Another week, another trip through United SportsCar history! Two weeks ago, we kicked-off our TUDOR United SportsCar Championship™ series with the sizzling 60s, followed by the 70s where we drove into the decade dominated by Porsche.
This week, we’re following the history books into the 80s and the reign of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) exotic GTP Prototypes! –Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it?
The Early 80s
It all started at the 1977 Rolex 24 At Daytona, when IMSA President John Bishop’s attention was stolen by a pair of sexy, sleek Rondeau Inaltera prototypes. Without a shadow-of-a-doubt, Bishop felt a GT Prototype class comprised of similar cars would interest American SportsCar fans, to which he was right!
While the distinguished and bullet-proof Porsche 935 continued to dominate the Rolex 24 and Twelve Hours of Sebring in the early 1980s, the FIRST GT Prototypes began to hold their own in shorter events on the IMSA GT schedule.
FUN FACT: The first successful GTPs were the Lola T600, driven to the 1981 championship by Brian Redman, and the March 83G – including the Red Lobster-sponsored car with a paint scheme composed of giant lobster claws!
In 1983, the Rolex 24 included a pair of dazzling Aston Martin Nimrods and a Pepsi Challenger, driven by A.J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip. Unfortunately, the Pepsi Challenger was forced to retire early on due to a random break down, and Foyt was forced into driving a Porsche 935 in order to finish. Ironically, this car went on to win, marking the 935 its sixth straight victory at Daytona.
A year later, Porsche introduced the 962 at Daytona. This car was a variation of the 956 that saw great success in Europe. Racing legend Mario Andretti took the pole at Daytona and, joined by his son Michael, had a strong early run in the event before the new car was sidelined by overheating issues.
TRIVIA: One month later, Colombian Mauricio DeNarvaez won at Sebring in a privateer 935 and that was the last hurrah for the model.
In the 1984 Rolex 24, Foyt and Wollek drove to victory in Henn's Swap Shop entry as 962s swept the top four positions.
According to IMSA.com, “It was a unique race of father vs. son, with the elder Al Unser winning over his son Al Jr., who joined Al Holbert and Derek Bell in the Lowenbrau Special Porsche 962. Foyt and Wollek backed up the 1985 victory by winning at Sebring, with Holbert, Bell and Unser Jr. second in a podium sweep for the 962.”
The Late 80s
Holbert, Bell and the younger Unser returned with a bang to win back-to-back Daytona classics in 1986 and 1987, with 962s taking the top three places overall in both races!
While the 962 was the car to beat, it wasn't for lack of competition. NASCAR car owner Rick Hendrick fielded a Corvette GTP that won the pole for the 1986 Rolex 24, and Don Devendort fielded a Nissan GTP that slowly developed into a top contender. Everyone began wanting a shot at the GTP Prototype class! Jaguar jumped on the bandwagon with Tony Dowe and prepared cars that quickly challenged for victories.
According to IMSA.com, “After enjoying success in the production-based GTU and GTO divisions, all American Racer Dan Gurney entered the GTP wars with a Toyota factory-supported Eagle. BMW and Ford also fielded factory-backed Prototypes.”
At one point, nine factory teams from nine different manufacturers participated at the same time in GTP: Porsche, Jaguar, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Ford – the first and only time this many automakers competed simultaneously!
The result: the "Glory Years" of GTP! It was five seasons of some of the best endurance SportsCar racing ever seen. The remaining years in the 80s the factory-backed GTP Prototypes slowly disappeared. It was time for a change in SportsCar racing's top class… with the result, the open-cockpit World SportsCar.
Be at Lone Star Le Mans in Sept.!
Though Circuit of The Americas Experiences you can be a part of the ultimate racing weekend at Circuit of The Americas™, complete with a dual ticket to access the Paddock Building and its amazing views, VIP experiences, racing legend meet-and-greet with Townsend Bell, arranged ground transportation, and hotel accommodations.
Choose your race view from the Main Grandstand to Turn 1 or Turn 15. There is no better way to experience United SportsCar than at Circuit of The Americas™! For more information on the all new, inaugural Lone Star Le Mans series coming to COTA this September, see below!