It was the year the Porsche domination would be terminated. Porsche 935s were always everywhere, and John Bishop, fearing that this situation might send IMSA to its loss, wanted to bring new contenders to the German cars. So the GTPs were born. One of the first cars to enter the Camel GT fields was a Chevron B36 powered by an Alfa Romeo then a Buick driven by Del Taylor, it was quite a private effort which never met success, but he was a welcome contender. Soon, a new venue was to change IMSA's future : the all-new Lola T600 Chevrolet built by Eric Broadley, a project initiated by Brian Redman. The car was due to enter its first race at Laguna Seca. The season began as usual at Daytona, for the 24 Hours. This event was no more than a formality for the Porsche Turbos, which outnumbered the opposition. Joest Racing had brought their 1980 winning car with Reinhold Joest-Volkert Merl and Jochen Mass at the wheel. They faced the usual US entries such as JLP Racing driven by John Paul Sr and Jr, the Whittington Bros car, the Andial car driven by Rolf Stommelen-Howard Meister and Harald Grohs, John Fitzpatrick-Jim Busby, Danny Ongais-Ted Field-Milt Minter and eventual winners Brian Redman-Bobby Rahal and Bob Garretson. Three Lancia Betas were entered by Lancia Corse and Jolly Club. Driven by Ricardo Patrese-Hans Heyer-Henri Pescarolo and Michele Alboreto-Piercarlo Ghinzani-Beppe Gabbiani, Carlo Facetti-Martino Finotto and Emmanuele Pirro, they had little chances to win overall, because of their lack of power. A Ferrari 512BB was here with Rick Knoop and Tony Adamowicz along with a 308GTB Turbo, which would not last for long.
They were threatened only by the two fastest American cars able to be not too much outpaced : the Chevrolet Monza driven by Chris Cord-Jim Adams and the All Canadian Camaro for Maurice Carter-Bill Adam-Eppie Wietzes. Many GTO cars were entered, and the BMW M1s seemed to have the edge over their opponents. Hans Stuck-Alf Gebhardt and Walter Brun were quickest of all whenever David Hobbs and Marc Surer had the Kenwood backed car. A handful of Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes could only hope for a top ten position. Many Porsche Carreras, though underpowered, could do well in such a race. An experimental Ford Mustang was to make for the start too, it was driven by John Morton and Tom Klausler. Powered by a two litre engine, it could not expect to be a whiz, but one could not tell. The GTU category was the place for the Mazda RX7s, with the Kent Racing car for Walt Bohren-Jim Mullen and Kurt Roehrig and Lee Mueller-Kathy Rude and Philippe Martin. BF Goodrich had two cars for Roger Mandeville-Amos Johnson and Diego Febles and Jim Downing-Irv and Scott Hoerr. A single Datsun was here with Frank Carney-Dick Davenport and Rameau Johnson. Some Porsche 911s were here and the most efficient was the Kegel Enterprise car for Bill Koll-Jeff Kline and Rob McFarlin. 69 cars were to make for the start. The first hours were the usual fights between the top guns driven by John Fitzpatrick, Rolf Stommelen, John Paul and others. The Brian Redman-Bobby Rahal car had started as low as sixteenth, but would work its way through the lead it would take as soon as the third hour. They would never relinquish it! Too early, said Brian Redman but it would last till the end. Every potential winner would collapse before the end of the race, except the Bob Akin-Derek Bell-Craig Siebert car, finishing second overall, thirteen laps down. But the most incredible result would be provided by the fantastic Porsche 911 driven by Bill Koll-Jeff Kline-Rob McFarlin, shattering the Mazda domination, as did the Datsun 280ZX driven by Frank Carney-Dick Davenport and Rameau Johnson, which finished fourth. A fantastic for those two cars, well ahead of the first GTO car, the BMW M1 driven by Hans Stuck, Alf Gebhardt and Walter Brun. After a long pit stop for a differential exchange, they were sixty seventh. Then they climbed back to sixth overall, and the class win. The car had no opponent on the track. (You can see the race story here).
The next race, held at Sebring, would be again a Porsche domination -. But the question was : which Porsche? It would be a race of survival, with many cars succumbing from the track rough condition. The start of the race would see the usual fight between our usual contenders. The first GTP car to appear at Sebring was the famous Chevron B36 Alfa Romeo driven by Del Taylor.
Copyright Dave Kutz
It was a modest debut, of course, but it would announce a bright future. John Fitzpatrick had set a new track record with his own Porsche 935K3. He would lead the race for five hours, then transmission problems would lead to a retirement. The race would be very competitive then, with many lead changes. The Bayside Disposal car would lose seven laps early in the race with suspension problems. They would then work their way back to the lead, to finally win the race, with a three lap margin.
Copyright Dave Kutz
The Daytona winning car was running well, until Bob Garretson met a backmarker, and flipped at the hairpin. At halfway point, the Ralph Cooke-Roy Woods and Skeeter McKitterick was in the lead : they would hold this position for three hours. Then they had an accident, causing a lengthy pit stop, and they lost first place. Another Porsche would then take the lead, but for a brief period. Marty Hinze-Milt Minter and Bill Whittington, but the Bayside car was storming back and took the command three hours from the finish. Ralph Cooke-Roy Woods-Skeeter McKitterick were second, Marty Hinze-Milt Minter-Bill Whittington third and Rolf Stommelen-Howard Meister-Harald Grohs fourth. The first GTO car came next, it was a Porsche Carrera RSR driven by Chuck Kendall-Dennis Aase and Pete Smith who survived a tough race. The Porsche 934 driven by Mandy Gonzales-Bonky Fernandez and Juan Cochesa led for a while before retiring. The Triumph TR8 driven by Pat Bedard-John Kelly then took the lead before expiriencing gearbox problems. The Porsche Carrera then would take the lead and never relinquish it. In GTU, the Mazda RX7 driven by Lee Mueller-Walt Bohren until the Porsche 911 driven by Bill Koll-Jeff Kline took the lead, but for a very short while. Then the Datsun 280ZX driven by George Alderman-John McComb would take the lead for the many hours. But a rear end collapse gave the victory to the Lee Mueller-Walt Bohren Mazda RX7 who were running very strong and took the victory at the end.
The next race was the first sprint event of the season. It was the first ever appearance of the Ford Mustang Turbo entered by Zakspeed USA driven by German ace Klaus Ludwig. He proved extremely fast in practice but had piston troubles in qualifying. John Paul Jr was the fastest qualifyer in his new, tube frame car. John Fitzpatrick was alongside him. Behind them, you could find your usual Porsche guys, such as Bobby Rahal, Danny Ongais, Bill Whittington, Hurley Haywood, Ted Field, Gianpiero Moretti and Paul Newman, who had brought the Datsun ZX Turbo in tenth. At the start, John Paul Jr and John Fitzpatrick jumped in the lead, dicing together lap after lap. Bobby Rahal was not too far. Klaus Ludwig, who started thirteenth, was carefully climbing up the standings. In fact, every Porsche driver had to stop for fuel except John Fitzpatrick who had a low boost, and Klaus Ludwig. Bobby Rahal was second after thirty seven laps and pitted for fuel three laps from the finish. Klaus Ludwig moved into second place and passed Bobby Rahal. At the end, John Paul Jr retired to finish eighth. John Fitzpatrick won with a two second margin over the new Zakspeed Ford Mustang Turbo which had a terrific debut! The GTO class was won by David Cowart, whose BMW M1 was no match for the opposition. He had a two lap advantage at the chequered over Larry Trotter, driving a Chevrolet Corvette.
Copyright Dave Kutz
The next race was held at Riverside for a six-hour enduro. Once again, it was John Paul Jr who held the pole and John Fitzpatrick who was second on the grid. The race was a big fight between John Paul Jr, John Fitzpatrick and Gianpiero Moretti, who was partnered by Jochen Mass. They drove a Joest Moby Dick car that had a fantastic appeal. This race saw the debut for a new dramatic car, the BMW M1C driven by David Hobbs and Marc Surer. The car had qualified seventh but could not do better with a 450hp engine. The Gianpiero Moretti car dropped back with a rocker arm stop and Rolf Stommelen blew a turbo early in the race. The race was the usual John Paul Jr versus John Fitzpatrick fight until lap fifty when John Paul Jr pitted for a spark plub change which costed him three laps. Then the father and son duo climbed up to second at the end but John Fitzpatrick and Jim Busby were ahead until the end of the race. They had a thirty three second advantage over the JLP Racing Porsche. The BMW M1C finished sixth with cockpit ventilation problems, which turned the race into a nightmare for the drivers. The GTO class was an easy race for David Cowart and Kenper Miller, who were never threatened by anybody. It was a BMW sweep as Tony Garcia-Albert Naon-Hiram Cruz were second and Joe Crevier and Al Unser Jr finished third. The GTU class was a surprise win for the New Raytown Datsun driven by Frank Carney and Dick Davenport who inherited the lead after the Mazda driven by Walt Bohren and Lee Mueller blew an engine. The Daytona winning Porsche 911 driven by Bill Koll and Jeff Kline took the lead then and had a comfortable advantage over the Datsun, but the fuel pump did pack up and it was a Datsun victory at the end.
The next race would prove to be a turning point in the history of IMSA racing. The Laguna Seca sprint race was a premiere in many aspects. The long awaited Lola T600 Chevrolet was here in the skillful hands of Brian Redman. Once again, John Fitzpatrick and John Paul Jr were playing with the pole, and Brian Redman took fifth in his ground effect prototype. John Paul Jr would take the lead at the green. John Fitzpatrick following, then it was Klaus Ludwig, Rolf Stommelen, Bobby Rahal and Brian Redman, who had a very quiet start. The race was on with a lot of close action, then Klaus Ludwig, who had been passed earlier by his fellow countryman, tried to pass inside of him in the famous turn nine. But that put both of them out of the race. Brian Redman was slowly moving to the top standings and passed Bobby Rahal for third at mid-race. Then, he closed in on John Fitzpatrick and, on lap thirty three, was in front of him. John Paul Jr was well ahead of him but he was soon on his heels. He finally overtook the blue and yellow Porsche 935 on lap forty five and then, the race was set. He won the race with an eleven second margin. Porsche was to undergo its first major setback, and it was only the beginning. John Fitzpatrick was third and he was followed by Bobby Rahal, Danny Ongais and David Hobbs on the underpowered BMW M1C.
The GTO class was once again all David Cowart, who was barely threatened by Al Unser Jr and Dennis Aase who ran on similar cars.
The next race was held at Lime Rock with seven cars breaking the former lap record. Klaus Ludwig held the pole with David Hobbs alongside him. It was a fantastic result for such a car. Then it was Brian Redman and Rolf Stommelen for an unusual grid line-up. At the start, Klaus Ludwig was in the lead but it would be for a very short while, as vibrations forced to retire after only three laps. David Hobbs was in the lead with John Fitzpatrick on his tail. He passed David Hobbs and, while doing so, filled the BMW with oil. David Hobbs had to pit to have his windshield wiped. Back in the race, he ended up three wheeling after forty three laps. John Fitzpatrick was in the lead until lap twenty five, but he blew a turbo and retired too. Brian Redman was in the lead, followed by John Paul Jr but he had two late pit stops which put him out of contention for the win. Brian Redman had the race for himself from this moment. Ted Field was second now and handed his car to Bobby Rahal, but the pair was at a distant four laps down! Gianpiero Moretti and Al Holbert were in third place on the Moby Dick. In GTO, Don Devendorf was here with his Datsun 280ZX Turbo and could really threaten David Cowart. But a gearbox failure prevented him from starting the race. David Cowart again dominated the race but Sam Posey was a fantastic second on his NTS Racing 2,8L Datsun 280ZX! He beat the second BMW M1 driven by Joe Crevier and Al Unser Jr.
At Mid Ohio for the Red Roof Inn 200 Miler, a forty three car field was here with John Paul Jr again on the pole. Second was once again David Hobbs who proved the car potential on slow tracks. Brian Redman was only in sixth. At the start, John Paul Jr jumped in the lead and was followed by John Fitzpatrick, Klaus Ludwig and David Hobbs. The BMW would be slowed by mechanical gremlins, and soon, would be passed by Gianpiero Moretti, Rolf Stommelen, Brian Redman and John Paul Sr, who had a brand new Lola T600 too. Brian Redman then accelerated slowly, setting a new lap record in the process, and ate Rolf Stommelen. He was on his way to getting past Gianpiero Moretti's Porsche but the German car was really fast on the straight, until Gianpiero Moretti pitted. Then, John Paul Jr, always in the lead, pitted for fuel but he would his refueling session would prove a disaster, and he lost thirty seconds. John Fitzpatrick was now the leader of the race. The two leaders would pit later and the Porsche was'still in front. Then the Lola would close in on the Porsche, dice with it for a while, and then would take the lead, definitively! John Fitzpatrick was unable to follow the Lola, as he lost a turbo at the end of the race. He dropped to fourth overll at the end. Gianpiero Moretti and Bobby Rahal were running strong, and finally took second, thirty seconds behind Brian Redman. John Paul Jr was third, and unhappy with it.
The GTO class was quite animated, too, as David Cowart had taken the lead and handed the car to Kenper Miller. The latter spun, restarted and spun again! Oil seemed to flow over the rear wheel. When this trouble was fixed later, the car was again the winner. Al Unser Jr led most of the race and was overtaken two laps from the end. In GTU, Logan Blackburn, driving a Datsun 280ZX, had planned a scenario of his own. He drove brilliantly, and not too slowly, and could do the race without refueling. When the Mazdas had all pitted for gasoline, he was ahead, and ninth overall! Lee Mueller and Walt Bohren-Rick Knoop were second and third.
At Brainerd, the practice session had left everyone uncertain, as the weather was rainy, leaving the teams with a choice for tyres that would prove crucial. John Paul Jr was on the pole once again, but he drove for the first time the team Lola T600 Chevrolet. John Fitzpatrick and Klaus Ludwig followed next. At the start, Junior popped in front but John Fitzpatrick would soon pass him. The Lola would soon be back in the lead as John Fitzpatrick had handling troubles. Klaus Ludwig was waiting behind them. John Paul Jr soon pulled ahead of the two of them, while Klaus Ludwig was getting impatient behind the Porsche. After twenty two laps, the Lola pitted with engine cooling problems. The Ford Mustang Turbo took the lead but lost it to John Fitzpatrick when Klaus Ludwig pitted for fuel. John Fitzpatrick then pitted too and had a battery let go. This time, the Ford Mustang was in the lead and would make it to the end. John Paul Sr was third leading Bruce Leven. The GTO part of the race was a classical Red Lobster domination, as Don Devendorf was rapidly out of the race, with David Cowart always in front. A cut tyre lost him the lead but he was quickly back as he stormed through the field. Second was the Porsche 924 Turbo driven by Tom Winters, finishing two laps down and third was Rusty Schmidt, driving a Chevrolet Corvette. The GTU class saw a great Datsun-Mazda battle as Lee Mueller and Logan Blackburn finished one-two at the end. Third was Wayne Baker driving a Porsche 914/4.