The Flying Tigers strike again! Being the best on the planet in something, even for just a short while, has got to be a great feeling. The sense of accomplishment is high. But whatever it is, it’s not going to be easy. There are a lot of other people you are going to have to beat to get it done, especially if it is the World Endurance Championship.
In sports car racing in 1981, there were two FIA championships for Sports Cars, one for Makes and one for Drivers. The Drivers’ Championship was contested over a group of fifteen races, while the Makes’ Championship consisted of six specific races within those fifteen races. The factories, such as Porsche, BMW and Lancia concentrated only on the Makes races. The Drivers’ Championship then would most likely be won by a privateer, as the factories would not contest all fifteen of the races.
The 1981 races were:
|Daytona 24 Hours||Makes & Drivers|
|Sebring 12 Hours||Drivers|
|Mugello 6 Hours||Drivers|
|Monza 6 Hours||Makes & Drivers|
|Riverside 6 Hours||Drivers|
|Silverstone 6 Hours||Makes & Drivers|
|Nürburgring 1000km||Makes & Drivers|
|Le Mans 24 Hours||Makes & Drivers|
|Pergusa Coppa Florio||Drivers|
|Daytona 6 hours IMSA Champion Race||Drivers|
|Watkins Glen 6 Hours||Makes & Drivers|
|24 Hours of Spa||Drivers|
|Road America 500||Drivers|
|Brands Hatch 1000km||Drivers|
The Sports Car Championship consisted of many of the main long-distance sports car races around the world. Points were accumulated at each eligible race to determine the champion, and races were on both sides of the Atlantic to give equal opportunities to US and European teams. There was a prize paid by the FIA of $45,000 to the winner which was a lot of money in 1981! The key to winning was consistent finishes, you would not have to win every race, but you had to finish and accumulate points. You had to enter a number of the races and do well in the ones you entered, as it was almost impossible for any one driver to enter all fifteen of the races. The races included many varied types, such as, IMSA races, World Makes Championship races, and IMSA Champion Spark Plug races, and even the Spa 24 hours. The one thing they had in common was that they were all 500 miles, 1000km, 6 hours, or longer.
We had become acutely aware of this championship in 1980, losing it by just five points. John Fitzpatrick, despite winning more races lost the title to John Paul Sr. by five points and Dick Barbour was another four points behind, so it was a very close result. For 1981, Bob Garretson decided he would attempt to make amends and win it.
The season started well enough, winning the 24 hours of Daytona, in Bob Garretson’s 935 K3. Further early races resulted in points finishes at Sebring (17th), Riverside (4th), Le Mans (6th). A variety of drivers had assisted Bob up to this point, including Bobby Rahal, Brian Redman, Roy Woods, Ralph Cooke and Annie Verney at Le Mans. The plan was that Bobby Rahal would run most of the races with us after Le Mans, however after the Cooke/Woods and Garretson break-up at Le Mans, Bobby signed to drive most of the rest of the races with Gianpiero Moretti, so Bob had to find different co-drivers. At the Daytona championship race, Bob drove with Joe Varde in his Mazda RX3, and although they had some issues, they finished. For Watkins Glen, since it was a makes race, Porsche supported us by providing Rick Mears and Johnnie Rutherford to drive with Bob, which resulted in a third place finish (winning the over 2-litre category), behind the two factory Lancia Monte Carlo cars.
For Mosport (Canada), Bob did not want to go through the hassle of taking his car and team across the border to Canada, so he arranged to drive with Mauricio DeNarvaez, who was running a second car in the Moretti team. Bob was hoping to bring his mechanics to work the car, but Alistair McNiel, the team manager of the Moretti/DeNarvaez group, did not want any of the Garretson crew on the team. I guess he was afraid we would learn some secrets or something. After negotiations, he was convinced to take one man, Gary Cummings. Gary arrived and found that the car was not prepared to our standards, so the night before the race, he and Bob himself stayed late into the night to work on the car and get it to a level they were happy with. They were rewarded the next day with seventh place in the 1000km, whereas Moretti’s Joest Moby Dick car (driving with Rahal), fell out with problems.
For the penultimate round at Elkhart Lake, Bobby Rahal had arranged for Jim Trueman (the owner of the Red Roof Inns hotel chain, and Bobby’s Indy car team owner) to drive with us. However, at the last-minute Jim was called away on business issues, and Tom Gloy was brought in as a stand-in. Tom, a former Trans-Am champion, was from California and got along great with the team. What more could we ask? It turned out, nothing really. He helped us to get fourth place in that race, in fact beating Bobby Rahal in the Moretti Moby Dick Car who ended up in fifth place. We had some fun with our good buddy Rahal, chiding him about being beaten by his stand-in, Tom Gloy.
Harald Grohs had won both the Mosport and Elkhart Lake rounds in the Andial 935 partnered with Rolf Stommelen, so had closed the point gap markedly. Basically, we had to finish in front of him at the final race at Brands Hatch in the UK, to win the title. The good news was we would have Bobby Rahal back on the team for this last race. The bad news was, we had to ship all our kit over to England and battle the Europeans on their own turf. There would be all kinds of cars in this race, including the Kremer 917-81, a new Ford prototype, a Lola T600, and multiple 935s, including of course the one entered by Dieter Schornstein for himself and Harald Grohs.
We once again prepared the car, chassis 009 00030 as best we could, leaving nothing to chance. The race itself was sponsored by Flying Tigers Air Freight. Bob got sponsorship from them for the race, and they agreed to fly the car over from San Francisco. This was the famous air freight company founded in 1945 by actual ex-WW2 Flying Tiger pilots, who flew the Curtiss P40 fighters in China against the Japanese for Chiang Kai-shek. The company was subsequently bought out by FedEx in 1988. We put on the Tiger decals and took the car up to SFO (San Francisco airport), put it on a pallet, and they stuck it on the 747 freighter to London. The crew followed on a convoluted trip via Shannon, Ireland, a drive to Dublin, then a flight onward to London.
Debi Rahal’s sister, Judy, at the time was married to Roger Glover, the bass player for Deep Purple, and they lived outside of London. Debi organised a party at her sister’s for the team. Roger was off touring, but an enjoyable time was had by the team as we examined all the gold records on display. We then got down to business at Brands Hatch and Bobby, who had run at Brands before, qualified the car sixth just ahead of Harald Grohs. We were pitted between our friend Preston Henn who had entered a 935 for himself, Desire Wilson and Edgar Doren, and a few pits down were our friends from Kremer with their 917-81. Our car ran perfectly, although it rained on and off for the early part of the race. We ended up second overall and winning the GTX class behind the Lola T600 of Guy Edwards and Emil DeVillota. Grohs and Schornstein were sixth, so we had done what we needed to clinch the world championship. The Kremer 917 had issues and did not finish. However, after the race, Erwin and Manfred Kremer and their team, who we knew very well, came over to our garage and joined us for a drink of champagne. As for sure, the World Championship had been won in a Kremer Porsche 935-K3!
On the way home, we celebrated with some of the world’s finest Irish Coffee at the Shannon Airport in Ireland. So much so, we barely noticed that the World Airways DC-10 ran out of fuel due to headwinds on the way back to San Francisco and had to stop at Winnipeg, Canada to refuel. So, we arrived San Francisco a few hours late, but we didn’t care – Bob and his team were the world champions! Flying Tigers were ecstatic, as by sponsoring the trip, they got a lot of good press coverage with a minimum of investment. There were a lot of photos taken of the Flying Tigers car with the Flying Tigers 747, which were in the magazines for months to come.
Some months later I asked Bob Garretson why he continued the season after the Cooke Woods break-up after Le Mans, frequently investing his own money to keep the team going. His answer has stayed with me for many years, and in fact is a good life lesson. He said, “Well, I had a shot at it, and wanted to take it, I did not want to be second guessing myself 10-20 years later as to why I didn’t make the attempt.” In this case, the attempt paid off – he was the 1981 FIA World Endurance Champion!
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Porsche, Martin Raffauf, Gary Cummings, Bill Martin, Don Hodgdon, Flying Tigers