Daytona Twenty-Four Hours

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Frenchmen Bob Wollek and Claude Ballot-Lena won the Daytona 24 Hours, held on February 5th and 6th. However, they were assisted by the legendary A. J. Foyt and Preston Henn, the American businessman who actually owned their winning Porsche 935. Heavy rain during the second half of the race reduced the average speed of the winning car to just 98.7 m.p.h., the second slowest in the race’s history. Seventy-nine cars started on Saturday afternoon, but only 29 were left at 3.30 p.m. on Sunday.

Wollek, the real hero ot the race, put Henn’s Porsche on pole position with a record-breaking 1 min. 42.155 sec., using 1.6 bar boost on his 3.2-litre engine. The French Porsche expert took an immediate lead trom the rolling start but headed for the pits after 23 Iaps to have a turbocharger replaced. He rejoined the race, after a second turbo swop, in 38th position, and then proceeded, with Ballot-Lena, to haul the 935 back up to second place during the night.

Wollek took the lead at dawn on Sunday morning, quickly putting a lap between himself and the second placed March 83G Chevrolet of Randy Lanier, Terry Wolters and Marty Hinze. The rain was particularly heavy at this time, and, amazingly, Henn pulled a chancy PR stunt by putting Texan Foyt in the car for the next stint, even though he had never driven a 935 before! While Foyt was at the wheel, the Porsche’s lead increased, but only besause Wolters had a couple of spins in the March. Foyt drove again until the race was stopped (for only the second in its history), because infield track was flooded. Wollek relieved Foyt after the restart, and after a couple of late stops tor tyres, crossed the line in first place having completed 618 laps (2,373.12 miles). He also took fastest lap of 1 min. 49.220 sec. (126.570 m.p.h.)

The March 83G moved into the lead after nine hours, following a relatively trouble-free practice, apart from a loose side-pod. The locally-prepared car relinquished the lead to Wollek after 10 hours at the front, but continued to maintain a threatening second place a lap behind. During the rain, Wolters in particular found it difficult to keep control, and two spins on the treacherous infield bestowed on the Porsche an even more comfortable lead. Then water in the electrical system really hobbled the car’s performance, and at the chequered flag, Lanier was six laps down on Wollek.

A heroic performance from the Californian crew of Rick Knoop, Pete Halsmer and Robert Reed rewarded the works GTO Mazda RX7 of the Racing Beat team with third place. The Japanese coupé with its 2.6-litre fuel injected rotary engine, was in sixth place after the first eight hours and then climbed to third, thanks to consistency and the misfortune of others. However, the Mazda did enjoy a brief run at the very front of the field after the rain-forced stoppage. Although 25 laps behind the Porsche, Halsrner passed Foyt on the first lap of the restart and then led him round until the Texan decided to put the Mazda in its place.

Two Porsches, a 935 and a Carrera respectively, filled the next two places, with the British-built Lola T600 Chevrolet of Ralph Cooke, Jim Adams and Briton, John Bright, sixth. Cooke re-employed Bright as crew-chief for the weekend and then included him on the driving strength when oriental renta-driver Leung proved desperately slow. Following a reliable practice which placed it sixth on the starting grid, the Lola survived a couple of brushes with Daytona’s wall, to achieve a respectable final result.

Mazda GB’s PR man, David Palmer, hired a ride in the brand new GTP Mazda of Pierre Honneger’s Z and W Enterprises team. Disorganisation accompanied problems with the differential and suspension during practice, but lead driver Walt Bohren, a former IMSA champion, did outstandingly well, especially when driving through the pouring rain on ungrooved, slick tyres! The race brought alternator bothers and an embarrassing stop-on-the-track for fuel, but the small (though surprisingly heavy) car finished a rewarding eighth.

Robin Hamilton (with the help trom IMSA and Pepsi Cola) hired NASCAR Champion Darrell Waltrip, Foyt, and Argentinian F2 Champion, Guillermo Maldanado, to drive one of his Nimrod Aston Martins. The other car was piloted by Americans Lyn St. James, Drake Olsen and Canadian John Graham. Gearbox problems restricted the Waltrip / Foyt car to the 13th fastest time, immediately behind the sister machine. Although Tiff Needell helped out during practice, he did not get a chance to race the machine because a sump baffle broke up and damaged the engine’s internals. The St. James / Olsen car also broke its engine, neither car having featured much amongst the leading runners.

Jaguar’s John Egan must have been impressed by the performance of Bob Tullius’ Group 44 Jaguar XJR-5 GTP car. The last time Tullius drove the car at Daytona (last November, in the IMSA GT finale), it was destroyed against an unrelenting wall. Rebuilt and lightened, it was presented for the 24 hours in usual smart fashion and qualified on the inside of the fourth row. Tullius took it easy during practice, but then flew in the early stages of the race to lead for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, while still running with the leaders, Tullius spun the car into the east banking wall (usuflly taken at around 200 m.p.h.), and smashed the left-hand suspension beyond repair.

The only other British team at Daytona was GTi Engineering, with its Porsche 924 turbo for le patron Richard Lloyd, Formula Two star Jonathan Palmer and American George Drolsom. When car and drivers were dialled into the banking, there were a few problems with the suspension and handling to be overcome, but the biggest set-back occurred on race day. The intended race engine overheated during the warm-up session and then the spare was plumbed in slightly wrong. On the rolling start lap it blew its oil seals off, and Lloyd was forced to stay in the pits for the first two hours while modifications were made. Thereafter, it ran reliably until the turbocharger packed up, finishing the race as a normally-aspirated 924 in 18th position!

Two American favourites for the race, the Interscope Lola T600 Chevrolet Turbo V6 and the Bayside Disposal Porsche 935, did not have much luck either. Turbo failure struck the Lola in the top 10 qualifying session and then, just as Ongais was winding up for a really fast lap, a rear tyre deflated on the banking and smashed the rear bodywork. It was the second such failure for the Interscope team, and it began to wonder about the strength of its Goodyear tyres, for its normally aspirated Chevy Lola caught fire the day before following another banking blow-out. After a cautious start, Ongais’ turbo broke, bringing retirement, while the badly damaged non-turbo machine never even started the race.

The Bayside Porsche, crewed by 1977 Le Mans winner Hurley Haywood, works Porsche driver Al Holbert, and the useful Bruce Leven, was possibly the best car in the race. Bad understeer was cured during practice by raising the ride height and the car led the race comfortably early on, until striking gearbox problems. Worse was to follow with a turbocharger replacement and a suspected broken piston, and finally, while effectively out of contention, the car tangled with a Camaro, lost a wheel and retired.

1982 Daytona 24 Hours winner, John Paul Jnr. qualified his Porsche 935 second fastest, despite only six of the 12 sparking plugs working on his engine. Teamed with renta-drivers Joe Castellano and Rene Rodriguez, the JLP Porsche was in the lead when a tyre punctured on the banking with the offending wheel eventually coming off. Mexican Rodriguez cruised rather too quickly to the pits and damaged the suspension, bodywork and exhaust system. The car was stationary for 50 minutes, and fell to 26th place. Paul carved his way back to sixth, but two turbo replacements in succession relegated him to 10th and finally engine failure forced retirement.

The 1983 Daytona 24 Hours was not a very memorable race in terms of a quality entry, but it did have several highlights, notably the night charge by Wollek and Ballot-Lena, which was amply rewarded with Porsche’s seventh consecutive Daytona victory, its 12th since 1962. — A.C.M.