Miami IMSA ’84: Jaguar’s first one-two
The second round of America’s prestigious sportscar championship for 1984 sticks in the memory. Firstly, former double Formula 1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi would be on the grid for the IMSA Camel GT Championship qualifier on the streets of Miami. Event promoter Ralph Sanchez had successfully persuaded the great Brazilian to come out of retirement, thereby pulling off a huge coup for his Spirit of Miami-tagged race. And, once the furore over Fittipaldi’s return had subsided, the event would mark the first one-two for Jaguar in the competitive GTP category.
There was no doubt, however, that it was Fittipaldi who was grabbing all the headlines 25 years ago. Disillusioned with Formula 1 after five lacklustre years driving for his brother’s eponymous team, Emmo had gone home to spend his millions and pursue other interests at the end of 1980, but Sanchez’s persistence would prove fruitful.
IMSA regulars, including great all-rounders such as Brian Redman, Al Holbert, Bobby Rahal, Bob Wollek and AJ Foyt, were stunned when Fittipaldi planted the March-Chevrolet he shared with Mexican Tony Garcia on pole for the three-hour thrash around the 1.85-mile course.
The event was billed as America’s richest sportscar race to date, with a $175,000 prize fund, so a full grid of 37 GTP-spec prototypes was on hand to make the most of the kudos of competing.
Once the race got underway, the pole-sitting March, started by Garcia, slipped back, as the front-row starting Ford Mustang of Klaus Ludwig and Rahal fought for the lead with the Group 44-run Jaguar XJR-5 of former IMSA champion Redman. The green-and-white Jag would lead for the first quarter until an opportunistic move from Ludwig gave the 2.1-litre turbo a turn at the front. Ludwig’s challenge was not to last, though, thanks to suspension damage after too close a brush with one of the unforgiving concrete walls.
When Redman stopped to hand over to team-mate Doc Bundy, the sister XJR-5 of team owner Bob Tullius took over in top spot. Within 10 laps, however, Tullius too had handed over to his wing man, Pat Bedard. Bundy immediately retook the lead. Panic in the Jag camp came in the shape of a coming together between the two big cats while Bundy tried to lap Bedard late on. Neither car was damged and the team’s maiden one-two finish – with Redman/Bundy heading Tullius/Bedard – was just reward.
For Fittipaldi, the dream result was not to be. With the car a lap down after Garcia had finished his stint, Emmo unlapped himself and caught the leaders once more. A broken driveshaft – not Chevy engine failure as this otherwise excellent highlights film suggests – signalled the end of ’72 and ’74 world champion’s comeback race.
As the F1 legend explains: within a few weeks he had offers to race in the Indianapolis 500. It was something he had always wanted to try. The rest, as they say, is history.