1978 was a new step towards some kind of liberalization. 1977 was the last time an American car would win a Championship. The Porsche 935 was born in Europe in 1976 and was due to arrive in the US the next year. The rules were kind of rewritten with the introduction of the GTX class, an equivalent to the Group 5 European class. Along with this new top notch cars, the AAGT class had been introduced by John Bishop in order to counterbalance the too much awaited Porsche domination. It would alas not be. For this first event, teams had the choice of running under IMSA new regulations, or under special regulations, as part of the FIA World Championship for Makes.
The other classes had also been rewritten, but it was simple adjustments of their own. The very first race, as per usual, was to be held at Daytona, for the traditional 24 Hour race. A lot of Porsche 935s were of course to be entered, and it was the first time you could watch so many Porsche Turbos in the USA.. Brumos Racing, headed by Peter Gregg, was here with two cars. Georg Loos had a partnership with Brumos and entered a Porsche 935-78 for Toine Hezemans and Rolf Stommelen. The second car was a brand new one, and was sponsored by JMS Racing, Claude Ballot Léna drove the car with Brad Frisselle and Peter Gregg. It was a single turbo version, powered by a 2,8L engine. Kremer had a new 935-78, which was driven by Bob Wollek and Henri Pescarolo while the former year car was driven by Dieter Schornstein and Josef Brambring. Interscope Racing had a single turbo 935-77 for Danny Ongais, Ted Field and Milt Minter. Jolly Club had a car for Carlo Facetti and Martino Finotto which was 2,8L powered. Reinhold Joest drove Franz Konrad car along with Volkert Merl. Dick Barbour, who entered a 934 the previous year, had too a 935 which he drove with Johnny Rutherford and Manfred Schurti. Ludwig Heimrath had an updated 934 car. It was fitted with a 935 bodywork and was still powered by 3,0L powerplant. Bob Hagestad had the same type of car, and Hurley Haywood still partnered him. Gary Belcher, who had Al Holbert and Doc Bundy as co-drivers, while Hal Shaw, Howard Meister and Jim Busby shared the last car.That made for twelve turbocharged cars, amongst which you could find your winner.
Copyright Steve Dilts
Unfortunately for the spectators, a single car appeared to be able to threaten the Porsche armada. The MacLaren entered BMW 320i Turbo. While lonely, the car carried high hopes for the Bavarian marque. David Hobbs and Ronnie Peterson drove it. While about 100hp shy of the best Porsches, it could give them a run for their money. The supporters hoped that much from such a talented duo. The only American car apt to giving the German cars a worthy competition was the beautiful Chevrolet Monza entered and driven by Chris Cord and Jim Adams. Powered by a 6,0L V8 engine prepared by Franz Weis, it was as fast as it was good-looking. The big question was to know if it could last for 24 Hours, not sure. A huge De Tomaso Pantera, entered by Hugh Kleinpeter and driven by Janet Guthrie, as well as Jef Stevens and Hugh Kleinpeter himself, would be qualified in twenty fifth position, but would not show up for the start. A few Chevrolet Camaros, mostly old cars, were entered in GTX class. They were AAGT versions of the classical pony cars. Carter Bros had the quickest of them all, but it was a far cry from the best Porsches. Carmon Salomone had a turbocharged V8 5,0L car, which seemed relatively fast, while Clark Howey entered his usual Chevrolet Camaro. Bill Arnold new Chevrolet Corvette was classified in this class, but would it last for such a long race? The two BMW 3.0CSL entered by Bavarian Motors International were also classified in this class, but it was mostly because of their tyres width. Bob Akin had a Porsche Carrera, for his first ever IMSA race, which had a 935 look, with a slant nose. He ws co-driven by Steve Earle and Rick Knoop.
Last but not least, a beautiful Ferrari BB, now powered by a V12 5,0L engine, could rely on its nearly stock engine, given for 360hp. It could probably last for days. François Migault, Lucien Guitteny and Gregg Young drove it, with some hopes for a top ten finish. The GTO class was far more open, with a host of Porsche Carreras, all of them appearing apt at winning this class. Diego Febles had an ex-Peter Gregg car, which seemed always as fit as ever. He was partnered by Alec Poole. Tom Frank teamed with Bob Bergstrom, on a similar car which displayed a slant nose too. Bonky Fernandez was running with John Paul and Phil Currin, on a very reliable car. Mauricio de Narvaez and Tony Garcia were possible and strong contenders too. Four Ferrari 365GTB4s were entered. While outdated, they could rely on their outstanding reliability, in order to place high in the standings. John Morton and Tony Adamowicz were the quickest of the quatuor, while Preston Henn entered his new acquisition with Sandy Satullo and Hal Sahlman. A special car was to be seen, but would not start. It was the ex-NART car, which was rebodied by Michelotti, and driven by Michael Keyser, Don Devendorf and Jeff Kline. Two interesting cars were to be seen, a pair of Ferrari 308GTBs, driven by unknown and slow drivers. Five Chevrolet Corvettes were to be seen. John Carusso drove the most effective one with Luis Sereix and Emory Donaldson, while Richard Bostyan had the best placing car on the grid. Five Chevrolet Camaros were there, but they mostly consisted of old cars. They participated in Daytona's annual folklore. A huge an beautiful Oldsmobile Cutlass was there, entered by Herb Adams. Its doors were covered with aluminium side panels, very impressive! Tim Chitwood had a Chevrolet Nova which was an American Challenge car. Kenper Miller teamed up with brother Paul and Oscar Koveleski in a BMW 3.0CSL, an ex-Peter Gregg car too. Amos Johnson had an AMC Hornet which was not so powerful, but his driver counted on the reliability of his car. The last category was the small bore cars, which was the home of the Porsche 911s, mainly. They were, however, to be seriously contested by a duo of Mazda RX3s, entered by Mazda Auto Tokyo, which was no less than a works subsidiary. The first car was driven by Japanese drivers, with Yoshimi Katayama, Yojiro Terada and Roger Mandeville. The second car was in the hands of Walt Bohren, Jim Dowing and Stu Fisher. Two other US Mazda RX3s and two Datsun 240Zs, amongst which you could find a Bob Bondurant car, were completing the Japanese entries.
They faced ten Porsche 911s, of varying quality. Dana Roehrig entered the potentially best car for himself, Dave White and Gary Mesnick. George Drolsom teamed up with Hugh Davenport and Mark Greb for a good challenge. Frank Thomas, Logan Blackburn and Lee Mueller were valuable contenders too, as well as John Hotschkis, Bob Kirby and Dennis Aase.
A single Porsche 914/6, entered by John Hulen, was a regular entry in this famous race.
An MGB GT was to be seen with Charles Kleinschmidt and Lee Culpepper sharing the driving chores. A Lotus Europa and the classical Lancia Stratos were entered too. An honest sixty seven car field would take the start.
As for the Indianapolis 500 race, the ten first places were determined during the very first practice session. It turned out to be raining, and the track record was not approached so far. Danny Ongais would be the fastest in 2m00s152, just in front of Bob Wollek, who drove the Kremer car, and Ronnie Peterson, on the BMW 320 Turbo, who had lost two engines. Rolf Stommelen was next, followed by Carlo Facetti and Peter Gregg. Eleventh on the grid, Ludwig Heimrath had run faster than the polesitter, but the rules were the rules.
After the usual racing revel, national anthem and starting procedure, Danny Ongais did get his trophy for the pole position. While it did not rain anymore, the weather was quite cold : no more than 9 degrees celsius . The cars were lined up in front of the pits, by row of two cars.
Copyright Steve Dilts
The Pontiac Firebird Pace car led the sixty seven car field, then cleared the track, letting Danny Ongais take the lead, followed by David Hobbs, who soon overtook the Interscope car, but not for long. Danny Ongais was back in the lead while Rolf Stommelen would pass the bimmer during the first lap. Bob Wollek was in fourth place, leading Carlo Facetti and Peter Gregg, Manfred Schurti, Franz Konrad and Jim Busby. Well behind, Hurley Haywood, who started in sixtieth position, was rocketing until the top twenty places : he was sixteenth after two laps. While Danny Ongais and Rolf Stommelen would fly away from the rest of the field, Bob Wollek passed David Hobbs. Just behind, Peter Gregg was soon in front of Carlo Facetti, whose car was soon to lose a crankshaft. While Danny Ongais tried to get away from Rolf Stommelen, he nearly hit the wall. The two cars were staying close, and they had to suddenly face a bunch of backmarkers, just blocking the track when entering the infield. David Hobbs did not seem content with his position and soon passed Bob Wollek. Rolf Stommelen suddenly attacked and passed Danny Ongais to take the lead of the race. Manfred Schurti was fifth, followed by Peter Gregg, Ludwig Heimrath, Jim Busby and Hurley Haywood, always running very strong. Danny Ongais, not to be underrated, was back in the lead on lap ten. David Hobbs spun and lost some places while trying to restart. Ludwig Heimrath lost time in the pits after a puncture and Bob Wollek would lose four laps in his pits after losing a fender. After starting very strong, things seem to accelerate. David Hobbs was soon to change his coils while Danny Ongais would lose an engine. The Interscope team, apparently never short of ideas, then decided to purchase an engine from Carlo Facetti, for $30000! After all those misfortunes, Rolf Stommelen was suddenly finding himself in first place, but his advantage on his closest pursuer, who was now Manfred Schurti, thirty three seconds behind, followed by Peter Gregg, forty two seconds down. Just behind those two cars, Hurley Haywood, in pretty good shape, was soon to overtake both of them, and was now standing at an astonishing second place!
Then came the first refueling session, Toine Hezemans was back in the seat of the leading car, followed by Hurley Haywood, Manfred Schurti and Peter Gregg still behind. Franz Konrad was next, one lap down, then Josef Brambring, Ludwig Heimrath, Jim Busby and the first American car, which was the Chevrolet Monza driven by Chris Cord. Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood, now second and third, would play a big show, fighting hard at each other.Then Manfred Schurti would have a tyre burst on the banking, he would go back to the pits and lose a great deal of time for repairs. When the night settled on the track, one could find the two Brumos cars doing one-two. Rolf Stommelen leading Peter Gregg. Third was the Canadian Porsche 934/5 driven by Ludwig Heimrath-Jacques Bienvenue which ran pretty well, Manfred Schurti-Johnny Rutherford and Hurley Haywood-Bob Hagestad who lost some time when the latter spun twice and had his bodywork repaired, losing four laps!
Copyright Mike Heselton
Tim Chitwood then hit the wall, and the track had to be cleared, so the pace car was out. Peter Gregg immediately pitted for a refueling, and handed his car to Claude Ballot Léna. Toine Hezemans, willing to do the same, missed his pits, and had to do another lap at a reduced pace, losing the lead. Rolf Stommelen, however, who climbed into the car, did not take a long time to recover his position. Positions were then beginning to settle down, except for Hurley Haywood-Bob Hagestad, who were now in fourth place. The Chevrolet Monza, driven by Chris Cord was sixth, just ahead of the first GTO car, which appeared to be the old Ferrari 365GTB4 driven by John Morton and Tony Adamowicz.
Far away in the standings, Bob Wollek handed his car to Henri Pescarolo, but the car was struck with vibrations. After changing a tyre, the car went better, only to have its engine brutally seize thirty five minutes later. The BMW 320Turbo was blowing its third engine in the week end, and retired at the third hour mark. While the two first cars were easily leading the race, Ludwig Heimrath lost his third place after a puncture. Chris Cord, had a perfect race and led the American contingent, but would unfortunately break its engine . The GTO class saw a new leader, with Diego Febles and Alec Poole taking over in their Porsche Carrera. Then the race would become very monotonous, with virtually no change until the eight hour mark. The leading car, stopping for a refueling, appeared to waste a lot of oil. The second car seemed able to come closer, but then had to change a transmission, and lost twenty seven minutes. Hurley Haywood, back in fourth position, was slowing dramatically. He would lose eighteen minutes to have his clutch problems fixed, then his gearbox, definitively losing any chance for success in this race. These facts drove the leading Brumos-Loos car far away from anybody, but with an excessive oil consumption problem, which made the remainder of the race very problematic. The second place was hardly fought between the second Brumos car and the Heimrath car. Then Ludwig Heimrath had to stop to have an throttle connecting rod changed. While attrition was hard on the cars, the reliable leading GTO car was now in fourth place. At 5:30, Norm Ridgely destroyed partially the yellow Canadian Porsche. The suspension needing repairs, one hour and twenty minutes were lost. The Ferrari 365GTB4, who was just behind the Porsche, had its gearbox changed. Then it was Claude Ballot Léna, firmly in second place, who broke a wheel.
Copyright Dave Kutz
The engine would be hit by debris, and had to be replaced. Losing one hour and vorty five minutes, the car was down in thirteenth place. While running carefully thanks to their oil problem, the leaders were by no means threatened. The leading Porsche Carrera appeared in second place, but was logically overtaken by Manfred Schurti, who had lost his second fender. Al Holbert, driving Gary Belcher's car, was running in third place, but he would be stopped to change his gas pump. The race was set, with the positions clearly settled. Rolf Stommelen, easily leading, suddenly crawled back to the pits, but it was just a puncture. The end of the race did not see any major change within the top five positions. Al Holbert, rather unlucky, lost two places while experiencing transmission problems. Porsche swept the first seven spots, earning every class win. A special mention should be made to the winning GTO car, which did not encounter any problem : it was third overall, and led another Porsche Carrera, driven by Bonky Fernandez, John Paul and Phil Currin.
Copyright Steve Dilts
Dave White, Gary Mesnick and team owner Kurt Roehrig won the GTU class, just ahead of George Drolsom, Mark Greb and John Maffucci. The Mazda RX3s suffered from segments wear, and did not run so well. As a conclusion, it was the first IMSA victory for the Porsche 935, and many others were to follow. The GTX era had just begun, with an exciting future ahead.
Full results : Daytona 1978