The 1985 season was a new step towards a GTP evolution. Porsche had sold two new 962s to Jim Busby's BF Goodrich sponsored team. No less than six or seven cars were now entered on a regular basis. Things would get tougher for the opposition. Al Holbert had his Löwenbrau Special car which he knew better than any other competitor. He had the factory support and was now a recognized star. He would earn his fourth Camel GT Championship, scoring points in every races but two. The Championship had a new category, set up to accomodate the small prototypes. The Lights cars were small displacement GTPs that low budget teams could afford, and they would provide some competition for the fans. Seventeen rounds were offered to a growing attendance, ranging from 500Milers to 24 Hour races.
As per usual, the season took off at Daytona for the traditional 24 Hour race. Sunbank backed the race which hosted a very eclectic seventy six car field. Porsche 962s were now facing two Jaguar XJR5s, a handful of Marches of all types, a new Corvette GTP, Gianpiero Moretti's Alba and a host of reliable Porsche 935s.
Holbert Racing had their 962 entered for Al Holbert-Derek Bell and Al Unser Jr. Bayside Disposal had two cars for one team of drivers! Henri Pescarolo-Thierry Boutsen and Bruce Leven would share the driving chores and keep the best running car later in the race. Bob Wollek was partnered by AJ Foyt and Al Unser Sr on Preston Henn's car. BF Goodrich were the new top contenders for the overall, with two cars for a stellar line-up. Jim Busby-Jochen Mass and Rick Knoop were on the first car, while Pete Halsmer-John Morton and Dieter Quester were on the second one. Bob Akin was co-driven by Hans Stuck and Paul Miller on the Coke machine. The main opposition appeared to be the Group 44 Jaguars. Bob Tullius-Brian Redman and Hurley Haywood were on the number 44 car, while Chip Robinson-Bill Adam and Claude Ballot Léna drove the number 04. They were counting on the reliability of their V12s. The Marches were powered by various types of powerplant as well as different chassis types. The Conte Racing Buick powered car was driven by John Paul Jr-Bill Adam and Whitney Ganz. Sarel van der Merwe drove the ex-Holbert Racing 85G chassis, which was Porsche powered. Ian Scheckter and Tony Martin were willing to go for a second win in a row. Leon Bros Racing had a Porsche powered 85G for Bill Whittington-Randy Lanier and Al Leon. The other cars were less efficient ones. Gianpiero Moretti was partnered by Ludwig Heimrath Jr, who had purchased the car for the remainder of the season, and Massimo Sigala. Don Courtney had a Buick powered Argo, which he shared with Brent o'neill and Steve Shelton.
The GTO class was now dominated by the Roush Racing Ford Mustangs. A fierce opposition could be awaited from the Dingman Bros Pontiac Firebird driven by Walt Bohren and Craig Carter. The Chevrolet Corvette driven by Allen Glick and Billy Scyphers was not far away, unlike the numerous Porsche Carreras and 934s. A Ferrari 512BB entered by Mosler Racing was now part of this class, and driven by John McComb, Rick Mancuso and Fred Fiala. Many Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes would be part of this race, also. The new Lights category was created to allow small displacement prototypes. The new Argo JM16s, Tiga GT285s and Royale RP40s, which took part of the GTP class last year, were now the main contenders. Jim Downing-John Maffucci were the favorites with a Mazda powered Argo, while Charles Morgan and Bill Alsup had a Buick powered one. The Tigas were less efficient cars, and Tom Burdsall-Peter Welter were more than ten seconds slower. The GTU class displayed the now usual Mazda-Toyota-Porsche battle. Elliot Forbes Robinson would set the John Schneider Porsche 924GTR on the pole, just ahead of 1984 champ Jack Baldwin-Ira Young-Jeff Kline, and Paul Lewis-Scott Pruett, and Chris Cord-Dennis Aase on the AAR Toyota Celica. Many outdated Porsche 911s were part of the show while a Ferrari 308GTB driven by George Alderman-Joe Hill added a little variety to the small class.
John Paul Jr was on the pole, on the Conte Racing March Buick, just ahead of Sarel van der Merwe, on the Kreepy Krauly Porsche powered car. The Porsche 962s were just behind them, led by Bob Wollek and Al Holbert, while the Jaguars were slightly behind, but the drivers were optimistic. The race was set with a warm weather, and plenty of spectators. At the start, the two top starters were quickly ahead of anybody. Behind them, AJ Foyt, running at a slowly pace, was passed by many drivers, and was down in the standings. A battle would next follow, involving most of the main contenders for the win. Al Holbert was fighting with the two Jaguars, Hans Stuck and Al Leon. The latter would have a puncture later, just before the first refueling session. Sarel van der Merwe, pushing his March very hard, would pay the price for that and lose a lot of time on the track after running out of gas! John Paul Jr lost the lead to Al Holbert while refueling. Later in the race, Bob Wollek was gaining fast on the leaders, after refueling very late. Al Holbert was now firmly in the lead, with Bob Tullius Jaguar XJR5 second. The second Jaguar had lost five laps after having a puncture on the banking. A rain shower would bring some kind of a ballet in the evening, and then things began to accellerate. John Paul Jr had a suspension problem, and lost a lot of time. The John Schneider Porsche 924GTR hit the wall and bits and pieces were strewn all over the track. The pace car was out for fifteen minutes. At the restart, Pete Halsmer tangled with a Corvette and the pace car was out again. Positions were straightening down, with Al Holbert's car always in front. As many cars were suffering from various ailments, Porsche seemed to get rid of its more avid competitors. The Marches and Jaguars would undergo various troubles, and the main question was : what Porsche would win? Thierry Boutsen had joined the Preston Henn 962, as two of the drivers were sick! During the night, a stuck throttle sent the car eleven laps down. The race lost the most of its excitement very soon, as it seemed that the Holbert car had won the race, but, in the morning, things turned very bad. Running more and more slower, the car lost the race to the T Bird Swap Shop car. Al Holbert was second and the BF Goodrich car was third, ahead of Bob Akin's two cars, the 962 and the 935.
Copyright Michael Crews
Porsche had utterly dominated the event. Ford did the same in GTO, with Wally Dallenbach-Willy T Ribbs-Doc Bundy easily winning their class. Amos Johnson-Jack Dunham-Yojiro Terada gave Mazda a new victory, while the Lights class very first winners were Don and Kelly Marsh, along with Ron Pawley won driving their Argo JM16 Mazda.
The next event was due to happen in Miami. The race had become one of the season's highlights, and this was due to Ralph Sanchez abilities to cope with every aspect of a race organisation. Thirty eight cars were part of the main GTP-GTX event, and the field displayed some extras. First of all, Emerson Fittipaldi was entered in the works March 85G Chevrolet, which was rent to Ralph Sanchez. The car was of course the public's favorite, and proved worth it. Tony Garcia, Fittipaldi's co-driver, did not prove up to the task, unfortunately. Ralph Sanchez had another car for Jan Lammers-Roberto Guerrero, who replaced Emilio de Villota for the race. A big handful of Marches, ranging from 85Gs to 82Gs, would take part of the race. The Conte Racing car, driven by John Paul Jr-Bill Adam, would be the fastest car in practice. The other valid cars were the Blue Thunder one and the de Atley Motorsport entry, driven by Darin Brassfield and David Hobbs. Five Porsche 962s were entered, but only two ones appeared really apt to fight for the win. The Preston Henn car, driven by the now legendary Bob Wollek-AJ Foyt duo. Al Holbert-Derek Bell were also amongst the best. The two Jaguar XJR5s were here too, willing to reiterate their 1984 triumph. They were driven by Bob Tullius-Brian Redman and Hurley Haywood-Chip Robinson. John Gunn had brought his Phoenix Chevrolet, which
he drove with Chip Mead. Fomfor was here with his C7, now powered by a Chevrolet engine, he was co-driven by Albert Naon. A Rondeau M382, heavily modified, and powered by a Chevrolet engine, was entered by Vic Gonzales-Hugo Gralia. A pair of Royale and Argo, along with three Lola T600s, which were now second hand cars, and the Lew Price Chevrolet Corvette GTP, were amongst the entry list. The Lights class displayed four Argos, one Tiga and one Gebhardt. Jim Downing-John Maffucci and Charles Morgan-Bill Alsup were the fastest. The GTO-GTU race was scheduled before the main event : it was a new Ford Mustang one-two. Willy T Ribbs won over John Jones in what appeared to set the GTO year. The race would be launched after the usual pre-race festivities. At the start, it was Bob Wollek who managed to pass John Paul Jr. Al Holbert followed, with the two Jaguars following three Marches(Bill Whittington, Emerson Fittipaldi and David Hobbs). Bob Wollek would maintain his position for six laps, while Brian Redman retired with a broken gearbox. After turning the boost down, Bob Wollek saw John Paul take the lead, but he would spin later. Al Holbert would take the lead while Emerson Fittipaldi followed him. After a shunt between the Red Lobster March and a Tiga, the pace car was out. A confusion would follow, with Emerson Fittipaldi and Bob Wollek taking the lead in a very strange way. They would be black-flagged at the restart. Al Holbert was again the leader. As things seemed to calm down, the pace car was out once again, for a new strange piece of action. The leader went back to his pits for a refueling, and it was Bob Wollek-AJ Foyt who then took the lead. In fact, David Hobbs was now second, just ahead of Al Holbert. AJ Foyt would then pit without turbocharger at all, he was out. Then a succession of racing woes would happen, with many cars out for good. But it seemed that it would be Al's day, and he would avoid every race trap, unlike many others. After forgetting the Budweiser March, he would go on without any trouble. Gaston Andrey would literally explode his Tiga against the wall, getting out of the race with a broken leg, and a new pace car session. Derek Bell lost the lead at the new restart. Darin Brassfield took the lead but would commit two mistakes, leaving a wide open gap, then sending Chip Robinson's Jaguar into the wall. Derek Bell was too happy to take back the lead, and this time for good. Al Holbert and Derek Bell held their first 1985 victory. Jim Downing and John Maffucci won the Lights class with their Argo JM16 Mazda.
The next event was to be held at Sebring, for the Coca Cola Classic. It attracted a very fine field of machinery, with total rewards now exceeding $100000. The track had been improved, and it was no lost job! It was also the first time Porsche would bring its 962s at Sebring. Seventy four cars were entered, and it was a wild looking field. Five Porsche 962s had to face a pair of Jaguar XJR5s, some March GTPs, a Chevrolet Corvette GTP and some ageing Porsche 935s. Quality did not match the Miami field, but one could count on some great racing. The GTO class could produce some great competition between Dave Heinz Chevrolet Corvette and Walt Bohren Pontiac Firebird, but the Roush Racing Ford Mustang had proved it was nearly unreachable in the previous events. The GTU class, for its part, was the usual Porsche-Mazda war. In practice, it was Hans Stuck, driving Bob Akin's Porsche 962, who shattered the previous mark by more than six seconds.
Copyright Michael Crews
Al Holbert shared the front row with the German superstar. Bob Tullius was next, with Bill Whittington alongside, John Paul Jr was fifth, but he did not drive hias usual car. He shared a drive with Ken Madren and Wayne Pickering on an older car, entered by Pegasus Racing. Then came Jochen Mass, Brian Redman and John Kalagian. Bob Wollek was lower on the grid, just ahead of the team's 935. Walt Bohren was the best GTO qualifyer, while John Jones would start from the back of the grid, with no time. Elliot Forbes Robinson was the fastest GTU qualifyer, just ahead of Jack Baldwin.
Copyright Michael Crews
At the start of the race, which was given under a clear blue sky, John Paul Jr jumped into the lead, which
three laps. Then Hans Stuck took the lead, which he kept until lap thirty. Al Holbert was involved in a collision with a slower car, and was out of contention in the opening laps. AJ Foyt was running without first gear and accomodate to this situation. Then it was Jochen Mass who took it, and the car built up a solid margin upon its pursuers. At that point, the Coke machine, now driven by Bob Akin, was put out of the race by Bob Akin, who crashed his car after a puncture. Third overall was the second BF Goodrich car which stopped on the track out of fuel. After twenty five minutes, the car was back in tenth position. After four hours, Jochen Mass-Jim Busby and John Morton were two laps ahead of Bob Wollek-AJ Foyt, running two laps ahead of the next car, which was the March 85G driven by John Kalagian. Next was Al Holbert-Derek Bell who were running very strong, and making up for their early misfortune. The valiant Argo Mazda driven by Jim Downing led the Lights class, followed by the unbelievable Ford Mustang driven by John Jones and Wally Dallenbach. But attrition of this race proved the worst ever, with many suspension or engine failures. While the BF Goodrich was still in the lead after mid-race, it was clear that the following cars were gaining on her. In fact, the car was hit by a big piece of concrete, and retired at 6:25. Bob Wollek and AJ Foyt were the new leaders but they would lose a wheel on the track, and twenty five minutes! Al Holbert was the new leader of the race, but while everybody thought the race was over, the Löwenbrau car was running more and more slower. The car would be normally overtaken by the T Bird car who went on to win by a four lap margin. Third was the second BF Goodrich car, who lost its hopes for a second place finish, as Dieter Quester had an off course, losing enough time to end up thirteen laps behind the winners.
Copyright Michael Crews
The Bob Tullius Jaguar was next, while Jim Downing easily won the Lights class, two laps ahead of the GTO class winner, the Roush Racing Ford Mustang driven by Wally Dallenbach and John Jones. It was clear that things were thorouhly evolving in this category. And you should get accustomed to this fact. The only real surprise of the race was to be brought by the GTU winners, who were Gary Auberlen-Pete Jauker and Adrian Gang, driving their reliable Porsche 911. One never know what may happen in Endurance racing.(to be continued)