It would be the season of changes. In addition to a rules change introduced by John Bishop in order to even everyone's chances, it was clear that the series was on the move. The biggest news was the arrival of the works TWR Racing Jaguar XJR9s. The Porsche fleet had to face a much stronger opposition than in the previous years. With a two car team, the British entry would begin the season with an outstanding victory at Daytona, but it was Nissan who took the Victory Lane honors by the end of the season. Electramotive had worked very hard to improve the ZX Turbo GTP machine and Geoff Brabham was the man to beat throughout the season. He won a record eight races in order to capture his first GTP title. Running for the first time with air restrictors on turbochargers, the aim of the sanctioning body was clear : more action while pushing the normally aspirated cars. The biggest disappointment of the season was the somewhat dull season of the Hendricks Racing Chevrolet Corvette GTP. Looking quite unable to fight for the win, the car appeared to be somewhat outdated. A third place at Watkins Glen was the best the team could manage at the end. Many private entries were registered in 1988, with the likes of Spice, Fabcar, Ford or March adding diversity to the biggest GTP field ever produced in the series. The GTO class saw a consistent fight between Lincoln Mercury, with the new Merkurs, entered by Roush Racing, the AAR Toyota Celicas and the Protofab Chevrolet Corvettes. Scott Pruett emerged as the GTO Champion driving a Mercury Merkur XR4Ti, defeating the defending Celicas. The Roush team had successfully switched to lightweight racing Merkurs, replacing their ageing Mustangs. The GTU Class was an upset victory for the all new Chevrolet Beretta. Mazda and Datsun were defeated by Tom Kendall who made it three in a row in the car entered by Car and Concept.
The very first race, which was run at Daytona, was to feature a big battle between Porsche and Jaguar. The new regulations were supposed to slow down the turbocharged cars, yet it was still a Porsche in front at the end of the qualifying sessions. Eight 962s were entered by different teams. The usual top teams were Bayside Motorsport, Holbert Racing, Busby Racing, Foyt Racing, Dyson Racing and Brun Motorsport. They had to face a trio of Jaguar XJR9s entered by Tom Walkinshaw Racing. These three racers were driven by Martin Brundle, John Nielsen and Raul Boesel on the first car. Jan Lammers, Davy Jones and Danny Sullivan on the second one, and Eddie Cheever, Johnny Dumfries and John Watson on the third one. Tom Milner entered two Ford Probes, which were the former Zakspeed cars.
Copyright Mike Birch
Gianpiero Moretti had two March 86G Buick powered. He drove the first one with Michael Roe, while Steve Phillips and Jeff Andretti were at the wheel of the other car. A host of Spice Pontiac GTPs were attempting to prove they were able to fight for a top five position. Steve Durst and Michael Brockman had a V6 powered car. A very competitive GTP field was displayed to 30000 spectators. The Lights class was up to its counterpart with Spice Fieros entered by Huffaker Racing, Charles Morgan and Whitehall Motorsport. The race would see the first race for the brand new Spice 88, entered by Scott Schubot, who was co-driven by Linda Ludeman. Two very reliable Fabcar Porsche could do well in such a race. A Puerto Rican Royale Porsche was aside a Tiga Chevrolet and two Argo JM19 Mazda, amongst which Jim Downing had bvery high hopes for the class win. In GTO, Roush Racing, who entered two new Mercury Merkurs, was facing the AAR Toyota Celicas, which were newly crowned. Chris Cord was the defending GTO Champion, but the opposition was getting really tough. The new Protofab Chevrolet Corvettes were here and it was not to play second fiddle. Tommy Riggins and Greg Pickett were the team's hot shoes. Bill Adam, Chip Mead and Tommy Archer were another top team of drivers. Not to forget the tri-rotor Mazda RX7 entered by Roger Mandeville, and the Skoal Bandit Chevrolet Camaro, purchased by Buzz MCall, and Tommy Kendall, later to be aided by Jack Baldwin. The GTU was the less exciting one, with the Mazda RX7s scarcely threatened by a bunch of Porsche 911s, and a very fast Nissan 300ZX driven by Bob Leitzinger, Chuck Kurtz and son Butch. This latter car appearing very lonely too. Amos Johnson was searching for a new class victory, and he finally did it!
Seventy six cars showed up for the start. Mauri Baldi, who was running his first ever Daytona 24 Hour race, had stuck the Uniroyal Goodrich Porsche 962 on the pole, but Price Cobb, followed by Al Holbert, decided to pull away from the rest of the field. The Jaguar were running at a more sedate pace. While the Holbert Racing car held the lead for many hours, the team experienced turbocharger problems, which necessitated a very lengthy pit stop. The car would resume the race many laps behind the leaders. After a brief intermezzo by the Jaguar driven by Davy Jones, Danny Sullivan and Jan Lammers, who retired with engine problems, another Jaguar took the lead. It was Eddie Cheever, John Watson and Johnny Dumfries who led, but the car who tangle with a Porsche 962, who was fighting for the lead, the Busby Racing car, which was driven by Brian Redman. Both cars had to pit for minor repairs. In fact, the Busby Porsche 962, now driven by Bob Wollek, would take back the lead. This car would be challenged by the last Jaguar, driven by Martin Brundle, John Nielsen and Raul Boesel. The battle both cars would engage would last for many hours, and according to Jim Busby, 'It was one of the most incredible sprint races in IMSA history'. While it would last for many hours, suddenly things would accelerate, with Mauro Baldi stopping with a cut tire and brake problems. The race was over and Jaguar won the first race it entered in 1988.
Copyright Michael Crews
Porsche lost its first Daytona race since 1976. In GTO, Roush Racing won again, but it was a very uneasy race. The Skoal Bandit Chevrolet Camaro lost the race in the closing laps, when Jack Baldwin, who was driving the car, had to stop to have an internal heat problem fixed. Toyota was again running very strong, but the cars suffered from transmission troubles and they retired later in the race.
The Lights class saw a very unexpected victory for the Tiga GT286 Chevrolet driven by Tom Hessert, David Loring and David Simpson. They outlasted the favorite car, which was the Argo JM19 Mazda driven by Jim Downing, Howard Katz and Hiro Matsushita. The Spice Fieros, while fast, finished only third and fourth. The GTU class saw another victory by Amos Johnson, who made it four in a row. Dennis Shaw and Buddy Lazier co-drove him to a fifteen laps victory over the Porsche 911 driven by Gary Auberlen, son Bill, Adrian Gang and Cary Eisenlohr. Their reliable car was serviced by a very small crew, which proved one private team could still make miracles in such a race.
The next race was due to happen at Miami, which had become a usual fixture on the IMSA circuit. Thirty eight cars were entered, with twenty GTPs fighting up against fifteen Lights cars. Three Jaguar against seven Porsche 962s would become your classical show. Not to forget the very competitive Nissan ZX T GTP, entered by Electramotive, and driven by Geoff Brabham and John Morton. A pair of Spice Firebirds was to be seen, with a semi-official car driven by Bob Earl and Jeff Kline. Gianpiero Moretti fielded again his two March 86Gs, with some new hopes. John Gunn was here with a home built car, powered by a Chevrolet engine. The Phoenix would add diversity to the field. Albert Naon, a local driver, formely seen at the wheel of Porsche Carreras and BMW M1s, would drive the Tiga GT285 Ford entered by Roy Baker. The all new Fabcar GTP was to debut here at Miami, driven by Chip Mead. The Hendricks Motorsport had two Chevrolet Corvette GTPs entered for the first time. Elliot Forbes Robinson and David Hobbs drove one car while Sarel van der Merwe and Bobby Rahal drove the other one. Tom Milner again entered the cars which were seen at Daytona, but enjoyed little success. The Lights class displayed a wide array of machinery, with many cars now able to fight for the win. Gaston Andrey had a very fast Alba which was powered by a Ferrari engine. The car could challenge the best. Four Spice Fieros were entered, with Whitehall Motorsport entering two cars for the first time, the second one being driven by a French pair of drivers, Claude Ballot Léna and Jean Louis Ricci. Two Fabcar Porsche which were improving with time, a BMW powered Gebhardt and four Tigas made this field more than attractive. The practice sessions would confirm the Nissan's ability to run very fast. Geoff Brabham took the pole, just ahead of Hans Stuck, who drove the Bayside Disposal Porsche 962. The race would not be so fortunate for Nissan, as the car would be sidelined and ended up eighth overall. As per usual, the race was finally hampered by numerous yellows, and it ended up in a final sprint race between Price Cobb and Martin Brundle. As a result, the Porsche was first by 0.004s, which was the closest margin of victory ever in IMSA history! The Lights class was utterly dominated by the very quick Alba AR 6 Ferrari, which won by a three laps margin over the Daytona winning Tiga GT286, now powered by a Buick powerplant, which again proved its mettle. Tom Hessert drove it with David Loring.
The next race was scheduled on a the third week of march, and located in Sebring, Florida. The enduro attracted a very interesting field of cars, with GTPs, Lights, GTOs and GTUs mixed together. Sixty five cars were entered, with a new Porsche-Jaguar duel. Nissan had chosen not to compete in this very costly event, which was very tough on the material. The Hendricks Corvette GTP was here instead, which was a good thing, for the sake of diversity.
It was however a very good field, and Porsche was eager to take revenge. Seven Porsche 962s were to take the start of the race, led by Chip Robinson, who took the pole on the Holbert Racing Miller High Life Porsche 962. He broke the previous year record by an astonishing seven seconds! Second was the Dyson Racing Porsche 962, which proved that the 962s were still very fast. Third was the first Jaguar XJR9, which was driven by Martin Brundle, just ahead of the Bayside Motorsport Porsche 962. The second Jaguar was following, while Sarel van der Merwe had powered his Chevrolet Corvette GTP in sixth position. The Lights class would be treated quite the same way, with Guido Dacco posting a four second faster lap. Unable to explain such an improvement, every driver would argue from the fact the track coating was a bit too new the previous year, so? The practice session would be the last one for Bob Copeman, whose Porsche 911 unfortunately hit the wall, killing him in the process. The GTO class would again feature a Mercury-GM-Toyota battle, with Tommy Riggins fastest in practice. In the GTU class, Mazda seemed not to meet any opposition.
Copyright Mark Windecker
The start was given under a somewhat nice weather, which followed a night long rain. Three cars would immediately take the lead, and build a consistent lead upon their opponents. Chip Robinson, Price Cobb and Hans Stuck would fight for three laps, when the pace car suddenly would enter the track, after a Fabcar caught fire in turn one. At the restart, Martin Brundle, who suffered from a puncture, had to pit : he would restart dead last. Price Cobb was still in the lead, while Chip Robinson was a few seconds down in second place. Hans Stuck was third, followed by Jan Lammers. John Nielsen, on the other Jaguar, retired on lap thirty one, but he would be hired on the #61 car. Chip Robinson would then experience an off-course, and he would lose fifty minutrs to get back the car to the pits and have it repaired. Klaus Ludwig and James Weaver were quarreling for the lead while the only valid Jaguar was one lap down. In fact, until the seventh hour mark, things would remain unchanged, but then, the Dyson car would stop with gearbox troubles. As the remaining Jaguar seemed to suffer from an identical trouble, it seemed that the Bayside Motorsport Porsche 962, who was running very smoothly, would easily win the race. The closest opposition was now seven laps down. It was the Joest Racing car, which was driven by John Winter, Paolo Barilla and Frank Jelinski. A somewhat easy race for Hans Stuck and Klaus Ludwig, who cruised to a neat victory for Porsche. A sweet revenge for the German make, who placed five cars in the top five positions. The best Jaguar was seventh overall, bested by the top GTO finisher, which was the Chevrolet Corvette entered by Protofab, which defeated the Roush Racing small fleet.
Copyright Mark Windecker
Wally Dallenbach and John Jones easily won their class. The second place GTO car was the Mercury Merkur driven by Lyn St James, Pete Halsmer and Deborah Gregg, which was sixteen laps down! The next car was the Lights class winner, which was again the Tiga GT286 Buick driven by Tom Hessert and David Loring. They had a perfect streak, winning three races out of three. The Tiga GT286 Ferrari, entered by Gaston Andrey, finished second, with Uli Bieri, Angelo Pallavicini, Martino Finotto and Paolo Guaitamacchi at the wheel. The GTU class was won by Amos Johnson and Dennis Shaw who were two laps ahead of Tom Kendall and Tom Frank, who drove the CCR Racing Mazda RX7.(to be continued)