James Roe Jnr is nothing if not charming and he has been working that charm to the best of his ability on both sides of the Atlantic in recent times.
During his maiden US racing season in 2018, he met John Campion. Campion is well known to visitors to this site as he been a huge help to aspiring Irish race and rally drivers over the last few years. Roe’s Young Driver of the Year nomination and subsequent progression to the final three in 2017, meant he was included in Team Ireland, a specialist training programme implemented by Motorsport Ireland and partly funded by expat Campion. The pair formed a bond and Roe Jnr has visited Campion’s hugely impressive car collection on a number of occasions.
James takes up the story. Last Thursday I was in the states and of course was in touch with John. He called me and asked me if I wanted to “drive some racecars” Did I what?!” The cars which John was referring to were the ex Emerson Fitipaldi March 83G and the iconic Martini liveried Lancia LC1. The excitement didn’t end there for the young Kildare man though, as it transpired the reason for the shakedown was that motor racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi was to test the March the following day!
In the early 1980’s FISA introduced Group C and the IMSA GTP regulations. Robin Herd’s March Company was quick to develop a brand new GTP car for this class. Adrian Newey designed the 82G, which many have described as immediately fast.
Though a successful car, the 82G was evolved and improved into the 83G. In all, four 83G cars were made, one went to Nissan and Al Holbert received the remaining three.
Chassis 83G-02 was fitted with a Chevy 366 cubic inch engine with mechanical fuel injection making 620 hp and propelling 2200 lbs. It could run with the Porsche’s and was a quarter of the cost to maintain. Dressed in red and white CRC livery, chassis 02 was first used in the 1983 inaugural Miami Grand Prix, which it won at the hands of Al Holbert.
This 83G was then passed to Pepe Romero who DNF’d at Sebring and was able to bring home a 7th at road Atlanta. All the while painted in a Pink livery. Don’t judge… it was the 80s. The Leon Bros. racing team got the car next, painted it red and raced it three times. Unfortunately, the car DNF’d in all three. Marty Hinze then bought the car and drove with Randy Lanier and Bill Whittington at the Daytona 24hrs.
This is where the car’s history really comes to life. Ralph Sanchez bought the car and named it “The Spirit of Miami”. He prepared it for the second Miami Grand Prix, an event he worked hard to promote, as the first race had to be stopped due to rain. Mr. Sanchez still needed a driver. His choice was Emerson Fittipaldi a man who needs no introduction. Emerson had retired from Formula 1 and initially at least, was content in staying retired.
After many conversations, Ralph Sanchez was able to convince Emerson Fittipaldi to come out of retirement and drive The Spirit of Miami March 83G-02 car for the 1984 Grand Prix of Miami. Neither men knew at the time this would lead to Emerson’s second career as an Indy driver. He would go on to win 2 Indianapolis 500s.
Testing for the Spirit of Miami car was held at Palm Beach Moroso Motorsports Park. In an interview, Emerson describes the car going off track and ending up in the lake. A small boat had to retrieve him as a number of alligators decided to get a closer look at the March. Emerson was not the first person to end up in the lake and certainly not the last celebrity to do so. (Today the lake has a wall around it!)
After a most memorable test session, the car was dried out and made ready for the Grand Prix of Miami. Emerson took pole and led most of the race before retiring due to gearbox trouble. He would race the following year in a different March also painted in Spirit of Miami livery, while the Original Spirit of Miami March 83G-02 would be raced by Blue Thunder racing as car number 57 and in Blue and white colors. Both cars can be seen in the Miami Vice episode “Florence Italy”.
After buying Chassis 02, the Blue Thunder Racing team had success including a 2nd at Sebring, a 2nd at Road Atlanta, a 3rd at Pocono and wins at both Sears Point and Watkins Glen.
Ironically, March 83G-02’s last race was the same as it’s first, the Miami Grand Prix where it was crashed and didn’t finish. It was scheduled to run at the Daytona Finale but was crashed in practice and never ran.
After being stored many years, it was finally restored and placed for sale at the Gooding and Company auction in Amelia Island in 2018. During a chance conversation between the current owner’s wife and Emerson Fittipaldi, she mentioned that the March was being considered for purchase. This made Emerson quite happy. He went on to tell her the importance of this specific car in his career and it’s role in him coming out of retirement and racing in the Indy Series. Armed with this import piece of information, the car was bought. Emerson was reunited with the car the following day at the Amelia Concourse where he proudly autographed the engine lid just behind the drivers pod.
Cjj Motorsports is known for one of the best collections of Lancia Endurance and Rally cars in the world and also other important historic cars. The team at Cjj wasted no time in returning the car to the “Spirit of Miami” Livery made famous by Emerson Fittipaldi in Febaruary of 1984. With the help of Bill Warner, Chairman of the Amelia Concourse, period photos he took of the car at the race were used to recreate the exact livery. Emerson’s autograph was painted with clear coat and is now permanently part of the car too.
In December 2018, Emerson was once again reunited with the March, but this time on track, as he tested the immaculate Cjj machine, along with Irish hotshoe James Roe Jr- a protegé of Campion’s.
The Lancia LC1 was a sports car run by Lancia under the Group 6 regulations in the World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1982 to 1983. The car was built as an attempt by Lancia to move up from production-based competition with the Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo in Group 5.
The LC1 featured a chassis built by Dallara with an open cockpit, while the engine would be a 1425 cc straight-4 Lancia unit with a single turbocharger, as had been used in the previous Montecarlos. Martini Racing would run the program, with all cars running the Martini & Rossi colors.
However, the car’s life was short due to rule changes enacted prior to the LC1’s competition debut in 1982. Organisers had decided that Group 6 was to be phased out in place of the new Group C. In order to push manufacturers towards Group C, cars competing in other classes would not be allowed to earn points in the Manufacturers Championship, but would still be eligible in the Drivers Championship. To Lancia’s advantage, Group 6 cars were not required to meet the fuel economy standards that Group C cars used, allowing the team to run flat-out throughout a race and compete for overall victories. The LC1s were therefore able to fight for overall race wins, earning three in the 1982 season. The quick pace of the car also earned it three pole positions. Lancia driver Riccardo Patrese was in contention for the Drivers Championship into the final round, but ended the year eight points behind Porsche’s Jacky Ickx.
Unsurprisingly, the young Irishman was blown away by the chance to test such iconic race cars and was keen to thank John Campion for allowing him to do so. “That was so much fun! The Lancia has an extremely narrow power band with power between 6,000rpm and 8,000rpm as it only runs a 1.8 motor- and a huge turbo! The March was great too. Both cars are proper old school- extremely physical, heavy controls and of course, plenty of heel and toe on the downshifts!”
This is not the first time that John Campion has allowed a talented Irish driver to take the wheel of one of his collection. In February 2018, Jordan Dempsey was delighted to take a few laps at the wheel of Campion’s ex Derek Daly Guinness March 811 F1 car.
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Images from Sean Fannin and RF Martin Photography.