This event was to be the first race of the 1983 schedule, and it had begun in an odd fashion. A storm had been announced by the media and had shortened, as much as possible, the first practice session. The second practice session had been scheduled on February 3rd and would last no less than four hours.
The entry list was the now usual American GTP-GTX field, with a great deal of GTOs and GTUs to make for a huge seventy nine car field.
From Europe, only two Aston Martin Nimrod were entered. They would be driven by a mix of US and non US drivers. Darrell Waltrip-AJ Foyt-Tiff Needell-Guillermo Maldonado were on the first one and Lyn St James-John Graham-Drake Olson drove the second one. Jaguar was represented by Group 44 and had a brand new XJR5 for Bob Tullius-Bill Adam and Pat Bedard. The previous car had been destroyed during the 1982 Daytona Finale. Two Marches were there too, a 83G for Motorsport Marketing, driven by Randy Lanier-Terry Wolters and Marty Hinze and a 82G Porsche for the Red Lobster Team. This car had a particular paint scheme and was finished prior to the beginning of the first session. Fitted with a 3,2L Porsche found usually on the Porsche 935s, the car would have a lot of trouble running during the practice session. Three Lolas were there : Interscope Racing had two cars, a normally aspirated car and the new V6 Turbo prepared by Ryan Falconer. They were driven by Danny Ongais-Ted Field and Bill Whittington. The other car was the Cooke Racing driven by Ralph Cooke-Jim Adams-Dana Leung and John Bright.
A Mazda GTP was entered by Z and W Racing for Pierre Honegger-Walt Bohren and David Palmer. Fitted with a 13B engine, this car would prove efficient in spite of an obvious lack of power. The chassis making for this lack.
Facing those GTP cars, a bunch of Porsche 935s were entered. The most efficient seemed to be the Andial prepared T Bird Swap Shop car driven by Bob Wollek-Claude Ballot Léna-Preston Henn. It was a Moby Dick chassis that would prove very efficient. JLP Racing had a more standard car for John Paul Jr-René Rodriguez and Joe Castellano. The Pink Panzer was here too with Frank Rubino-Pepe Romero and Doc Bundy. Bayside Disposal Racing had a much modified car for an all-star field of drivers : Al Holbert-Hurley Haywood and Bruce Leven. Bob Akin had his Coke machine for himself, he shared it with John O'steen and Dale Whittington. Pegasus Racing had a nearly standard car for Ken Madren-Mark Speer and Ray Ratcliff. Marty Hinze was here too with his own K3 but he had no co-driver! John Paul Sr had a K3 for himself and Phil Currin. Angelo Pallavicini, from Switzerland was entered on a quite standard 935, not updated to K3 specs. The GTO cars were next, and you could find some very good cars, able to threaten the best, if they proved reliable. The two Stratagraph Chevrolet Camaros were the favorites, with Gene Felton-Tom Williams and Lloyd Frink on the first one, and Billy Hagan-Terry Labonte and Lloyd Frink again on the second one. They would have to face a pair of well driven Pontiac Firebirds entered by always optimistic Gordy Oftedahl. Bob Raub-Carl Shafer-Sam Moses were on the #14 and Mike Brummer-Phil Pate-Duane Eitel drove the #13. Auriga Racing entered a very good Camaro for Nelson Silcox-Tom Nehl and Richard Valentine. One of the most surprising entry for this race was undoubtedly a Studebaker Avanti driven by Herb Adams-John Martin-Joe Ruttman and Len Emmanuelson. This was to be one of the fastest car on the banking and the biggest surprise of this race. A new Porsche 934 was entered by Garretson Enterprises for Wayne Baker-Jim Mullen and Kees Nierop. It was a specially prepared car that would later be the surprise of the year. Ludwig Heimrath had his own 934 for himself and his son. The last competitive car was a Mazda RX7 entered by Racing Beat for Pete Halsmer-Rick Knoop and Bob Reed. Fitted with a 13B engine, it would be quite fast. The remainder of the GTO field was the usual Corvettes, Camaros, Porsche Carreras and two Ford Mustangs entered by Marketing Corporation for John Morton-Tom Klausler-Ronnie Bucknum and Milt Minter-Ronnie Bucknum. Two Chevrolet Monzas were to be seen as well as Porsche 924GTRs and BMW M1s. The GTU category was no more your usual Mazda-Datsun battle as All American Racers entered three brand new Toyota Celicas for Wally Dallenbach-Whitney Ganz-Willy T Ribbs, Dennis Aase-Michael Chandler-Al Unser Jr and Kaoru Hoshino-Masanori Sekiya-Gene Hackman. An all-star team! They would have to face the usual Mazda RX7s, a single Datsun 280ZX and some Porsche 911s.
The weather did not look fine when the practice sessions were to begin. A tornado was heading towards Florida and relentless messages were to be seen on the TV screens throughout the week. The first practice session would be run under a very dark weather. However, the first qualifying session would be run on a dry track. As the first ten positions would be set during that session, everyone was willing to have a go at it. Bob Wollek would shatter the previous record in 1m42s155, and Preston Henn was quite happy in spite of an engine loss by his star driver. He was followed by four other Porsche 935s, the best one driven by John Paul Jr but four seconds slower. The two Lolas were then, Bill Whittington would have a big fear when he punctured on the banking and destroyed his car partially. The best GTOs were just behind. The day after, Bob Wollek would not be beaten but Danny Ongais did a 1m42s554, that brought him very close to the French driver. But he would start in eleventh position. He would explode a tyre too. The team would enter the V6 Turbo car only. Gene Felton, as per usual should we say, was the best GTO qualifier on his Chevrolet Camaro, and Lee Mueller powered his Kent Racing Mazda RX7 to the best GTU position, starting on the thirty fourth position. The Red Lobster March 82G Porsche would not run at all, but was allowed to start the race, dead last.
Copyright Mike Smith
The weather was Floridian when the cars would be set on the grid and they were seventy nine. At the start, Bob Wollek was the quickest but he had to be very attentive not to be overtaken by his pursuers. In fact, Preston Henn had told him to stay in front while CBS did cover the race, in live. A Porsche Carrera would hit the wall at the very first bend of the very first lap : Lance van Every was the first retirement of the race.
After three laps, he was overtaken by Bob Akin who was willing to show his Coca Cola car in front by all means. He was not the sole driver with such desires and it was then Bob Tullius with his Jaguar XJR5 who was in the lead after six laps. In fact, the TBird car had trouble following the leaders as a turbo pressure problem did appear, slowing the car. The left turbocharger was changed, then the right one, relegating the car in 58th position at the end of the first hour, six laps down. Hurley Haywood had taken the lead, and fought with the JLP Racing car. John O'steen would hit the wall after forty three laps.
The Interscope Lola would hit a Ford Mustang driven by John Morton-Tom Klausler, but the turbo was finally the cause for its retirement later. As the Jaguar would stop at longer intervals, the British car would take the lead by the second hour.
Copyright Mike Smith
A big surprise was the Ferrari 512BB which was third when the night fell on the circuit. Carson Baird-Chip Mead and Tom Pumpelly would even take the lead at the six hour mark! The different Porsche 935s would begin to be decimated, as René Rodriguez car, losing a wheel and hitting the wall twice. The Preston Henn car was carefully carving its way back to the lead, but the gap was slowly reducing. The Bayside Disposal car would have a fire and it was the Motorsport Marketing March 83G Chevrolet that was a surprise leader. Bob Wollek and Claude Ballot Léna were eleven laps down but could turn up the boost. The unbelievable would happen, with the March driven by unknown drivers and the Ferrari 512BB swapping the lead for hours. Many off-course were to happen as was Pascal Wittmeur, driving a Pontiac Firebird. With no brakes, he went right into the wall, avoiding a group of cars preceding him. The safety car was out for a new caution period. The two Aston Martins were very far away from the leaders and would retire later with a broken engine.
Copyright Mike Smith
After six hours, Randy Lanier was leading and Carson Baird was second, then the Racing Beat Mazda RX7 was third with Pete Halsmer and Rick Knoop driving. Bob Wollek and Claude Ballot Léna were fourth, seven laps down. They were running strong while the car had some minor feed trouble, they had to stop every twenty laps, and had to pump the brakes pedal not to lose turbo pressure! The Avanti, probably needing a big repair, was seen on a trailer going to a local garage to undergo some internal work. The car would be seen later and finished the race. It was then the big "coup" for Preston Henn, seeing AJ Foyt without any drive left, after the Aston Martin Nimrod retirement. He would offer him a drive on the Porsche 935L presently driven by Bob Wollek and Claude Ballot Léna! He could have a rest at his hotel, he was to take his drive at 8AM! For a couple of thousand dollars the deal was OK. His co-drivers did not have it easy, and were steadily closing in on the leaders. The March 83G had been slowed by ignition problems, with water in the distributor, that cost them four laps.
The Porsche took the lead in the early morning and was two laps ahead of the March. The Ferrari 512BB was out of the race in the early morning with a broken crankshaft. Bob Wollek would go angry at Preston Henn's decision, arguing from the fact that AJ was a total rookie on this type of car. A real storm was about to burst in the pits. But in fact, it would later come from mother nature as a big storm would happen, flooding the track and the safety car was out once again. AJ Foyt, driving under the rain, proved unsuspected abilities to drive such a car in such conditions, while the March drivers would spin every two laps. Bob Wollek would soften his speech, apparently relieved at this sight. The track became so sodden that the race direction took a the right decision, and the race was stopped. The sweepers would dry the track. It would last fifty four minutes and the race restarted for a very short time as Hurley Haywood hit the wall, and went back three wheeling to his pits. Yellow flag for one more hour at thirty miles per hour. Everyone thought that the race would be definitively stopped. But CBS was here and they would have to go to the end of the race. Bob Wollek refused to take his ride at noon, and explained that AJ Foyt could drive a little more! He would take the wheel of the leading car at 1PM, and AJ did prove he was a great driver, as his rides were run under the wet, with no mistake.
Copyright Mike Smith
He would recognize the fact that victory was gained by the two French drivers, mainly, but he proved that he could become a good one too. But the car was probably the best of that race, in spite of a broken valve, Bob Wollek-Claude Ballot Léna and AJ Foyt cruised to a well deserved victory with a six lap advantage over the March 83G Chevrolet driven by Randy Lanier-Terry Wolters and Marty Hinze. Third and first in the GTO class was the Mazda RX7 driven by Pete Halsmer-Rick Knoop and Bob Reed, which finished twenty laps down. The winning GTU car was finally Dave Kent's Mazda RX7 driven by Lee Mueller-Terry Visger and Hugh McDonough.