12 Hs of Sebring - 1970 - Highlights
I loved the 512. It was a typical Ferrari sports racer--pretty, fast, and
powerful. Daytona qualifying proved quite a duel between Hans Herrmann, in
a Porsche 917 on Goodyears, and myself, in the Ferrari on Firestones. It
was a good battle between two big sports-car makers and the two big tire
companies, meaningful stuff at that time. I put the car on pole--but only
because it was raining.
Herrmann was quick, especially in the wet. During qualifying, he'd do some
laps and set a fast pace. Then I'd go out, and I was faster. Then he'd come out again and go faster yet. It was just pouring rain,
and I was really testing the banking. At Daytona, even if you slow down in
the wet, you're still in the 180-mph range. I just kept moving up the
banking, higher and higher. Then, finally, I went out and just held it
there--flat out--maybe two feet away from the wall. In those days, there
was no chicane; we just went flat down the long straightaway. By then, I
was four seconds a lap quicker than he was. He never came out again, and I
wound up on pole.
Speedwise, in the race, we were outclassed. We had no chance of winning.
Besides being slower than the Porsches, our car had suspension problems.
So, the Daytona 24-Hour was not an auspicious beginning to our season, and
from it, Ferrari knew that the Porsche 917 was going to be a formidable
adversary that year, to say the least. On to Sebring.
For the 12-Hour, the team decided to run a lighter version of the 512S, an
open-roofed car or "spyder." Aerodynamics weren't as important at Sebring,
as the straights aren't as long as at Daytona or Le Mans. Ferrari entered
two spyders and a coupe. The spyder benefited from being lighter, and I
could feel the difference. But it wasn't as easy to drive because the
chassis flexed. Quite a bit. In some areas, like Turn 1, which is really
fast, the car just wasn't good. It didn't handle as well as the coupe, but
due to the better acceleration, it was faster--just more nervous.
Testing went well. We were quick from the beginning, and we were ready. I
was again teamed with Arturo Merzario and put the car on pole. The green
flag dropped, and we just kinda took off.
In this race, the 917s weren't a factor like they were at Daytona; our
Ferraris were running 1-2-3 at the halfway point. Then, the Ferrari spyder
driven by Jacky Ickx and Peter Schetty went out with failed differential
bearings. The Porsches were having mechanical problems, too. But we were
cruising along, maintaining a huge lead. Things were uneventful up until
less than two hours before the end. Then it happened: Merzario was driving,
and before we knew it, our car packed up with the same problem as the other
spyder. We were out.
I was getting ready to say my goodbyes. I had my plane there, and I was
running a sprint-car race in Reading, Pennsylvania, the next day. So I
figured I might as well head out early, maybe get some extra sleep. Ferrari
team manager Mauro Forghieri said, "Wait, don't go. Don't go. I might want
you to get into the other car"--the slower coupe, driven by Nino Vaccarella
and Ignazio Guinti, which was now the only Ferrari team car still running.
When our two spyders dropped out, the Rodriquez/Siffert/Kinnunen 917 (#15,
above left) took over the lead, the Peter Revson/Steve McQueen Porsche 908
moved into second, and the remaining Ferrari moved up to third.
To be honest, I wasn't all that keen about the swap for several reasons,
but mostly because the seat wouldn't fit--I was a lot shorter than those
guys! With the number 21 Ferrari running third, and so few laps remaining,
I didn't see much of a chance of winning against the 917.
All of a sudden, that car pitted with wheel-bearing problems, and we knew
that was going to be a long stop. The 908, with Revson aboard, took over
the lead, and the Ferrari moved up to second. There were about 90 minutes
left. Poor Peter Revson. He was just spent--I think he drove like eight of
the 12 hours--but was finally running first. The PA announcer screamed,
"Steve McQueen is in the lead!" over and over. Well, Steve McQueen was
sitting on the pit wall. They never, ever mentioned Revson. That caught my
attention. And pissed me off.