1983 was to be the year of the first GTP Championship win. Al Holbert had arranged a deal with Porsche and he had a single turbo installed on a March 83G chassis. The engine was prepared by Andial and the combination Al Holbert-March 83G Porsche proved to be the one to beat. The most serious contender for the 1983 Champion appeared to be the new Jaguar XJR5 who captured four wins. The season was very exciting with a bunch of new cars which made for a various field. The other categories displayed a good show too with the Datsun 280ZX T, now fully developed by Electramotive, fighting against the Garretson Enterprises Porsche 934. At the end, it was the Porsche which captured the title. The GTU category saw Jim Downing, driving his Downing/Atlanta Mazda RX7, become the new series Champion. Race format had been set to enduros, with a minimal 3 hour duration, up to 24 hours.
The season had begun, traditionally, on the Daytona circuit, for the 24Hour race. This race could have hosted the first FIA Group C event, but John Bishop did not agree with these terms. The race would remain an IMSA venue, for many years to come. In fact, it seemed that many European teams could have made the costly trip to Florida, but only Aston Martin would cross the Atlantic ocean. The cars were sligthly different from the 1982 versions, with a brand new car for Tiff Needell-AJ Foyt-Darrell Waltrip, fifty kilos have been gained on the Pepsi-Cola backed car. The second car was a more conventional one, with Drake Olson-John Graham and Lyn St James driving. The Group 44 Jaguar XJR5 was a brand new car too, as the former car had been destroyed by Bob Tullius during the 1982 Daytona Finale. Bob Tullius was co-driven by Bill Adam and Pat Bedard on the V12 5,3L car. Opposed to this bunch of British cars were the usual contingent of Porsche 935s. Many of them could decentfully hope to win the race. The most effective car appeared to be the Andial prepared Porsche 935L entered by Preston Henn. The car was driven by Bob Wollek, Claude Ballot Léna and Preston Henn. Bayside Disposal, JLP and Bob Akin Motor Racing were the traditional top entrants. One single Lola T600 Chevrolet driven by Ralph Cooke, Jim Adams, Dana Leung and John Bright seemed to be a threat but it would quickly fade away. One March 83G Chevy entered by Motorsport Marketing for Randy Lanier, Terry Wolters and Marty Hinze. As per usual, many GTO cars were entered, amongst which the two Stratagraph Chevrolet Camaros. The Racing Beat Mazda RX7 was powered by a 13B engine. The GTU category was the home of the Mazda RX7s, but All American Racers had entered a trio of Toyota Celicas driven by an all-star bunch of drivers. Seventy nine cars were entered for the first 1983 race. At the start, the Andial Porsche 935 seemed not to be willing to lead the early stages of the race. It was soon Bob Akin, Hurley Haywood, Bob Tullius and John Paul Jr who would take the lead of the race, obviously willing to be shown by the media. Then the Andial Porsche driven by Bob Wollek would pit with turbocharger problems. The car would be very low in the standings at the end of the first hour. Running strong all night behind the leaders who would be decimated one by one, the car was able to recover the lead by sunday morning. A surprise was to await the lead drivers as a new co-driver had been hired by team boss Preston Henn : AJ Foyt! This unbelievable situation would however lead to the team's first victory. It was the first victory for French drivers Bob Wollek and Claude Ballot Léna. Second was the March 83G Chevrolet driven by Randy Lanier-Terry Wolters and Marty Hinze.
Copyright Mike Smith
Third was the fantastic Racing Beat Mazda RX7 driven by Pete Halsmer-Rick Knoop and Bob Reed, easily winning the GTO class. The Kent Racing Mazda RX7 won the GTU class with Lee Mueller-Terry Visger and Hugh McDonough at the wheel. (full story here).
The next race was a premiere with a rush in the streets of Miami. A good field of thirty three cars. Many top teams had entered the race, which appeared to be a flop, due to the awful weather conditions. Heavy rains poured on the streets of Miami which became unpracticable. Three races had been set and each class were run separately. The GTO class was dominated by Gene Felton, running the Stratagraph Chevrolet Camaro, once Don Devendorf retired with his Datsun 280ZX Turbo. Second was Ludwig Heimrath driving his own Porsche 934.
Courtesy Gene Felton
The GTU class was won by Roger Mandeville, aboard his Mazda RX7. He took the victory over Whitney Ganz, driving a Toyota Celica. Jack Dunham took third on his Mazda RX7.
The big race was to take place then. The weather was to worsen with big wind and heavy rains. At the start, John Fitzpatrick took the lead, but he was to be penalized thanks to a "stolen" start. However, Al Holbert would soon take the lead. Danny Ongais had begun to push very hard and was making for the lead. Bob Wollek was running strong and closing in on John Fitzpatrick who had been overtaken by Al Holbert. Soon, the weather would turn into a real nightmare for every contender. Many cars would stop to switch for rain tyres, and then, the race would turn into a real procession. Many cars would have their ignition systems utterly drowned. The race was no more a race and many cars had retired from that race-to-be. The race director had no better choice than red-flag the race. Al Holbert was the winner, but it surely was the strangest race he had ever won. He earned $50000 in a quite odd fashion.
The next race was the classical 12 Hours of Sebring, held on the famous Florida Airport on the 19th March. For the first time since long, the track had been modified and shortened. A wide section between Runway East-West and Runway North-South had been deleted, and the new section had been entirely repaved. The spirit of Sebring was definitely present and it was one of the season's highlights. However, the field appeared to be less attractive than durng the first two races. In spite of a record eighty seven starters, the biggest one recorded ever. One sole Lola T600 Chevrolet was entered for Ralph Cooke-Harald Grohs and Josele Garza. Two March 82Gs were here too with Marty Hinze-Randy Lanier and Terry Wolters driving the #16 and Pepe Romero-Doc Bundy and Bill Whittington on the pink car. The Jaguar XJR5 was here with Bob Tullius-Bill Adam and Pat Bedard driving the beautiful cat. Amongst the other prototypes entered, the homebuilt Phoenix JG1 Chevrolet built and driven by John Gunn and Ricardo Londono, the Grid S1 Cosworth was driven by Milt Minter and Skeeter McKitterick. The two Aston Martin Nimrod seen at Daytona were here too but they were sadly for sale. The reminder of the potential winners were as per usual the Porsche 935s. Many of them were entered, but JLP Racing chose not to enter any car. Preston Henn had his Andial 935L entered for Derek Bell-Michael Andretti and John Paul Jr. The team had brought a K3 for the Whittington bros. Bob Akin Motor Racing brought their usual K3, as Bayside Disposal, with Hurley Haywood, Al Holbert and Bruce Leven. The other cars were less competitive, but on such a race, who knows? This was probably true for the GTO cars, with a very strong field. Many Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes were here, but the Stratagraph cars were undoubtedly the fastest and strongest of all. Oftedahl Racing had brought a pair of well prepared Pontiac Firebirds, driven by Carl Shafer and Carlos Ramirez and Paul Fassler-Steve Pope. The Racing Beat Mazda RX7, which had run so well at Daytona, was here with Pete Halsmer and Rick Knoop driving. A bunch of BMW M1s was there, the best of which was the Fomfor car. Three Chevrolet Monzas, slightly outdated, but still running well. Garretson Enterprises entered a special Porsche 934, driven by Wayne Baker-James Mullen and Kees Nierop. Some valiant Porsche Carreras made for a strong field, and you could see two Ford Mustangs and a Ford Maverick. The GTU class was no different, and it seemed that the Mazda RX7s would have to fight against the newly introduced Porsche 924GTRs. The outdated Porsche 911s were no longer able to go for the win. It would be the usual inter-team quarrel between Mandeville Auto Tech, Casey Montex, Downing-Atlanta, Kent Racing who were the best teams. The All American Racers team had chosen not to take part in this destructive race, with cars that needed further developments. A host of old cars could be seen : they were part of this huge field even if they were not welcomed by the top teams. Amongst these slow backmarkers, a Ford Capri, Renault 12, BMW 2002, Ford Pinto and the usual Lancia Stratos.
The practice sessions demonstrated how fast the TBird Porsche 935 was, with John Paul Jr driving. He was 2s5 faster than the Jaguar XJR5, which was surprisingly fast. Third was the Phoenix JG1 Chevrolet, driving by John Gunn, who drove his car very hard, but he was faster than every Lola or March. The best GTO car was eleventh, and it was the Chevrolet Camaro driven by Gene Felton, who drove in an impressive way : fantastic. The best GTU car was the Mazda RX7 driven by Joe Varde-Jack Baldwin and John Casey, which placed twenty third, and this car was just ahead of the Kent Racing car of Lee Mueller and Terry Visger.
A record crowd took place all around the track, the start was to be given at 11AM under a sunny weather.
At the start, the Jaguar jumped ahead but Bill Whittington was soon in the lead. Pushing hard, he had a thirty second lead over his closest pursuer but he was out on lap eight! The Jaguar took the lead but it was then the Bayside Disposal car driven by Hurley Haywood which took the lead. In fact, those two cars would swap the lead for a while. Derek Bell, driving the TBird Porsche 935L, was out of the pace, because of handling troubles, then turbo problems. The race would offer many off-course due to the new track section, the tarmac tearing off while the cars were running by. This situation led to a safety car period, for forty three minutes. When the race took on, the two leaders were fighting hard, but the Jaguar was out after four hours, with engine troubles. While many cars experienced troubles, as the Lola, with a tyre burst resulting in a body damage. Then, it was the Porsche 935K3 driven by Bob Akin-John O'steen and Dale Whittington which took the lead. Followed by the March driven by Marty Hinze-Randy Lanier and Terry Wolters, the two cars would then fight for the lead. The March would retire later with a broken radiator, and it seemed thzat the Coke machine would easily win. Second was the Mazda RX7 driven by Pete Halsmer and Rick Knoop. This fantastic little car took the lead when the leading car lost thirty minutes after water was found in the race fuel. The end of the race saw Pete Halsmer have an accident and retire from the race. The Porsche 935 entered by Bayside Disposal seemed to be able to take the lead but had to stop with electrical problems. The Grid, which was well driven by Milt Minter and Skeeter McKitterick, would soon have to pit for troubles.
Copyright Michael Crews
Then it was the Porsche 934, driven by Wayne Baker, Jim Mullen and Kees Nierop, the car was running consistently if not strongly, and it finally was the surprise winner of this classic. (see full story here)
The next race was held at Road Atlanta, for a 500 kilometer race. A huge sixty nine car field was entered. The race saw the first ever victory for the Jaguar XJR5 driven by Bob Tullius and Bill Adam. They won over the March 83G Chevrolet driven by Bill Whittington and Emory Donaldson. Gianpiero Moretti had made his come-back to the IMSA Championship, bringing two cars : his usual Porsche 935L and a March 83G Porsche. Choosing the March, he and co-driver Sarel van der Merwe finally wound up a third place overall. The GTO class was won by the Sebring winners, Wayne Baker and Jim Mullen took an eighth place at the finish.
The next race was held at Riverside, for the traditional 6Hour race. A big 60 car field showed up with a wide variety of racers. Al Holbert showed up with his March 83G which was fitted with a Chevrolet engine. He set up a new lap record during practice. The race was finally won by John Fitzpatrick and David Hobbs, but it was marred by Rolf Stommelen's death on the ninety fourth lap. His Porsche 935L went right into the wall and was disintegrated. The winners refused to show up on Victory Lane by respect for their friend.
Copyright Frank Sheffield
Al Holbert and Jim Trueman finished second on the March 83G. The GTO class was won again by the Porsche 934 entered by Bob Garretson, which finished fifth overall, beating the Stratagraph Chevrolet Camaro driven by Gene Felton and Billy Hagan. In GTU, it was a first ever victory for the All American Racers team, with Wally Dallenbach, Whitney Ganz and Dennis Aase winning at the wheel of their Toyota Celica. A BMW 320 entered by William Karges, and driven by Roberto Moreno and Boy Hayje finished second in class and twelfth overall.
The next race was held at Laguna Seca, for a 100Miler. Every driver ran solo, and twenty five cars took the green. At the end, it was Al Holbert who won over the Jaguar XJR5 driven by Bob Tullius. Ford had brought two Mustang turbos, and those cars were now outdated. Bobby Rahal drove one of them to third place, but Ford had a new car in preparation : the Ford Mustang GTP, which would debut later in the season. The GTO class was won by Diego Montoya, from Colombia. He did a great job to finish just ahead of Don Devendorf, driving his Datsun 280ZX Turbo. Third was Roberto Moreno, on a Toyota Celica, which had a special engine for that very race. The GTU race was run separately, and a strong twenty four car field was to be seen. It would be the first time since long that a non Japanese car would take the chequered as the winner. Boy Hayje proved that he had something to show his opponents as he powered his BMW 320 to a win over on his Mazda RX7. Third was Casey Mollett on his Datsun 280ZX. The Special Gp2 class, which featured less developed cars, was won by Jon Koobation, driving a Datsun 510.
For the remainder of the season, Al Holbert, who drove a March 83G Chevrolet powered, had a new powerplant provided by Andial, which was a single turbo version of the Porsche 935 engine.