option lies in a long straight blast up the 5 through endless dirt fields. MOMO decided to split right between the two, carving through the mountains that divide the coastal towns from the arid inland farm land. Deep in the valleys, the roads wind quietly through small towns and horse pastures.
Only crossing paths with the occasional solitary traveler, the Porsches had the mountain roads all to themselves. The old short wheel based cars danced nimbly with the watercooled counterparts of recent years. It's often easy to forget the beauty that lies beyond the city limits of Southern California, but the rolling golden hills and soft evening light quickly remind you what lies out there, waiting to be enjoyed. The temparture quickly dropped as the cars chewed up the curving roads and neared the coast. Each passing sign warned of curvy roads ahead and each was met with equal enthusiasm.
As the sun began to set and the sky's colors began to shift, the caravan finally arrived at the race track under the checkered flags that flapped in the evening breeze. The tired vehicles came to rest at the MOMO tent, stationed between Turn 5 and the Andretti Hairpin. After braving the summer temperature in cars that had long since given up their air conditioning, the ice cold cocktails were a well-received trophy awaiting them at the end of the adventure. Owners laughed about the incidences and car troubles encountered along the way. The group that had started out as a random collection of strangers quickly became a clamoring crowd, sharing their tales of the road. Just as Magnus and MOMO had intended, the day's journey through the scenic countryside behind the wheels of assorted Porsches had drawn everyone together. The shared memory and mutual appreciation for the Porsche marque built a bond amongst the drivers and started the Rennsport Reunion off on the right foot.
The MOMO brand is one that has always been a household name in my family. I remember my dad lusting after their wheels for his BMWs. The red and yellow colors and blocky font come to mind whenever I hear the name mentioned, but as I reached the age of car ownership, it seemed like some of the magic had worn off. I would still see the name pop up from time to time, but the aura that surrounded the brand didn't feel the same. As I stood aside, snapping photos of the celebratory drivers and admiring the results of MOMO's event, my curiosity grew. MOMO had put in the leg work and brought together a group of Porsche enthusiasts, welcoming them to the racetrack for the largest Porsche gathering in the world. Had a bit of the brand's former energy and passion returned?
As a grid of Porsche Cup cars buzzed around the track surrounding us, I sat down with Henrique Cisneros, the owner of MOMO, to learn about their 50 year history and dig into the future that lay ahead. Unfamiliar with the inner-workings that lay behind the red and yellow marks, I asked Henrique about his own personal history and his story leading up to MOMO. His automotive story started like any of our's. A BMW E46 M3 took a spot in his garage and money began to drain into it as parts were ordered and modifications ensued. Once that project had neared its peak, he moved into a 911 and the ball began rolling. Not long into the discussion, Henrique had his phone out and we were flipping through photos of cars that had reached completion and ones that were awaiting finishing touches. Over the years, his garage was home to an ever-changing collection of vehicles ranging from a 1926 Ford Model A and Porsche 356B to modern day Ferrari race cars and a BMW I8. The diversity was one that struck a chord with the StanceWorks mantra, and I knew I was speaking with a fellow car guy.
MOMO was born from racing necessity and passion. In an effort to replace the steering wheel in his race car with one that met his needs, Gianpiro Moretti commissioned a local craftsman to produce a new wheel. In no time, fellow racers we taking notice and the wheel eventually found its way into the cockpit of John Surtee's World Title Formula One Ferrari, and with that came the start of MOMO. With its roots so deeply entrenched in motorsports, it makes sense that Henrique found his way into the brand by way of the checkered flag as well. Henrique started his racing career off strong, campaigning in a 997 Porsche Cup Car. Through the 14 race long 2010 IMSA GT3 Cup season, he found himself atop the podium 11 times, earning the Driver's Championship and helping the MOMO NGT Motorsport team to solidify the Team Championship for the year.
Back when airbag requirements began to take effect, MOMO began to lose a bit of traction. Owners became more hesitant to cast aside their OEM steering wheels to swap in aftermarket wheels that lacked airbags. Through the hard times, Moretti decided that selling MOMO to a large airbag manufacturer was best for the company and its future in the ever changing world of automotive safety. In 2006, it changed hands once more to a private equity firm. While the company continued to produce the same quality Italian wheels that they had been known for, it was clear that some of the passion had faded. Following the economic downturn, word began spreading and one of Henrique's racing teammates let him know that MOMO was for sale. Together he and his 3 team members took ownership of MOMO and reinvigorated the racing passion that originally fueled the business.
Over time, the other members have moved on, but Henrique's ever growing passion for racing and his joy of cars is as strong as ever and in recent months, he has aimed to restore the MOMO name to the status it once held around the world. As the Road To Rennsport drivers gathered around the eclectic mix of 911s, I could see his efforts beginning to take shape. In the racetrack field, amidst the shared stories and the bonds that had been forged, bounced the same passion that gave MOMO its start and would continue to build its momentum.