NOT since 1968 have cars from one team finished first and second in the Daytona 24-Hours, and it’s hardly necessary to mention that the team of yesteryear was Porsche. The opening round of the IMSA championship on February 3/4 resulted in a crushing 1-2 victory for the Castrol Jaguar XJR team, again relying on the 6-litre V12 engines to go round the clock. Winners in 1988, narrowly beaten into second place last year, the Tom Walkinshaw directed Jaguar team seems to have gained an ascendancy at Daytona, and started the long series with a useful bag of 28 points.
There were three Nissans in the race but their engines were good for 12 hours, not 24, and the various Porsche teams that looked strong in qualifying proved unusually fragile. Oscar Larrauri and Derek Bell were extraordinarily lucky to walk away after crashing their Porsches at 200 mph, the result in both cases of the left-rear tyres exploding in the banking.
“It’s always nice to win races of course, but particularly the 24-hour events,” said Sir John Egan, chairman of Jaguar, happily after the event. “They are part of our heritage.” Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace, Le Mans winners in 1988, and Davy Jones had just broken the speed and distance records for the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway, finishing four laps ahead of team-mates Martin Brundle, Price Cobb and John Nielsen.
Both the Jaguars were overheating on Sunday afternoon and it looked touch and go for a while as Cobb’s car made a long pit stop in the last half hour, coming out in time to defend a two-lap advantage over Bruce Leven’s Texaco Porsche 962C driven by Bob Wollek, Sarel van der Merwe and Dominic Dobson. Overcoming various minor delays, this was the only Porsche really in contention at the end, as Hans Stuck & Co in Rene Herzog’s Porsche occupied fourth place 57 laps behind the winners, or nearly two hours in real time.
It was a happy result, too, for Tony Dowe and Ian Reed, expatriate Englishmen who respectively manage and engineer the TWR Castro! Jaguar team in the States. With Walkinshaw they had chosen to develop the V12 chassis a little further, making minor suspension changes to suit the Goodyear tyres, small aerodynamic updates, taking the opportunity to use the type number XJR-12, so that it couldn’t be allocated to a V6, twin-turbo model. The official line was that it gave the team more time to develop the 3-litre turbo engine for the season ahead, and indeed it does, but TWR now has so much experience with the V12 engine that it’s a natural choice for 24-hour racing and will come back into service at Le Mans in June. The weekend started badly for Porsche when Larrauri, the Argentinian who leads the Brun Motorsport Porsche team, came into sight off the banking travelling at full speed but upside down. This was early in the first “top two” qualifying session on
Thursday, and on his third lap Larrauri had broken the previous qualifying record with a time of inn 38.254s. A lucky photograph showed what the team expected, that a rear tyre had deflated suddenly (perhaps due to a prior leaking of pressure) and although the 962C was badly damaged when it came to rest, Larrauri wasn’t hurt.
At quarter-distance in the race Derek Bell had an almost identical accident in Gianpiero Moretti’s Momo sponsored Porsche 962C, though the car struck the wall before spinning backwards, rearing up as air got underneath the wing, then turning almost lazily onto its back. The car came to rest in the middle of the track and it was almost two minutes before helpers arrived, Daytona having strict rules about cautioning the track before letting rescue services move into action, and meanwhile Bell was hanging upside down in his seatbelts with fuel leaking into the cockpit. He admitted to being terrified but had the presence of mind to hit the emergency “kill” switch before passing out, while the engine was still running!
Bell told the story eloquently, after being checked in the medical centre. “I was flat out on the banking when something broke at the rear. The car skidded on and on without hitting anything, but I put on the fire extinguisher because I was terrified of fire. I was upside down but the engine was still running, and I was getting soaked in fuel. I managed to switch it off and tried to get out, but I couldn’t. I was looking up the road and hearing cars go by, then I started to pass out from the fumes. It was like a dream, and I remember having a nightmare.” In his long career as a sports car driver,
which began in the ENB Ferrari at Spa in 1970, Bell had never before crashed out of a race. That’s an amazing record for a man who’s won Le Mans five times, been the World Champion twice, and competed consistently in the World and IMSA Championships, and as he said, it would have tempted fate to brag about it before the accident happened. Bell has experienced two accidents in the States in the past ten years, but both were during qualifying sessions; he got away with this one with a stiff neck and scraped helmet. Luckily Fritz Gebhardt who prepares the car had had the chassis and roll cage strengthened, because it was in a similar team car that Mauro Baldi crashed last year and broke his right ankle.
Bob Wollek surprised himself by putting Bruce Leven’s Porsche on pole position after finding a clear lap, and the works Nissans directed by Don Devendorf were in second and third places. Until this year they have been entered by Electramotive but Nissan has now bought the concern and moved it to new premises.
Outwardly the operation is now more like the Nissan Motorsport Europe centre at Milton Keynes, but while the World Championship cars have Lola-built chassis and V8 twin-turbo racing engines, the IMSA cars have Jim Chapman-built chassis and are powered by twin-turbo V6 engines developed from production units. The driver line-up was the same for both Nissans comprising Geoff Brabham, Chip Robinson, Derek Daly and Bob Earl and, following last year’s plan, the idea was to start two but withdraw one of the cars when the race settled down. A third Nissan ZX GTP, driven by Geoff Brabham in the 1989 Championship, had
been sold to Jim Busby’s B F Goodrich team, and was almost identical to the works cars except for running on BFG’s racing tyres. John Paul Junior, Kevin Cogan and Mauro Baldi drove this Nissan but Paul was the only one to show real speed, since the driving seat isn’t adjustable and neither Baldi nor Cogan could get comfortable in the cockpit.
On paper the Porsche entry was strong, but the most significant 962C in the race was the pole sitter. Reinhold Joest’s car could never be underrated in the hands of Frank Jelinski, Henri Pescarolo and JeanLouis Ricci, and another car to be fancied was Jochen Dauer’s 962C in the hands of Raul Boesel, Al Unser Jr and cousin Robby Unser. Offering variety, a V8 powered works Spice-Chevrolet qualified eighth, ahead of the Jaguars, driven by Bernard Jourdain with Hiro Matsushita and Scott Atchison, and Dan Gurney again fielded the AAR Toyota Eagle (a 2.1 litre, turbo “four”) for Drake Olson, Juan Manuel Fangio II and Rocky Moran.
The anticipated battle between Nissan and Jaguar lived up to expectations for ten hours, but the Porsche teams soon went out of the picture. Frank Jelinski was the star of the first hour in the Joest Porsche, topping the leader board, but in the second hour Henri Pescarolo spun off when a rear suspension link parted company with the gearbox, and the catch-up job proceeded no higher than twelfth when oil and water mixed in the flat-six.
Bob Wollek was well up in second place in the opening stint, but van der Merwe soon tangled with a back-marker and lost two laps trailing round with a flat tyre, and another dozen laps at the end of his stint when the turbocharger’s oil line severed. Leven’s entry went down to 13th but climbed back to third by half distance, still 14 laps behind the Jaguars.. .out of sight, nearly out of mind, but 14 laps represents nothing more or less than a half hour delay. Rob Dyson crashed his car as early as lap six, having exercised the owner’s prerogative over paid drivers James Weaver, Scott Pruett and Vern Schuppan; Rene Herzog’s Porsche went well so long as Hans Stuck, Hurley Haywood or Harald
Grohs were at the wheel, but suffered from having a less powerful, single turbo air cooled engine, and Gianpiero Moretti exercised his rights and started the Momo Porsche, taking in two spins in the first hour.
Under-financed he may have been last year in the World Championship, but Jochen Dauer was making a mighty effort for the opening round of the IMSA series which the Nuremburg driver will now concentrate on. Raul Boesel, the 1987 World Sportscar Champion, did Dauer proud in qualifying for a fourth row position, and with the Unser cousins kept it tip in the top four for seven hours. This was the only Porsche, in fact, that was still amongst the Jaguars and Nissans at the three hour mark, followed at a distance by the AAR Toyota Eagle and the Stuck/Grohs/ Haywood/Herzog 962. In the palmy Porsche days between 1985 and 1988 the 962 owners had things very much their own way. When one fell out or dropped back there was always another to take its place, and even now the more professional entrants have the pace. When they falter, though, it’s Jaguars and Nissans that command the heights, and
once Dauer’s car dropped back in the eighth hour having its gearbox changed, the Stuttgart challenge was almost over.
Much sooner than Walkinshaw expected the two Castrol Jaguars reached the front.. .just 40 laps into the race. Cobb and Jones, the two Americans, set off at what they considered a prudent pace and found themselves in the top six straightaway. The Goodyear tyres, they said, were worth two seconds a lap, the XJR-12s are well-proven cars, and where they’d been hanging on in years gone by the pace now seemed easy. From the huge, panoramic grandstands it looked heart stopping as Cobb passed his team-mate into turn one with Earl’s Nissan trying to sneak through on the same wave. It was interesting, and indicative, that the Nissans could haul up alongside the Jaguars as they accelerated onto the banking but couldn’t overtake. Certainly the Electramotive-tuned Nissan engines were on low boost settings but, as they were at Le Mans, the Jaguars were trimmed for speed and sacrificed the edge on infield handling. “They were blocking me as usual,” complained Geoff Brabham, but the Jaguar drivers took that as a
compliment. The fact was, the powerful Nissan turbo didn’t show any superiority on the track.
Nissan’s decision about which car to favour was decided at the first pit stop when Derek Daly’s had a flash fire during refuelling. The ball of fiery vapour was extinguished in a second, but the powder needed cleaning up properly and the team’s full attention centred on number 83 driven, in the second hour, by Chip Robinson. The BFG Nissan wasn’t making much impression in the early stages, 13th after an hour, but was eased up to fourth at midnight. The hours of darkness took their usual toll. Derek Bell had the fright of his life six hours into the race, Dauer’s Porsche was done for when the transmission was changed and retired later with mixed oil and water, like Joest’s, the Toyota went out with a blown head gasket, Jeff Kline
crashed the Spice-Chevrolet heavily when a back-marker moved into him, and then in the 11th hour the Nissan went out with an internal problem, possibly a turned bearing. Incredibly the team wheeled out number 84 again and carried on racing although 190 laps behind, just to earn some championship points if they could.
Everyone was disappointed when the BFG Nissan stopped for 80 minutes having its throttle cable replaced, more so when it went down with engine trouble after 14 hours, but it was of academic interest only when Nissan 84 lost its oil pressure and died in the pit lane. At half distance the Castro! Jaguar team had none to fear but themselves as the Texaco Porsche moved up to third place 15 laps in arrears. The green and white Cats looked strong and sounded lovely, despite having mufflers fitted to keep the noise down to 110 dB as the regulations
require. They had their little alarms and excursions, Brundle’s car collecting a puncture on the debris from the Momo Porsche and needing a new nose panel in the night, Lammers’ car needing a new tail cover to bring the lights to life.
The warmth of Sunday, though, was a real concern to Jaguar. Temperatures of 84°F are normal in Florida in February (one reason why the race is so popular!) and Jones’ V12 was suffering badly. A mixture of water and Barr’s radiator sealant boiled up in the TWR tea urn helped to keep the problem under control, and against all expectations the overheated engine came back from the dead to win the race. Towards the end Cobb’s engine overheated too, but team manager Dowe had the situation under control and sent his car out with a two lap margin. Joy in the Jaguar pit was unbounded as the team scored its finest result, one incidentally that Goodyear’s Leo Mohl said would be advertised heavily in the States. Of the $338,000 prize fund the winning crew picked up $66,000 and the runnersup $25,000, which must make a nice change from the swingeing fees paid to FISA for the honour of competing in World Championship events. John Grant, Ford’s nomination to the deputy chairmanship of the Jaguar board, was there to share the hour, remarking that it would “cement the relationship between Jaguar and Ford”. The success certainly couldn’t have come at a better time. MLC