By the time the Dick Barbour Racing team arrived in Portland for the Rose Cup IMSA race in August of 1980, we were in good spirits. The week before at the Sears Point IMSA event, the team had finished 1-2 with two 935s driven by John Fitzpatrick and Bobby Rahal. The Portland race was of the 100-mile sprint variety, just as it had been the prior week at Sears Point in California. While we were leading in the championship hunt, it was still close with John Paul, as we had skipped the Lime Rock event and run the Nürburgring 1000KM, and John Paul had won that race at the end of May. We entered two cars, chassis #000 0023 for John Fitzpatrick and #000 0009 driven by Skeeter McKitterick. Both of these were 1980 Kremer K3 cars.
Portland was a track just under two miles in length, with one long straight on one side, some Esses and longer curves on the other, connected by two roughly 180-degree corners on each end. A relatively simple track which we were sure John, never having been there before, would learn quickly none the less. We got our first surprise on Friday when we went to Goodyear to pick up some tyres. Goodyear informed us, there were no tyres for us. They wanted to talk to Dick Barbour, the team owner, as there was some dispute over Le Mans tyres. There were questions over whether Goodyear Europe was sponsoring these tyres, or there was an invoice still open for them. Us lowly mechanics did not get involved with this kind of thing at all, and since Bob Garretson (team manager) was not with us this weekend, and Dick was not showing up until later on Saturday, we were kind of in a quandary. Goodyear would not sell us any tyres, nor mount or dismount any that we did have. We had several sets of used Le Mans tyres in the truck (which were two months old), and we always carried our own tyre mounting equipment (for emergencies).
So, we mounted some up, and sent John out to learn the circuit. He did five laps or so and came in with a dead battery. He wasn’t happy. The tyres were horrible, and he said he could barely keep the car on the road. He did not fancy his chances with this setup. In the afternoon session, John did a lap of 1:10, promptly spun on the tyres and came in, and said “This is a waste of time, let’s wait until tomorrow and we can get some decent tyres.” Everyone else of note, like Hurley Haywood, John Paul, Gianpierro Moretti, Jim Busby and Ted Field were running in the 1:08 lap time range, so it was not looking good for us. Skeeter had the same issues, as there were no tyres for him either.
We figured that the tyre situation will get sorted out on Saturday, and we’ll be fine. Well, Saturday came, and no deal, still no tyres so we did not even run in the morning session. John went to Gianpiero Moretti and asked if he would buy us a set of tyres from Goodyear. I think John probably gave him a cheque for them. Moretti being the sportsman he was, did it, even though he was running on Pirelli tyres. We of course had to mount them ourselves, as Goodyear would not do it. We did that and then put them aside. We couldn’t run them for qualifying, as that was the only set we had for the race, if we got a flat, we were finished. Everyone else by now was running lap times in the 1:06 range. We did not even run in practice. For qualifying though, we had an ace up our sleeves. John had been doing races in the German Rennsport Meistershaft with the Kremer Jägermeister 935 (on Goodyear), and they used qualifying tyres in Germany, as there was an ongoing tyre battle with Dunlop and Michelin. Goodyear did not provide these in the US, as it was not deemed necessary. Even though Moretti was running Pirellis, there was no real competition from the other tyre makers in qualifying. Goodyear provided several compounds per weekend to select from but nothing as soft and quick as the German qualifying tyres. John had gotten a set of these qualifying tyres from Karl Heinz Tibor from Goodyear Germany, and he brought these over on the airplane as ‘checked baggage’. The qualifying tyres were good for maybe three or four laps, that’s all.
We mounted those up in our truck hidden away and put some black silicone all over the compound marks (on of all our tyres) so no one would know what they were or figure out what we were running (we did catch one of the Pirelli technicians snooping around our pile of tyres but chased him away). I believe technically this was legal, as the rules said you had to run the same brand of tyre in qualifying as the race. IMSA did not figure anyone would go to the trouble to bring over different tyres, and in any case Goodyear (or Pirelli) would catch it on mounting. The problem at Portland for IMSA and Goodyear was, they made us mount our own tyres, so they did not catch anything out of the ordinary (IMSA in later years changed the rules to make you start on the qualifying tyres). The rest of the teams I am sure were snickering and figured, Fitzpatrick is in trouble, his car is slow, no speed, he doesn’t have any tyres. The fast guys did laps in the 1:05s. We sent John out on the German tyres. He did three laps and as I recall, the third lap was 1:04.6! Then he drove right back to the truck and under the tent, we closed the tent, took the tyres off and put them away. We were on the pole by over a second on this short course. Everyone else was stunned, how could this be happening, John hadn’t done but 15 laps the whole weekend, and he had been very slow. We smiled, and said, “Driver, we have the best driver.”
We now got our second surprise of the weekend. John mentioned the engine sounded “off.” Sure enough, Jerry Woods (our engine builder) crawled under the car and saw what looked like a cylinder head issue. The cylinder would need to be changed, BUT, we did not have any spare engines with us, or the necessary parts. At about 15h30 Saturday, it was decided that Bruce Anderson would head for the airport to fly back to the shop in Northern California to pick up the parts we needed and return. It was about an 80-minute flight. The rest of us took the engine out and got it ready. At this point, Jerry Woods had a gout attack and could barely stand up. So, he sat there in a camp chair and directed the rest of us, as to what needed to be done. At about 22h30 Bruce got back from California with the parts, and Jerry once again directed the engine reassembly from the camp chair. We re-installed it, ran it in the car at about 04h00 on Sunday morning, and went back to the hotel for a quick two hours of sleep.
On Sunday morning for the warmup, we put on our one set of tyres, John did a few laps, checked the engine and tyres, came in, and said “Right, it’s all good.” At this point in the IMSA season, all the 935s for the sprint races were running 3.2-litre engines, and for a short race you could run more boost and get away with it. The factory had also come out with a newer Kugelfischer injection system, which, while it gave slightly more power, used more fuel. We had a problem with the Kugelfischer system at the prior race at Sears Point and had put the older Bosch system back on. Most all of the other cars were running the Kugelfischer, but we knew that fuel was going to be an issue for this race. A 935 in 1980 held 120 litres or 31.7 gallons, that was the legal tank size. The 935 would have trouble making the 100-mile distance at this circuit on one tank of fuel (due to the long straights). We figured if anyone could make it without stopping, they would win, so we were determined that would be us. We put our fuel hose in the top of the truck, second level, to fill the car and get every ounce of fuel in it that we could.
Moretti had qualified second, and at that point was running a Joest 1980 car. It was very quick in a straight line and he would be difficult to deal with on this circuit. The race went off, and John drove just quick enough to stay in front. We had some on board video from Bill Martin which he had taken in practice and you could see John routinely changing the boost several times per lap, turning it up and then down. He drove just quick enough to keep the rest behind. Skeeter McKitterick in the other car had a small part break in the gearbox linkage, so he was out as it could not be repaired in the time left in the race.
It was a good close battle between John Fitzpatrick and the rest until there were only a few laps left. Moretti, Hurley Haywood and Ted Field had to stop and take on a splash of fuel. At that point, we gave John the ‘EZ’ sign, and he cruised in for the win. We spent the last few laps hanging over the pit wall trying to check the fuel reserve lamp on the dashboard as he drove by. As I remember the fuel reserve light came on during the last lap. We beat Moretti to the line by 19 seconds, and he had stopped for fuel, so we were really cruising the last few laps. John Paul had run the distance without stopping but ended up a lap down, so he had been saving too much fuel.
Later that night after loading, we saw Moretti at the Portland airport. How did you guys do that he asked, run that distance without stopping. Well, we asked him if he had run the Kugelfischer injection? “Of course,” he said. “Yes, well we ran the old Bosch injection system, and we had John Fitzpatrick.” “Aha,” he said, “You guys are very smart, that explains it.” As Dick Barbour used to say, we had the best Porsche driver in the world!
We had magically pulled the rabbit out of the hat on this one, that’s for sure!
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Martin Raffauf and Brent Martin