Lap Time: 1:43.104 min.
In 1981, Rolf Stommelen secures pole position at the 24 Hours of Daytona with the Porsche 935.
Even before it begins, the season opener is a race for the history books: launched in 1953, the World Sportscar Championship awards its first world championship title for drivers in 1981. The World Constructors’ Championship only covers six of the 15 races, including the 24 Hours of Daytona, with participants of a correspondingly high caliber. Nearly one in two of the 69 race cars is a Porsche, including 14 type 935 vehicles that would give Ferrari, Lancia, and BMW a run for their money.
Porsche dominates the qualifying round – nine of the first ten grid positions are secured by drivers in sports cars from Zuffenhausen, with Rolf Stommelen ahead of them all. The German race car driver, who is 37 at the time, has had plenty of opportunity to strut his stuff in Florida. It has already been 14 years since his first competition as Porsche factory driver in the 24 Hours of Daytona, behind the wheel of a Porsche 906 Carrera 6. He was victorious in a 907 LH in 1968 and Porsche 935 in 1978 and 1980, and would go on to repeat this triumphant feat in 1982. And Stommelen also shows what he’s made of in the Andial Racing team’s 935 in 1981. He secures pole position with a lap time of 1:43.104 minutes, crossing the finish line more than a second ahead of Bob Wollek, who takes second place in the Kremer-Porsche 935.
But that’s not enough to satisfy Stommelen, who is equal parts strong-willed and prudent. He is said to have a special skill: apparently he can “read” the 935. Despite his sensational lap time in Daytona, he notices a less responsive driving behavior, caused by a defective tank support. Not even his pronounced senses can help Stommelen during the race, and electrical issues force him and his two copilots, Howard Meister and Harald Grohs, to concede defeat after exactly 500 laps. Porsche still manages to secure the overall victory after 708 laps and 4,375.355 kilometers. Bob Garretson, Robert “Bobby” Rahal, and Brian Redman take the lead with their 935 K3.
On April 24, 1983, Stommelen’s life comes to an abrupt end at a concrete wall. Less than three months before his 40th birthday, he dies in a car accident traveling at a speed of 300 kmh in Riverside, California. Tragically, he had promised his wife Marlene that he would quit racing at the end of the year.