Porsche Efficiency Fails
Any race that starts a series is liable to be restricted in the variety of entry, as many competitors are not ready for the start of the season. This year’s race was no exception and for the second year, the first race in the Manufacturers’ Championship was little better than a good Club event. The only 3-litre prototypes really ready were the Porsche team which was fielding five works 908 cars under its new team manager, “Rico” Steinmann. The 908s were very similar to the Le Mans cars with a little more power and a new five-speed gearbox. The “Porsche machine” looked capable of grinding any opposition into the ground. The ten drivers were Siffert/Herrmann, Attwood/Buzzetta, Elford/Redman, Mitter/Schutz and Stommelen/Ahrens.
The only potential opposition to this formidable German challenge were the two J.W. Engineering Ford GT4Os and four Lola T70s. John Wyer’s new 3-litre Mirage was still only in the early stages of testing, and so his hopes were on the two GT4Os, which were almost the same as he raced here last year. The drivers for 1969 are Ickx/Oliver and Hobbs/Hailwood. The Lolas were separate entries, one from Roger Penske’s Sunoco stable for Donohue/Bucknum, two from James Garner’s American International Racing Team for Motschenbacher/Leslie and Patrick/Jordan, and one car from Sports Cars Unlimited, Switzerland for Bonnier/Norinder. The Penske car had been completely stripped and re-built to his higher standards, many parts being replaced and others strengthened. This car was also fitted with the latest dry-sump Chevrolet engine and was using Lucas fuel injection into the Hilborn inlet manifold. In the qualifying practice sessions, Bucknum’s finger, which he had broken in a motorcycle accident, began to give trouble, and it was decided at the last moment to replace him. This was done by flying in Chuck Parsons, a veteran Californian driver who took over on the morning of qualifications. The two Lolas in Garner’s A.I.R. team were both older cars and one was the car Surtees used at Le Mans with the Aston Martin engine in 1967, which in the meantime had been converted to the road car for use in Los Angeles and has now been converted back for racing. Both cars were fitted with Chevrolet engines and both were on carburetters. The other Lola entry from Switzerland was a new car but, like the A.I.R. cars, was fitted with a carburetted Chevrolet engine. One car which would have put up some opposition to the Porsche threat was the Matra 630, which, although little changed since last September’s Le Mans, had a much more powerful V12 engine, now putting out a reliable 415 b.h.p. Unfortunately in a semi-official night practice session before the official qualifying day, Pescarolo lost control on the very fast shallow bank turn before the pits and the grandstand and crashed, spinning for 200 yards on his roof before the car righted itself and collided with a Porsche 911. The damage to the car was severe, but the driver climbed out, looking completely unconcerned and without a scratch.
The rest of the entry for the 24-hour race was very “clubby”, with bevies of 911 Porsches, many TransAm, the occasional fast car such as the private Alfa T33, and 910 and a 907 Porsche, and, of course, the “moving chicanes” whose lame discipline and use of mirrors caused the faster cars many a moment.
Qualifying was uneventful and the times were as expected, the GT4Os being almost the same as last year with the Porsche 908 and the two faster Lolas taking the leading times. Between the morning and afternoon qualifying sessions there was a 250-mile Formula Vee race, and a more ridiculous sight than these burbling midgets trying not to fall off the 180-mph. banking can seldom have been seen in racing.
Race day was warm and dry, in fact ideal racing weather. The 62 cars lined up behind the pace car at 3 p.m. and, after following in formation for a lap and a half, they were off. Elford took an immediate lead with Siffert right on his tail and the two Lolas of Donohue and Bonnier in close support. On the next lap Siffert swept by Elford high on the banking at over 180 m.p.h. This opening sprint set the pattern for the first hour with the four leaders going as hard as they could without doing too much damage to themselves dodging the moving chicanes. The lead changed frequently, all four at one time or another being in front. The poor standard of driving of the tailenders altered the positions frequently as one by one the leaders took to the grass or could not find a hole to get past at 100 m.p.h. M.G.-Bs and Volvos battled wheel by wheel and hub-to-hub on the banking. Such was the pace of the opening laps that after three-quarters of an hour the leaders had lapped all but eight cars. The order now was Siffert, Elford, Bonnier and Donohue, then a gap to Attwood and another gap to Schutz and Stommelen. Ickx and Hobbs were about 20 sec. apart and the latter GT40 was about to be lapped. The first of the leaders to break formation was Donohue, who went slowly round the bottom of the banking with the engine cutting. This turned out to be a lack of fuel as something was wrong with the pickup and the last ten gallons were unobtainable. This reduced the Lola’s chances as pit stops were going to be increased considerably as 21 gallons were put in, instead of 33. Bonnier was the first of the leaders actually to hit a moving chicane, for when two of the tailenders performed a scissors movement the nose of the Lola was damaged, necessitating a taping-up operation. With the two Lolas both stopping in the first hour, this left the Porsches lying one, two, three, four and five and beginning to look invincible, as they have been in previous years. After the first flood of re-fuelling, came the first major retirement when Norinder brought the Lola in, with the back smashed. He had swerved on the banking to avoid a slower car and side-swiped the wall, the right rear corner of the car being damaged beyond repair, the suspension upright and driveshaft all being badly buckled.
During the second hour the order remained about the same, then, just before the end of the third hour, Redman brought in his Porsche, overshot the pit and it took a moment or two to get through to him that he must push the car back himself, but the trouble was fumes, and he had been quick to realise that he was going “muzzy”. An inspection showed the exhaust pipes were cracked and it wok 20 minutes to replace the pipes, just before it was completed, in came Ahrens with the same trouble, and this time the mechanics only took 16 minutes before sending the car out again. As soon as the pit was empty, the Porsche mechanics began welding up the cracks for they had not an unlimited supply of pipes and this trouble looked as though it might occur in some of the other cars. In fact, the next car was the Siffert/Herrmann car and 21 minutes were wasted changing the pipes, and the crack in the Porsche efficiency was widened further when Mitter collapsed when he climbed from his car and was taken to hospital for oxygen. Just after dark the only serious accident occurred when an E-type Jaguar had its engine blow up and in his trail of smoke and oil a T33 Alfa, a 907 Porsche and a 911 Porsche all collided, eliminating all three. Exhaust troubles were not confined purely to Porsche and at 10.30, 7½ hours after the start, Donohue came in with flames pouring from the exhaust pipes. On inspection it was found that the exhaust system was badly cracked and, with no spares for the special manifolding, the whole system had to be removed, new gaskets slipped on and the cracks welded up; one large crack had a sheet of stainless steel placed over it and held in position with Jubilee clips. When the car rejoined the race, 1 hour 19 minutes had been lost and many teams would have considered the 40 odd laps lost too much of a handicap to make it worthwhile continuing, but not Penske—he has a motto that, “to finish first, you must first finish”, and believes that while a car can still run there is always a chance of winning. Just after midnight came the Porsches’ first really serious troubles when the Attwood/Buzzetta car came into the pits with what was believed to be a broken alternator belt. This belt was replaced but still there was no life from the engine and a closer inspection found that there was no drive to one bank of camshafts. The intermediate gear between the crankshaft and the camshaft had come adrift from the shaft that held it, and the car was retired. A very short while after this Elford walked back into the pits reporting that his car had been vibrating badly for about three laps and finally had stopped with the engine smothered in oil. Again the same shaft had broken, causing more damage to the engine than in the first instance. Progressively through the night the other three Porsches either stopped out on the circuit or managed to reach the pits and on each occasion the problems could be traced back to this broken shaft. As the Porsches were falling out the two GT4Os that had started off lapping slowly and keeping out of trouble had moved into the lead, but David Yorke’s tactics to get the team to finish did not work out, for first of all at about 4.30 a.m. Hailwood brought the leading GT40 into the pits with steam pouring from the engine. Water was added, but five minutes later it was back. This time the cooling system was flushed through and the car continued for some more laps, but finally retired with a suspected cracked cylinder head. Some time just after dawn, Ickx, now driving the leading car, lost control as he came off the fast banking at the point where it rejoins the road circuit and scraped the wall, and when the car came to a halt it burst into flames, singeing the Belgian’s eyebrows, but causing him no other injuries. Firemen on the spot had the car extinguished in a very few moments, but the main challengers for the Daytona 24-hours were nearly all eliminated. Donohue was now left in first place on the road, although it was some hour and a half before he passed the number of laps set up by the leader before his retirement. The main question during the last part of the race was: “Could the Donohue/Parsons Lola keep going?” and the other question was whether the Motschenbacher/Leslie Lola could catch the two Porsches and Pontiac Firebird that were lying in second, third and fourth places. As the morning turned to afternoon it became obvious that they would be able to, and with two hours to go the two Lolas appeared on the scoreboard in first and second places. The result was somewhat of a surprise for this was the first time that the Lolas have lasted for this length of time, also this is the second time that a large and powerful team has been eliminated completely by the failure of one small but important part. The last time was when the six Fords all had trouble with the shaft in the gearbox which broke one after another at Daytona in 1967. The winning car was stationary in the pits for 2 hr. 10 min. 12 sec., which must be a record length of pit stops for any 24-hour race by the winning car.—M. J. T.