Sebring 12 hour 1969


RELlABILlTY scored again after a tremendously gripping Florida 12 Hours at Sebring last Saturday. The new generation of 3-litre Group 6 prototypes staged a great show, the 908 Spyder Porsches setting ,the early pace and the scream of the lone Tipo 312 Ferrari dominating the night hours, but all suffered from their newness and at the cruel hands of luck. Jo Siffert's 908 earned a new lap record and Porsches led for 112 of the 239 laps, but the rough Sebring surface found a fatal flaw in their light-metal space frames.

Body panelling thrown from another car closed up the radiator intake of the Ferrari, causing damage from overheating which destroyed its chances of victory. Overheating retired two of the T33/3 Alfa Romeos, while the third lost a wheel on the first lap. The Penske Lola pulled its rear radius rods out of the chassis after leading for 17 laps, and the similar car of Norinder did the same, and thus at the weary end the sole survivor of the pair of Gulf-JW Fords managed to catch up the crippled Ferrari to win by less than a lap. The race leadership darted about 13 times among five cars, and the tension remained high to the finish.


DESCENDING on centml Florida with , grim determination, five teams had an equal chance of victory in this year's Sebring 12 Hours, round 2 of the PIA Group 4 and 6 Championship. No one would speculate on the chances of the two Group 4 sports cars versus the three G6 prototypes; all wanted the win and all believed they had'the right machine.

Roger Penske Lola: the Daytona-winning T70 Mk 3B, which should really have quotes around its name because there is a good deal more Tl60 about it than T70, had lost its fuel injection and with it some 40 bhp, Weber carburetters being less efficient but more dependable at this stage of the latest Traco/ Donohue fuel injection system. The front suspension had received some detail strengthening, the rear anti-roll bar a new location underneath, and the whole car that matchless preparation which is still the awe and envy of all who see it. Just one example of the team's thoroughness: all four hub spindles are tapered outboard of the centrelock threads and both spindle and nut brightly marked so that, firstly, the nut can be lined up just so with the start of the thread, and secondly the nut is almost impossible to cross-thread. The result is "Woods Brothers" tyre-changing times. The colour scheme is the familiar Penske blue with meticulous yellow striping. Weight: 1926 lbs. Power: 425 bhp.

John Wyer Ford GT40: the car shunted at Daytona was relegated to second priority in the JW hierarchy, and the other given a very special Gurney engine with "light pistons and light rods," according to David Hobbs. This is another team renowned for preparation, and everything is wired or taped and thought out thoroughly. The new G6 Mirage is due for its first race at the BOAC 500 (Sebring was considered a little too rough-and-tumble for a delicate new design) so the GT40s had another race. 2257 lbs, 465 bhp.

Porsche 908 Spyder: balsa wood strips stiffen areas of the bodywork on these single minded devices, and two of the six cars brought to Sebring had thermocouples permanently mounted to brakes and hubs with individual temperature gauges in the cockpit. After none of the drivers could tell when the suspension-connected, roll-compensating twin flippers at the rear of the body were

disconnected or operative, the whole idea was abandoned and the things discarded. It is generally believed that the space frames are of aluminium-Rico Steineman says: "We had to state on the homologation papers what material the frame of our new G4 917 is made of-it is aluminium-but we are not required to say for the G6." However, there is another story that the tubes are of titanium and filled with nitrogen under pressure, with a gauge in the cockpit as a crack detector, the motive being that cracks in titanium grow very rapidly once started. This is precisely the sort of story one can believe of Porsche. 1386 Ibs. 380 bhp.

Ferrari 312P: a Formula 1 car with bodywork. Ferraris are necessary in any race, and this one draws "ah's" from everyone. Very much like the CanAm 6l2P in size and layout, with aluminium p'lnels stressing the centre section of the steel tube frame, this has a slightly softened version of the latest outside-exhaust FI VI2 debuted at KyalamL Despite the new glassfibre bodyshell, the car is probably a bit heavy; one of the drivers let slip that it weighed 400 Ibs more than his single-seater. Sefac's serious attitude toward the Sebring race is indicated by the fact that, while it would have been possible to bring more than one car. the time would be better spent making a single 100-per-center rather than two 90-per-centers. As it arrived. the lone car was shatteringly hst and nC"ded almost no adiustments. 1500 Ibs, 47.0 bhp.

Alfa Romeo T33/3: still Chiti-designed, this model is virtually all new. A monocoque chassis uses the transmission casing as a stressed member, suspension is "modern conventional." and there are 32 valves and six speeds. Alfa have reportedly told AutodeIta to get results or else, and the team arrived with three cars, two lorry loads of spares, and over three dozen mechanics, managers, engineers. and TV people. Unfortunately two of the cars were totally untested and there was a shortage of engines. 1430 Ibs, 410 bhp.

Of the less elaborately backed entries, the Ulf Norinder Lola, sister to Penske's, was obviously a capable machine, and the twin James Garner "True T7Os" were soundly assembled. NART were entered with a second 312 Ferrari but, when the factory sent only one, the best Luigi Chinetti could find in his own stocks was a very ancient P3 with the engine sleeved down to 3 litres. The Dieter Oest GT40 was rather a street version, while British Leyland continued BMC's long-time support of Sebring with, among other MGs, a brace of alloy-bodied, alloy-headed, Weber carburetted MGCs running as 3-litre prototypes.


A FORTNIGHT prior to the 12 Hours there was a test weekend, during which Mark Donohue took the Penske Lola around the unchanged circuit in 2 m 41.8 s, a few tenths faster than Siffert's best Porsche lap and a full 7.6 sees better than last year's 2.2-litre pole position time. Alfa managed barely an hour of testing in this weekend and neither Ferrari nor JW Automotive participated, but Porsche staged a 27-hour endurance test, with satisfactory results.

Scrutineering brought many teams a small bombshell when the marshals pointed out the new 1969 FIA requirement for a "circuit breaker" mounted somewhere on every car where rescue workers can reach it. The purpose is plain and on the surface sensible, being simply a switch to isolate the battery of a crashed and fuel-soaked car. As inspection on this point developed, however, it began to be apparent that the rule could have been more explicitly and perhaps even more sensibly framed. Surely it does a trapped driver little good to have rescuers waste time searching all over a car for a switch, of any size or shape, which may be in any location, perhaps under the car, and possibly even rendered inoperable by the crash.

At any rate, added to the usual fun and games of trying to pass a low prototype over the 10 ems box, turn within a 6.75 metre radius and so on, something like 85 per cent of all cars had to go away, dream up and install some sort of body-mounted battery swich Ray Heppenstall, engineer of last year's Howmet Turbines, came up with one of the neatest solutions for his little VW based special: aircraft type circuit-breakers, literally, which are very small and pop out automatically whenever there is a short in the system. The inspectors decided that they fitted not only the letter but also the spirit of Appendix J, Art. 253 n.


TIMED practice was held on Thursday and Friday, with a 2-hour night session, untimed, on the earlier day. No one would admit to trying to do the fastest time, and few went at practice ferociously, but when Donohue slipped in a 2 m 40.9 s on Friday morning the Ferrari boys suddenly forgot their major trouble, baulky shift linkage. Late on Friday afternoon Mario Andretti cranked out 2 m 40.28 s in the 312P to snatch the pole for the Prototypes, 116.386 mph and an all-time circuit record. Mario said that the car had the most fantastic brakes he had ever experienced on any car, bar none.

AIfas were doing a lot of testing to make up for lost time, even going out very early in the morning and after dark at night to rip up and down a vacant runway, but their morale suffered a setback when Firestone, to whom John Surtees is contracted in sports car spheres even though he now uses Dunlop in FI, said that either AIfas would have to switch over their loyalties or Surtees could not run. AIfa felt their contracts with Dunlop were fixed, and so Mario Casoni moved up from the reserve list.


SATURDAY'S weather was ideally Floridian. Sebring is an institution and the crowd is always dense and exuberant. Visiting Britons are often amazed at the quantity of armed police deemed necessary; it would not be an untruth to say that, up until racetime, the action is definitely not on the racetrack. Even the driver of an entered 911 Porsche partook of the Law's hospitality on Friday night!

Two minutes before the start at 11 am the man operating the public address system thought it would be a good idea to make sure all watches were synchronised, and he did this via a countdown broadcast over the grid lined with 70 drivers tensed for a Le Mans start. It was a classic panic, for some drivers were actually in their cars and starting engines before the frantic marshals could stop them.

At the real start, Siffert, from fourth position, repeated his last year's performance and was first away. Donohue was nearly as quick, Amon's Ferrari lagged a moment building up fuel pressure, Norinder was a little late, and lekx's GT40 was very late. Rosen's Carrera 6 was last of all, for the driver's door blew back and shattered, and the car stalled in the track for long moments while it was refastened. It got away. just as the leaders completed the first 5.2 miles, zapping behind the pits and around the U-bend and boiling up the pits straight in the order SifIert, Mitter, Elford, Herrmann (all 908s), then Donohue's big blue Lola fifth, the last Porsche, the flat red Ferrari-and alongside was Galli's Alfa losing its left rear wheel!

Both the car and the loose wheel held a straight course, missing everyone, and went straight off the outside of the first turn, where the Alfa slowed-only to be rammed in the stem by its own wheel. Siffert was obviously playing rabbit aA cleared away on his own, while Amon rising to the challenge, closing in on Stommelen and Donohue and coming round ahead of them on the eighth lap. Ickx too was storming up the charts from his bad start.

Siffert held the lead for 30 laps, a period which saw him set the day's new race lap record at 2 m 43.19 s on lap 6. Galli's car was retrieved and repaired, but within an hour and a half all three Alfas were retired with severe overheating. Scooter Patrick's Lola blew up after 15 laps, and both the Zink and Beach were out. When the leading Porsche stopped for fuel at 12.20 pm Dono­hue took the Lola by to lead the next II laps until he too came in, giving it back to Siffert/ Redman for a further 17, and so it went. Mter three hours of endurance racing the Penske ear was again in the first spot, having completed 64 laps, and holding precarious station ahead of the Ferrari, Herrmann/Stommelen and Mitter/Schutz, all on the same lap.

The fastest Porsche had stopped at 1.47 for 10 mins while the suspension was examined, going out again four laps down in ninth place. The Norinder/Bonnier Lola's handling had been getting progressively worse and the gearchange harder. When an exhaust pipe cracked the car had to be called in and carefully examined, whereupon it was discovered that a radius rod was pulling loose from the monocoque.

Positions al 3 Hours 

1, Donohue/Bucknum; 2, Amon/Andrew; 3, Herrmann/Ahrens; 4, Mitter/Schulz; 5, Buzzetta/Slommelen; 6, Ickx/Oliver; 7, Hobbs/Hailwood; 8, Leslie/Mots'chenbacher; 9, Siffert/Redma,n; 10, Soer-Roig/,Lins; 11, DeLorenzo/ Thompson/McCorkey; 12, Lang/Hufsla-eder; 13, Rodriguez/Kolb; 14, Smothers/Baker; 15, Jowell/ Tullius.

The Ferrari now took over the lead for the first time, holding it for a further 21 laps until lap 86, when Mitter / Schutz went by Amon as he spun in the esses avoiding a rubber cone thrown over by a slower car. The Porsche held a steady 10 secs on the Ferrari, but being behind them the big trouble was striking. At 3.31 pm Herrmann/ Ahrens were forced to push No 28 behind the pits with a wide crack in the frame under the transmission. Three minutes later the beautiful blue Penske Lola of Donohue/ Bucknum was a shock retirement-with exactly the same trouble as her Swedish sister. The drivers seemed to feel that the extreme braking loads on the circuit were more responsible than any other factor.

The Hobbs/Hailwood GT40 began making a series of stops, first to try to refasten the top ball-joint in the left steering upright, then to try to cure driver overheating by removing a window, losing altogether over 40 mins. The field had remained remarkably whole until now, but the tortuous airport course began taking its toll. A Corvette threw a wheel at the hairpin, and a Mustang rammed the sandbank at the same spot, the driver cutting his nose for the day's most serious injury, D'lblin colleen Rosemary Smith was lugging a big churn of petrol out to her immobile BMW, and the Duval/Nicholas 911 was waiting for someone to carry it a new battery-the driver must do this, unassisted, on foot. At one point spectators apparently set fire to themselves. raising a worrisome column of black smoke above the hairpin, but all was well.

At half-distance there were still 55 cars left;

6 Hours

1, Mhtter/Schutz; 2, Amon/Andretll; 3, Siffertj Redman: 4, Buzzella/Stommelen; 5, Ickx/Oliver; 6, Soler-Roig/Lins; 7, Leslie/Moischenbacher; 8, Elford/Attwood; 9, Smothers /Baker; 10, Rodriouez/ Kolb; 11, Jowell/Tullius; 12, Yenko/ Guldstrand, 13, Capriles/Atencio; 14, Grant/Oest; 15, DeLorenzo/Thompson/McCon key,

Just now Maranello's fatal train of events began. The Chevron's rear body came adrift and blew into fragments down the fast back straight, and Amon collected a piece of it and the blow partially closed the 312's radiator intake. Immediately the engine began overheating, and after a two-minute stop to repair the ductwork the temperature was still too high. Apparently enough water had escaped as steam to form vapour locks in the cooling lines, and the mechanics were never able, despite a multitude of frantic stops, to clear them.

During this period before 6 pm the Siffert/Redman 908 suffered the second Porsche frame failure and was retired, and the Hobbsf Hailwood Ford lost a wheel when the previously offending ball-joint pulled completely out of the upright. Elford/Attwood were brought in to look for frame cracks, losing 4 mins, and the Oest/Grant GT40 lost over an hour by running out of fuel and then needing a rubber halfshaft joint replaced.

At 6.19 pm Ickx came rushing in with the nose of the faster JW car battered; . the throttles had stuck open and propelled the car straight off into some rubber cones. The Ferrari, sounding rare as ever, was meanwhile nonetheless down on power and belching clouds of white smoke on the overrun.

By 7.29 night had fallen, discs were glowing red,exhausts were flaming, and the Porsehe of Mitter and Schutz enjoyed more than a lap's lead, but at that moment they came in for a radius rod to be unbent. Simultaneously the Ferrari was blackflagged for having no number illumination; that took 8 mins to cure. Ickx/Oliver in turn spent 5 mins fitting the nose of their abandoned team-mates' car in order to have lights that aimed properly. At 7.49 the Motschenbacherf Leslie Lola T70 had a flash fire in the pits, consuming 6 mins.

Five minutes later the Mitter/Schutz car left the pits, but immediately the identical Porsche of Stommelen/Buzzetta was in with a broken rear frame. The Porsche mechanics decided to try to fix this one and set about splinting it, which took 35 mins. During this time Attwood felt his car going loose and skittish and came in, where it was found that an oil tank was pouring its lifeblood out, and had to be replaced.

Thus when the Ferrari, leading now, came in once again for a water cure and stayed for 10 mins, the Ickx/Oliver Ford went into the lead on its 205th lap, and nothing the Ferrari could do could shake it. Toward the end the red screamer was losing 3 secs a lap to the blue and orange one, and it was all over. All over for everyone but the remaining smooth run the left front wheel bearings seized up and had to be replaced, losing the car a certain third place Ickx had one last panic, as a tyre was going flat. Uncertain whether it was simple that or a suspension failure, he had to make the hard decision to stop and look, but replacing the wheel quickly kept him comfortably ahead and the car, sound as the proverbial dollars it was earning, blared on to the tumultuous finish.