Rolex 24 Flashback: 1976: Redman's Feat of Endurance

1976 Rolex 24

The BMW 3.5-liter CSL being driven to victory by Brian Redman, the late Peter Gregg and John Fitzpatrick in the 1976 Rolex 24.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ask Brian Redman how many times he's won the 24 Hours of Daytona, and he isn't entirely sure. He used to settle on two – 1976 and '81 – but these days he's more likely to take credit for the 36 laps he did in the winning Porsche 917 in 1970 and call it three. Yet ask him which of his victories he counts as his favorite, and there are no doubts. It has to be 1976 and his triumph with the factory BMW team.

And for good reason, too. Not only did BMW dominate with its 3.5-liter CSL, but the car driven by Redman, the late Peter Gregg and John Fitzpatrick led for most of the way. What's more, former grand prix driver Redman did the lion's share of the driving in the winning car. The British driver spent 14 hours behind the wheel, which turned out to be pretty much two thirds of the actual race, because that was the year that contamination of the official fuel supply resulted in the event being halted for three hours on Sunday morning.

"At the end I was absolutely exhausted," recalls Redman. "There is a photograph somewhere of the podium with Peter, with his arms around the two race queens, looking immaculate because he'd barely been in the car. I am standing at one side looking like his grandfather. I got back to the hotel, fell asleep in the bath and woke up at 2 a.m."

The IMSA-spec CSL, already an overall winner at the previous season's Sebring 12 Hours with Redman on the driving roster, was the car to have at Daytona that year. There were no prototypes as part of the organizers' drive to realign the race for Grand Tourers and American stockers, and the straight-six machine was more than a match for the Porsche 911 Carrera RSR that had won Daytona 12 months before.

Redman claimed pole position by a shade under a second from teammate David Hobbs, and the BMW squad sat atop the leaderboard from early in the race after a brief challenge from John Greenwood's "SuperCorvette." The Porsche RSR driven by Al Holbert and Claude Ballot-Lena kept the "Bimmers" in sight until the early evening, after which the three CSLs – two factory and a single semi-works entry all entered under the BMW North America banner – had things pretty much their own way.

Redman and Gregg built up a clear lead during the night when the car Hobbs shared with visiting NASCAR star Benny Parsons ran into gearbox problems and the British-run, Hermetite-backed machine was delayed by a broken distributor.

It wasn't all plain sailing for Redman and Gregg. First, Gregg became ill, placing a heavy burden on his teammate and eventually resulting in John Fitzpatrick being drafted into the lineup from the Hermetite entry.

Even more worrying for BMW was an engine problem ¬– and quite a major one at that.

"The remarkable thing about that car is that at something like four in the morning it went onto five cylinders after losing part of a valve," explains Redman. "I continued driving flat out, using 9000rpm, and was still faster than the best of the Porsche RSRs.

"Sometimes those six-cylinder engines would break after an hour. They had a problem with the damping of the crankshaft. Other times they would run forever."

Redman and his teammates had a lead of more than 50 miles when water in the official fuel supply caused havoc for approximately 10 of the cars left running shortly after nine in the evening. The leading BMW was one of the first to be affected, and Redman remembers the car grinding to halt three times during a lap that he was convinced was going to deprive him of a first true victory in the 24 Hours.

"It stopped almost immediately after refueling and I had to bleed the system to get going again," he says. "It stopped on the infield and again on the banking. The final time I had to borrow some jump leads to restart the car.

"Just as I got back to the pits, they stopped the race. Fortunately the results were put back, which meant we were leading again when they restarted the race."

With the BMW's fuel system bled and the rogue gasoline taken out of circulation, the BMW resumed its relentless progress for the final three-hour run to the flag. The final margin of victory over the Holbert Porsche was 14 laps.

Redman was the hero of Daytona '76, but local boy Gregg, now a three-time winner of the race, took the plaudits from the local media.

"I got taken apart by him on the public relations front," remembers Redman, who was already firmly established in the U.S. courtesy of two Formula 5000 titles. "The headline in the Daytona Beach paper on Saturday morning was 'Gregg wins pole.' Well, actually, Gregg's car won pole."

Redman's post-race exhaustion meant he missed BMW's victory celebrations on Sunday evening.

"When I apologized to BMW Motorsport boss Jochen Neerpasch the next morning, he said, 'Oh well, it doesn't matter. Peter Gregg gave a fantastic speech and thanked all the mechanics personally by name in German.' I thought, 'Wonderful!'"

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