Sebring 12-hour Race

Sebring, Florida, March 26th.

The Constructors’ World Championship for GT cars and Prototypes has been retained by Ferrari for the last six years, with no other manufacturer really in the running. However, this year Fords seem to be going to put a stop to this. At Daytona the works Fords gave a demonstration of high-speed efficiency which gave them the first three places. It was argued that the opposition at Daytona was not up to 1966 standard, there being no works Ferrari, only two P2s and the Chaparral, which was a brand new coupe and untried. At the Sebring 12-hour endurance race the Fords were to meet the new 330 P3 Ferrari for the first time, plus two Chaparrals which should have straightened out the Daytona problems. The works Fords were split into three teams. Shelby American had two 7-litre cars for Ken Miles/Lloyd Ruby and Dan Gurney/Jerry Grant. The Gurney/Grant car was as raced at Daytona, a normal Mk. II which, when it had had its teething troubles sorted out, in the earlier practice sessions, set a new fastest lap with Gurney at the wheel. The Miles/Ruby car was an open 7-litre which first appeared at the Canadian G.P. at Mosport in the hands of Chris Amon and then again at Riverside. This XI roadster had an automatic transmission for the first practice but it gave trouble and was removed before the last practice. While sorting out the problems Miles did all the driving and Ruby, who had never driven at Sebring, only managed to get in a few laps on the last session. During the race this accounted for the way the roadster dropped back when Ruby was at the wheel.

The second line of the Ford attack came from the Holman-Moody cars, these were in the hands of Hansgen/Donohue and Foyt/Bucknum. The former of these two cars was a conventional Mk. II Ford, while the latter was identical to the first except for the automatic transmission which was again being tried out. The next Ford team had come from England to compete against the American partners. These were the Alan Mann cars for Hill and Stewart and Whitmore and Gardner. Externally they looked like conventional GT40s but over 120 lb. of weight had been saved over the standard GT40 by using an aluminium bodyshell. Unlike the two American-entered teams the Alan Mann cars had more normal 4.7-litre engines in place of the 7-litres. Due to the modifications from the standard GT40 specification these two cars were in the prototype class.

Backing up the six works cars were two teams of GT40s entered by Essex Wire Corporation for Revson/Scott and Pabst/Gregory and the Canadian Comstock Racing Team with Wietzes/Fisher and McLean/Oulette at the wheel. Three private entries completed the 13 Ford GTs, one of these was the entry of Peter Sutcliffe who had Ireland as his co-driver, and the team was being managed by John Wyer from Ford Advanced Vehicles.

Lined up against this formidable array were the two Chaparral 2Ds for Bonnier/P. Hill and Sharp/Hall. One of these was the Daytona car while the other was a new GT body on a 1965 chassis. The movable spoiler/airbrake used at Daytona had been dispensed with as it caused too much trouble to the drivers on a circuit like Sebring. The other, and probably the most important threat to a Ford victory, was the first appearance of the 330 P3 Ferrari to be driven by Parkes/Bondurant. The P3 has a 4-litre 4-o.h.c. engine and in appearance is almost identical to the 4.4-litre P2. Unfortunately there was only one car and no spare engine in the event of a blow-up.

Backing up the works Ferrari was the N.A.R.T. 330 P2, to be driven by Rodriguez and Andrerti; although down on power compared with works teams they could be guaranteed to be not far from the leaders.

In the next speed bracket, and with a reputation for reliability, was the Porsche Team. The lone Carrera 6 from Daytona was now backed up by another works car and three private owners. The works cars had two small front spoilers and were driven by Herrmann/Buzzetta and Mitter/Klass. The Carreras were backed up by five 904s, two works cars and three private owners. One of those privately owned was that entered and driven by Briggs Cunningham and John Fitch. In this 2-litre class, the favourite was the lone Ferrari Dino 206/S which was to be driven by Bandini and Scarfiotti and, if it didn’t run into mechanical trouble, would probably be faster than the Porsches. Making up the rest of the 64 starters were a Triumph team of TR4s. one of which was running as a prototype due to minor engine modifications, two works M.G.-Bs, one with an engine enlarged to 2,009 c.c. running as a prototype. Two Healey Sprites were running as prototypes and amongst the B.M.C. drivers were the well-known rally names of Makinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk. Roger Penske had entered two of his very fast Stingrays for Moore/Wintersteen and Thompson/ Guldstrad.

Three practice sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday gave time to sort out most problems. For the first two days the pace was set by the P3 Ferrari, which consistently lapped at under three minutes, although the Hill/Stewart Ford GT40 was only a few seconds behind. In his usual way, Stewart learned the circuit from scratch and was as fast as Hill in only a very few laps. Miles put in a lot of laps trying to get the roadster with automatic transmission going properly but to no avail, and after trying for two days a manual box was put back and Ruby, who had never driven at Sebring before, put in a few laps but unfortunately not enough to keep up with Miles’ times during the race. The Gurney/Grant car had problems during the first two practices but during the third one-hour session both Gurney and the car went perfectly, with a time of 2 min. 54.6 sec. (107.22 m.p.h.), which was 5 sec. inside last year’s Chaparral record.

The Chaparrals, last year’s winners, were not at all happy as both cars had problems right through practice with oil, electrical and suspension troubles, and didn’t show anything like their 1965 performance. Porsche seemed to have no problems at all, the cars running like clockwork and their times being consistently fast, but it would indeed be unusual if they didn’t go smoothly.

After the hour’s practice for the 12-hour race on Friday a 4-hour saloon-car race took place. This race was the opening round of the trans-American saloon-car series. The race was split into under-2-litres and 2-to-5-litres, in the big sports sedan class; it was expected that a three-cornered fight would develop between the Ford Mustangs, Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas, while in the under-2-litre class the fight would develop between the Alfa Giulia GTAs and the Alan Mann Cortinas. At the start the faster of each of the three big cars went out ahead with A.J. Foyt leading in the Ford. Just behind, however, was one of the little GTAs driven by Rindt. The car looked a bit of a wreck as it had been rolled the day before by Bussinello and the body was a mass of hammer marks. The faster cars just could not pull out a substantial lead and when they began to make pit stops for assorted troubles Rindt, driving at full bore, went into the lead and stayed there. The Cortinas both retired within a short while and at the end of the four hours it was Alfas first, third. fourth and fifth. Second place went to Tuilius in a Dodge Dart.

Saturday was overcast and not so hot as practice. A large crowd was herded in by a very mixed bag of assorted law enforcement officers. The cars lined up for a Le Mans start. With the modern GT cars the Le Mans start of 10 years ago, when Moss sprinted across the road and leapt into the car and was off, all in one easy movement, is out. The cars are now so low that drivers have to sidle and wriggle in, which doesn’t give a very spectacular start. At 10 a.m. precisely the Governor of Florida dropped the flag and the drivers sprinted to their cars, and for the next two minutes cars were leaving the start area. Second from last was the pole car with Gurney driving, he had difficulty with starting his car, which is such a tight fit for the big Californian that he has a bulge in the roof for his helmet to fit into.

First round was Graham Hill, who had made an exceptional start although in the rush to close the door of his GT40 the top panel had bent, leaving enough room for him to put his hand out. Immediately behind came the P3 and the Dino Ferraris. However, the opening laps were a scramble with some cars dropping back while faster cars which had made bad starts were ploughing through the field. One of these was that of Gurney, who came up from 63rd on lap one to 23rd on lap three and 10th on lap eight and after only an hour and a half he took the lead, having lowered the official lap record to a 2 min. 54.8 sec., a speed of 107.09 m.p.h. However, before Gurney went into the lead, the P3 Ferrari had held it for a long time and was lapping very consistently. Parkes was driving carefully for he had no team-mate to back him up if he overdid it, and when Gurney and Miles both passed him he let them go instead of trying to hold them. The two Chaparrals were very disappointing for they were never up with the leaders (Continued)