Every era of racing at Road Atlanta has produced some great memories… whether it’s the heyday of Trans-Am and Can-Am, the SCCA runoffs, the early IMSA days or the current Le Mans Series era. But almost everyone agrees a high-point of sports car racing was the IMSA Camel GTP era, especially the years 1985-1992.
The IMSA Camel GTP era really took off with the introduction of the Porsche 962 that began to rack up wins during the 1985 season. In 1986, BMW came into the picture to join Nissan and Jaguar. Toyota followed a couple years later. A few semi-factory efforts had some success, like the Corvette GTP from Hendrick Motorsports and the fast but fragile Chevrolet Intrepid. Ironically, the BMW effort lasted only one year, but Nissan, Jaguar and Toyota remained to battle Porsche in some of the most thrilling races ever seen at Road Atlanta.
In 1985, Bob Tullius’ Group 44 Jaguar team scored a big win at Road Atlanta with Brian Redman and Hurley Haywood driving. The following year is was the Corvette GTP winning in the hands of Doc Bundy and Sarel van der Merwe. The Dyson Porsche 962 won in 1987 with Price Cobb and James Weaver driving.
The 1988-1990 Camel GT races at Road Atlanta were dominated by the Nissan team. Geoff Brabham won all three years, each time with a different co-driver: John Norton, Chip Robinson and Derek Daly. Nissan was virtually unbeatable everywhere they ran, and they scored their first major endurance win at Sebring in 1989.
Davy Jones gave the TWR Jaguar team victories at Road Atlanta the next two years. The 1992 Road Atlanta race proved to be the beginning of the end for the Nissan program. Both cars were destroyed in horrific accidents. Nissan withdrew at the end of the year, leaving only Toyota and few aging Porsche 962s to battle for the final GTP title in 1993 (Nissan did turn one of its cars over to a private team, but they were little match for Dan Gurney’s Toyota Eagles). Road Atlanta wasn’t even part of the IMSA Camel GT schedule in 1993 as the track dealt with ownership issues.
Lets not forget the Camel Lights division, which also produced some exciting racing. Atlanta resident Jim Downing won the Camel Light class in 1986 at Road Atlanta in his Mazda Argo.
The WSC era followed in 1994, but they never captured the imagination of fans as did the GTP cars.
Written by: Ken Breslauer