Holbert, Bell Expected to Endure Best at Riverside, Too
If there is such a thing as racing overkill, it could be the Lowenbrau Porsche 962 team of Al Holbert and Derek Bell in today’s $164,000 Los Angeles Times/Ford Grand Prix of Endurance.
Between the two of them, they completely dominated endurance racing in the world last year.
Holbert, 39, won his fourth International Motor Sports Assn. championship and is the winner of 42 IMSA Camel GT races, more than any other driver in history.
Bell, 44, won the World Endurance Championship for Drivers title and is a three-time winner of the 24 Hours of LeMans and the winner of 18 major races in the past two seasons.
The two won this year’s opening IMSA race, the 24 Hours of Daytona, driving as a team with Al Unser Jr., and Bell won the opening round of the world endurance series last Sunday at Monza, Italy.
Today, in the six-hour Camel GT main event, they are solid favorites to score their second IMSA victory of the year and pad the lead they already hold in season standings.
John Paul Jr., driving a Buick Hawk, will start on the pole, and Geoff Brabham, in a Nissan ZX, will be alongside on the front row. But Holbert, in fourth position alongside Klaus Ludwig, in a Mustang Probe, still has the car to beat.
This will be the first time since IMSA was organized in 1971 that four different engine makes are starting in the first four positions. The four chassis are also different: March, Lola, Ford and Porsche.
“The new makes are adding interest to the series,” Bell said, “and the Corvette showed us in Atlanta that one of them can win, but in a race like this you have to favor the Porsches because of their reliability.”
The Corvette, which had been on the pole every race it started this season, will start seventh, where it was qualified by Doc Bundy of Gainsville, Ga. Sarel van der Merwe, the No. 1 Corvette driver, withdrew from today’s race because of a neck injury. Wally Dallenbach Jr. was named to replace him.
Holbert, a second-generation Porsche driver from Warrington, Pa., is particularly eager to win at Riverside. Despite having won four IMSA championships and three Can-Am races on the Riverside track, Holbert has never won an IMSA race here.
“I really can’t explain why I’ve won three Can-Ams at Riverside, yet never an IMSA GT race,” Holbert said. “I can remember coming here as a kid to watch my dad (Bob) race. That’s how long I’ve been around this track.”
Holbert has finished second four times--with Bell in 1984, with Jim Trueman in 1983, with Harold Grohs in 1982 and with John Paul, the father of today’s pole-sitter, in 1979.
Bell, a man-in-motion who lives on a farm in the south of England, rates winning the world championship more important because “the world championship means something, no matter what it is,” but he believes that IMSA is the most flourishing sports car series in the world. And he has driven them all.
For instance, last Sunday he was racing in Italy, today he’ll be in Riverside, and next Sunday he’ll be in Silverstone, England.
In the Monza race, Bell and Hans Stuck drove a Porsche with an automatic transmission--the first time such a car has ever won a race of that kind.
Last year he made 33 crossings of the Atlantic to race IMSA, the world endurance series and the International Race of Champions.
“It’s a pity I won’t get to run IROC this year,” he said. “I did it for two years and was just getting the hang of oval racing. Ovals are a bit of a different thing. It looks so simple, just going round and round, but after trying it I have great respect for the oval car drivers.”
Bell, who was invited, is not driving in IROC because his sponsor, Lowenbrau, did not want him appearing in a Budweiser-sponsored series.
If all goes well today, Holbert will start and switch off with Bell each hour. That will leave Bell in the car for the final hour.
“Al likes to start and it’s his car,” Bell said. “It works out well. I get a chance to look around and see whose cars are around us. I know who’s stopped, who’s having trouble and what driver changes have been made. That makes it a little easier sometimes.”
Bell, who shares his world endurance Porsche with Stuck, says that Holbert is without peer in having his car race-ready.
“One guy has to get in the car and get it set up. You can’t have one guy making changes, then the other guy going out and making his own changes.
“I may suggest something, but basically it’s Al who does it all. His car is so easy to drive. I have never driven with another driver who has the ability to adjust the car to changing conditions. It’s sad in a way: I have become so dependent on Al to set up the car that I am not improving my own development ability.”
Holbert and Bell first became driving partners in a Porsche 962 for the 1984 race at Riverside.
“After Rolf’s (Stommelen) accident here in ’83, I stayed in Europe and had given up any idea of running IMSA. In January ’84 I got a call from Tom Tucker (Atlanta press agent), who asked me if I would drive a works car in America if I had the chance.
“I said, ‘No way,’ but asked who was running it. When he said it would be Holbert’s car with Andial’s engines, I changed my mind in a hurry. We drove at Riverside and have been together ever since.”
Only a miscalculated pit stop prevented Holbert and Bell from winning that first race together.
“I never associate close driving with sports car endurance races, but I had a good race that day with Whit (Bill Whittington). Our radio had gone out and I came in our last pit stop a lap earlier than they were expecting and caught Al by surprise.”
Holbert was standing in the pits without his gloves or helmet on when Bell dove down pit lane. After scrambling into the car, he took off without his gloves and with his seat belt unfastened.
Whittington elected not to turn his car over to the slower Randy Lanier and stayed out. Holbert, after cinching up his belt as he struggled to get up to speed, tried to catch Whittington in the final 25 minutes but couldn’t make it.
“They beat us by only four seconds after six hours,” Bell said. “That’s really something for an endurance race.”
Bell won the race here in 1983 by filling in for John Fitzpatrick after Bell’s driving partner, Stommelen, was killed in a Turn 9 accident. Fitzpatrick, who also was the team manager, was scheduled to take over from David Hobbs in the final hour but after the accident said he could not drive. He turned the car over to Bell, who drove to the checkered flag.
Today’s noon start will be preceded by two shorter races, a 30 minute sprint for Sports 2000 cars at 9:30 a.m. and a 45-minute race for Champion Spark Plug Challenge sedans at 10:15 p.m.