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.