This weekend’s Daytona 24 Hours around the historic Florida circuit heralds the start of the international sportscar racing season and will again pitch top endurance racers against guesting IndyCar aces and, in Rubens Barrichello, a former Grand Prix winner. As is traditional, the race features four classes – two for prototypes (Prototype and Prototype Challenge) and two for GTs (GT Le Mans and GT Daytona), with super-close racing guaranteed throughout the field.
Since 1966, the race has attracted most of the world’s best-known manufacturers, some of which have been more successful than others. Ahead of the 2016 edition, we’ve trawled the archives to unearth our favourite Daytona-winning machines, representing five different marques.
5 Nissan 300 ZX-Turbo (above)
Japanese giant Nissan has one Daytona 24 Hours win to its name, in 1994, but it came with a car you perhaps wouldn’t expect: the GTS-class 300 ZX-Turbo. The #76 Paul Gentilozzi/Clayton Cunningham-run machine was crewed by Gentilozzi himself, Butch Leitzinger, Steve Millen and Scott Pruett and ran faultlessly en route to a 24-lap win over a pseudo-works Larbre Competition Porsche 911 Turbo S LM. Veteran Scott Pruett, who would tame the race four more times and remains one of only two drivers with five wins, was astounded by the car’s bullet-proof reliability. And that performance led to the first win for a GT car for 11 years and the first victory for a front-engined machine since 1976.
4 Chrysler Viper GTS-R
The first Daytona 24 Hours of the new millennium marked an historic day for American sportscar racing and, it would transpire, the GTO-class American muscle cars. The 2000 edition of the Florida classic marked the first round of the new American Le Mans Series and a packed entry of prototypes from Riley & Scott, Ferrari, Reynard, Cadillac and Lola would duke it out on the part-banked, part-road course circuit.
One by one, though, they all fell by the wayside, allowing the production-based GTOs to slug it out for class and outright honours. In the end, the ORECA-run Viper GTS-R of Olivier Beretta, Dominique Dupuy and Karl Wendlinger held on to beat the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R of Justin Bell, Ron Fellows and Chris Kneifel by just 30 seconds. It was great day for the front-engined big-banger brigade, and that victory remains Chrysler’s only win in America’s biggest sportscar race.
3 BMW 3.5 CSL
One of the most successful touring cars of the 1970s, BMW’s iconic CSL was the weapon of choice in the European Touring Car Championship, dominating the series between 1973 and 1979. The more potent Group 5 version of the ‘Batmobile’ also enjoyed success in America, winning the Sebring 12 Hours in 1975 and taking the German marque’s only Daytona 24 Hours victory in ’76.
Three BMW North America CSLs pitched up at Daytona in ’76 and battled hard with rival Porsche and its hordes of privately entered Carrera RSRs. The #59 machine of John Fitzpatrick and Brian Redman, who were joined by two-time Porsche winner Peter Gregg, took pole and led the majority of the distance, eventually winning by 14 laps. Former Porsche and Ferrari prototype ace Redman did the bulk of the driving, some 14 hours in fact, and considers the car one of his favourites and that race one of his finest.
2 Jaguar XJR-9D
Jaguar’s modern-day relationship with US sportscar racing had started with Bob Tullius’s Group 44 team running early versions of the V12-engined XJR cats in the IMSA Camel GTP series from 1983. In five attempts at Daytona, between ’83 and ’87, the team had a best result of third in 1984 with the XJR-5, courtesy of Tullius, Doc Bundy and David Hobbs.
For 1988, however, Jaguar upped the ante in America. Tom Walkinshaw Racing, the team that had steered Raul Boesel to the World Sportscar Championship title with the XJR-8 the year before, took on a dual WSCC/IMSA programme with an all-new car, the XJR-9. Resplendent in Castrol livery for American events, three cars, codenamed XJR-9D, turned up at Daytona for the first round and qualified second, fourth and sixth. In the race, the #60 car of Boesel, Martin Brundle and John Nielsen held off the pole-sitting Porsche 962C of Mauro Baldi, Brian Redman and Bob Wollek to win, with the #66 car of Eddie Cheever, Johnny Dumfries and John Watson coming home third. The car didn’t win again in America until the final race of ’88, but the WSCC XJR-9 did win Le Mans and carry Brundle to the world title.
1 Porsche 935
Unbeaten at Daytona for six straight seasons, Porsche’s 935 production-based racer was the German firm’s greatest off-the-shelf customer car. Built to Group 5 regulations for 1976, the car was an instant hit and racked up numerous wins over the second half of the 1970s. In the US IMSA series, customer teams couldn’t get enough of the car. Proving that versatility, the six victories at Daytona came with six different teams – Brumos Racing (1978), Interscope Racing (’79), Joest Racing (’80), Garretson Racing (’81), JLP Racing (’82) and Preston Henn (’83). Various evolutions of the 911-based silhouette machine were used in worldwide competitions, including the most potent of the breed, the 935/78 ‘Moby Dick’, so called for its outrageous whale-tail aerodynamic appendage.
The advent of the Group C formula for 1982 brought an end to one of Porsche’s most successful single-model competition cars, although the 956 and its replacement, the 962, would amply fly the company flag in global sportscar competition.