1973 saw a return to normality for the Daytona 24-hour race. The distance was set back at 24 hours, after running only a 6-hour length in 1972. Ferrari in 1972 had petitioned the FIA to keep races at 6-hours, as the reliability of the 3.0-litre prototype cars (312PB) was suspect over a 24-hour distance. For 1973, Bill France petitioned to have the Daytona race returned to 24-hours distance in the World Championship and the FIA (international rules body) concurred. The car rules remained unchanged. The prototype cars running for the world championship were 3.0-litre cars, but the bulk of the field was GT cars of various types and sizes.
Not many of the European prototype teams bothered to make the trip. Ferrari and Alfa Romeo stayed home, not trusting their cars to run for the 24-hour distance. Apparently, at first they agreed to come but demanded large starting money from Bill France, which he refused to pay. John Wyer entered two Gulf Mirage Ford powered prototype cars. Driven by Derek Bell, Howden Ganley, Mike Hailwood and John Watson, they were quick but not expected to last the distance. These were powered by the 3.0-litre Cosworth F1 engine that was de-tuned as much as possible. One lone Matra 670B was entered for Francois Cevert, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo. Matra was using this race as a test for Le Mans, and this car seemed to be the favourite. There was a lone Lola T282-Ford, also with 3.0-litre Cosworth, entered by Georges Filipinetti for Reine Wisell, Hugues de Fierlant and Jean-Louis Lafosse. Reinhold Joest entered his Porsche 908-3, while slower than the newer prototypes, this car was thought to be more reliable and in with a chance should the others falter. There was also an older 908-2 for the Canadians Rudi Bartling and Harry Byzek, as well as an even older 910. The rest of the large field was made up of various GT cars.
Up until this time, the Porsche 911 in racing had basically been a modified street-car and the 2.5-litre 911S used in GT racing in 1972 was just that. Porsche realised in 1972 that they had fallen from the ranks of outright sports car race winning capability. The all-conquering 917 had been dropped after 1971 by the FIA rule change to limit prototype sports cars to 3.0-litre engines. The somewhat dated 908-3 was non-competitive with newer offerings from Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Cosworth based cars such as Lola and Mirage. The 2.5-litre 911S was even starting to struggle against GT cars with larger engines such as the Ferrari Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera. Due to homologation rules, Porsche realised they would have to build a whole new model, which they called the Carrera RS. This car was completed in late summer of 1972 and included the duck tail rear spoiler, wider wheels and tyres and increased engine capacity to 2687cc, hence the name 2.7 RS. For racing, the cylinder bore was increased slightly to 92mm (from 90mm) resulting in 2808cc, which then was the 2.8 RSR.
The Porsche factory brought two of these cars (2.8 RSR) to Daytona for the 1973 24-hour race. Although these were ostensibly GT cars, they had not yet completed the FIA homologation process (as the required 500 units had not yet been built), so had to be entered as prototype cars. The factory did not run these cars themselves, instead they loaned one each to Roger Penske and Peter Gregg to enter and run. While these were quicker than most of the other GT cars, they were not competitive on lap times with the real prototype cars. This was the first actual race for the Carrera RSR, a car which would prove to have an amazing record over the coming years.
Peter Gregg’s car was prepared by his Brumos race team in Jacksonville Florida. He and Hurley Haywood, his co-driver, had won the 1972 IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) championship driving a 2.5-litre 911S, so were very familiar with the 911 based cars.
Roger Penske of course was well connected with Porsche. He had run the factory 917-10 in the Can-Am championship of 1972 and won it for Porsche, breaking the many year McLaren strangle hold on this series. George Follmer had won the championship with support from lead Penske driver Mark Donohue who had missed several races due to a broken foot from a crash in the 917 during testing at Atlanta. These two, Donohue and Follmer, would drive the Penske entered car painted in dark blue Sunoco Oil colours, a long time Penske sponsor.
Derek Bell took the pole in his Mirage M6, followed by the Matra, the second Mirage and the Lola. John Watson took the lead at the start and led for the first five hours or so from the Matra. The Bell/Ganley Mirage had early alternator and clutch issues and was retired. The Joest 908-3 started at the back after missing qualifying due to a fire, but after five hours was up to third. At the five-hour mark the leading Mirage had a long pit stop to replace the clutch, the same malady as its sister car. By late evening the Joest 908 dropped out with a broken transmission. This left the Matra with a huge lead over the two RSRs of Penske and Gregg. However, this changed shortly thereafter as at 12h30 Sunday morning, the Matra engine failed.
It was later determined that some defective bearings had caused the failure. For sure the locals who lived near the speedway were rejoicing, as they would not have to listen to the screaming V12 engine all night! The two RSRs had been battling the whole race up to this point, with both teams eager to show Porsche they could get the job done. The Penske car had eked out a slim lead of one lap or so over the Gregg car but by 04h30 however, the Penske car pitted and was out with engine failure. This left Gregg and Haywood with a large lead over the nearest pursuers.
As the chief mechanic at Brumos, Jack Atkinson explained, they had received a new engine from Porsche for the IMSA finale race in November of 1972 and had the flywheel come off due to the flywheel bolts being loose. Hence, when he got the new RSR he had stripped the car given to him by Porsche and had gone through it all, checking both the practice and race engine for Daytona. He again found the flywheel bolts to be loose! He had told Penske about it, but the Penske guys, thinking Peter Gregg was playing psychological games (which he was known to do), ignored the warning. The Penske engine had the flywheel bolts come loose during practice. The engine was replaced with the race engine, but it had failed after some 14 hours with a suspected valve issue.
Later Sunday morning there was a scare for the leader as one of the many seagulls flying around Daytona Speedway impacted the front nose of the RSR near the oil cooler, causing some damage. Other debris cracked the windshield of the Brumos RSR and SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) officials (this race was sanctioned by the SCCA in 1973) directed that for safety reasons it must be changed. There were no spares, so one was removed from a Brumos customer’s 911 sitting in the infield parking lot and installed at the next pit stop. As Atkinson explained, Porsche, in the effort to save weight, had installed light weight windshields that were not sufficiently strong, resulting in the failure. From then on, he always carried spare windshields with him. The poor customer had to drive back to Jacksonville sans windshield, but I am sure all was made good later at the Brumos dealership. And he could live with the story that he had saved the day for the first win of the Carrera RSR!
All that remained was to run off the remaining laps. Towards the end, since the Brumos car had such a large lead, Classic Car Wax came to the team and offered $10,000 if at a late pitstop they would be allowed to wax the car. Although this was a large sum of money in 1973, Gregg and the team refused it. After discussions with Porsche it was decided that “it didn’t feel right” to do this, and in any case why take the risk so close to winning. So, the Peter Gregg/Hurley Haywood RSR won by 22 laps over the NART (North American Racing Team) Ferrari 365/GTB4 of Francois Migault and Milt Minter, which won the GT category, being a fully homologated GT car.
Lost in the shuffle of results featured several who would make their marks in later races at Daytona and in the IMSA championships to come. Sixth overall was the Porsche 911S of Erwin Kremer, John Fitzpatrick and Paul Keller. Kremer would return several times to Daytona, eventually winning over all in 1995 with a Kremer CK8 (Porsche 962 derivative). John Fitzpatrick would win the race in 1976 driving a BMW CSL with Brian Redman and Peter Gregg. Finishing eighth overall in a Porsche 911S were Michael Keyser, Tony Adamowicz and Bob Beasley. They would go on to some continued success in IMSA events. And finishing 33rd overall was a 911S entered by Al Holbert for himself, Dieter Oest and Mike Tillson. Al would go on to win the IMSA championship five times and win the Daytona 24 hours twice in the 1980s in his own 962 Porsche.
The Porsche Carrera RSR had proven its worth in its first race and would dominate GT racing for several years and become one of the most successful GT cars ever. The 2.8-litre engine would quickly be replaced by a more powerful 3.0-litre unit. The RSR would win Daytona again outright in 1975 and 1977 as well as Sebring in 1973, 1976 and 1977. With the advent of the 934 and 935 in 1976, it would no longer run with the top cars (except at the aforementioned Sebring and Daytona races in 1977), but it did continue to dominate the lower classes for some years to come.
The Daytona 24 hours had reached a milestone, as this was the last race sanctioned by the SCCA. The 1974 race would be cancelled due to the OPEC fuel crisis caused by Arab-Israeli war of late 1973. In 1975, IMSA would take over the sanctioning of the Daytona 24, and it still remains so in 2020.
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Martin Raffauf, William Tuttle, Corporate Archive Porsche AG, ISC&Daytona Archives