T-Minus 7 Months: Preston Henn Porsches Part Of Rolex 24 Anniversary Display
Eagerly anticipated by drivers, auto manufacturers and race fans everywhere, the Rolex 24 At Daytona is the first major race of the international motor sport season. Every January, the Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Florida, USA) comes to life in celebration of this incredible endurance race, recognized by leading drivers as one of the most difficult in the world to win.
Building anticipation for the 50th Anniversary 2012
2012 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Leading up to this unique anniversary, we present a once-a-month look back through the history, people and events that have made this famous race what it is today. This month, we discuss the first cars officially announced as part of the 2012 Overall Champion Display: the winning cars from the 1983 and 1985 races.
A Gathering of Fifty
In an effort to make the impossible possible, Daytona International Speedway (DIS), Rolex and GRAND-AM are combining forces to gather all past Rolex 24 At Daytona race winners and their cars for a reunion celebrating the 50th Anniversary at the 2012 race. The mission was announced in January to mark the start of a yearlong process in contacting winning drivers and tracing the winning vehicles to commemorate 50 years of history and prestige of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
While A.J. Foyt will be returning to Daytona to serve as Grand Marshal for the historic Rolex 24 At Daytona 50th Anniversary, January 28-29, he may not have been expecting a reunion with two of the top Porsches he helped drive to victory years ago on this very same circuit. DIS officials have announced the first two cars that will officially be part of “The Gathering”: a pair of Preston Henn Porsches, one that Foyt shared with Bob Wollek, Claude Ballot-Lana and Henn in 1983, and one he shared with Wollek, Al Unser and Thierry Boutsen in 1985.
“Being able to look at this historic gathering of Rolex 24 winners and remember the stories behind their victories is going to be a special opportunity for race fans attending next year’s historic 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24,” said Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III. “We look forward to more announcements in upcoming months about additional winning cars that will be part of this one-of-kind display.”
The stories surrounding both Rolex 24 victories for the Preston Henn Porsches are remarkable.
1983 marked Foyt’s third appearance in the Rolex 24, co-driving an Aston-Martin Nimrod prototype as part of a driver lineup that included the reigning NASCAR champion, Darrell Waltrip. Prior to the race, Foyt and Henn discussed the idea of driving a Porsche together someday. As fate would have it, when Foyt’s Aston Martin broke down near the halfway mark, Henn found Foyt and offered him the opportunity to drive his car -- the No. 6 Swap Shop Porsche 935.
“Just prior to getting in, Foyt asked me about the car,” crew chief Kevin Jeannette said. “I told him it drove just like a Porsche, only faster. A.J. asked me about the shift pattern and I told him it was an H pattern, just like a Volkswagen. He looked at me and said, ‘You think I’ve driven a Volkswagen before?’ We had a laugh and I told him the pattern.”
Wollek came in around 05:00 to turn the car over after a very long stint. After the car left the pits, he noticed both of his co-drivers standing in the pits and asked crew chief Jeannette who was in the car. Jeannette explained: “I told him A.J. Foyt was in the car and he said ‘Who the hell is A.J. Foyt?’ with obvious concern about the inexperienced Porsche driver and the lead Bob had put the car in.”
The Texan went on to increase the team’s lead from one to two laps, and later drove the fastest lap of the race – 126 mph, in the rain – during a four hour, 10 minute shift. Wollek, by now impressed with Foyt’s ability in the unfamiliar car, finished up to win by seven laps.
The following year, Foyt, Wollek and Derek Bell drove Henn’s 935 to finish second in the 1984 edition of the race. Then in 1985, Henn upgraded to a Porsche 962 with Valvoline sponsorship and recruited drivers Foyt, Wollek and Al Unser. Despite both Foyt and Wollek fighting the flu, the team came from behind in the final two hours of the race to win 17 laps ahead of Al Holbert, Bell and Al Unser Jr. in the Lowenbrau Porsche 962. Foyt went on to run the 24-hour race in Porsche 962s for the following three years, always finishing in the top six, including placing second in 1986 in Henn’s entry.