Their P-4 ended the race in a 1-2-3 side-by-side formation finish with the other two Ferrari team cars (one was a North American Racing Team entry) and two Porsches at their heels, to humiliate both Ford and Chaparral who, after years of work and monumental financial expenditures, wound up with less than nothing to show for their maximum efforts on a track which favors the characteristics of American V-8 racing machinery.
However, it was not entirely a clear-cut victory for Ferrari. Neither U.S. team lasted long enough to give the Ferraris a chance to prove themselves equal to a reasonably hard pressed race-long battle.
Ford brought six Mk lIs, three of them being reengineered 1966 models with Bruce McLaren/Lucien Bianchi, Ron Bucknum/Frank Gardner, A. J. Foyt/Dan Gurney driving. Three more, on 1967 chassis, had Mark Dononue/Peter Revson, Mario Andretti/Richie Ginther, and Lloyd Ruby/Denis Hulme/Skip Scott as drivers. All were slightly lighter than last year and colorfully painted for any magazine cover possibilities which might come along. They had new 427 engines with dual 4-barrel carbs as well as newly modified gearboxes. The latter proved to be their Achilles heel. There were, in addition, three privately entered GT- 40s, a Cobra, half a dozen GT-350s and Mustangs, several Cortinas, and two bumperless Falcons to help carry the Ford marque on to victory.
Enzo Ferrari sent two fuel-injected P-4s for Chris Amon/, Lorenzo Bandini and Ludovico Scarfiotti/Mike Parkes and one re-built P-3/ 4, running a carbureted engine, signed over to NART and driven by Pedro Rodriguez/Jean Guichet. There were two private P-3s entered, one the Belgian - Francorchamps car, driven by Willy Mairesse/Jean Beurlys, and the other David Piper's' converted P-2;' driven by himself and Richard Attwood. The remaining Ferraris, also privately owned, consisted of two Dinos, a 250 LM and a GTB.
Chaparral towed in two cars, last season's 2D coupe, with Bob Johnson/Bruce Jennings driving, and a brand new 2F,' a coupe with a stiffened flipper, piloted by Phil HilI/ Mike Spence. Both had new engines wearing shiny chrome-plated 396-cu.-in. Chevy valve covers but were posted on the entry list as displacing 300 cu in. Strange. The cars also seemed to have improved transmissions, about which more anon. Roger Penske, a former Chaparral team member, entered a Camaro. It and a second Camaro made up the rest of the GTI delegation.
Porsche entered three factory prototypes. Two were 906s, with Mitter/Rindt and Van Lennep/Schiitz/Stommelen teamed. The third was a 910 with slightly shorter and lighter fuselage than the 906, redesigned suspension and 13-in.. wheels. It had Herrmann and Siffert as drivers. All three cars were fuel injected. No Webers. In addition there were a pair of Swiss-entered 906 LEs plus a 911 S and a 911.
The rest of the 60-car field was filled with everything from a Dodge Dart through TR-4s to a hastily patched together 1.3-liter ASA, all of which machinery created a more or less constant hazard to the faster cars. The big prototypes keep getting more rapid but the piddlers stay at about the same speed so this year, on the banking. leading into the 180 degree turn into the infield portion of the circuit, the Mk lIs and P-4s were overtaking Triumphs at a closing rate of 120 ft/sec which, said Mike Parkes, was enough to bloody well keep you awake at night.
There were two days of practice during which the Chaparrals discovered a good deal of carburetor trouble, the Fords found out that the P-4s were not to be shaken off, and, to quote Chris Amon, "We already knew we could last the race as a result of our December tests and it began to look pretty good when we saw we were readily faster with the P-4 on the infield portion of the circuit than the Fords."
The Ferraris tried not to let this feeling seem too obvious during practice. But their confidence was such that two hours before the race started they decided that if all three cars were running at the end they would make a 1-2-3 formation finish of it. Their big sweats were Rodriguez' car, with a new engine installed the day before the race, and Scarfiotti's P-4, which had nudged its suspension and fiberglass against the wall during night practice.
The Porsche pits were also fairly certain of the outcome. They put out one set of tires for each car and sat back to watch the fun, which for them very nearly turned into tragedy and unexpected failure. The race commenced from a rolling start with Foyt on the pole, Hill next to him and Rodriguez and Bandini right behind. Then came Andretti, with Parkes alongside him, followed by McLaren and, next to him, Johnson in the 2D. The next two cars were the Ruby and Bucknum Mk lIs, followed by Mairesse's P-3 and the last Mk 1I, being started by Mark Donohue. A GT-40, Piper's P~3 and a Dino were next. Then came all four Porsche 906s, led by Mitter, and the 910. The 911S started 36th and the 911 was 43rd. Keep that in mind.
To make a long story short, Phil Hill leaped into an immediate and ever-growing lead from the drop of the flag at 3 :09 P.M. and it was thunderingly obvious that it would be difficult at best to catch the Chaparral if it kept running at that pace; which it did not. The 911s were 32nd and 34th after one hour.
At 6: 10 P.M., with darkness just settling over the circuit, Hill, upon leaving the infield, came a bit wide up onto the banking and smashed the right rear end of his car against the retaining wall. This bent the suspension amid the machine was withdrawn after a futile attempt to effect repairs. Hill immediately blamed himself for the DNF though it was not entirely his fault. The infield road surface had undergone repairs prior to the race, including widening in several spots and patching elsewhere. The wide tires, heavy cars and oil on the roadway combined to eat up the new asphalt and turn the corners into slippery traps full of bits and pieces of debris. Phil had got loose on this mess. He accused himself of carelessness because he was already aware of the condition of the turn; he had come around too fast to retain maximum steering control. If there had been six horizontal inches of shoulder instead of three vertical feet of concrete abutting the outside of the corner, he would have got by without difficulty. The 911s had now moved up to 28th and 30th.
As it was, the 2F's demise left the marbles to Ferrari, though it took a bit of reading between the lines to see it at first. The initial hint had come back while Hill was still in the lead when, on lap 23, the Bucknum/ Gardner Mk II lost 3rd and 4th gears and came into the pits for a new transmission. This was not regarded as terribly significant since it was anticipated that at least three of the Mk lIs would suffer some sort of serious difficulty. Besides, the Andretti/ Ginther car was leading all the Ferraris and the Foyt/ Gurney car was right on their tails. McLaren seemed likely to be the next Mk II in trouble; he was in and out of the pits several times in the first few hours with overheating problems. In fact,) he was to have these problems throughout the race, due to an ever worsening. head gasget leak, finally requiring a radiator refill every six laps but his was, nevertheless, the only Mk II to finish.
Andretti and Ginther went next. Just about the time Hill bent his car on the wall their Mk II lost 3rd and 4th gears. In they went for a new transmission which left only Gurney and Foyt, who many pit pundits thought would be first to break, still dueling with the Ferraris. The rest of the Mk lIs still running were either already sick or getting that way. The Ford pits became very morose. A big "Keep Out" sign was posted, everyone was instructed to say "I dunno nothin' " to newsmen's questions, and the garage doors were pulled shut. At 11 :00 P.M. the 911s were 21st and 23rd.
What was happening, according to several Ford development people, was that the transmission output shaft upon which 3rd and 4th depended for power was breaking at a point where a small machining burr had mistakenly been left intact when the units were heat treated, causing a stress riser to be built into each shaft. This reasoning may prove to be inaccurate up.on more thorough examination, but one thing was certain. The Mk IIs were snapping output shafts as readily as if they had been made of stale bread sticks. Some used up three transmissions, others merely two, until all twelve the firm had brought were gone.
Meanwhile, back at the front of the race, the Ferraris kept cruising around like big red sharks looking for someone else to devour. Shortly after midnight they found the Johnson/ Jennings 2D Chaparral which, due to the Ford casualties was slowly creeping up, having moved from 14th to 7th at one point, and gobbled it up when its transmission abruptly went ill. This car, and likely the 2F as well, were sporting what would appear to be improved variations on the Chevy slushbox, with what sounded like as many as three drive ranges. In a last desperate gasp, Jim Hall let the pit crew violate security and open up the transmission in the pits, where it could plainly be seen, in order to attempt repairs. This created great difficulty for Hap Sharp, who leaped about issuing maniacal guffaws as he planted his bulk in front of news photographers who had the temerity to aim a camera anywhere in the car's general direction. Jim did not participate in this uncouth exhibition, having better things to attend to. The attempt at repairs failed, so the Chaparral folk packed up their gear ,and went home. The 911s were 16th and 18th.
None of the Ferrari drivers or engineers had ever felt threatened by the Chaparrals. Their plan was to permit "rabbits," whether from Midland or Dearborn, to run away all by themselves for up to a 5-lap (10-minute) lead. Ferrari calculated that no car could do this as long as his own cars held to 110-plus-mph lap times and survived. He was right.
Aside from the Gurney/Foyt effort nobody was anywhere near the Ferraris from 10:00 P.M. on, and even Dan and Ajay, driving for all they were worth, could not make up the 30-lap deficit their own transmission snappage at 1 :00 A.M. cost them. Even so, they hung grimly on, battling back up to 5th over all at one point, until the engine gave up after 17 hours and 15 minutes of pursuit.
About the only thing the men from Modena could do to liven up the proceedings was to stay as close to each other as possible so on a number of their well organized (really) pit stops there would be an exchange of leaders. They also indulged in a bit of NASCAR type drafting on the bankings (so did the 911s~they were 12th and 13th and still moving up), changed the rear tires 10 times, the fronts three, and slowed down every now and then so they could catch up to each other for company. The result of all this was that after 18 hours there were only 10 laps separating the three of them. It would have stayed that way to the end had not Rodriguez, early in the 20th hour, contrived to lose a bolt off his left rear suspension, repairs to which set him back 20 laps, and nearly out of third place, had not Porsche's bad luck held up.
Stuttgart's troubles started on lap one. Mitter's 906, the fastest of the three factory cars, came in with its wheels leaping all over the road. Unbalanced tires said Goodyear reps, and another set was put on. Back out went Mitter and one lap later back in he came. Out of balance too, said Mitter.
Nonsense, said Goodyear. Said Mitter: Who is driving this car, you or me?
At this point team director Huschke von Hanstein and several-others noticed that the tires, all of them, had no balance weights in the locations marked during mounting. A third set was run over to the pits and put on. These were balanced. Von Hanstein was understandably furious. The other two cars were running Dunlops without problems.
The Van Lennep et al car was the next to have difficulties. Only an hour after the race had started, its accelerator injector slide started binding wide open until, several hours and many readjustments later, it permanently jammed during a downshift, bringing on 10,000 rpm and bending a valve.
Then, at 8:50 P.M. one of the Swiss LEs, with Walter Habegger driving, ran into the GTB coming off the banking into the infield. The Porsche burst into flames but' nobody was seriously hurt. The Mitter/Rindt car was sideswiped during the eighth hour and retired with a bent suspension and frame member, leaving only Herrmann and Siffert in the 910 plus Dieter Spoerry and Rico Steinemann in the other 906LE to carryon in the prototype class. They climbed into 4th and 5th overall, and were doing very 'well, wit~h a possible chance at 3rd when Rodriguez shot out his bolt, and then suddenly Herrmann motored into the pits reporting ignition troubles.
The engineers told him he was hearing things and sent him back out. One lap and back in. What I'm hearing, said Herrmann, is a six cylinder engine running on four cylinders. Much Teutonic scowling and Herrmann was sent back out. Two laps and back in, whereupon the engineers finally heard it too. They changed the distributor and coil, the car roared to life, and Herrmann rejoined the fray, but with a total of 18 laps lost. He lost the chance for 3rd but held 4th to the end.
At which point our friends in the 911s were running 9th and 10th, in which positions they finished to win the GT and Touring Classes outright. If I correctly recall the reasoning behind the establishment of the Manufacturers Championship series, these are the two classes which come closest to fulfilling the spirit of the rules. So let's give the boys (John Ryan and Bill Bencker in the 911S, George Drolsom and Harold Williamson in the 911) a big hand.