The Garretson Developments Sports Car team entered two cars at Le Mans 1982, a March-Chevrolet and a Porsche 935. The March was an 82G, the March IMSA GTP car. The March was a fast car, but fragile. Most of the problem was due to the use of the Hewland DG300 gearbox in the original design. Used no doubt to save weight, it proved unable to handle the torque of the 6.0 liter Franz Wiess Chevrolet engines that we ran in the car. In the IMSA races up to this point we had constant gearbox issues, snapping input shafts and such. At Sebring, something broke in the gearbox after about an hour that left the car stuck in fourth gear, so we just continued and ran the rest of the 12 hours stuck in fourth gear and still finished second. We would have won easily with a functioning gearbox, as the car was much quicker than the 935. Bobby Rahal, Jim Trueman, and Skeeter McKitterick would drive this car at Le Mans.
The Porsche was our old reliable car we had been running since 1979, chassis #009 00030. This is a car we had built from the ground up in 1979 and knew very well. Bob Garretson, Annie Charlotte Verney and a Dallas businessman/racer, Ray Ratcliff, would drive this car.
We had a really good crew on this team, which included guys like Greg Elliff, Jerry Woods, Gary Cummings and Cliff Bissett. Almost all of them did not want to work on the Porsche, as that was ‘old technology’ so I got assigned as crew chief on the car, and did a lot of the prep work for Le Mans on it. Jerry Woods would be assigned to this car as he built the engine and gearbox for the car, and being a Porsche man, did not really want to work on the March!
The issue at Le Mans 1982 for a 935, was the fuel regulations. The ACO/FIA had once again lowered the amount of fuel allowed for the race, so it was going to be difficult to run and finish with a 935, without running out of fuel prior to the 24 hours. But Jerry had a plan for this. We would practice and qualify with a 3.2-litre engine with plenty of power. Then install a fresh built 2.6-litre engine he would build for the race itself. The problem was, the factory had no more parts to build a 2.6 engine, so we had to move up to 2.8. We would have to run very lean, in order to save fuel and make the distance on the amount allowed.
Tech inspection went fine for the team. It was nice that Annie Verney from Paris was one of our drivers as she was an experienced French rally driver who had been running at Le Mans since the mid ‘70s. We never had any issues in Tech Inspection when she was part of the team, as there was no ACO Frenchman who was going to tell a French woman driver, that there was some problem with her car!
We did have a humorous interlude with the famous Aerodynamicist Max Sardou in Tech Inspection (who had done some aero work for a car that was running). He studied the cars as they came through, and seemed intrigued that our team would have one of the new GTP prototypes and the old 935. He came to the 935 crew, and laughingly pointed to the car and said in his thick French accent, “Hmm, not very aerodynameek.” Our response, was, “Yes Max, but this car will run the 24-hour distance, your aerodynamic car probably will not.” He thought for a moment, then smiled and said, “Yes you are probably right.”
Practice went reasonably well for the 935 and all drivers qualified without problem, but the March had some issues. The car had just come from the March factory where it had had some chassis work, and a lot of the prep work was done there. Our guys were not happy with some of the stuff that had been done and the way it was put together. So they were spending a lot of time fixing small things, like wiring issues and such. The car qualified alright, but whether or not it was ready for a 24-hour race was another question. We spent Friday doing all the normal prep and installed the 2.8-litre engine in the 935. Around 6:00 pm the 935 was complete and I told Bob Garretson (the team manager, and one of 935 drivers), I was taking the 935 crew to dinner. He said, fine, check in after dinner to see where we are with the March prep. Off we went to the German Beer garden up in the Le Mans fan area. We felt good about the race, and so enjoyed some sausages and a beer…well, a few of us had a few too many beers. Since I was supposedly in charge, I limited myself to ONE beer.
By the time we got back to the paddock, we saw the March guys were still at it, and not likely to finish soon. It was wiring issues, the dash was out, and they were still installing the race engine. Bob Garretson grabbed me and said, “Well, you guys will need to stay and help work on the March.” “Bob,” I said, “a few of these guys, notably Jerry, have had too much to drink. We cannot have them working on anything at this point.” Jerry had collapsed in the rental van by this time. I told Bob, “Okay, if these guys stay tonight (Friday), the race is tomorrow, so this is YOUR crew who are going to be up without rest working on YOUR car tomorrow and Sunday.” He thought for a few seconds, and said, “Right, take these guys back to the hotel, and for heaven’s sake, don’t let Jerry drive!”
The race started late afternoon as normal, but within a few hours the March was back in the pits, leaking fuel everywhere. Apparently, the March factory had installed the new fuel cell incorrectly and it had ripped and was leaking everywhere. There were no spare cells, so the car was done. The crew said, okay, we are going for a ride on the Ferris wheel, and off they went. The 935 continued to circulate, all systems were go, but around midnight, Annie came into the pits, and said the engine was making a funny noise, a ticking sound, and power was down. Sure enough, by running lean, we had lost a cylinder, so Jerry quickly shut off that cylinder. He basically cut the fuel to the cylinder and turned off the spark, and we continued on five cylinders. The good news was, fuel would no longer be an issue but the bad news was, we had lost some power, although the car would still run. So we decided to carry on.
A short time later Bob (Garretson) came back from the driver’s caravan to take his next shift. Just then the car came by making the noticeable ticking sound of a 935 with a lost cylinder. Bob was not paying attention, and remarked to me, “Well, some poor bastard has already lost a cylinder.” I had to put my hand on his shoulder and say, “Bob, that poor bastard is you.” So we just continued on five cylinders and the drivers complained about lack of power and they could not pass anyone, but the car kept going. About 4:00 am the radio was punctuated by loud shouting and screaming from Ray Ratcliff. We thought he had crashed for sure, and when we asked him if he was ok, he said (in his Texas drawl), “Oh yes, I’m just happy, I actually passed someone, a motorhome on the side access road, I was faster than he was!”
Our main sponsor that year was Hertz of France. They had left when the engine went sour around midnight thinking, well this car won’t run much further. They came back in the morning and were surprised to find us still there, so they went out and brought in a whole spread of food for brunch for the crew and hung out in the pits with us. Very nice of them.
The car continued to circulate on five cylinders. It became sort of a crowd favourite, as everyone was astounded that it was still running. Towards the end, the engine started getting very rough, it was not going to go much further. Annie had come in and given it over to Bob, as she was afraid if something went wrong out on the circuit, she could not fix anything, but maybe Bob could, and she wanted to finish. Bob told us with about four laps to go that he had seen a young woman at Arnage by the rail, taking off clothing. First lap shirt, next lap pants, then bra. He said if she was still there on the next lap he was stopping to pick her up on the cool down lap. Alas, she was gone the next lap. No doubt corralled by the Gendarmes.
The car made it to the finish, and we were 11th overall and fifth in IMSA class. Not too bad for something with five cylinders and not very aerodynameek…
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto, Martin Raffauf, Gary Cummings, Phillippe Moriniere, Arquivo Jorge Curvelo