GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our 1983 March 83G Film Shoot
What happens when you call a racing driver out of retirement, stick him in a car designed in part by a fledgling aerodynamicist just a few years out of school, and send him off to compete in a world-class event? If the driver is two-time Formula 1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi and the designer is Adrian Newey, then you get a number one qualifying spot at the 1984 Grand Prix of Miami.
The March 83G was part of a new era of motorsport in the early days of IMSA GTP racing in America (which was more or less the American equivalent of the FIA’s Group C), and it kicked off what Fittipaldi calls his second career in the sport, one that would see him completing 13 seasons of IndyCar with two wins at the Indianapolis 500 along the way. Today we follow along as he becomes reacquainted with the very same March 83G that he thanks for getting him back in the seat.
John Campion owns the car in today’s film even though he isn’t the one driving, and while he’s perhaps best known for his collection of rallying and circuit racing Lancias, Campion’s always keen to own a car with a good story from any marque. So when the March was being sold at Amelia Island last year he wasn’t particularly interested in acquiring it, until his wife relayed the story she’d been told by Emerson Fittipaldi regarding this car and how he credits it with starting his second career in motorsport. That was more than enough reason for John to add one more to the Campion collection in Florida, and the March 83G found a new home, where Campion quickly had the car brought back to the same livery and spec that Fittipaldi would have used to qualify on the pole at the 1984 Grand Prix of Miami.
It’s not all about reminiscing on the past though, and when Campion invited Fittipaldi to come back to the Homestead-Miami Speedway (he only raced the 83G in the one event, at this track in 1984), he also asked one of his countryman to come try the car, a young Irish racer whose career Campion’s taken a keen interest in. James Roe Jr. was clearly excited to be there, and he had plenty of kind words to say about the car, which in turn led to praise for Fittipaldi and his peers for being able to drive ones like it flat-out in the period.
Bringing a legend and an up-and-comer at the beginning of his career together for some hot laps is the subject of the film, but let’s take this spot to give a little context for the car itself, and where it came from.
If you’re familiar with Formula 1 (or Formula 2 in this case), then March should ring some bells. The English constructor began building cars under the March name in 1969, with Robin Herd being the team’s chief designer, and the three other co-founders (Max Mosley, Alan Rees, and Graham Croaker) handling the other elements of the company such as the finances and management of the racing team.
The early days of March Engineering saw sporadic success and a handful of victories in Formula 1, but found more opportunities for championship contention in series like Formula 2, where they went on to run the works team for BMW in the late ‘70s, winning both the ’78 and ’79 season under the banner of the Polifac BMW Junior Team. It was right around this time that BMW was getting the M1 ready for competition, and they enlisted March to help prepare the competition versions of the new Bavarian supercar.
The fraught history of the M1 is a different story, but it connects to the March’s in today’s film in the early ‘80s. The new IMSA GTP rules for 1981 provided an opportunity for manufacturers to develop a new type of prototype race car, and BMW again enlisted the help of March to build an M1 for this new form of racing. Robin Herd chose Raine Bratenstein at BMW to lead the project, which became the rather homely looking M1C, with Max Sardou’s bodywork not winning any beauty competitions but offering a novel form of ground effects by way of its oddly pronged front end. It was an altogether promising car, earning a handful of strong finishes in the inaugural season of IMSA GTP racing, but one that BMW decided not to pursue—the M1 had been a constant headache in motorsports and they were ready to move on to other things, like Formula 1.
Which left March Engineering with a template to build on. The lessons learned in building and then campaigning the M1C led to the creation of the March 82G, a car that would lead to the 83G, 84G, and 85G, all raced in the IMSA GTP series in the United States. While the M1C didn’t do much in terms of wins, the March evolutions of the car would prove very successful, and the 83G brought championships to Al Holbert and Randy Lanier in 1983 and ’84, respectively. The Porsche 962 arrived partway through the ’84 season and went on to to dominate for a few years, but the Marches were the last non-works cars to win.
This was thanks in large part to the excellent team of designers that worked on the March cars, including Robin Herd of course, but also a young Adrian Newey, well before he became the deity of the sport that many regard him as today. Designing the March 82G to accept different kinds of power plants was one of Newey’s first assignments in the world of motorsport, and he found himself working on a winning car just a few years after he’d graduated.
Though the March 82G had an impressive IMSA debut at the first-ever GTP race when it qualified on the pole at the 24 Hours of Daytona, it was the evolution of that car, the March 83G, that was the most successful iteration of the line, winning Daytona in ’83 and ending two seasons as champion. Al Holbert switched to Porsche flat-six power to end his championship season in ’83, but the ’84 championship would come by way of the Chevrolet V8 fitted to most 83Gs. That’s the motor in the 83G featured int today’s film, and if you’ve gotten this far in the gallery article it’s high time to revisit the film just to hear it again.