1985 Daytona 24hrs: The Porsche superstar show
What do sportscar superstar Bob Wollek, Grand Prix winner Thierry Boutsen, all-round racing legend AJ Foyt and four-time Indy 500 winner have in common?
Bizzare and as random as it may sound… At the start of the 1985 Daytona 24 Hours the four of them didn’t have much in common at all – apart from driving Porsche 962s in that year’s 24 Hours. The all-star line-up was the #8 Valvoline car of Wollek/Unser Sr/Foyt, which had qualified third. In eighth was another 962 of Boutsen, Le Mans hero Henri Pescarolo and Bruce Leven.
Naturally the eyes were on the all-star squad in the #8 car, but they dropped back quite a way at the start, with AJ Foyt behind the wheel staying out of trouble right from the green flag. As the car plummeted down the order, Wollek declared: “That is part of our race plan.”
The first hour was always shown live on national network TV in America, and the sight of Foyt dropping like a stone wasn’t great TV for the network. The squad’s approach was to run as tortoise rather than the hare. By the end of the hour, he was a very cautious 10th.
“Super Tex” Foyt’s fuel-saving style – as undynamic as people wanted – paid off. After his first stint he handed over to Wollek, who, as they had pitted laps later than the guys going for camera glory, emerged from 10th in second place.
Wollek was right.
Let’s face it, not a lot happened in the race. It rained, heavily, at 6pm. Then it dried as quickly as it had rained. Chaos, followed by more chaos as teams switched tyres, then back to status quo.
Halfway into the race the car to beat was Derek Bell’s Porsche 962 which he shared with Al Holbert and Al Unser Jr – also a pretty stellar line-up. That car was almost a minute ahead.
Then it all went a bit crazy. The pole position car of John Paul Jr retired with suspension problems. At the same time a Porsche GTU car crashed into the wall at Turn 1. In the 15 minutes it took to clear the wreck up, few noticed that the Pescarolo/Boutsen/Leven 962 didn’t leave the pits.
When it finally did get going, the car didn’t last, and with Al Unser Sr feeling sick, team owner Preston Henn asked Thierry Boutsen to switch cars, and join the Foyt, Unser Sr, Wollek crew. It was 1am, and by then that car was 11 laps, or 15 minutes if you like, behind Derek Bell’s 962.
The Bell/Unser Jr/Al Holbert car had such a big lead that when a misfire came in, they had enough time to not rush pit stops, change the fuel filter, and still have a massive lead.
Around 9am it all changed. Two things had happened. 1) Boutsen and Wollek had been pushing very hard through the night, despite the large gap, and 2) The Bell Porsche was having more fuel filter problems.
The lead Porsche’s gap was now down to four laps – still a lot.
At 10:30 it started raining again. At points the #8 Valvoline car was gaining 10 seconds per lap. The #14 Lowenbrau car of Holbert/Bell/Unser Jr then started having electrical problems. By 2pm, the gap was down to four laps, but the lead car was obviously in trouble. A lot of trouble.
Wollek too wasn’t well, but just the slightest sniff of winning spurred him on. Boutsen was a huge help when Unser Sr was sick, and AJ Foyt, is just… well he is AJ Foyt.
The Bell car basically was finished 30 minutes before the finish. After another stop to try and fix the electrics, the car wouldn’t re-start. Knowing they couldn’t win with such a handicapped car Bell parked it, to do a final lap at the end. They still finished second.
So it was that Bob Wollek, Al Unser Sr, AJ Foyt and Thierry Boutsen won the 1985 Daytona 24 Hours. Foyt became, and still is, the only person to win at Indianapolis (four times), Le Mans, the Daytona 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours.