This would be the year of the outright Porsche 962 dominance. New entries featuring 962s would be registered, while BMW fielded two GTP cars which had been so promising the previous year. In fact, the cars were fast, but suffered from reliability problems. They would earn one single victory out of seventeen races. Group 44 was constantly outgunned in most tracks, but they closed their season with an encouraging victory at the Daytona Finale, with the Jaguar XJR7. Bob Tullius and Chip Robinson could have the best hopes for the next season. The Chevrolet Corvette GTP, driven by Sarel van der Merwe and Doc Bundy often set the fastest laps in practice, but the car was not up to the teams expectations during the races. The March 85 and 84Gs were definitely outpaced, and it was now obvious that Porsche had pulled the Championship onto a new level of competitiveness. They had to play second-fiddle now. The Lights class was now moving to a very interesting Championship within the main one. Many cars proved to be worth the competition, but Jim Downing again took the Championship at the wheel of his Mazda powered Argo JM19. He had to fight some new competitors, amongst which the new Spice Fiero announced what was in store for the future. Scott Pruett settled once again the Roush Racing domination in GTO, driving a Ford Mustang. The arrival of new cars, such as the new Oldsmobile Toronados, or the tri-rotor Mazda RX7, as well as the Peerless or Brooks Racing Chevrolet Camaros, poured new diversity to this exciting class. Tom Kendall would give CCR a new Championship to IMSA's most successful Mazda ever. The Huffaker challenge, with Bob Earl and Terry Visger, never faltered, and they took four wins in the season.
The first race of the season was the 24 Hours of Daytona, which were to take place shortly after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The important media coverage of this accident stirred everyone's feelings. It really was a national tragedy. As Porsche was expected to dominate the race, the sudden withdrawal of the two BMW GTPs was some kind of bad news.
Copyright Michael Crews
Fortunately, one contender looked able to give the Porsches a run for their money. The Chevrolet Corvette GTP, driven by Sarel an der Merwe, was easily the fastest qualifier. The only contender, during the practice sessions, appeared to be Bob Wollek, who drove the Bayside Disposal Porsche 962. However, it did not seem to reach the Porsche teams, who knew they had reliability on their side. The lonely Hendrick Chevrolet Corvette GTP faced no less than nine 962s. New cars appeared for this new season, as the Joest Porsche 962, with Gianpiero Moretti, Randy Lanier and Paolo Barilla(from Pasta fame). Brun Motorsport had a car entered for Thierry Boutsen, Oscar Larrauri and Massimo Sigala. Foyt Racing had entered a 962 too, with Danny Sullivan, Arye Luyendijk and AJ Foyt sharing the drives. The two Group 44 Jaguar XJR7s were the usual contenders, with Bob Tullius partnered by Chip Robinson and Claude Ballot Léna on the first car, while Brian Redman, Hurley Haywood and Vern Schuppan drove the number 04 car. Conte Racing fielded two March 85G Buick, and John Paul Jr, Chip Ganassi and Ivan Capelli drove the #45 car, Whitney Ganz, Ken Madren and Bob Lobenberg were on the other car. A handful of older and less competitive cars were to be entered, but they would by no means play any major role in that race. An old Lola T600, driven by Richard Anderson and Bard Boand, was even less competitive. Lew Price had a Chevrolet Corvette which was somewhat different from the semi-works car. James Mullen and Carson Baird would drive this car with owner-driver Lew Price. It was obvious that the win could not escape Porsche. The question was : which one? The Lights class had grown stronger, in its second year. A new and very fast Alba AR6 Ferrari was to easily set the fastest time. The car was driven by Carlo Facetti, Martino Finotto and Almo Coppelli. Charles Morgan and Logan Blackburn had a Tiga GT286 Buick, which proved to be a worthy competitor to Jim Downing, who was not entered. Deborah Gregg had a Tiga Mazda, which she shared with Michael Brockman and Steve Durst. Don Bell, too, had a Royale RP40 Buick, and he could do well in such a race. Craig Carter and Terry Wolters co-drove him. Frank Rubino, Ray Mummery and John Schneider entered an Argo JM19 Mazda which was not listed on the favorites list before the race. The GTO class was becoming more and more exciting as Ford was now facing a revamped opposition. Oldsmobile, via Rocketsports, had one Toronado, driven by Gene Felton, Paul Gentilozzi and Bob Bergstrom while the Calais was in the hands of Benny Parsons, Terry Labonte and Harry Gant. The NASCAR men were present by the Ford side with Bill Elliott, Kyle Petty, Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader. The race seemed to feature a Ford-Oldsmobile duel while no Chevrolet seemed to be able to give the Detroit iron a significant opposition. A BMW M1, driven by Steve Cohen, David Christian and Ed Congleton, added a little diversity to the field, as well as the two Morrison-Cook Chevrolet Corvettes, which were experimenting new ways for the future. The GTU class brought no excitement, this time being much more as a Mazda parade. It looked obvious to the IMSA spectator that the fields were getting weaker, especially in the small class. Roger Mandeville and Tom Kendall could fight it out for the win, while Amos Johnson awaited another class win. A single Porsche 911 would take the green, as well as a 924, entered by Ron Case. A sign of times?
Copyright Michael Crews
Before the start of the race, one conclusion : the change in the rules did not seem to be in favour of the home made products, much to the spectators' dismay. The start of the race was another disappointment for the spectators with the Chevrolet Corvette GTP not showing up on the grid. The car was being struck with vibrations, the replacement of the transmission costing at least three hours, the team withdrew the car. The start of the race saw Drake Olson quickly escaping from the rest of the field. Obviously he was not running the same race as the other competitors. After one hour, Drake Olson was always in the lead, with other Porsche 962s on the same lap. The Joest car had been delayed, as the Brun Motorsport car and Bob Wollek, who experienced turbocharger problems (a line making the connection between the turbo and the engine broke). The race quickly appeared to become very tough for the Porsche squadron, with Al Holbert losing five laps when the team discovered a crack in the left-rear brake, Jan Lammers losing ground on the leaders. Hans Stuck retired after hitting the wall from the rear. The Bayside Disposal car tangled with a slower car on the banking. The BF Goodrich car driven by Jochen Mass, Jan Lammers and John Morton felt out of contention after a fifty five minute stop for clutch repairs. The new Jaguar XJR7s suffered from various transmission and suspension troubles, which were probably due to the stiffer chassis. Just before dawn, the Al Holbert car, driven by Al Unser Jr, had to replace a throttle cable, to find itself twenty two down the leaders.. As the BF Goodrich was in the lead, the car broke a half-shaft. Then Darin Brassfield lost a cylinder, a nosepiece and fading brakes. The Preston Henn Porsche led by now, but soon was to experience problems. They had to replace a turbocharger wastegate and an oil leak. By now, the two cars were nose-to-tail, but the Holbert car took advantage of the two leading cars troubles. The end of the race was kind of heroic for everyone, with Al Holbert, Derek Bell and Al Unser Jr winning by just one lap over AJ Foyt, Danny Sullivan and Preston Henn. The BF Goodrich car was third, ten seconds behind the TBird Swap Shop car! Jim Busby, Darin Brassfield, Jochen Mass and Derek Warwick had a disappointing third place. Fourth overall and in GTO was the Roush prepared Ford Mustang driven by Lanny Hester, Maurice Hassey and Lee Mueller, who overcame the Scott Pruett, Bruce Jenner and Klaus Ludwig works car, who lost a great deal of time to repair an oil leak.
Copyright Michael Crews
The GTU class was taken by Amos Johnson, Dennis Shaw and Jack Dunham who drove the Team Highball Mazda RX7 to a second victory in a row. They placed eighth overall. They had to wait until the CCR Racing car, driven by Tom Kendall, Bob Reed and John Hogdal, collapse in the final stages of the race. The car took a tenth place at the chequered. The Lights class race had turned into a disaster for every favorite, as each car had to retire one by one. At the end, it was the Argo JM19 Mazda driven by Ray Mummery, Frank Rubino and Tom Schneider who took a very unexpected win. A dream come true, as Ray Mummery put it later.
Copyright Michael Crews
It was the race which was not to be missed by the spectators. The track was no longer located downtown but now had been moved northwards. Thirty cars were to start, and Sarel van der Merwe was on the pole, followed by Jo Gartner, in the Bob Akin Porsche 962, and Bob Wollek, who drove the Bayside Disposal one.
Sarel van der Merwe jumped into the lead while Bob Wollek passed Jo Gartner. After six laps, the March driven by Al Leon found itself stuck in a dangerous place. The pace car was out. At the restart, Oscar Larrauri managed to take the lead but for two laps. Bob Tullius was to be black-flagged, as the car was losing oil. Later, a collision between the Chevrolet Corvette GTP and Pete Halsmer's Ford Probe led to the Corvette retirement. Sarel van der Merwe, still in the lead, retired later with an engine gone. Bob Wollek then took the lead, followed by Klaus Ludwig, on the Ford Probe, John Paul Jr, and John Kalagian. Emerson Fittipaldi, who drove the March 85G Chevrolet entered by Ralph Sanchez, retired just after, as well as Davy Jones BMW GTP. A new under yellow session was to happen after a new collision between the Sauber and a March. This was followed by a rush to the pits for refueling. At mid-race, and after everyone had refueled, Bob Wollek maintained his position, followed by Derek Bell, Jim Busby, Bob Akin and Klaus Ludwig. Derek Bell could overtake the Frenchman after a wrong maneuver. In fact, Bob Wollek quickly gained on Derek Bell, who reacted next. He had decided to widen the gap, but he unfortunately hit Gianpiero Moretti's car. He would lose six laps to change a uniball joint. Bob Wollek then pitted to lend his car to Paolo Barilla, who had a fifty five seconds advantage. The second would be hardly fought between Brian Redman, Hans Stuck and Danny Sullivan. While Hans Stuck had overused his tyres, Brian Redman would have to pit, and AJ Foyt and Danny Sullivan took a well deserved second place overall, behind Bob Wollek and Paolo Barilla, who had a somewhat easy race. Hans Stuck, Bob Akin and Jo Gartner were third overall. Yet another one, two, three for Porsche. Sebring was the second race of the year, and on that occasion, it was also the very last time the raceway would use the two high speed runways. It was also the year records would be set forever, and it did. Whitney Ganz, on a March 85G Buick entered by Conte Racing, set up a 2m11s41 lap time, which was to enter posterity. As for Daytona, the BMW GTP entries turned out to be a disaster. One car was destroyed by fire while the other one, driven by Bobby Rahal, flipped and was drstroyed too. The team withdrew from the race. Seventy six cars were to take the start of this race, with a record twenty nine GTP and Lights cars. The Porsche 962s were again the favorites, while the Conte Racing Marches and the two Jaguar XJR7s could provide a strong opposition. A single Chevrolet Corvette GTP, which was a private entry, was entered by Lee Racing, which Jim Mullen and Lew Price driving. From Europe came the Ford Cosworth turbocharged powered Tiga GT285, with Costas Los and Dudley Wood driving. The Lights class provided a strong field, with fourteen cars entered. The Argo JM19 Mazda entered by Jim Downing was the favorite, but Charles Morgan had entered his Tiga GT286 Buick and would provide a strong opposition. New cars appeared, as the Kendall Racing Lola T616 Mazda driven by Chuck Kendall, Paul Lewis and Max Jones. Brent O'neill drove the Deco Sales Argo JM16 Buick with Steve Shelton and Don Courtney. The Daytona class winning Argo JM19 Mazda was here too, with Ray Mummery and Frank Rubino. The Alba AR6 Ferrari had hopes for the win too with Carlo Facetti, Martino Finotto and Ruggero Melgrati. Mike Meyer fielded a Royale RP40 Mazda for Jim Rothbarth, Mike Meyer and Jeff Kline. It looked like everyone could win in this class. The GTO class was fantastic, with Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota competitors looking for a win on this particular track. Ford had four cars, three of them being true works cars. Bruce Jenner and Scott Pruett would have to fight against the NASCAR men : Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd. Lanny Hester and Maurice Hassey had few hopes of making it two in a row after their Daytona triumph. Toyota had one single car entered for Chris Cord and Dennis Aase, but it was a very strong entry. The best Chevrolets were to be fielded by Spirit Racing who had a Camaro for Tommy Byrne and Wally Dallenbach Jr. Jack Baldwin and Jim Miller were driving the Peerless Racing car.
Copyright Dave Kutz
The other cars were less competitive. The Dingman Bros Pontiac Firebird driven by Tommy Riggins and Elliot Forbes Robinson was a real contender for the class win too. An Oldsmobile Toronado, driven by Bob Bergstrom, would take the green flag too, as well as an Oldsmobile Calais and a Buick Skyhawk. A handful of somewhat less efficient cars were part of the huge field too. In GTU, no question about the Mazda domination. Half the GTU field appeared to be Mazda RX7s. The best cars were there, and eagerly willing to take the class win. No Porsche 911 could resist the Mazda assault in terms of speed, but the drivers could count on their cars reliability. A very huge seventy six car field was to be seen, and a very large crowd was in attendance. The early stages of the race saw the two Porsche 962s driven by Al Holbert and AJ Foyt fight it up. The beginning of the race saw the two Jaguar XJR7s retire, a well as the Bayside Disposal car. By mid-race, the Löwenbrau Porsche 962 was always in the lead, but the Coke Porsche 962 driven by Bob Akin, Hans Stuck and Jo Gartner was now its most serious contender. The AJ Foyt car had been involved in a shunt with another car, and retired later with suspension problems. As the two leaders battled for the win, a blown turbo would definitively give the lead to Bob Akin's car. In fact, they would then cruise to an unchallenged victory.
Copyright Michael Crews
The most remarkable fact was that the car ended up the race on three wheels, having lost its left front wheel in the last lap. They had an eight lap margin over John Morton, Jim Busby and Darin Brassfield BF Goodrich similar car. This was a well deserved win for Bob Akin, who had already won in 1979, but it was the first time as a team owner, as he missed the win the two previous years. Fourth overall and first in GTO was the fantastic Ford Mustang driven by Bruce Jenner and Scott Pruett. The end of the race was a little bit confused for the Roush team as Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd led for the most of the race, but Bruce Jenner displayed a pitboard to Ricky Rudd, who came back to the pits, and lost the class victory. The two cars were separated by ten seconds on the finish line. The Lights class saw a new car come into victory lane as Jim Rothbarth, Mike Meyer and Jeff Kline took their first ever victory, with a sixth place overall. In GTU, Roger Mandeville and Danny Smith took another class win after dominating the race and taking an eighth place overall.(to be continued)