24 Hours of Daytona in the 1980s – Porsche Dominance

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.

Lowenbrau special Porsche 962
The 1986 24 Hour of Daytona-winning Lowenbrau special Porsche 962 during pit stop (Photo credit: Rolex / ISC Images & Archives)
Derek Bell, Al Unser, Jr. and Al Holbert in the Lowenbrau special Porsche 962
After experiencing trouble all night in the no. 14 Lowenbrau special Porsche 962, Derek Bell expressed doubt he would ever regain the lead. He along with Al Unser, Jr. and Al Holbert went on to win in record time completing 712 laps and averaging 105.484mph. (Photo credit: Rolex / ISC Images & Archives)

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.]

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!