This was to be a very special race as Grand National cars were allowed to enter the race. The organisation did allow these cars to provide the spectators with new cars. They thought that their renowned drivers would draw a better crowd, which was the case, with a 30000 spectators attendance. The field was a good 72 cars one. BMW was entering a three car team with Peter Gregg-Brian Redman, David Hobbs-Benny Parsons and John Fitzpatrick-Tom Walkinshaw. They were the favorites and had to face a challenge from Porsche, as per usual. The best cars were Al Holbert-Claude Ballot Léna, George Dyer-Michael Keyser, Bob Hagestad-Jerry Jolly, Ludwig Heimrath-Jacques Bienvenue and many others. A German Porsche 934, entered in FIA Group 4 category, could be a challenger for the overall victory, it was driven by Egon Evertz-Jürgen Lässig and Sepp Greger. The attraction for every IMSA spectator was the famous Greenwood Corvette driven by John Greenwood-Michael Brockman. Fitted with a 7,0L, it would provide stiff competition for the opposition. Some other good cars were part of the field, Phil Currin-Cliff Gotlob, the Garcia bros, Ted Mathey-Joe Chamberlain were the best cars. Some Camaros could have a good time too : the most able cars were from Carter Firestone for Maurice Carter-Gilles Villeneuve and Herb Jones-Steve Faul. One sole AAGT car would be entered, it was the Tom Nehl-Steve Behr car that made a promising 2m00s334 but could not make it to the start. Tom Nehl destroyed the car on saturday morning and it could not be repaired. One last possible car could be some trouble to the usual drivers was the De Tomaso Pantera driven by Hugh Kleinpeter-Ron Goldleaf, who started 9th on the grid.
Copyright Christian Moity
At the start of the race, everybody's attention was set on John Greenwood's stellar Vette, driven by Michael Brockman, who jumped from the fourth row to overtake the three BMWs. In fact, Peter Gregg was the only driver able to give the Corvette a run for his money. The two drivers would put a fight that would catch everyone's breath during the first hour.
Photo courtesy Greenwood Corvettes
Behind the leaders, Hobbs and Fitzpatrick were just in front of Evertz' Porsche 934, who had just overtaken Garcia, on his Corvette. Holbert was just behind those drivers. Bobby Allison pitted his Chevrolet Nova on the second lap, his car suffering from transmission problems. Peter Gregg and Michael Brockman would switch positions many times, with the same scenario set for each lap. Brockman would pull ahead on the banking while Gregg would work his way in the infield and get closer to the Corvette. Hugh Kleinpeter's Pantera had pitted at the end of the first lap, and would never run as fast as during practice. Hurley Haywood, who had started 28th, would stop and lose 7 laps to the leaders, with an intake manifold spilling oil on the exhaust and two broken windshields. Javier Garcia had stopped his Corvette with gearbox troubles. Charlie Kemp had retired with a blown engine. as George Dyer for the same reason. Peter Gregg and Michael Brockman led the race just ahead of David Hobbs, Tom Walkinshaw, on the third BMW putting up a good fight with Al Holbert, then came Egon Evertz Porsche 934. A battalion of Porsche Carrera was just behind with John Graves, Ludwig Heimrath, Bob Hagestad and Juan Carlos Bolanos. In GTU, the race was a great fight between Charles Mendez, Bob Hindson and John Hotschkis. After 70 minutes of racing, the BMWs refueled and took the lead. The Corvette, driven by Michael Brockman was soon to be slowed down by transmission problems. Twenty laps were lost for the Corvette now as low as 28th overall. The Porsche Carreras were going up in the standings, counting on their low fuel consumption. It would take about 105 minutes between every refueling stop. Al Holbert was second overall after two grueling hours. Hurley Haywood was going strong too, and had got up fourteen places during the second hour. Juan Carlos Bolanos was pushing David Hobbs very hard and Al Holbert-Claude Ballot Léna were going very fast to threaten Peter Gregg-Brian Redman. The Corvette had come back on the track and was literally orbiting around every car on the track! At the end of the third hour, Greenwood-Brockman were back in fifth position. Al Holbert, still going strong, had a flat tyre when entering the infield. Unwilling to damage his suspension, he would go backwards to the pits, and would just avoid disqualification. He would just be fined for his uncautious act. In GTU, Bob Hindson, leading his class, pitted with engine troubles : he would lose 7 laps and Charles Mendez took the lead, second was William Frates valiant Datsun 240Z. Bob Hagestad became the best Porsche driver at that moment. Juan Carlos Bolanos would undergo a transmission and engine swap and lose any chance. Hobbs, running second, did stop too, and fell down to seventh overall after brake trouble, then an oil line and finally gearbox hampered his march. A big fight had been put up by Dave Helmick-John O'steen and Al Holbert-Claude Ballot Léna for third position. Greenwood was running stronger than anyone but was soon retiring, with an ailing oil pressure. It was thirty minutes before the first half of the race. Just after, John Fitzpatrick, second overall, pitted with electrical problems. At 3AM, Gregg-Redman-Fitzpatrick were 22 laps ahead of Ballot Léna-Holbert, 24 ahead of Helmick-O'steen-Graves, Busby-Haywood were 28 laps down, Fitzpatrick-Walkinshaw 35, Hagestad-Jolly 38, Jennings-Tillson-Oest 43. It was five to two for Porsche, who still could win.
Bob Hindson had closed on Charles Mendez, who suffered light troubles and had to pit several times. The two GTU leaders had a fourteen laps advantage over John Hotschkis on his Porsche 914/6. It seemed that the two other cars were to stop regularly and the car #59 was their best chance for victory. During the night, Peter Gregg went ill and could not go on driving. Brian Redman did multiply his driving chores, but he was exhausted so John Fitzpatrick was called by Jochen Neerpasch to drive the leading car. Tom Walkinshaw, his teammate, was working on his car with a broken distributor drive. As the two bimmers seem to be slowed down, the leading Porsches would have their share of troubles too. Claude Ballot Léna stopped for his suspension joints, Hurley Haywood for his brakes and suspension joints, Helmick had a shunt on the banking with another car and Hagestad had a puncture and changed his brakes. After all these stories, Holbert-Ballot Léna still were second overall, they ran still strongly and could still win. The leading BMW stopped after a puncture, to repair their suspension. The engine was hotting up and had transmission problems. The Porsche driven by Holbert was suddenly having big problems, too, and they would have a new engine forty three minutes later. Some kind of a feat! They had lost two places but could run as strongly as ever. After eighteen hours of race, the BMW driven by Redman-Fitzpatrick-Gregg was still leading the race, it was 16 laps ahead of Helmick-O'steen-Graves Porsche, 26 of Haywood-Busby and Holbert-Ballot Léna, 41 of Hagestad-Jolly, 43 of Tillson-Oest-Jennings and Hobbs-Parsons, 44 of Walkinshaw-Blackburn, 51 of Minter-Cord-Adams and then Hindson-Carney-Davenport(1st GTU). This car had a definitive lead over Charles Mendez Porsche 911T, which suffered from brakes trouble. At 9 AM, Redman was pitting for fuel and when he tried to restart, his car did not respond."As I pulled out of the pit, the engine misfired and coughed and banged" said Brian Redman. He would be trying for twenty minutes! When he could restart, he did go for a 30 meters stintch. It could be a mechanical problem, but some other cars would suddenly run the same way. The BMW team changed the plugs and the distributor. The hiccuping car would start only to stop again. Suddenly, some other cars would seem to be affected with that strange disease. The two sister cars seemed to run as badly and the O'steen-Helmick-Graves Porsche did not run clearly too. After more than one hour of investigations and discussions, the verdict would fall as the red flag! Water must been mixed with the fuel! It happened to be that some cars were provided with a truck that patrolled pit road and dispensed fuel. The other teams, provided by Unocal 76, had no trouble. Some cars were running strongly as Holbert-Ballot Léna and Haywood-Busby would have a lot to lose. The race was stopped at 10.10AM and the standings taken into account would be those of 9AM! The race was stopped for 2H40. During that period, distribution systems were thoroughly drained and a lot of teams would repair their cars. The race would restart at 12H50 with the thirty remaining cars. The leading BMW had a sixteen laps lead over Helmick, and 26 over Haywood and Holbert. The leading car seemed to be completely unable to engage for a fight with the remaining Porsches but it could go to the finish at a slow pace and still win the race. Dave Helmick was still pitted at the restart and would stop definitively on the track later. Redman went a very slow pace and Haywood and Holbert put a fantastic show. The latter would soon get the advantage but the rain would definitively spoil the race. Holbert would switch for rain tyres but not Haywood who was still relying on his talent. When the rain turned into a real flood, he stopped too. Curiously, he would prove less fast with rain tyres. Holbert-Ballot Léna would definitively go for second overall. Holbert did 27 laps against 15 to Redman. At the chequered, the BMW was 14 laps ahead of Holbert and 15 of Haywood. If the race had really lasted 24 hours, Porsche could have won. But the fate did favour BMW, who never lost the lead when John Greenwood Corvette retired. The best GTU car was Bob Hindson's Porsche 911S, who finished an excellent seventh overall, this car finished 15 laps ahead of Charles Mendez car. The Grand National cars did suffer a lot of troubles and the best car could do no better than 16th, it was the Ford Torino driven by NASCAR legend David and Larry Pearson, with Gary and Jim Bowsher. BMW won the race and it was still Peter Gregg and his famous number 59 that still was to be seen at the chequered.
Full results here : Daytona_1976