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Watch in-car footage of the March 85G at the 2018 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Top qualifier/Pole position: ’85 24 Hours of Daytona, 85’ Grand Prix of Miami, ’86 Sebring 12 Hours
Two podium finishes in 1986: 500 kilometer Charlotte, 500 Miles Watkins Glen
The first of two 85G chassis acquired by Conte Racing for 1985 season
Driven by John Paul Jr., Bill Adam, Whitney Ganz, Bob Lobenberg, Ken Marden, Jim Crawford
85G design led by chief March Engineering design engineer Robin Herd
3.4-liter turbocharged V6 engine developed by McLaren Engines
Mechanically and cosmetically restored by EMG Motorsports
March Engineering originally began as a Formula 1 constructor and manufacturer of customer race cars in the UK. Founded by Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker, and Robin Herd (a design engineer of McLaren F1 race cars in the 60s), each had a specific set of expertise which produced a well-rounded team. Adrian Newey, the current Chief Technical Officer for the Red Bill Racing Formula 1 team, even designed his first F1 car with March Engineering. However, despite these beginnings March found a much higher level of success with other race series, notably the American IMSA GTP sportscar racing series. These prototype racers were not only incredibly quick, but also boasted a unique design and a variety of powerplants ranging from Chevy V8s, Porsche twin turbos, and Buick turbo V6s.
The IMSA series was founded in 1969 which debuted in 1971 at Virginia International Raceway. The use of turbochargers was banned until 1977, opening the door for a number of new cars. In 1981, a new category came along: GTP (Grand Touring Prototypes). These purpose-built race cars were similar in design to those racing in Europe under the Group C banner, but with a key difference being that there was less of a focus on fuel economy in America. As Derek Bell famously said, “race fans do not come to races to watch an economy run!”
March 85G-1’s story begins with Phil Conte, a Brooklyn-born individual who ended up spending an early part of his life in California. Phil, with a background in electrical manufacturing building high-voltage components, was inspired to start racing after visiting the 1975 Long Beach Grand Prix. Originally wanting to get into Can-Am, he saw the decline of the series during his participation in the early 1980s and decided to make the jump to the GTP series.
Phil and his team found limited success in 1983 and 1984, but at the end of the 1984 season Conte was approached by Buick. What quickly spun together was a pairing between McLaren to take care of the turbocharged Buick engines for Conte and his team. Overnight, Phil Conte’s racing team became the official factory Buick race team.
The 1985 season proved that the March 85G was an extremely capable and lightning-fast car. During the 1985 season it was able to take pole position at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Grand Prix of Miami races, and in 1986 took the pole position for the Sebring 12 Hours. Its best finish was in the 1986 season at the Charlotte 500 Kilometers, and Watkins Glen 500 Mile, taking 3rd overall each time.
After the car was retired from racing, it remained in storage for a number of years before being rescued by Ray Langstrom of Miami, Florida. Owner of a significant competition automobile workshop, he had the car restored to track-ready condition, leaving the mostly original body and paintwork untouched while making sure all the mechanicals were taken care of. In 2012 the March 85G made its first appearance at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
Since 2012 the March has passed through a few different caretakers before coming to Canepa and EMG Motorsports. Acquired together, EMG Motorsports based in Phoenix, Arizona, took on the project of restoring it; they completely disassembled the entire car down to its last components in order to prepare it for a full concours/race-level restoration. With a special focus on the details to make this March 85G GTP racer as stunning as it was in period, EMG Motorsports went to work.
EMG Motorsports began by going through the car and determining what aspects needed attention. Components were either restored, replaced or fabricated in house. Ed Pink Racing Engines was tasked with rebuilding the McLaren-built Buick turbocharged engine, tuned for maximum power and reliability.
The composite bodywork was stripped of its existing paintwork and fitment made to make sure that the bodywork fit better than ever. It was then prepped for its signature blue and white RC Cola paint scheme. Then period-correct graphics were created and applied according to period racing images to ensure size, type, and placement.
With the restoration of the iconic racecar completed, it made its first debut at the 2018 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion where it went up against its old rivals, just decades later. During the Pre-Reunion weekend, the March took first place during those races. Producing competent results during Reunion, the car was declared a resounding success after 18 months of hard work.
This March 85G now is ready for its next owner to enjoy, restored and tested, capable of being taken to vintage track weekends or be a stunning part of any automobile collection. With March Engineering’s storied history with the variety that they took part in, surely the IMSA GTP is one of the most memorable and unique GTPs to be built.