Daytona Beach, Sunday, 6th February.
The first race in the 1966 Manufacturers G.T. Championship was held on the road/track circuit at Daytona Beach in Florida. This year’s Continental had been extended to a full 24-hour race with a line-up of 60 cars. The circuit makes use of all but a few yards of the banked stock car track with 1.3 miles of artificial infield flat turns giving a total length of 3.81 miles. Two of the three banked turns are 31deg.and capable of speeds up to 170 m.p.h. while the shallower banked turn in front of the pits is a much flatter curve.
With a fair-cum-circus behind the main grandstand this race was a copy of the Le Mans 24-hour race but unlike Le Mans, which has about six hours of darkness, this race had a full 12 hours of night driving. Practice periods were from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on both Wednesday and Thursday, with no time-keeping. On Friday practice and timing went on from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The entry for this year’s race was reasonable. A team of three Ford Mk. II’s were entered by Shelby-American. These cars were the successors to the Ford GT40 and use the 7-litre Ford engine. Other detail changes have been made and include vented die-pack copper discs, the vents in these run at an angle through the disc with big air-in-takes ducting cold air to the centre of the disc. Fords were not happy that this was going to last and had mounted the discs on the hubs in such a way that they could be very quickly changed. The drivers for these cars were B. McLaren/C. Amon, D. Gurney/J. Grant and K. Miles/L. Ruby.
Another team of similar cars was entend by Holman & Moody for W. Hansgen/M. Donohue and R. Bucknum/R. Ginther. The latter of these two cars had fully automatic transmission. Also using Fords, this time the GT 40, were the Essex Wire Corporation. Managing this team was David Yorke, who was the successful team manager of the Vanwall team.
Two other Ford GT 40’s were entered, one a fully private entry, the other from Ford Vehicles of England was being driven by P. Sutcliffe/B. Grossman. This car had been at Sebring the previous week doing tyre tests on the new Dunlop CR70 dryweather racing tyre. In common with one or two other Dunlop users, this car was using this tyre in the race, some using the new whitespot mix.
Opposition to the Ford teams was to come mainly from the two private Ferrari teams and the many private entries. Ecurie Francorchamps had a 365 P.2 prototype for L. Bianchi/J. lckx and a 275 LM prototype for L. Dernier/G. von Ophem. North American Racing Team had two similar cars for P. Rodriguez/M. Andretti and J. Rindt/B. Bondurant, plus another 275 LM for Follmer/Wester. Radio Caroline’s 275 LM was driven by I. Ireland/M. Hailwood. Peter Clark’s 275 LM was driven by himself and Mark Koenig, while D. Piper was teamed with R. Attmood in his 275 L.M. B.G. White’s similar car was driven by V. Wilson/D. Hulme„ while three more private owners made up the Ferrari contingent.
A works Porsche team was entered with one of the recently announced Carrera 6 prototypes in the hands of H. Herrmann/H. Linge. The other two cars were works 904s for G. Mitter/J. Buezzetta and U. Schuetz/G. Klas. An assorted collection of private Porsches made up the rest of the Porsche contingent.
There was one more car which was a serious contender, this being the automatic Chaparral II GT prototype. This car was to be driven by P. Hill/J. Bonnier, two of the most experienced long-distance racers there are. The car, which takes much from the original Chaparrals, is a very light coupe which uses a selection of engines. It is beautifully finished in a very functional way. Jim Hall, whose brainchild this car is, has a full width spoiler across the tail, the angle of which can be hydraulically altered with a pedal control for cornering or straight driving; the same spoiler can swing right up to act as an air brake as it will when running at Sebring and Le Mans, but for Daytona the brakes are not used hard enough to warrant its use.
The rest of the field was made up of a variety of odd machines, ranging from a Ford Cortina GT to a vintage GTO Ferrari, with varying Cobras, Mustangs, TR4s, Alpines, Barracudas, etc., in between. Final practice and timing was very slow to get under way due to the cold (34 deg. F), windy conditions and except for the odd car, nothing happened until lunch time. After lunch, however, things began to warm up (but not the weather). The Ford teams were beginning to put in a lot of laps and the Shelby-American Team were doing some timed pit stops. However, these were not very good, mainly due to the unwieldy organisation and the lack of a strict overall team manager. Several of the Fords had required body modifications due to the wider Goodyear and Firestone tyres being used. The top of the right-hand wing had been cut away on the Mk. II’s to enable that tyre to pop up through the wing when the car was at speed on the banking.
The Chaparral spent much of the afternoon running-in a new 5-litre engine as the smaller 4.4 was not pushing out enough power. After Hall was satisfied everything was in order, Bonnier and Hill were sent out to do their qualifying laps.
The two 365 P.2 Ferraris were both setting good times quite early on and Rodriguez’ time of 1 min. 59.2 sec. was fastest for most of the afternoon. However, just before practice was due to end, Ken Miles, last year’s Continental winner, clocked 1 min. 57.8 sec., a speed of 116.434 m.p.h. to set f.t.d. Bonnier, in the Chaparral, was not to be outdone and after a few very fast laps he got down to within 0.2 sec., to put him on the front row of the grid next to Miles. The slowest car, a GT Alfa, was lapping in almost twice the time of the fast cars.
Race day was cold and windy with the prospects of a hard frost during the night. At 2.30 the cars lined up on the pit road in grid order. The Chaparral had sprouted an external oil cooler and all the Fords which had holes cut in the wings now had fibreglass domes covering them. The starting procedure was that the cars would follow a pace car for one complete lap of the banking, then halfway round the next lap on the back straight, the flag would drop and that would be the start of the 24 hours. The 60 cars, well spread out, circulated once, then the flag fell and they were off.
Bonnier in the Chaparral led on the first lap, but this was the only lap he did lead. Miles took his Ford Mk. II through into first place on the second lap, with Bonnier close behind; next came Hansgen with another Ford, then Rodriguez and Bianchi with the 365 Ferraris. As the leaders completed their second lap, they were already up amongst the tail-enders. It was a frightening sight to see the first group of cars travelling at 170 m.p.h. on the banking passing the slow cars, which were not even doing 100 m.p.h., sometimes two abreast. It would have been different if the slow cars had kept to the bottom of the banking but invariably they were halfway up. On several occasions two of the very fast cars would pass a slower one on either side.
Ginther made an early pit stop in the automatic Ford Mk. II with brake trouble due to a faulty master cylinder. This was repaired, but not before they had lost many laps. A great disappointment came on lap 11 when Bonnier came into the pits with what he thought was a broken fan belt hitting him on the back of his seat. After a quick check, when nothing was found out of place, he was off again two laps down on the leaders. Richards/Cuomo brought their so-called Austin-Healey Sprite prototype into the pits with coil trouble.
With the Chaparral out of the immediate running the leaders were still Miles, Hansgen, Rodriguez and Bianchi and these four cars were still loosely grouped. Rodriguez was the first of the leaders to break off for fuel, this he did on his 30th lap. One of the mobile obstacles, two women in an Alpine, pulled into the pits with handling difficulties, but continued when nothing was found wrong. When the Chaparral came in to refuel Bonnier Complained of stiff steering and at certain times it was binding. After a few more laps he was in again, this time for a long stop while the subframe at the front was removed to carry out repairs on the steering. By the time Hill went out again this potential winner was right down amongst the tail-enders.
At 5 p.m. the lead stood Ford, Ford, Ferrari, Ford. Ferrari. Ford, the latter Ford being Scott’s Essex Wire-entered GT 40 which was leading the sports class. The works Porsches were going well, the prototype Carrera 6 looking very stable. Darkness had by now fallen and the temperature was beginning to drop. The lead changed briefly just after 7 p.m. when, due to pit stops, the Miles/Ruby Ford lost the lead to the Hansgen/Donohue Ford for a period of seven laps. Rodriguez handed over to Andretti and mechanics with heavy hammers beat the wing up a bit more as with softening. suspension the right rear tyre was touching. This wasted some time and the N.A.R.T. Ferrari was never to make it up again. At 7 p.m. came the first official placings.
To give Press and teams an almost immediate bulletin Oklahoma University’s computer was programmed to give the results and any other information at a moment’s notice. Perhaps it was Russian intervention but the information printed and handed out was never right, which caused confusion in the pits when team managers found their No. 1 car was two laps behind their No. 2 car instead a two laps ahead.
At about 8 p.m. three of the privately-owned Ferraris retired, all with gear troubles. They were those of HuIme/Wilson, Ireland/Hailwood, and the Ecurie Francorchamps 275LM. Epstein and Hawkins’ 250LM Ferrari was having gear trouble but not serious enough to retire. By 9 p.m. the two leaders were unchanged and the Chaparral held the fastest lap with a speed of 115.10 m.p.h., although the chances of catching up any except the tail-enders was negligible. When Hill made his next pit stop a hole was found in the exhaust, so more time was lost as a new exhaust pipe was fitted. Wonder’s privately-owned GT40 lost a wheel out on the circuit, so the driver came back to the pits to collect a wheel, locking cap, hammer and jack. Having got everything ready, no pit steward could be found to accompany him back to the car as per regulations. Up until this time the pits were crowded with overgrown college kids with “Pit-Steward” on Their backs giving a mass of idiotic instructions to the many professional motor-racing circus who were freezing in the pits. After five minutes a steward was found and the wheel duly fitted. but to no avail and soon afterwards the car was retired.
Unlike Le Mans, where there is a lot going on all night, Daytona was a bit dead. This may have been to do with the still falling temperature, which was down to freezing by midnight and still falling. Also no alcohol is sold in the ground, Pepsi Cola having bought all liquid rights, and that is no good for warming frozen racing personnel. The Chaparral was still pushing on and Hill re-broke the record with a speed of 115.8 m.p.h. As the night wore on and the temperature dropped to 26 deg. F. just before dawn, Bianchi retired the Belgian 275LM with a broken piston. Pit, refuelling, tyre changing went on normally. Then as dawn began to break Fords made their disc changes, taking only 41 minutes to change two discs, four tyres, refuel and oil. This is not bad going but it must be remembered that the brakes were fairly cool. Whereas at Le Mans the discs will be much hotter, making the change much more difficult.
After completing 318 laps the upright of the hub carrier suddenly broke on the Chaparral and Hill limped back to the pit. By this time there was not much point in repairing it again, so Hall retired the car. Everyone in the Chaparral team seemed very happy for they had learned a lot in a short time, and if all goes well up to Sebring, when two cars will be ready, perhaps Ford and Ferrari won’t have it, all their own way there, or in most of the European races.
Leading the Sports class at dawn were the Essex Wire Corporation GT40s. One car had only 4th and 5th gears left, but with the low-down torque of the 4.7-litre engine this was not affecting the times too much, while the leading car was having a fairly trouble-free run. Behind the two Fords lay the works 904 Porsches, which were going very well and lapping with the clockwork proficiency that is expected from the Stuttgart firm. Splitting the two Porsches up to about 8 a.m. was the Epstein/Hawkins 250LM Ferrari, but this retired then with transmission trouble. The Porsche 6 prototype was still lapping with trouble-free consistency and was having none of the tyre touching problems the other prototypes were suffering. At dawn its race speed was 99 m.p.h. and its position seventh between the two Essex Wire cars.
With the first daylight pit-stops for tyre changes, blanking over radiators was removed. On McLaren’s car this was a little late because when the mechanic checked the water a geyser shot up, smothering the car with rusty water, and a redseal was put in to cure a suspected leak.. McLaren and Amon had been set the slowest time of the three works Fords to conserve their car, and this was the reason they were lying fifth, fifteen laps behind the leader. Another retirement at dawn was the Holman and Moody Ford Mk. II with automatic transmission. The automatic broke after 1,350 miles of hard driving.
When Gurney came in with the second-place Ford there was a black tyre mark on the left-hand side which he got when he “hit a Mustang on the banking”. As Grant took the car out it was noticeable he was not using the lower gears, and Gurney admitted he could not get 1st or 2nd any more.
As the sun got higher so the temperature rose rapidly, making this the warmest day to date. Essex Wire’s leading sports car suddenly came into the pit with it’s gearbox split open,. while the other car also stopped. the internals of its gearbox having gone completely. So, quite suddenly, Porsche were leading the sports Class and the works team were lying sixth, seventh and eighth overall. The Corvette entered by Roger Penske had hit a Cobra at dawn and to continue running most of the nose was amputated, leaving a large open mouth which continually looked as if it was about to snap up the smaller cars it passed. On his 499th lap, Dan Gurney set a new lap record with a rime of 1 min. 57.7 sec., a speed of 116.51 m.p.h.
Two of the privately-entered Ferraris were still running, thanks to being able to cannibalise from the retired cars. Piper had replaced both rear hub carriers, as did Peter Clark after his drive broke at the universal, going into the banking. Piper also had trouble with his alternator but was able to replace this and continue to the end. Follmer and Wester in the second 275LM Ferrari entered by N.A.R.T. retired with alternator trouble.
As mid-day passed and the last fuel and tyre changes took place it was obvious that Ford’s were going to score a 1, 2, 3 victory That the opposition came from private owners and not from a full factory team takes some of the publicity from this win, but it shows that Fords have straightened out some of the problems they had at Le Mans last year. The British-entered Ford GT40 was unfortunate, for after having run for 23 1/2 hours it broke the crankshaft out on the circuit.
At the speeds they were doing in the closing minutes the Fords looked as though they could have done another 24 hours, while the Porsches could definitely have gone on for another session. The German team had merely poured in fuel, changed tyres and drivers, but nothing else. So, for its first race, the Carrera 6 made an excellent showing. The flag was supposed to fall opposite the pits but due to another breakdown in communications the flagman suddenly found all the cars had gone into the pits and there was no-one to flag.
Rodriguez brought the 365 P.II Ferrari into fourth place, a very creditable achievement for a private entry. In the GT class the first place went to the Penske-entered Corvette driven by Guldstrand and Moore, which finished 12th overall, completing 575 laps at 91.60 m.p.h. The winners completed 2,570 miles, at an average speed of just over 108 m.p.h.—M.J.T.
It is hard to combine banking with road courses as cars can never be set up for the best of both. Due to this, suspension and transmission problems were accentuated. It is theoretically dangerous to have very slow cars running with very fast cars in a race of this length, and most drivers had tales of wild moments during the night, but, as Bill France pointed out, there were no accidents and the yellow lights were not used.
For their first 24-hour race the basic organisation was good, but the various working officials in many cases were out of touch, childish and lacked the professional touch which one now finds at Watkins Glen. Communications were bad and many team managers found themselves panicking over the position of their cars, due to faulty handouts.
The Ford team was badly top-heavy but when they come to Europe many of the executives will be left behind, and this can only improve their efficiency.
Unlike many circuits the organisers seemed to appreciate the jobs being done by applicants for passes, and the correct car and personnel passes were given out first time.