FERRARI’S DRAMATIC VICTORY
AS SPRING follows winter so the Sebring 12-hour race follows the Daytona 24-hour race and the field at the 12 hours is often a reflection of the earlier 24-hour race. Not quite so this year, for in addition to the three-cornered Porsche/Gulf, Ferrari and Matra challenge, there was also a full team of three Alfas.
The obvious favourites after their Daytona 1-2 victory were the two JW-Gulf Porsche 917s driven by Siffert/Redman and Rodriguez/Kinnunen. Both cars were virtually unchanged and with a training car the team was as immaculate as usual. Supporting the works-backed cars were the Porsche Audi 917s driven by Elford/Ehrens and Herrmann/Lins. Both were well prepared and Elford was hopeful of very competitive times.
The Ferrari team had put in a lot of work since Daytona to overcome the fragility of their cars’ rear suspension. Two of the works 512s were fitted with new open Spider bodies with a more rounded nose section for Andretti/Merzario and Ickx/Schetty. The third car, a coupe, was in the hands of Giunti/Vaccarella. A fourth private 512 was entered by NART and driven by Bucknum/Posey. The Matra team had the two 650s they used at Daytona, the only major differences being that the long streamlined tails had been cut off just behind the rear wheels. To correct any possible change in handling caused by this, there were adjustable spoilers right across the rear of the car. Two driver changes were caused by Brabham and Beltoise being entered in F1 cars at the Race of Champions, so the team consisted of Pescarolo/Servoz-Gavin and Gurney/Cevert.
A welcome return to racing was made by the Autodelta team with three Alfa Romeo T33/3s for Courage/de Adamich, Stommelen/Galli and new team members Gregory/Hezemans. Although similar to last year’s car, the rear brakes are now outboard and the water radiator is now in the nose with twin oil coolers amidships ahead of the engine. The chassis has been lightened and the engine is reputed to be giving 424 b.h.p. Unlike previous years, the cars were clean and immaculately turned out.
Backing up the works teams there were a number of potential winners among the rest of the large entry. Four 908 Porsches were entered in the prototype class in the hands of McQueen/Revson, Laine/Van Lennep, Dechent/Koch and Larrousse/Attwood. The car entered by Solar Productions Inc. and managed by former Lotus team manager Andrew Ferguson for Steve McQueen (to get his initiation into International sports-car racing prior to the epic to be filmed at this year’s Le Mans) was causing considerable interest, especially as the film star was driving with his left foot in plaster because of a motorcycle accident during a desert race. NART had two 312s entered fo Parkes/Parsons and Chinetti Jr./Adamowicz. Two Lolas, several GT40s and of course the usual moving chicanes which every year add to the hazards of the airfield road circuit made up the 68 cars which were to start the 20th 12-hours of Sebring.
Thursday’s day and night practice did not count for starting positions, so it was Friday’s qualifying session which was the most serious part of the pre-race excitement. The Siffert/Redman Porsche 917 started setting the pace and with a final time of 2 min. 34.47 sec., six seconds faster than last year’s best qualifying time, the Gulf Porsches were wheeled away for race preparation. After the departure of the pale blue cars, Andretti, who had been trying harder and harder to get the Ferrari round at the speed of which he felt sure it was capable, put in a very fast lap of 2 min. 33.5 sec. to give him pole position. Also in the last hour, Elford got the Porsche Audi going well and did a lap which put him third on the grid. Altogether ten cars were under 2 min. 40 sec. for the first time, which indicated many race records falling. Both Matra and Alfa were experiencing problems with fuel feed and overheating and the Alfas were nowhere near as quick as in earlier tests.
M. Andretti/A. Merzario (Ferrari 512S) .. 2 min. 33.50 sec. J. Siffert/B. Redman (Porsche 917) .. 2 min. 34.47 sec. V. Elford/K. Ahrens (Porsche 917) .. 2 min. 35.42 sec. J. Ickx/P. Schetty (Ferrari 512S) .. 2 min. 36.23 sec. P. Rodriguez/L. Kinnunen (Porsche 917) .. 2 min. 36.61 sec R. Bucknum/S. Posey (Ferrari 512S) .. 2 min. 36.48 sec I. Giunti/N. Vaccarella (Ferrari 512S) .. 2 min 36.60 sec D. Gurney/F. Cervert (Matra 650) .. 2 min. 37.44 sec P. Courage/A. de Adamich (alfa Romeo 33/3) .. 2 min 38.47 sec H. Pescarolo/J. Servoz-Gavin (Matra 650) .. 2 min 39.50 sec H. Herrmann/R. Lins (Porsche 917) .. 2 min 40.43 sec R. Stommelen/N. Galli (Alfa Romeo 33.3) .. 2 min 40.78 sec M. Gregory/T. Hezemans (Alfa Romeo 33/3) .. 2 min. 41.37 sec M. Parkes/C. Parsons (Ferrari 312P) .. 2 min. 42.19 sec S. McQueen/P. Revson (Porsche 908) .. 2 min. 42.75 sec L. Chinetti/T. Adamowicz (Ferrari 312P) .. 2 min. 43.10 sec H. Laine/G. van Lennep (Porsche 908) .. 2 min. 44.17 sec G. Larrouse/R. Attwood (Porsche 908) .. 2 min 46.43 sec M. de Udy/M. Hailwood (Lola T70 Mk 3B) .. 2 min. 50.71 sec P. Forrester/A. Hedges (Ford GT40) .. 2 min. 52.20 sec
Race day was dry and the forecast was for 12 hours of continuing dry weather. The Sebring start (which has always followed the Le Mans pattern) was changed this year, as will be the start of Le Mans, on the directions of the FIA. The cars lined up in grid position and then proceeded to complete one pace lap before getting the green flag. Andretti, who is an expert on this type of start, took an immediate lead from Siffert. Within three laps the leaders were in amongst the tail-enders and Andretti was able to open the gap between himself and the Gulf 917. The race developed as was expected into a battle between Ferrari and Porsche. However, the luck which was on the side of Porsche at Daytona was lacking. The first Porsche to drop back was the Siffert/Redman car which lost 11 minutes when leading, with an electrical fault. The next to go was the Herrmann/Lins 917 which had a broken, over-revved engine. Then the Rodriguez/Kinnunen car had a puncture whilst leading. The Elford/Ahrens car was well placed in the first three when out of the hairpin a Lancia put Posey off the road. As the Ferrari was rejoining the race a Fiat driver, not knowing what Posey was doing, jammed on his brakes right in front of Elford. In avoiding the Fiat the 917 hit a 911 and wrote off the left rear suspension.
At one-third distance the first four places were filled by Ferraris and to everyone’s astonishment the fifth car was the McQueen/Revson 908 Porsche. Matra had problems which kept the cars from the front : one car was overheating and the other had gone on to eleven cylinders. The Siffert/Redman Porsche 917 dropped back even further when the bolts holding the stub axle to the upright broke and it was half an hour before a new one could be fitted. Then a few laps later the fan disengaged and sailed 150 ft. into the air. More delays, and Andretti built up even more lead. Then it became Ferrari’s turn for problems. First the Ickx/Schetty car blew a head gasket and retired, then the second placed Ferrari of Giunti/Vaccarella came in with a blown rear tyre and the rear suspension again pulled away from its mounting causing considerable delay.
Andretti/Merzario now had eleven laps lead and looked all set for a comfortable win. When darkness settled the leading car came into the pits and Andretti predicted that the gearbox would break while Merzario was driving. This happened and Ferrari followed the lead of Porsche who had replaced Kinnunen with Siffert in their best placed car. Andretti moved in with Giunti/Vaccarella to speed up this car. The dramas of the last hour kept everyone on their toes. The Kinnunen/Redman car came in with the bolts through the front upright broken; this left only two uprights, one for 2 left and a right fitting. As David Yorke thought he might need one or other for the leading car now being driven by Siffert and Rodriguez, the 917 was retired. Andretti was catching McQueen and as he passed him they both swept by Rodriguez who was creeping into the pits with the upright bolts gone. The change took only eight minutes, but with Andretti and McQueen on the same lap, the leader was third in only a few. seconds.
Andretti was pulling away from McQueen in the dying laps, hut everyone got a shock when Andretti screamed into the pits for a few gallons of fuel and McQueen was within seconds of the Ferrari as it went off for the last laps. The order remained until the end with the Ferrari winning by a mere 22 seconds from the 908 Porsche. All the leaders lost much time during this race with various pit stops except the McQueen/Revson car, whose creditable second place came through steady, consistent driving.—M. J. T.
Results THE SEBRING 12 HOURS-Groups 6, 5, 4, 2-Sebring Airfield/Road Circuit-5.2 miles-Hot and dry
1st: I. Giunti/N. Vaccarella/M. Andretti (Ferrari 512S-V12 5-litre) .. Group 5 Entrant: Ferrari S.p.A., Italy .. 247 (1,289.6 miles-107.29 m.p.h.) 2nd: S. McQueen/P. Revson (Porsche 908-8-cyl. 3-litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: Solar Productions Inc., USA .. 247 3rd: M. Gregory/T. Hezemans (Alfa Romeo 33/3-V8 3 litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: Autodelta S.p.A., Italy .. 246 4th: P. Rodriguez/L. Kinnunen (Porsche 917-12 cyl. 4.5-litre) .. Group 5 Entrant: J.W. Engineering, England .. 243 5th: H. Pescarolo/J. Servoz-Gavin (Matra 650-V12 3 litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: Equipe Matra-Elf, France .. 241 6th: M. Parkes/C. Parsons (Ferrari 312P-V12-3 –litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: North American Racing Team, USA .. 239 7th: H-D. Dechent/G. Koch (Porsche 908-8 cyl. 3-litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: International Martini Racing Team. Germany .. 235 8th: P. Courage/A. de Adamich (Alfa Romeo 33/3-V8 3 litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: Autodelta S.p.A., Italy .. 230 9th: R. Stommelen/N. Galli (Alfa Romeo 33/3-V8 3 litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: Autodelta S.p.A., Italy .. 229 10th: D. Lorenzo/ R. Lang (Chevrolet Corvette-V8 7-litre) .. Group 4 Entrant: Troy Promotions Inc, USA .. 218 11th: B. Johnson/B. Johnson (Chevrolet Corvette-V8 7-litre) .. Group 4 Entrant: Doug Bergen Racing, USA .. 213 12th: D. Gurney/F. Cervert (Matra 650- V12 3-litre) .. Group 6 Entrant: Equipe Matra-Elf, France .. 212
Fastest lap : J. Siffert (Porsche 917), 2 min. 33.11 sec. (122.265 m.p.h.) (new record)