The hares and the tortoise

A late regulation change led to the Porsche factory withdrawing from the Daytona 24 Hours in something of a huff. It didn’t prevent Stuttgart winning in the face of a fierce Ferrari armada, however…

Unbeknown to the organisers, IMSA's 24-hour Daytona enduro was scripted in Hollywood. Actor Paul Newman, just turned 70, teams up with NASCAR ace Mark Martin to drive a Jack Roush Ford Mustang which wins the GTS category for the 10th time in succession.

Porsche bosses, hoping for their 19th victory, storm out in disgust when IMSA change the rules 10 days before the event. Mario Andretti, their star driver, turns down a mega-buck offer to appear in a Ferrari instead. "I've got my pride," he tells friends.

The four Ferraris all lead at one time or another, but are not ready for a 24-hour contest and fall victim to engine problems. A Kremer K8 driven by Englishman Tiff Needell blows a rear tyre on the banking and lands near the feet of owner Franz Konrad.

The yellow tortoise, the unsponsored Kremer team Porsche K8, gives the Cologne team their first big victory for 10 years. Brothers Erwin and Manfred Kremer dissolve into tears, while Porsche's management offers congratulations through gritted teeth.

Asked if he will give the works Porsches a break, enabling them to run at Sebring in March, IMSA director Mark Raffauf replies: "Heck, they'd all like a break, wouldn't they?" Then ventures that while the power levels of turbo engines should be pegged at 460 bhp, "we might look at the weights again... Sebring is a really bumpy track where weight matters."

Herbert Ampferer, acting motorsports director at Porsche, says the Daytona result is not the real bottom line. "At half distance, 12 hours, the Ferraris were first and second and the Kremer Porsche was 11 laps behind. Draw your own conclusions for Sebring. All we ask is for fair treatment."

Rarely has a victory been so sweet for the Kremer team from Cologne. They won the Le Mans 24 Hours back in 1979, a year when Paul Newman was second in another Porsche 935, and they were a little lucky to win the Monza 1000 km in 1985. That was the event stopped when a tree fell across the track midway through the race, a divine intervention if ever there was one.

A few months later Manfred Winkelhock died in their Porsche 962, and in 1986 there was further tragedy when Jo Gartner died at Le Mans in a Kremer Porsche. These fatalities affected the brothers deeply, but they never gave up the search for the end of the rainbow.

Last season they broke the habit of a lifetime and represented Honda, believing that this was the way forward.

The NSXs were hardly ready for Le Mans, and after a poor showing the relationship broke up, all too soon. Much happier was the Gulf team which ran the Kremer K8 Porsche to sixth place overall in the 24 Hours, pointing the way forward for the Kremers.

The new K8 Porsche was tested at Barcelona before being freighted to Florida. "We heard about the rule change while we were driving back from Spain," said team manager Achim Stroth. "The phone rang in the cab, while we were in France, and that's how we heard that our test had been for nothing."

Both Kremer and Konrad had a tough decision to go ahead with plans for the race. Despite the Porsche factory's withdrawal they decided to send their cars, Konrad to please sponsors and Kremer... well, to get back into business with Porsche.

Kremer's K8 Porsche was driven by Giovanni Lavaggi, 1993 Le Mans winner Christophe Bouchut, Marco Werner (first time in a sports car for the German F3 driver) and veteran Jurgen Ussig. Apart from a bit of bodywork damage in the first hour it lost no time throughout the event... but that, of course, is how to win round-the-clock races.

IMSA threw a big spanner into the works by decreeing in favour of the Ferrari 333 SPs, so it seemed. In fact, there was foundation for rumours that the organisation had promised the championship to the Italian marque, plus the chance to win the two 'classics' at Daytona and Sebring.

The Porsches must pose no threat whatsoever to the Ferraris, which were unproven at anything over three hours.

Turbo engines, IMSA decreed, would have to run with 32 mm air inlet restrictors, not 34.5 mm, and would have to run 100 lb heavier than stated at 2050 lb.

At Weissach, the Porsche computer predicted an 80 bhp drop and lap times at least eight seconds slower than the Ferraris. That would be like starting the race 90 minutes after the Ferraris, a handicap that Porsche's management would not entertain.

Their two 'works' cars, new models with chassis adapted by TWR from the 1991 World Championship winning Jaguar design, were withdrawn and may not now make their debut until Le Mans in June.

Qualifying confirmed Porsche's worst fears. The K8s were being passed on the banking by Paul Newman and such big names in endurance racing as Oldsmobile Cutlasses and Chevrolet Camaros, equalling their lap times only by being more nimble on the twisty infield.

The four-litre, V12 Ferraris were a class act. The Scandia team had two 333 SPs, scarlet of course, Momo had one and the fourth was the Euromotorsports team's yellow car.

The one to watch was the Ferrari 'works' car under Scandia's banner, driven by Michele Alboreto, Mauro Baldi, Stefan Johansson and team owner Andy Evans, which Baldi put on pole position at 1m 43.326s (124.03 mph).

It was a happy reunion for Alboreto and Johansson, Ferrari F1 team-mates in 1985/86, the Swede now settled in America and enjoying his Indycar career with the Bettenhausen team.

Fermin Velez, the diminutive Spaniard, was just 0.13s slower than Baldi, and the other two Ferraris were in the top bracket. Worse than the Germans feared, though, the K8 Porsches were 17th and 23rd on the grid, Kremer's 10s off pole and Konrad's 12s shy.

British drivers did not fare well at Daytona this year. James Weaver started from the third row of the grid in Rob Dyson's Ford V8 powered Riley & Scott WSC, but the engine failed in the first hour due, the team decided, to running at unduly low engine speeds on the infield section.

Derek Bell and Andy Wallace, with Jan Lammers, were seventh on the grid and were running their Auto Toy Stores Chevrolet Spice comfortably in fifth place when the fuel bag ruptured in the fourth hour, ending their challenge.

Needell's accident was the worst of the weekend, the result of the right-rear tyre bursting while the Top Gear presenter was closing on the 200 mph barrier on the banking.

He ricocheted off one of the nastiest cars in the race, a Chevrolet 'Cannibal' and finished up on the grass apron in front of the pits, waking up hundreds of pit workers who were dozing in first light in near freezing "what am I doing here?" temperatures.

The Scandia Ferraris, racing for the first time on Pirelli tyres, had the upper hand until half distance. They shared the front row of the grid and swapped the lead until the 14th hour, then retired unexpectedly with presumed oil pump failures and internal damage.

The Momo (Gianpiero Moretti) and Euromotorsports (Massimo Sigala) Ferraris were misfiring with valve derangements and were difficult to start, causing Momo to retire at 08.15 on Sunday and the Euro car to finish eighth, with a bag of problems.

And the motherly lady in the Ferrari pit? Not everyone recognised Brenda Vernor, formerly Enzo Ferrari's secretary, who was reporting back to Piero Lardi Ferrari. The chances of Ferrari appearing at Le Mans, always marginal, seem to have evaporated completely according to Miss Vernor.

The Brix team's Oldsmobile Spice won the IMSA World Sports Car category for the second year running, this time in second place overall behind the winning Kremer K8 Porsche.

There was some hard feeling within the camp that a Le Mans Prototype was allowed in to take the $50,000 top prize, but there again at half distance Harry Brix's Spice was running fifth behind two WSC Ferraris, the K8 and the lack Roush Mustang.

Dave 'Beaky' Sims, whose wealth of experience stretches back to the Jimmy Clark days at Lotus, manages the Brix WSC team with great efficiency, demonstrated by the Spice's speed and reliability.

Last year lead driver Jeremy Dale got within a whisker of winning the IMSA Drivers Championship and at Daytona the Brix Spice led the race overall after 16 hours, only to fall back with a jamming throttle and front bodywork loosened by debris on the track.

Ferrari, clearly, has the potential to win the IMSA Championship, but the Brix Spice and Dyson R&S Ford will be very serious contenders. The Italian cars are powered by speed range, limiting themselves to 10,500 rpm, and 550 bhp, and were rewarded with a 100 lb weight reduction They will claim the same again at Sebring on March 18, but after that the V12s will be pulling 11,500 rpm and developing 630 bhp.

The IMSA WSC title race is likely to be a close contest between Mauro Baldi in the Scandia team Ferrari, reigning champion Wayne Taylor who has transferred to the Momo Ferrari team, Jeremy Dale in the Brix team Olds-Spice and lames Weaver in the Dyson team Ford V8 R&S, successor to the Intrepid.

World Sports Cars got off to a shaky start and even in 1995 the grids will not be full of open-top sports cars. The quality and variety is improving all the time, though, and IMSA director Mark Raffauf confidently predicts that "by this time next year, a World Sports Car entry will be ready to win Daytona. I always said it would take three years."

Only now, though, does he say it loudly enough for all to hear.

Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, February 4/5

1: Lassig/Bouchout/Werner/Lavaggi – Kremer K8 Porsche – 690 laps
2: Dale/Cochran/Schader/Ekblom – Brix Oldsmobile Spice – 685 laps
3: Newman/Brockman/Martin/Kendall – Roush Ford Mustang – 682 laps
4: Hatwood/Rohr/Murry/Maylander – Rohr Porsche 911 GT2 – 655 laps
5: Calderari/Bryner/Richter/Mastropietro – Porsche 911 RSR – 654 laps