The 49th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona will be held January 29-30, 2011 on the 11-turn, 3.56 mile road course at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Current regulations for the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series are aimed at strict parity among the racing entrants. While seemingly the goal every year, certain time periods have seen a particular car or marque rise to the top on multiple occasions. This was especially true in the 1980s, as Porsche who won every 24 Hours of Daytona except one when they are beaten by Jaguar by just one lap. Here is a profile of the Porsche domination at the 24 Hours of Daytona during the 1980s.
24 Hours of Daytona in the 1980s – Porsche Dominance
1980 24 Hours of Daytona – The French ACO, organisers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, were moving to a fuel-consumption formula, but the American-based IMSA wanted an engine horsepower-to-weight formula to attract American fans. The two split and went their separate ways.
Several new and unproven GT Prototype cars entered this edition of the 24 Hours but domination of the race rested with the 16 turbo-Porsche 935s. Owner/driver Reinhold Joest from Germany won, driving his own version of the 935, with his countrymen Rolf Stommelen and Volkert Merl. After 17 hours of close racing they won by more than 100 miles, covering 2,745 miles at a record average of over 114 mph, making them the first European entry to win at Daytona since 1972.
1981 24 Hours of Daytona – Most Porsche racers opt for small, slightly detuned 2.8- or 3.0-litre engines, but 48-year old Daytona rookie Bob Garretson (USA) gave his Style Auto Porsche 935 a high-boost 3.16-litre ‘sprint’ engine. His lead co-driver, experienced Brit Brian Redman, insisted they stay cool, saving the car for a fast run at the finish, but their competitors began to drop like flies and they took the lead at midnight (“Too early!” Redman shouted to co-driver Bobby Rahal) and maintained a steady pace. The ‘little additive’ they used in the fuel to make the turbochargers run cooler is protested by others but proves to be within the rules.
Redman tastes Daytona victory for the third time, beating five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell into 2nd place, as the Garretson car covers 2,718 miles at an average speed of just over 113 mph. This victory marked the start of top-line racing for the young Bobby Rahal (USA) who would go on to win the Indy 500. “This was my biggest victory, up to that point, in my career – before this, I just didn’t know if I was going to make it or not.”
24 Hours of Daytona in the 1980s – Porsche Dominance Page Two
1982 24 Hours of Daytona – The face of IMSA competition changed with the new Camel GTP class mixing exotic new cars and new prototypes, racing in front of a record crowd of 50,000 spectators (Daytona Beach Morning Journal).
At the two-hour mark, two of the top Porsche cars retired due to broken parts, and from that point on two-time Daytona winner Rolf Stommelen’s Porsche 935 took and held the lead. Co-driven by American father-son pair John Paul Sr. and Jr., the JLP Porsche clocked a triple record-setting win: 719 laps, 2,760.96 miles and an average speed of 114.794 mph. John Paul Jr. went on to set an IMSA single-season record, winning nine of 18 races and the Camel GT championship.
1983 24 Hours of Daytona – Bob Wollek (FRA) broke his own two-month-old track record, with a lap of 135.324 mph to take pole, co-driving Preston Henn’s Swap Shop Porsche 935. Although A.J. Foyt (USA) was driving an Aston Martin GTP, he told Henn he always wanted to race a Porsche.
“When that piece of crap you’re driving breaks – see me!” replied Henn. Prior to the race, Foyt had been convinced by his hospitalized father to leave his bedside in order to participate and when the Aston Martin withdrew due to timing chain problems, Henn seized the opportunity to have Foyt take his place. Despite never having raced a Porsche before and 30 minutes of rain prior to his stint, Foyt ran very fast, sharing the final eight and a half hours with Porsche co-driver Wollek. They won with 618 laps, 2,373 miles at an average speed of 98 mph. Foyt was able to take the trophy back to his father just before he died. This was Porsche’s 7th consecutive Daytona victory and would be the final Daytona win for the 935.
1984 24 Hours of Daytona – A chicane was added at the end of the back straight to slow cars from carrying top speed into the turn three banking, fractionally lengthening the course from 3.84 to 3.87 miles. A wide variety of 82 cars entered, including 18 Camel GT Prototypes, the first Porsche 962 (driven by father-son Mario and Michael Andretti), a pair of Group 44 Jaguar XJR-5s, four March Porsches, two Lola T600s, a trio of Aston Martins and four Mazda-powered prototypes.
All eyes were on the Porsche 962, the fastest qualifier at over 125 mph, which unfortunately retired after 207 laps with transmission troubles. The lead changed hands several times, but it was the rookies in the Kreepy Krauly March-Porsche, South African trio Sarel van der Merwe, Graham Duxbury and Tony Martin, that took the lead on lap 254 and never looked back. The team was proud of their achievement, admitting, “… back in South Africa, Daytona is the greatest name.” They covered 640 laps, 2,476 miles at an average speed of 103 mph.
1985 24 Hours of Daytona – Changes at the Speedway shortened the lap to 3.56 miles. Of the eight Porsche 962s in existence at the time, six were seen at Daytona with all-star line ups including Foyt, Holbert, Unser Sr. and Jr., Bell, Wollek, Pescarolo, Stuck and Mass, some of whom would sweep up the top-four places in the race. Seven Porsche 935s entered but, for the first time since 1977, none were leading contenders.
After an intense race, and a close father-son battle between the Unsers, the race was won by the 962 driven by Bob Wollek, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser, Sr. (USA) completing 703 laps, 2,505 miles, at an average of 104 mph. The Lowenbrau Special 962 driven by Al Holbert, Derek Bell and Al Unser Jr. finished 2nd.
“I was crushed,” said Unser Jr. “We led nearly the whole race and lost. I talked my dad into racing, and he won. I left the Speedway in tears.” Drag racer Jack Roush, later of NASCAR fame, entered and won his class, the start of a nine year Daytona winning streak.
24 Hours of Daytona in the 1980s – Porsche Dominance Page Three
1986 24 Hours of Daytona – This endurance race would finish as a sprint, with three Porsche 962 teams battling, not only each other, but also mechanical problems. This resulted in the closest finish in the history of the race with the first two cars finishing on the same 3.5-mile lap for the first time.
Al Holbert, Derek Bell and Al Unser Jr. won, the same team that came 2nd the previous year. It was the fastest Daytona 24 Hours yet covering 712 laps, 2,534 miles and averaging 105 mph. Preston Henn’s car was 2nd, driven by A.J. Foyt, defending Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan (USA) and 1985 Indy 500 Rookie of Year Arie Luyendyk (NED), just one minute 49 seconds behind the winner. Jim Busby was 3rd, only one lap down and 10 seconds behind the Henn Porsche.
1987 24 Hours of Daytona – Once again the Porsche 962 was the car of choice. As attrition thinned the ranks, a terrific battle took place between the two winning teams from 1985 and 1986: Foyt and Holbert. The Foyt Porsche had a slight power advantage, with their 3.0-litre engine, but Holbert’s 2.8-litre Lowenbrau Special was dominant in the infield. Holbert’s star team of Derek Bell, Chip Robinson (USA) and Al Unser Jr. lost the driver’s side window and hot air and fumes blew into the cockpit, exhausting and dehydrating the drivers.
“At each end of our motor home, Chip Robinson and I were being worked on by the medics,” recalled Bell. “I had terrible cramps from dehydration.” When neither of the young drivers, Robinson or Unser Jr., could take it anymore, 41-year old Holbert stepped in to drive before 45-year old Bell took the last stint. The team won by over 25 miles, completing 753 laps and 2,680 miles at a new record average of 111 mph. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Danny Sullivan ran 2nd until retiring 20 minutes from the flag with a blown head gasket.
“It’s heartbreaking for Dad, who was chasing his third Daytona win,” said Unser Jr. “If you break down early, no big deal, but to come this far and lose is the biggest disappointment there is. This race really affects you as it’s such a long distance. In the end, your emotions show. You’re drained, physically and mentally – no, you are past drained!”
1988 24 Hours of Daytona – TWR Jaguar launched a major assault to dominate both Europe and the USA. No cost was spared – the best-looking, most competitive cars, catered meals, professional masseurs and a mountain of over 1,000 Dunlop tires for both night and day conditions. Three sleek Jaguar XJR-9s had a formidable driver line-up from F1 and the USA, but started the race conservatively.
Eight 962 Porsches looked to build on the winning streak of 11 consecutive wins at Daytona and Mauro Baldi (ITA) put his on pole with a 129 mph lap. The leading Porsche lapped all three Jaguars before retiring after 90 minutes, having lost fifth gear, but still Porsche held the top-five places.
Turbocharger problems and a crash with the Redman Porsche eliminated two of the Jaguars, but for Martin Bundle (GBR), Raul Boesel (BRA) and John Neilsen (DEN) in the third Jaguar, the race was far from over. In their Porsche, Busby, Redman, Wollek and Baldi refused to give up without a fight. They swapped the lead eight times with the Castrol Jaguar in the closing hours. The fast pace of Lammers in the Jaguar took its toll on the Porsche, which was running 2nd when it pitted with a cut tire, brake problems and loose bodywork. The Jaguar took victory one lap and 54 seconds ahead of the struggling Porsche, which finished without one of its doors. The Jaguar completed 728 laps, 2,591 miles and averaged nearly 108 mph. This marked Jaguar’s first 24-hour race victory since the 1957 Le Mans race and its first at Daytona, also signaling the end of Porsche’s domination of the previous decade in the 24 hours of Daytona.
1989 24 Hours of Daytona – The infamous “20 hours of Daytona” saw racing stop for four hours due to fog. Of the 68 cars starting the race, nine were Porsche 962s, plus a Nissan-powered Lola, Dan Gurney’s Toyota 88C and defending champion Tom Walkinshaw’s three TWR Castrol Jaguar XJR-9s.
The pole-sitting Nissan collided with Derek Daly’s Jaguar on the second lap eliminating both cars. Gurney’s Group C Toyota lasted 180 laps before overheating saw it retire and the Bayside/Havoline Porsche was out of contention after a broken throttle linkage. The Nissan GTP-ZXT, driven by Geoff Brabham (AUS), was leading when the fog hit Daytona just after midnight and racing stopped for four hours. Then with just five hours remaining the Nissan engine failed and the Busby Porsche took the lead.
The final hour saw a close battle between the Porsche of Wollek and the super fast 1988 winner, Jan Lammers (NED) in the Jaguar, who set the fastest lap of the race at 125 mph. Wollek took the win by just 1:26.665 – a new record for the closest victory at Daytona. The Busby team ran 621 laps, 2,210 miles, averaging just 92mph due to the fog, giving Porsche their 50th victory in the Camel GTP competition.
[Source: photo credit: Rolex / ISC Images & Archives; Autosports Marketing Assoc.]
I was at all of those races, and the memories of those great cars and drivers are among my favorites. Thanks for the reminders, and for reminding all of us what a travesty the race has become with those ugly, slow Daytona Prototypes.
Which year was it…1985?…there was a rainstorm at dusk on Saturday and everybody came in, except, it seemed, for the Group 44 Jaguar circling the track with it’s lights on in the rain.
Fantastic event for the spectator, who can escape to a comfortable seaside bar in the evening!
Thanks for reminding us of the days when the
24 Hours was relevant.