The 24 Hours of Daytona

JW/Gulf Porsches Dominate

DAYTONA BEACH, February 1st, 1970.
AS USUAL the Manufacturers' Championship series of races opened with the 24-Hour Race at the Daytona Speedway over the 3.81 miles road/banked-track circuit. The entry gave all the indications of producing a good race with the new Ferrari 5125, a direct challenge to the JW/Gulf 917 Porsches and the two Matra 650s as somewhat dark horses.

The three works Ferraris were the recently homologated 512s racing for the first time. The 5-litre 60-deg. V12 engines developed 550 b.h.p. at 8,500 r.p.m. and a 5-Speed-plus-reverse gearbox transfers the power via 15-in. wheels to the road. The cats weigh 1,850 lb. less fuel and were driven by Vaccarella/Giunti, Ickx/Schetty and Andretti/Merzarie. Backing up the works team were two privately-entered 512s, one in the hands of two wealthy Milanese, Manfredini/Moretti, while the other, entered by North American Racing Team, was driven by Gurney/ Parsons. The latter had a very crude bulge cut into the roof to accommodate Gurney's length.

The works Porsche team was racing for the first time in the pale blue and orange colours of the JW/Gulf team. The two cars and the training car were immaculate with their new high tails which the drivers all agree improves the handling to the standard of the old 908s. The number one car was in the hands of Siffert and Redman, with Rodriguez and Kinnunen backing them up. Porsche of Austria had their 917 for Ahrens/Elfort and their team tactics were to go slower than the works cars hoping to be runners at the end. A fourth 917 did five qualifying laps before the engine broke due to a camshaft ceasing to turn. This would have been driven by Dean/Gregg, who found the car in the corner of a freight shed in Miami while searching for their own car which was lost in transit. The 917 in Miami turned out to be Piper's car on its way to London from Buenos Aires and no doubt it too was lost.

Dark horses for the leading stakes were the two 650 Matras. One of these was a brand new car for Beltoise/Pescarolo while the other was the third placed Le Mans car to be driven by Jack Brabham (driving his first long-distance race for many years) and Cevert. A mishap to the transporter from New York to Daytona stove in the front of one car and the back of the other when the stays came loose, allowing the cars to move about. A spare car from Buenos Aires was flown in and the body was cannibalised to repair the two runners.

Other than the competitive cars mentioned there were many interesting machines ranging down to a Datsun which managed to cover the 3.81-mile circuit in 3 min. 13.3 sec. NART had two 312P's for Adamovicz/Piper and Posey/Parkes also a GTB4, 275LM and 365GTB. Two privately-entered 908 Porsches from Holland and the Argentine, the latter entered by Fangio, should have kept well up. Three GT40s: and a Lola T70 Mk. 3B should also have been up with the leaders. Two 1800 Chevrons were immaculately turned out, both having English and American drivers; Clive Baker was in one and Brian Robinson in the other.

Practice on Wednesday and Thursday was untimed and uneventful except that Andretti in the Ferrari was proving on pit timing to be a little quicker than Siffert in the Porsche, the times being in the region of 1 min. 47 sec. The qualifying session was on Friday morning and started in the wet; although the track improved it was never quite dry and Andretti again proved to be a little faster than Siffert and these two were the only ones over 120 m.p.h.

The whole of the 24 hours of race day were cool and dry. The cars lined up by 2 p.m., and started their 11/2 Pace laps at 2.5o p.m., and on the back straight at approximately 3 p.m. the flag dropped. It was expected that Andretti would take an early lead from the two Porsches, but as the pack came off the banking in front of the pits it was the two JW Porsches leading Andretti and Gurney in the 512s. Andrettt tried hard to split the Porsche duo, but was unable to do so.

The Porsche teem dominated the whole race, being first and second for the first three hours and the last hour. The Siffert/Redman car led to start with, then just after the three-hour mark the left rear tyre was punctured by a razor-sharp shell thrown on to the course; as the tyre flailed to pieces it carried away the flexible rear brake hose. The longish pit stop to replace the hose and bleed the brake system dropped the fastest Porsche from the lead, which it never regained. During the night the car developed ignition trouble which was put right. Then, just after 12 hours, a shock-absorber gave trouble, causing a further delay. However, the longest delay came when the clutch gave out and the car was wheeled to the garages with a steward in tow to have the unit replaced. Second position became possible for Siffert and Redman only because of a very long pit stop by Ferrari and their own flat-out blind at 1 min. 48 sec. per lap in the closing hours.

The second Porsche team car ran a classic long-distance race, keeping up a steady pressure and being lucky enough to need only routine stops. Rodriguez drove two hours to every one of Kinnumen's and as the rest of the field ran into difficulties they pressed on gently to finish with a lead of 171.45 miles, almost the length of a modern Formula One Grand Prix. The car finished all taped up, for the fibreglass bodies were not standing up well to the violent hammering they were getting on the banking; also during the night the headlights several times popped out of their mountings, mainly due to the Cibie units being changed to Marchal on the night before the race.

The Austrian Porsche started well and was lying in a reasonable position when just before midnight the right front shock-absorber broke, and this fractured the fuel tank, which eventually put Elford and Ahrens out. Both 908s retired, the Argentinian car with a broken engine in the opening lap and the Dutch car after lying ninth and tenth when the oil pressure vanished.

The big Ferrari challenge began fading very early. First to go was the Giunti/Vaccarella car which hit the wall on the top of the banking when a tyre punctured. Although the rear-end was rebuilt and a new upright fitted, only a few more laps were completed before the driver complained of handling problems caused by a twisted chassis. The Ickx/Schetty car also hit the wall, this time caused by tyre deflation due to excessive wear on the inside edge. This excessive tyre wear was causing engineer Forghieri food for thought and it wasn't until very late in the race that he discovered it was caused by toe-in on the banking caused by the suspension mounting points cracking and allowing enough movement to create a problem. Again it was impossible to get the car repaired and Ickx was transferred to the Andretti car.

The Andretti/Merzario and later Ickx car moved into second place when the leading Porsche made its first pit stop. During the night the car was in the pits four times when black-flagged for lack of tail lights, also for one medium stop to sort out front brakes and suspension problems. It wasn't, however, until 9.30 a.m. that the long stop came which allowed the Porsche to doge up. This stop was caused when a mounting point in the right rear suspension broke, and the car was wheeled on to the grass at the edge of the pits to have some welding done; a few laps after rejoining, the weld gave and some more laps were lost as the welding torch came out again. The last laps were run off with both lckx and Andretti nursing the car to its third place.

The Gurney/Parsons 512 reached third place at one point when the body began to disintegrate after Parsons touched a slow car, and strip after strip of tape was added to hold the body in one piece; several night stops were to add more tape and at dawn the gearbox broke out on the circuit. The privately-owned Milanese 512 ran consistently until just before dawn when a rear suspension mounting point broke. One problem the team suffered was their lack of English in their dealings with some very bad and amateurish SCCA pit marshalling. Several obnoxious, ignorant and scruffily dressed individuals who said they were deputy sheriffs were let loose in front of the pits. which caused even more trouble. Bill France will have to sort this problem out before next year for all down the pits complaints were heard about the standard of pit organisation.

Both NART 312s finished well even though both had radiator troubles, one car having the radiator changed for a new one and the other changing its leaking radiator for the first car's repaired one. Even after the changes there was still excessive over-heating.

The Matra team suffered one major problem on both cars, which was the breaking up of the rotor arms in the distributors. In Brabham's case he was able to coast to the pits each time, but Beltoise was forced to walk back each time his car packed up. In the last hour the commentator called on any owners of BMW 2002s who could loan their rotor arms to Matra so both cars could be running at the end, to come forward as the team had used all their spares.

The lone Lola retired on the warming-up lap with a burned piston. Both Chevrons retired, one with serious body damage and the other with a broken engine. Records fell to Porsche, and the J.W. team has started the year as they hope to finish it, unless Ferrari can get more reliability.—M. J. T.