This race was the first of the 1981 season and it seemed that the Porsche 935s would find a little
opposition from Europe. The paddock was crowded with 935s, and we could find no less than twenty of
them, six were spare cars. The most of them were Kremer K3s, these types being some evolutions of the
basic model. John Fitzpatrick entered his own car. Since 1980, Dick Barbour had experienced financial
setbacks, and he did suffer from health trouble too. The Whittington bros had two cars, and Preston
Henn had his car that he shared with Bob Bondurant and Dale Whittington. Gianpiero Moretti had a Franz
Blam prepared car, and he shared it with Charles Mendez and Mauricio de Narvaez, it was a Joest car,
different from the K3s. Bob Akin had his own K3, he drove it with Derek Bell and Craig Siebert. Joest
had brought his own car. It was driven by the highly effective hands of Jochen Mass, Reinhold Joest
himself and Volkert Merl. Andial had a brand new car : it was a highly modified K3 for Rolf
Stommelen-Harald Grohs and Howard Meister. This car was barely regular one but the tech inspectors
would approve the entry. Bob Garretson had his own car, fitted with a 3,2L and a spare car, as John
Paul had. Hurley Haywood had the Bruce Leven car, a K3 replica, fitted with a 3,2L too. He was
co-driven by Bruce Leven and Jurgen Barth. Ludwig Heimrath entered his own 2,8L prepared car and he
shared it with his son. Two other cars were entered by local teams : they were not as efficient but
would make for the start. Pepe Romero entered a car for himself, Luis Mendez and Steve Shelton, and
Jamsal, from El Salvador, had his car for Raffaele Barrientos and Mandy Gonzales. This Porsche
contingent was to face three Lancia Betas and one sole Ferrari 308GTB Turbo. The Lancias were not
fitted with the big engine, which was quite a disappointment on such a track. The 1,4L Turbo engine
could not give more than 380hp. They could not hope any chance for victory. The driver line-up was
World class with Ricardo Patrese, Hans Heyer, Henri Pescarolo on the first car, and Michele Alboreto,
Piercarlo Ghinzani and Beppe Gabbiani on the second works car. The Jolly Club car had the same drivers
as the Ferrari 308GTB Turbo, that is to say Carlo Facetti and Martino Finotto, plus Emmanuele Pirro.
The Ferrari, fitted with a 3,0L turbo, was very powerful. It was not completely race ready though. Two
Ferrari 512BBs were entered and could count on their reliability. Michael Keyser-Don Devendorf drove
the conventional car that would not start the race and Tony Adamowicz-Rick Knoop drove a much modified
car. Handling was the improved feature as François Sicard worked on the brakes and the suspension.
The Joest Porsche 935 was running strong when it retired.
Some American cars were entered too, and the most efficient ones were as per usual the Chevrolet Monza
driven by Chris Cord-Jim Adams and the Canadian Camaro driven by Mo Carter-Richard Valentine. These
were tube-frame cars. Very fast, they would have to be reliable too. The Stratagraph car was a special
car driven by Stock Car drivers Terry Labonte-David Pearson and team owner Billy Hagan.
A MacLaren Mustang, powered by a BDA 2,0L engine, given for 270hp, was here to test Firestone radial
tyres. It was driven by John Morton and Tom Klausler.
A lot of GTO cars were entered too, and the new BMW M1s were the favorites. The works car was driven by
Marc Surer, David Hobbs and Dieter Quester. This one would have to fight against the Bavarian Motors
car, driven by Hans Stuck-Alf Gebhardt and Walter Brun. The Kenper Miller-David Cowart-Ricardo Londono
car would be an outsider, as were the two other private cars. The Porsche 924GTRs, newly introduced in
the GTO class, were on their maiden race in the US. The best car was the Holbert Racing one. It wore
the usual blue and yellow colors. Al Holbert-Doc Bundy and Rick Mears would share the driving chores.
The Herman+Miller car would prove very fast with Paul Miller-Pat Bedard and Skeeter McKitterick. Many
Camaros, Corvettes and Porsche Carreras were entered as usual, but they would prove quite unreliable.
They would make for a not so huge field of 69 cars. The GTU battle would display the henceforth
familiar Mazda-Datsun battle with Porsche as a witness. But the race would prove very surprising at the
end and the winner would emerge as high as third overall!
An interesting entry was the Z and W Mazda GTP for Pierre Honegger-Jean Paul Libert. It was a tubular
chassis car and could have an interesting race. Unfortunately, the car was not even completely built
when it arrived at the track. The practice sessions did not allow any driver to beat the existing track
record. Rolf Stommelen was the fastest and would start on the pole in 1m43s104.
Second was John Fitzpatrick who was just ahead of Jochen Mass, Hurley Haywood, John Paul, Carlo
Facetti, Gianpiero Moretti, Bob Akin, Bill Whittington and Ted Field. As expected, it was one Ferrari
against nine Porsches. At the start of the race, the weather was somewhat cloudy but it did not seem to
get worse for the race The 69 cars lined up for a Le Mans start, and Rolf Stommelen immediately took
the lead, but Bill Whittington, who started tenth, surged from nowhere and passed Stommelen to take the
lead. He would immediately pull away from the rest of the field. Following Rolf Stommelen was Jochen
Mass, John Fitzpatrick, John Paul and Carlo Facetti. The Ferrari driver was aware of his car suffering
from water in the lubrication system. He wanted to show the potential of the 308 Turbo and pushed hard.
Soon he would overtake Stommelen and Paul. He tried to attack Jochen Mass who would not let him pass
for second place, and finally slowed down and pitted a few minutes later to become an early retirement.
Facetti had settled a new lap record for this race in 1m48s14. As Whittington went his way, clearly
willing to have some kind of a security margin, the hierarchy was getting established and Jochen Mass
was a good second, John Paul third and Rolf Stommelen was ahead of John Fitzpatrick and Ted Field.
Hurley Haywood was one of the first to pit with an ignition problem. Hans Stuck stopped and would get
back to the race in 67th position. He would then work his way through the field to win the GTO class,
surely one of the best run in the race. Chris Gleason and Pepe Romero had a collision just before
entering the banking, no one would be hurt but the two cars would get back to the pits for minor
repairs. After 18 laps, Bill Whittington went to his pits with a broken engine. His mechanics would
then begin an engine swap, a good work that was to get done in 35 minutes. Of course, Jochen Mass was
now in a commanding position, and should it be bis repetita for the Joest team?
John Paul kept his
position, Rolf Stommelen was third, John Fitzpatrick followed the leading trio, just ahead of Brian
Redman, who was already there. The Lancias were completely outpaced here at Daytona and the Jolly Club
car was having ignition trouble. Soon the works cars would be stopped with valve problems. The works
BMW , driven by Hobbs, would stop with clutch problems. Chris Cord, navigating around the fifteenth
position, pitted for an engine swap before the end of the first hour. The first refueling session began
after fourty five minutes of racing. Jochen Mass was the first to pit, just before Ludwig Heimrath,
seventh and Preston Henn, who did not appear in the top ten standings. Gianpiero Moretti would then be
relayed by Charles Mendez, and Rolf Stommelen by Howard Meister. At the end of the first hour, Jochen
Mass was ahead of John Paul, Brian Redman, Ted Field, Howard Meister, John Fitzpatrick, Ludwig
Heimrath, Ricardo Patrese, Terry Labonte and Bob Akin. As the race was going on, John Paul was soon
pitting for an engine swap too. The Joest Porsche was easily leading the race. Brian Redman was now on
the second place. Ted Field was an excellent third but later, a Porsche Carrera would hit the wall. Ted
Field, followed by the MacLaren Ford Mustang, swerved to avoid the Carrera. The 935 and the Mustang
collided and went in for repairs. Always leading, the Joest Porsche was in the lead, followed by Bob
Garretson, John Fitzpatrick and Ludwig Heimrath. Everyone seemed to think of a Joest domination but
Volkert Merl would spin and damage his suspension. Unable to get back to the pits, it was an early
retirement as well. Bob Garretson inherited the lead and would fight with the John Fitzpatrick-Bob
Wollek entry. They were one-two at the 3Hour mark and Danny Ongais-Ted Field-Milt Minter were back in
third. Fighting for fourth place, Bob Akin-Derek Bell-Craig Siebert were just ahead of the Heimraths,
father and son. The Andial car was surprisingly running sixth, just ahead of the first Lancia, driven
by Michele Alboreto. As the race went on, some top drivers would soon retire from the race. John
Fitzpatrick had to replace an engine and lost ground to the leaders, later in the race, Bob Wollek
would have a transmission broken, and he retired. It was at the 5Hour mark and the Ted Field car
inherited the lead, just before experiencing an ailing connector change. Brian Redman and his teammates
had lost the lead for two hours, but they were running at a steady pace, and they were back in the
lead. Ted Field-Danny Ongais were still second, and the three followers, Bob Akin-Derek Bell, Ludwig
Heimrath Sr and Jr and Rolf Stommelen-Harald Grohs were fighting hard. The Andial car would lose some
ground due to a faulty valve. Just before midnight, the three leaders would spin on oil, Derek Bell
damaged his car during this piece of action, and went back for repairs. The leading car had a one lap
advantage over his next pursuer.
At that moment, Brian Redman was wondering who was leading, and he asked Bobby Rahal : "who is
leading". "We are" answered Bobby. Brian Redman then shouted :"It's too early, it's too early". But the
other cars were just falling out. A cracked exhaust header would stop them for 15 minutes. But they
would simply not lose the lead.
Danny Ongais was on his way to take the lead when he collided with two Mazdas. It was a retirement for
the Interscope car. Ludwig Heimrath, working his way to second, pitted with engine problems. So the
Andial car, running quietly, was again second. At halfway point, the third place was held by a
steadily Ferrari 512BB driven by Rick Knoop-Tony Adamowicz. This car was now ahead of two Porsche 935s.
Unfortunately, this car would later retire from the race, after a collision with Gianpiero Moretti's
car, who had a puncture. The Andial car would change an engine too and the leading car was now far
ahead from every entrant! The closest one was ten laps down, it was the Coke machine, owned by Bob
Akin. The race would then go the monotonous way, as no major change would be recorded for hours. After
fifteen hours, the best GTU cars were in fourth and fifth position. The fantastic Kegel Enterprise
Porsche 911 driven by Bill Koll-Jeff Kline and Rob McFarlin had just upset everybody, not to speak
about the Mazda contingent! Jeff Kline explained later that they were grinding away, but they kept
faith in their reliable Porsche. This car was just ahead of the New Raytown Datsun driven by Frank
Carney-Dick Davenport and Rameau Johnson. These two cars would make it to the finish line. The Andial
car, still running in third place, would retire after the car would be on fire. During the last hours
of race, the first places would not change, but the leading GTU car was now as high as third overall!
The Datsun would be challenged for second, first by the leading Mazda, driven by John Casey-Jim Cook
and Bob Bergstrom. This car later broke its direction and the Kent Racing car would take third place in
class. But this car was too far to be a real threat to the Datsun. The two leading Porsche 935s were
now running together, with a twelve lap advantage for the leading car. The two following cars would
have no trouble. The following Mazdas would have to pit for various reasons. The best one broke its
gearbox on the last hour, this car finished the race running on fourth gear. The remaining Lancia
overtook this car to finish fifth, and the Bavarian Motors BMW M1, driven by Hans Stuck, had just come
back to finish sixth overall, and first in the GTO category. At the end, it was a well deserved victory
for the Garretson Porsche 935, with Brian Redman-Bobby Rahal and Bob Garretson cruising to a very quiet
race. It was a true endurance winner, as they did not try to go faster than they had planned. This
strategy was the best for this 1981 race. At the end of the race, everyone was wondering why this car
run so well. So it was inspected, but the secret of the team was a little additive that made the turbos
run cooler, and it worked! Their secret held in one word : duration.