The 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Jan. 28-29, marks a half-century of top-level sports car racing on the high banks and twisting infield of Daytona International Speedway. We're counting down to that milestone with a series of features looking at some of the drivers, marques and stories that have shaped those 50 years. This week, we take a look at a manufacturer with an unbroken streak of appearances at the Florida enduro classic and a staggering number of overall wins. Must be Porsche...
22 and counting
This manufacturer's Rolex 24 of Daytona résumé reads like a history in brief of international sports car racing over the past half century.
It's notched up victories with factory cars and privateer cars, and prototypes and GTs. That vast array of machinery has been powered by flat-12s, flat-eights, flat-sixes and even V8s, some of which were turbocharged and some normally aspirated.
And then there's the list of racing legends who've helped notch up all those triumphs: Rodriguez, Redman, Bell, Haywood, Gregg, Joest, Foyt, Wollek, Pescarolo, Stommelen, Holbert, Ongais and Rahal. And that's not forgetting multiple victories by that great U.S. racing dynasty, the Unsers.
That marque is, of course, Porsche.
The German manufacturer has been a constant through the rich, 50-year history of international sports car racing at Daytona. More than half a dozen Porsches took part in the inaugural Daytona Continental 3-hour race in 1962 and it has been represented on the grid every year since. In that time, it has notched up a phenomenal 22 overall victories, a total that includes three wins as an engine supplier.
That amazing run began at the 1968 24 Hours (LEFT), the third edition of the Daytona enduro to be run to the twice-around-the-clock format. Victory for Jo Siffert, Vic Elford, Rolf Stommelen, Hans Hermann and Jochen Neerpasch at the wheel of a factory-entered 907LH was the first overall win for Porsche in any of the big sports car enduros at Daytona, Le Mans or Sebring. The tone had been set.
Porsche had to wait a couple of years for its first success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but not before the design that would achieve that breakthrough win had already notched up another Daytona success for the marque. In a very short time, the 917 would make an indelible mark in the history of motorsports and the psyche of every sports car fan.
Ask anyone to conjure up an image of the great 917 in their mind, and the chances are that it will be in the powder blue and orange of Gulf Oil. Those were the colors in which John Wyer's JW Automotive team triumphed at Daytona in 1970, with Pedro Rodriguez, Brian Redman and Leo Kinnunen behind the wheel. Wyer, Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver would then repeat the feat 12 months later, with Gulf backing, of course.
The red, white and blue of Brumos is another color scheme that shall be ever associated with Porsche at Daytona. Peter Gregg's Brumos team claimed victory in the 24 Hours three times in the 1970s, twice with a Carrera RSR (LEFT) and once with a 935, and the Florida-based team triumphed again in 2009, nearly 30 years after its owner's untimely death with a Porsche-powered Riley Daytona Prototype. Brumos was, of course, the team that gave Daytona legend Hurley Haywood the first two of his record five 24-hour victories at “The World Center of Racing.”
The flame-breathing 935 (RIGHT), an ever-more extreme silhouette special, was unbeaten in the 24 Hours from Brumos' 1978 triumph through '83. Domination by one Stuttgart design then merged into another, with a solo victory in between by the first of the “Powered by Porsche” wins at the Daytona International Speedway. Victory by the Kreepy Krauly March-Porsche in 1984 paved the way for the phenomenal success of the Porsche 962.
The IMSA GTP version of the Porsche 956 that had already won Le Mans in 1982 and '83 came on stream in 1984 and went on to win the Rolex 24 no fewer than five times. Just about everyone who was anyone in U.S. motorsports raced this classic machine over a long career that stretched into the 1990s.
The 962 coupe (LEFT) was the machine in which the great and the good went head to head at the start of each season. Mario Andretti, who'd given the car a first-time-out pole position at Daytona in '84, the Unsers, Indy car legend A.J. Foyt and, of couse, Al Holbert would all play starring roles in one of the classic periods of U.S. sports car racing.
The rivalry between Foyt and Holbert, who was Porsche's factory representative in the U.S., spanned the middle years of the 1980s. Foyt was only an occasional competitor in the Rolex 24, but he ended up winning the race with Preston Henn's Swap Shop team and its 935 in 1983 (after joining its lineup during the race) and then gave the 962 its first Daytona success with the same team two years later.
Holbert's factory car, shared with Derek Bell and Al Unser Jr., had finished second that year, but he got his revenge in 1986, with Foyt finishing a close second in the Henn car this time. The four-time Indy 500 winner returned with his own entry (run by the Brumos team) the following season and remained in the hunt until an engine failure in the final hour.
The career of the 962 appeared to be at an end with the demise of the GTP category in 1993, but an open-top version complying to the new World Sports Car rules claimed an against-the-odds victory in 1995. The Porsche factory had been due to contest the race with its WSC95, an “American” Porsche developed out of TWR, Inc.'s Valparaiso headquarters on a 1991-vintage Jaguar Group C chassis, scheduled to be driven by Mario Andretti and Scott Pruett, but scratched its entry courtesy of a late regulation change. The privateer Kremer team was affected by the same power-sapping rule tweak, but chose to push on with its plans to contest the big race with its 962-based contender.
The Kremer-Porsche K8 wasn't the quickest car in that year's 24 Hours, but it was the most reliable. As the fast but fragile Ferrari 333SPs fell by the wayside, the Porsche came through to score an unlikely victory with a driver lineup including Christophe Bouchut and Marco Werner.
Not quite as unlikely, however, as the triumph by The Racers Group in 2003 (RIGHT). Its GT class 911 GT3-RS outlasted the debuting Daytona Prototypes to take the laurels by nine laps.
It was a little bit closer the next time Porsche took the overall win in the Rolex 24. The Porsche-powered Brumos Riley that triumphed in '09 enjoyed a winning margin of just 0.167sec after the closest 24 Hours on record.
The Riley chassis gave Porsche win number 22 the following season. This time, though, it was powered by a V8 engine developed from the Cayenne SUV powerplant.
That's quite a record already, but it's sure to be added to in the years to come. The shape, size and sound of cars has changed over the years at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but one thing remains constant: the sight of a Porsche up on the banking.
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