Still Porsches, but the Jaguars looked good
Speed, colour and variety are three descriptive words which immediately come to mind to describe the Daytona 24-Hour race, opening round of the American IMSA series run the first weekend in February. Seeing no end to the deadlock between FISA and IMSA, Porsche gave their new 962 model its debut on the famous tri-oval track, driven by Mario and Mike Andretti. Against this white newcomer were five British March chassis with a variety of power units, four Lolas with Chevrolet or Mazda engines, two “works” Jaguar XJR-5s, three Aston Martin Nimrods, some still-competitive Porsche 935s, and a host of fast Trans-am type Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros, Pontiac Firebirds, even the pretty new mid-engined Pontiac Fiero making its debut with GM engineers in close attendance.
Still to come in the 1984 series are the new Lola-Chevrolet which will have full GM support, and the Ford Mustang GTP which, though it claimed one victory last season, was not thought to be ready for a full 24-hour endurance run just yet. No fewer than 82 cars lined up for the start on the 3.87 mile track which combines all but about 200 yards of the banked circuit, plus a reasonably fast infield section. A new feature was the inclusion of a “chicane” half-way round the banking, a left turn off the anti-clockwise track, a short straight, and a right turn onto the banking again. This added some 12 seconds to the lap times, the average being 125 mph rather than 135 mph, and was given a guarded welcome by the drivers.
Over the years there have been some spectacular accidents as heavily loaded tyres and suspensions have given way on the banking, and in such situations the drivers are merely passengers after the inevitable collision with the retaining wall, yet the drivers were less then enthusiastic about the modification feeling that the character of the circuit had been changed. Apart from anything else the addition of the chicane at the fastest part of the course increased the risk of lower-speed accidents, as soon became evident.
The Porsche 962 which claimed pole position is a derivative of the 956 model, though with some important differences. The wheelbase is extended by 12cm at the front so as to place the driver’s feet behind the axle line, a single turbo 935/76 engine developing 650 bhp installed, new bodywork fitted to accommodate these changes, a 120-litre tank installed, and a steel roll cage was fitted instead of the usual alloy cage. All these changes were necessary to meet the IMSA rules, and Porsche will now build three or four replicas for customers.
Second fastest in practice was the Porsche-powered March 83G entered by the South African Kreepy Krauly team for Sarel van der Merwe, Graham Duxbury and Tony Martin. Their car had a full three-litre turbo engine rather than the 2.8-litre in the works car, and carried the penalty of going into a higher class with a minimum weight of 900 kg, rather than the 850 kg.
Considerable attention was focussed on the two brand new Jaguar XRJ-5 cars entered by Bob Tullius’ Group 44 team, John Egan and three more Jaguar directors attending the race to see how the cars shaped up; their performance would influence a decision to be made soon about whether or not to enter works cars at Le Mans. The XJR-5 Jaguars are beautifully constructed and have the benefit of detail modifications since last year’s programme, but are still overweight at an admitted 925 kg. The power units are 5.3 litre V12s developing 570 bhp, and with better fuel economy than most of their rivals. The car driven by Tullius with David Hobbs and Doc Bundy was equipped with Weber carburettors, that of Brian Redman, Bill Adam and Pat Bedard having the new Lucas–Micos electronic engine management system which is thought to be even more economical on fuel. These cars were third and sixth fastest respectively during qualifying.
Viscount Downe’s Bovis-sponsored Aston Martin Nimrod led the challenge from Newport Pagnell in the hands of Ray Mallock, John Sheldon and Drake Olson. John Cooper’s CAM Motorsports team constructed a new car out of existing parts, Cooper sharing the driving with Bob Evans and Paul Smith, and a third was entered for the Americans Jack Miller, Carlos Ramirez and Vicki Smith. Chevrolet-powered Marches featured well in the list of practice times, the quickest of these driven by Marty Hinze/Bill Whittington/Randy Lanier and by Al and Art Leon with Terry Wolters.
Mario Andretti had used qualifying tyres to establish pole position at 1 min 50.99 sec, so his two second margin over Sarel van der Merwe may not have been as decisive as it looked since the South African team practices on race rubber. Right from the start Merwe pounced in front of Andretti, and for the first 20 laps these two traded the leading position in a way that didn’t look at all typical of endurance racing. Having proved that the March-Porsche was just as fast as the new 962 Merwe eased off a little, allowing Andretti to build up what looked like a secure lead.
The first round of pit stops had the works Porsche in the pits rather a long time as the gearbox was playing up, and half-way through his stint Mike Andretti stopped to report that the car was sticking in fifth gear. Before long the mechanics had to get down to the job of stripping and rebuilding the ‘box, the job taking 100 minutes and putting the car right out of contention.
This development gave Porsche’s rivals some respite, and during the second hour the Marty Hinze team Lola-Chevrolet moved into the lead with the Kreepy Krauly March-Porsche close up in second place, the Tullius Jaguar third and Preston Henn’s Porsche 935 fourth, the drivers being A. J Foyt, Bob Wollek and Derek Bell. Foyt, one of America’s most successful and famous oval track racers, seemed to be in his element on the road course as well and stayed at the wheel for the first two hours.
Redman’s Jaguar dropped away, first within the front bodywork breaking up and then with a seized water pump which gave the mechanics a major task in the paddock garage, occupying them for three hours. Part of the exercise was to prove the cars over a 24 hour period, so there was no question of retiring the car in which Redman set the fastest lap of the race later.
All was well with the Tullius Jaguar at this stage, and it moved easily into the lead during the third hour. Its progress was helped by the South African team’s unscheduled stop to find the gear lever knob which had rolled into the pedal box, the racing being so close that a couple of minutes lost would take a lot of hard driving to retrieve. The Jaguar remained ahead during the fourth, fifth and sixth hours, right through the quarter-distance mark, before the alternator belt jumped off and forced a pit stop which dropped it back to 10th place, eight laps behind the new leader which was the Bayside Racing Porsche 935 of Bruce Leven/Al Holbert/Hurley Haywood.
During the night, and in fact until the end of the race, both Jaguars continued to be hampered by their alternator belts flying off at regular intervals. Recalling the problems experienced by the Aston Martin Nimrods at Le Mans last year, and difficulties encountered by the Tullius team during trials in December, it seems extraordinary that Lucas cannot, by now, supply alternator equipment which is up to the job of sparking a highly tuned production engine for 24 hours. Rival makes from Germany are not accustomed even to thinking of alternators as a potential source of trouble. As we understand it from Tullius, the Jaguar alternators have heavy armatures designed for production cars equipped with air conditioning, and these may cause unnecessary drag on the belts at high revs.
So far as Jaguar were concerned that was the only flaw in the performance of the Tullius/Hobbs/Bundy car which eventually battled through to third place overall, otherwise reliable and fully competitive with the fastest entries.
Brian Redman had a lucky escape in the second Jaguar when the right rear blew out on the banking, just as he was approaching the chicane at 180 mph. Redman, who now lives in Florida and runs the prosperous second-hand car side of the Gregg organisation, was able to keep off the wall and bring the Jaguar safely back to the pits with the rear bodywork badly damaged, and it didn’t take long to put that right.
The Porsche powered entries had their troubles too. The Kreepy Krauly March, delayed by the gear lever knob falling off, was further hampered during the evening when the reserve fuel pump failed to work and left the car stranded out by the chicane with Tony Martin in a dilemma. He set off on foot towards the pits, meeting Sarel van der Merwe half way carrying a canister of fuel, and after a seven minute delay the car was on its way again. Under World Championship rules the car would have been disqualified, but IMSA regulations allow emergency refuelling so the South Africans were able to carry on, moving easily into the lead after 11 hours and controlling the event from then on.
Both the Bayside and Preston Henn Swap Shop 935s were held back by inlet manifold problems which forced them to run at reduced boost, and at lower race speeds. The Bayside car, which had held the lead for four hours on Saturday evening, had a badly cracked manifold which welding failed to cure, while Henn’s car had stripped manifold retaining bolts. Both these defects were thought to be the effect of squeezing a few more horsepower out of the engines, which are just about at the end of their development life.
As dawn was breaking the better-placed Jaguar moved between these two Porsches and the top three positions remained unchanged, through the Leon/Leon/Wolters March 84G Chevrolet which had been as high as fourth at a couple of stages began to drop back, first with a rear tyre blowout then after spinning backwards into the infield barrier damaging the rear bodywork.
Of the three Aston Martin Nimrods John Cooper’s car fared best, finishing in seventh place after a steady run. Their only problems were a split oil line and an unscheduled stop when Bob Evans felt sick while driving. The Bovis car had three lengthy delays with suspension uprights needing replacing, the first time when a front tyre punctured and the steering control arm was damaged, and 16th place was its reward. The American entered Nimrod retired just before half distance with the final drive broken, 20th having been its highest position.
During the first half of the race there were six different leaders in five different chassis makes, a very refreshing scene from the European point of view. We can now just hope that FISA and IMSA will announce a compromise in the near future, to bring the categories together. –M.L.C.