All anybody talked about the night before the race was tomorrow's weather. There were some pretty wild rumors. Hurricane. Tornado. Hail. Going down to 25°. Fifty-mile-an-hour winds. 'The radio was no help; electrical disturbances crackled, the Floridians and the Cubans were jamming each others' wavelengths and all anybody could get were faraway stations, and then only for a few seconds at a time.
What it turned out to be was a cold rain, after it had been a sunny, 94°, day. The rain moved in from the northwest, striking the Hairpin and Warehouse Straight at 5: 25 P.M., after seven-and-a-half hours of racing. It had been threatening for an hour and when it hit people ducked for cover, muttering in sympathy for the drivers in open cars.
Four of us leaped into a Cadillac and began driving along the grass, paralleling the 3700-ft. Warehouse Straight. By the time we got to the Webster Turns, the track, the grass, the access roads-every thing-was four to six inches deep in water. At 25 mph, we were outstripping every car on the course where they had previously been hitting 165 mph. Visibility was, zero.
Phil Hill, driving a Cobra "Daytona" coupe after his (and Richie Ginther's) Ford GT went out with suspension mount fatigue, was up to his waist in water. "Like it was being pumped in," he said. Three times in one lap he stopped and opened the door to let the sloshing water out. Then, picking up speed again, he saw a sign indicating a turn loom out of the gray wall of water. Hill cranked the wheel violently and discovered he had turned into a parking lot.
John Mecom, Jr., strolled down the pit lane, soaked to the skin, his hair still carefully combed, his tie neatly knotted, his expensive loafers in eight inches of water. He chatted politely with a reporter, but his ear was tuned to his remaining entry, the Walt Hansgen/MarkDonahue Ferrari 275/LM. It had been clutchless from the start and was now faltering with water in the ignition system. Its lovely, ripping-canvas scream was choked and strangling. .
If the wavy, wobbly, battered surface of the old airport circuit wouldn't break the Chaparrals-if trying to run for 12 long hours wouldn't halt Jim Hall's futuristic little roadsters with their weird automatic transmissions-surely the rain would. "What are you going to do if it rains, Jim?" he had been asked earlier, when the sun was baking the track surface to a sizzling 125°. "I'm not sure," said Hall, feigning concern. It was a not-untypical Hall ploy. He wasn't about to advertise the fact that Firestone's new rain tires would debut at this race, if necessary.
Hap Sharp, driving the #3 Chaparral that was seven laps in the lead, seemed to be having a rough time of it. Hall had brought the car in some time ago and waited quite a while before sending Sharp out into the spray. Now the big fat rain tires were like pontoons, lifting the ultra-light car up on the water and making it skim helplessly along on the surface. The Chaparral's
low snout was scooping up water cow-catcher fashion, . flinging it out the radiator exit at Sharp's face like a fire hose. Lap times were running close to ten minutes' and the second-place Ford GT, with narrower Good year rain tires,was going faster.
The Finnish rally drivers, Timo Makinen and Rauno Aatonen, and Ireland's Paddy Hopkirk, were in their element. Racing bores them, normally; they far prefer sliding around on the "loose stuff." The rain slickened
track was loose enough for their liking. Makinen, in a Sprite shod with skinny little tires, knifed through the shallow lakes like a water skier and -made up three laps on the Ford GT. Hopkirk reported passing the leading Chaparral four times in the rain.
Others weren't so lucky. The Graham Hill/Pedro Rodriguez Ferrari 275/P, running in second place, drowned, was dried out, and was finally left with only two gears. Mike Gammino, in a Grifo A3C that had spun off the track into the crowd at the first turn of the first lap and injured two spectators, aquaplaned off the track in the wet, hitting a strut of the Mercedes-Benz bridge, tearing the car in half, and popping Gammino out like a peanut out of its shell. He was unhurt.
After an hour-and-a-half, the weather subsided from torrential downpour to conventional rainfall and the Chaparrals resumed their record-breaking pace. Would they last? Before the race, no one dared to believe they would (except Hall & Co.), but now they held their breath until the big 10 P.M. sigh. It was over and the Chaparral had won, a quarter-of-an,..hour ahead of the second place car. Only the ferocity of the rain had prevented it from breaking the distance record. It was, as everyone agreed, almost too good to be true.
The Chaparrals had dominated the race from technical inspection to victory lane. The Hall/Sharp car sat on the pole with a 2: 57.6 lap (105.42 mph), almost 10 seconds under the existing-record. Its twin sister, driven by Porsche expert Bruce ("The Poor Man's Carroll Shelby") Jennings, and long-time Chaparral team driver Ronnie Hissom, was next fastest and destined to slip from a sure second to twenty-second place with endless, niggling electrical troubles. Then. came the two :Ford GTs (Bruce McLaren/Ken Miles and Phil Hill/ Richie Ginther) and the Shelby team's "mecbanicaJ rabbit," Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant in a much modified Lotus-Ford. Oh, how Gurney hated to be called the "rabbit." He would have loved nothing better than going the full distance ahead of Shelby's cars, but was wistfully philosophical about being forced out when a chain-drive on the oil pump failed. He had even led briefly, once at the beginning of the race before Hall chose to pass him, and again an hour later when Hall made one of his routine, two-minute pit stops. But, that's racing.
In the recent tradition, an American-engined car was first into the battle. From the Le Mans start to the Webster Turns it was a lightweight Corvette Grand Sport with a 396-cu. in. "porcupine head" engine (making its competition debut and, subsequently, a non-contender). From Webster on, it was Ginther in the Ford GT, who was anxious to get back to the pits at the end of the first lap to find out what that terrible noise in the back end was. It turned out to be interference' between the wheel and the brake caliper.
Gurney led the next seven laps, was passed by Hall, regained the lead when Hall pitted on the 34th lap, leaving Gurney in the lead until the oil pump failed on the 43rd lap. The P. Hill/Ginther Ford was already out and the Jennings/Hissom Chaparral had already spent the first 19 minutes of what was to be almost an hour-and-15-minutes in the pits. Thus, from the 43rd lap, it was the Hall/Sharp Chaparral all the way.
Nick Cone, driving Art Riley's veteran Volvo P1800, blew the engine between Big Bend and the Hairpin, pulled onto the verge, climbed out and got underneath to inspect the car. Then the Volvo disappeared. George Reed, in a Cobra roadster, had slid in the spilled oil and smashed into the Volvo, demolishing both cars. Chuck Stoddard, taking evasive action in his Alfa Tubolare, hit something and demolished his car. Glass, metal, rubber, turf, gravel and oil littered the area and the passing cars had to slow to a crawl, doing a slow slalom through the accident's aftermath. It was a miracle any of the drivers involved survived, but the three were only slightly injured.
Before the race was half-an-hour old, Peter Bolton rolled his Triumph Spitfire into a balL Ed Hugus and Tom O'Brien suffered heat prostration. Millard Ripley flipped a Simca-Abarth. The other Grifo coupe lost its brakes going into the Hairpin, took to the escape road at a fair clip and crashed into a VW microbus, injuring the occupants. Wayne ("Red") Pierce, a Cobra mechanic, picked up a live wire and was temporarily paralyzed. It was a bad day for minor accidents. The ambulances were busy.
Meanwhile, the biggest crowd in Sebring's history was caught outside the track in gigantic traffic jams. One stretched 12 miles. They started at 7 A.M., three hours before the race's. start, and the stragglers couldn't get to the track until after 1 P.M. The two entrance roads were dotted with cars that had boiled over in the heat. Tempers boiled over too.
The McLaren/Miles Ford, making leisurely pit stops, fell behind the G. Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari 275/P. The second Chaparral pulled itself up to fourth, only two laps out of second place, before a 48-minute pit stop when the starter failed shoved them down into the ruck again. The leading Chaparral was steaming along like a turbine. It never hurried, never looked untidy and with that mysterious automatic transmission never made a noise like any race car in the history of the earth. '
The Ben Pon/Joe Buzzetta 904 led the identical Gunther Klass/Lake Underwood car until nightfall. Buzzetta complained he couldn't see, that the headlights weren't powerful enough, so Underwood passed him to take first in the small GT class and fifth overalL
Jack Ryan was doing his annual Porsche demolition exhibition. This year it was the tail of the orange 904 that looked like the mice had been at it. Eventually, the whole tail section disappeared and, after innumerable "conferences" with the guy who waves the black flag, a nice new ivory tail section was bolted on and on it rolled.
There was never any doubt that a Cobra would win the big GT class, and the Bob Bondurant/Jo Schlesser Daytona coupe led most of the way, eventually winning the class and finishing fourth overall. The other Daytona coupes were spaced farther back, in seventh (Bob Johnson/Tom Payne), thirteenth (Ed Leslie/Allen Grant) and twenty-first (Jim Adams/Lew Spencer/Phil Hill) places. The Dick Thompson/Graham Shaw Cobra roadster placed nineteenth and the lone Ferrari GT car didn't even finish-it qualified twenty-sixth.
With the Chaparral sitting in the catbird seat and the Ford firmly ensconced in second place, the only bone up for grabs was third place. The Charlie Kolbl Buck Fulp Ferrari 330/P looked surprisingly good and the Bob Grossman/Skip Hudson car was hanging on strong, but both were shot down by gear failure. The Willy Mairesse/Mauro Bianchi and Umberto,Maglioli/ Giancarlo Baghetti Ferrari prototypes were already sick or dying (and, Ferrari said there were no factory cars!),. leaving only the Hansgen/Donahue and, David Piper/Tony Maggs 275/LIVIs still in the hunt. . . if any Ferrari could be said to be in this particular chase. The mechanics did a better and faster job of servicing the Piper/Maggs L.M, so it finished, third. Other Ferraris finished 8th, 11th, 12th, 23rd, 34th and 37th. Not quite their day.: .
So, what had "been billed as a big Ford vs. Ferrari battle fizzled as the dark-horse Chaparral rode rough-shod over the headliners. I'll.. bet Messrs. Ferrari and Ford are glad the Chaparrals aren't eligible for Le Mans this year. They may have some sleepless nights in 1966, though. Them is tough Texans.
1. Hall/Sharp Chaparral, 2. Jennings/Hissom Chaparral, 3. McLaren/Miles Ford,
4. P. Hill/Ginther Ford, 5. Gurney/Grant Lotus, 6. Cannon/Saunders Lola,
7. G. Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari, 8. Grossman/Hudson Ferrari,
9. Hansgen/Donahue Ferrari, 10. Piper/Maggs Ferrari.
11 A.M. POSITIONS
1. Hall/Sharp (19 laps)" 2. Gurney/Grant (19), 3. Jennings/Hissom (18),
4. G. Hill/Rodriguez (18),5. McLaren/Miles (18), 6. Kolb/Fulp Ferrari (18),
7. Hansgen/ Donahue (17), 8. Decker/Doveleski Cooper (17);
9. Hugus/O'Brien/Richards Ferrari (17), 10. Wintersteen/Goetz/Diehl Corvette (17).
Average Speed: 100.56 mph
. 12 NOON POSITIONS
1. Gurney/Grant (38), 2. Hall/Sharp (38), 3. Jennings/Hissom (37), 4. McLaren/ Miles (36),
5. G. Hill/Rodriguez (36), 6. HansgeniDonahue (36), 7. Kolb/Fulp (35),
, 8. Johnson/Payne Cobra (34), 9. Bondurant/Schlesser Cobra (34), 10. Grossman/ Hudson (34).
Average Speed: 100.48 mph.
1 P.M. POSITIONS
1. Hall/Sharp (57), 2. G. Hill/Rodriguez (54), 3. Jennings/Hissom (53), 4.
'McLaren/Miles (53), 5. Kolb/Fulp (53), 6. Bondurant/Schlesser (52),
7. Hugus/ O'Brien/Richards (52), 8. Johnson/Payne (52),
9.' Leslie/Grant Cobra (52), 10. Linge/Mitter Porsche (52).
Average Speed: 99.60 mph
2 P.M. POSITIONS
1. Hall/Sharp (75), 2; G. Hill/Rodriguez (72), 3. McLaren/Miles (72), 4. Kolb/Fulp (71),
5. Bondurant/Schlesser (69), 6. Johnson/Payne (69), 7. Leslie/Grant (69), 8. Piper/Maggs, (69),
9. Hugus/O'Brien/Richards (69), 10. Linge/Mitter (69).
Average speed: 98.38 mph
3 P.M. POSITIONS
1.- Hall/Sharp (94), 2. G. Hill/Rodriguez (90), 3. McLaren/Miles (88), 4. Kolb/Fulp
" (88), 5. Bondurant/Schlesser (87), 6. Johnson/Payne (86), 7. Grossman/Hudson
(86), 8. Jennings/Hissom (86), 9. Linge/Mitter (86), 10. Leslie/Grant (85).
Average Speed: 98.36 mph
4 P.M. POSITIONS
1. Hall/Sharp (112), 2. G. Hill/Rodriguez (107), 3. McLaren/Miles (107), 4. Kolb/ Fulp (104),
5. Piper/Maggs (104), 6. Jennings/Hissom (104), 7. Bondurant/ Schlesser (103),
8. Johnson/Payne (103), 9. Leslie/Grant (103), 10.' Grossman/ Hudson (103).
Average Speed: 97.70 mph
5 P.M. POSITIONS
1. Hall/Sharp (130), 2. G. Hill/Rodriguez (123), }. McLaren/Miles. (123), 4. Piper / Maggs (121),
5. Jennings/Hissom (121), 6. Bondurant/Scnlesser (121), 7. Maglioli/Baghetti Ferrari (121),
8. Leslie/Grant (120), 9. Grossmall/Hudson, (120),
10. Hugus/O'Brien/~ichards (118). .
. Average Speed: 96;74 mph
6 P.M. POSITIONS
1. Hall/Sharp (141), 2. McLaren/Miles (134), 3. G. Hili/Rodriguez (133), 4. Piper/ Maggs (133),
5. Bondurant/Schlesser (132), 6. Maglioli/Baghetti (131), 7. Jennings/Hissom (130),
8. Leslie/Grant (130), 9. .Linge/Mitter (130), 10. Johnson/ Payne (130).
Average Speed: 91.74 mph
' 7 P.M. POSITIONS
, 1. Hall/Sharp (152), 2. McLaren/Miles (147), 3. Piper/Maggs (144), 4. Bondurant/ Schlesser (143),
5. Pon/Buzzetta Porsche (141), 6. Hansgen/Donahue (141), 7. Klass/Underwood Porsche (141),
8. Linge/Mitter (140), 9. Hugus/O'Brien/Richards
(140), 10. Jennings/Hissom (139). .
Average Speed: 84.11 mph
8 P.M. POSITIONS
, 1. Hall/Sharp (166), 2. McLaren/Miles (160), 3. Piper/Maggs (158), 4. Bondurant/ Schlesser (156),
5. Hansgen/Donahue (156), 6. Pon/Buzzetta (155), 7. Klass/ Underwood (154), 8. Hugus/O'Brien/Richards (154),
9. Maglioli/Baghetti (153), 10. Linge/Mitter (153).
Average Speed: 87.13 mph
9 P.M. POSITIONS
1. Hall/Sharp (181), 2. McLaren/Miles (176), 3. Piper /.Maggs (174), 4. Schles~er /
Bondurant (171), 5. PonlBuzzetta (170), 6. Underwood/Klass (169), 7. Johnson/ Payne (169),
8. MagliolijBaghetti (169), 9. Hugus/O'Brien/Richards (168), 10.
Average Speed: 86.22 mph