Sebring 12-hours

Ford Mark IV wins on first outing

After the clash of heavy machinery at Daytona, Sebring was an anti-climax. The six Mk. II Fords; two 330 P4 Ferraris, two 330 P3/4 Ferraris and two Chaparrals had dwindled at this, the second round of the Manufacturers’ Championship, to two Fords and two Chaparrals. Various excuses were given for Ferrari’s non-appearance, the closeness to the Le Mans test day, and Ferrari’s dislike of the track being the most likely. The N.A.R.T. cars were absent so that a writ of attachment tied up with last year’s accident could not be served on the team.

The two Chaparrals were very little altered from Daytona. On the 2F, however, the wing spoiler was now being worked in its two positions. One of the Fords was the older Mk. II, a mixture of the best from Holman and Moody and Shelby America and now entered by the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn. The second Ford was a new car. This was a development of the “J” car which appeared last year at the Le Mans practice and is now called the Mk. IV. The body-frame is made of glued honeycomb aluminium and has the number “J4” which left no doubts as to its parentage. Roy Lunn at Kar Kraft, which is an Advanced Concepts Department of the Ford Motor Company, has been trying to promote the “J” car for one year and the only receptive ear was that of Bruce McLaren who has always said how good the car was.

Many of the ideas in the Mk. IV came from the aircraft industry. The honeycomb panels are glued with heat cured epoxy resin, and are light but rigid. On the car that ran at Sebring more rivets are used than on the J1, 2 and 3 cars. The doors and front and rear panels are in glass fibre and the weight saving is up to 60 kilos. The power unit is the well-tried 7-litre V8 using two 4-barrel Holley carburetters on new inlet manifolds. This produces 500 b.h.p. at 6,200 revs and has good torque in the right places. The suspension is double wishbone at the front and lower wishbone, top link and two radius arms at the rear. The automatic transmission used in the “J” car is replaced by a 4-speed manual box. The body is the greatest change from the “J” car. It was built and fitted in only one week and is much better looking than the original “bread basket” body.

The Mk. IV had few problems in practice and both McLaren and Andretti put in a lot of laps and set the pace on each of the three timed sessions with the fastest lap of 2 min. 48 sec. (111.428 m.p.h.). The 2F Chaparral in contrast was dogged with troubles, the worst being the oil surge that caused pressure fluctuations. Phil Hill’s best time was 21 seconds slower than McLaren’s and Spence did hardly any laps at all. This meeting was not a happy one for Hill for after last practice he complained of pains in the stomach and was admitted to hospital to have his appendix removed. Jim Hall stepped in and with hardly any practice, took over.

Both the main contenders made poor starts. Spence was the last to move away and for the first two hours he was still getting used to the winged monster. From the third to the fifth hours the Chaparral was in the lead or just behind the Ford and Spence lowered the lap record six times altogether, leaving it at 2 min. 48.6 sec. (111.032 m.p.h.). The Ford pit stops were more frequent than planned as the fuel pumps were failing to scavenge the last ten or so gallons.

Full racing pressure remained until after eight hours, then Hall handed a slightly smoking car over to Spence who was back in the pits before long, with an overheated automatic transmission and the only opposition to the new Ford was out, leaving McLaren and Andretti to win. Neither of the other two big cars finished. The 2D Chaparral went out before the 2F when there was a complete ignition failure, and, even after replacing many parts the car refused to start. The Ford Mk. II was using a lot of oil and Foyt was given the slow-down sign for lap after lap, but it is not in his nature to drive slowly, even though after eleven hours he was nine laps ahead of the next car, a Porsche 910. When Ruby took over he slowed up, but the damage was done, so it was no surprise when he pulled into the pits with a seized camshaft drive, half an hour from the end. The regulations were such that the Mk. II was given second place even though the Mitter/Patrick Porsche completed the same number of laps.

The 2-litre class contained much more promise. Porsche now had two 910s for Mitter and Patrick, Herrmann and Siffert, and two 906s to back them up. The smart turn-out of the Porsches was contrasted by the rather scruffy state of the Alfa works cars. There were two of the latest V8 cars under the direction of Engineer Chiti, late of Ferrari and A.T.S. Although the cars looked rough, they were very steady on the road and were faster than the works Porsches and the privately entered Dino Ferraris.

The Dinos were in private hands, and three of them should have been competitive. However, very early in the race, two were out with overheating when the head gaskets went, and the other was damaged by an excursion over some rough ground. The Alfas were fast and Adamich got off to a good start taking the lead, which he held for one lap, but the temperature at Sebring was higher than it has been at test sessions in Monza this winter, and as a result certain ignition parts overheated, which eventually put out both cars, but not before they had shown considerable promise. In their now predictably efficient way, the Porsche team cars went on and on. In fact, all four would most certainly have finished had a large dog not collided with their tail-ender Schuetz in 8th place, badly damaging the suspension. The rest of the team went on, gaining third, fourth and seventh places, while sixth went to the long, Swiss-entered 1966 works car driven by Steinemann and Spoerry.

The J.W. Engineering GT40 was well in the lead in the sports class when it blew a head gasket and retired, letting the Italian-entered GT40 driven by Maglioli and Vaccarella win with a filth place in the overall results. One interesting car which practised but did not start was a machine called a Lola Mk. 3. Driven by Fulp and McClusky this Lola T70, doctored for GT prototype racing, went well until it damaged the front suspension on leaving the track during the last practice period. Four cars were entered from B.M.C. and they finished in 11th, 12th, 13th and 18th positions after a fairly trouble-free 12 hours’ motoring.

After the proposed change of circuit, and general uncertainty of this race due to last year’s unfortunate accident, the entry and the crowd were not up to expectation. The new straight that side-steps the old warehouse has increased the lap speed by about 2 seconds and turned the curve onto the runways into a very interesting corner. With a five-year contract now signed to continue the “12 hours at Sebring,” it should be the aim of the organising body to improve the facilities and organisation, both of which are lacking when compared with Riverside, Watkins Glen, Daytona or Indianapolis. Many drivers complained of hay all over the road in the esses, and most people with jobs to do at the race had some unpleasant experience at the hands of the multi-uniformed police, who spent most of the time swinging truncheons or black jacks and being obstructive. Ford’s quick reply to the Ferrari P4’s first outing win at Daytona, with a first-time win with the Mk. IV, will add to the competition at this year’s Le Mans, which both companies are going all out to win. – M. J. T.