Surprise Victory In Sebring 12-Hour Race
Moss and Lloyd Succeed in 1 1/2-litre OSCA
One of the greatest surprises in many years of racing took place in the 12-hour sports-car race at Sebring, Florida. This was the first 1954 event counting towards the Sports-Car Championship and therefore was attended by the Lancia and Aston Martin teams. The lone Cunningham entry was a CR4, driven by Cunningham and Johnston. The major modification since the car’s last appearance consisted of four dual downdraught Solex carburetters, which were said to increase the top-end output by 30 h.p. Mike Hawthorn and Umberto Maglioli were present but their Ferrari was not ready in time for the race.
Among the other contenders were the latest 4.5-litre Ferraris driven by Spear/Hill and Walters/Fitch. Maserati had one car entered in the 2-litre class in addition to an American Maserati entry driven by Mcknought and Eager. The modified Austin-Healey, with Dunlop disc brakes, was entered by the manufacturer and driven by Lance Macklin and George Huntoon. Harry Schell and the Marquis de Portago had the 4.1-litre Ferrari in which they were placed second to Farina in Argentina. A bevy of Oscas were the threat in the 1.5-litre class. Briggs Cunningham’s Osca was driven by Bill Lloyd and Stirling Moss. Incidentally, this was Stirling’s first appearance in a non-English car.
Most impressive was the formidable Lancia team. It is difficult to imagine a racing team embracing greater talent than that made up of Ascari, Fangio, Tarufli. Villoresi. Manzon and Castellotti. The fourth Lancia was driven by Porfirio Rubirosa and Valenzano, a choice that is as difficult to understand before the race, but which turned out to be a lucky one. The cars were the 3.3-litre d.o.h. camshaft V6 with Farina coachwork, and in appearance were similar to the Mexico entries.
Practice times indicated that the 4.3-litre Ferraris were at least as fast as the Lancias, Walters taking the fastest lap in 3 min. 31 sec. (unofficial). The Lancias of Ascari and Fangio were only 2 sec. slower. Neither the Aston Martins nor the Cunningham could do better than 3 min. 44 sec. (unofficial). In addition, one of the Aston Martins had serious ignition difficulties. Stirling Moss was consistently well under 4 min. in the Osca (3 min. 50 sec. unofficial). Race-day was cool but sunny and the flag dropped for the Le Mans start at 10 a.m. The expected battle between Ascari and Fangio got under way immediately and the two World Champions traded the lead many times during the first hours of the race. Taruffi was less than two cars’ length behind and led the pack for one lap. Bill Spear, in the 4.5-litre Ferrari, made up the other member of the leading group. Phil Walters had to stop at the pits very early for plugs and lost one lap, which he found impossible to make up, despite some very fast driving.
The Aston Martin cars didn’t have the necessary speed to stay with the red cars, this despite the very determined cornering of the Aston Martin drivers.
One of the first to be eliminated was Harry Schell, when the rear axle of the Ferrari snapped. The Lancia of Fangio and Castellotti was the first of this team to become in victim of the fast pace. The reason appeared to be the gearbox when the car stopped running at 1.20 p.m. This put an end to the epic struggle between Ascari and Fangio. In the meantime, Aston Martin had their share of difficulties and after five hours all but one car were eliminated, this being the car driven by the two Americans, Wallace and Shelby. By late afternoon this Aston Martin also succumbed to mechanical difficulties. The Cunningham lost its front brakes at 1 o’clock and retired with a broken valve at 5.45 (though the statement was made that the head gasket was the cause).
The only real threat to the Lancias in the early stages of the race, the Ferrari of Spear and Hill, lost its differential lubricant and retired at 2 p.m. The Cunningham-entered Ferrari of Walters and Fitch stopped with a seized engine later in the afternoon. The Ascari/Villoresi Lancia was out in the early afternoon hours with clutch trouble. Both Maseratis were the victims of brake failure, the American-owned car being the leader on index of performance at the time of its demise.
By late afternoon most of the favourites were eliminated by mechanical difficulties. Taruffi had a comfortable lead and was running well, leading on distance as well as index of performance. In second place was the amazing Osca (1.452 c.c.) of Lloyd and Moss, notwithstanding a slipping clutch.
Donald Healey’s entry was driven at a rapid but steady pace and was in third position, ahead of Rubirosa’s Lancia, the Lancia being handicapped by having only third until fourth gears remaining. At 9 o’clock, with one hour remaining, the leading Lancia of Taruffi and Manzon suffered a seized engine. This heartbreaking event put an end to what appeared to be a certain Lancia success.
Moss and Lloyd were now in the lead and, despite the slipping clutch, the 1.5-litre Osca won the Sebring 12-hour race, both on distance covered and index of performance. Manzon pushed the crippled Lancia across the finishing line but was disqualified from second place as a result of the protest of Donald Healey. Thus the only remaining Lancia, that of Rubirosa and Valenzano, finished second with the Austin-Healey, which had been running on three cylinders for several hours, placed third.
So the battle of the giants was ended by the survival of the fittest. The surprisingly large number of retirements leads one to speculate about the future of sports-car racing. The Florida circuit is 5.2 miles long and consists of runways and a road section. Conditions were almost ideal, the temperature being cool. The circuit is not particularly strenuous, although the three main straights ending in a “hair-pin” and slow bends, respectively, apparently overtaxed many of the brakes and drive trains.