America's Dan Gurney got the 1962 international road-racing season off to a rousing start last Sunday at Daytona Beach when he outshone the most remarkable galaxy of driving stars ever assembled for a single race. The race was the brand-new Daytona Continental, and entered in it were the top drivers from the world's four major racing divisions (see box, page 59), all together on the same track for the first time.
Here were the most eminent Grand Prix and sports-racing men: the world champion driver, America's Phil Hill; Britain's redoubtable Stirling Moss; Mexico's baby-faced Ricardo Rodriguez; the handsome Gurney himself. Here, too, were the Sports Car Club of America's road-racing heroes, Walt Hansgen, Jim Hall, Roger Penske, Peter Ryan, George Constantine, to name but a few. And here were tough and tenacious American track racers: Rodger Ward and A. J. Foyt, both Indianapolis "500" winners; and stock car aces Fireball Glenn Roberts, Joe Weatherly and Marvin Panch.
The race was the first in the world counting toward a brand-new set of world championships. There are now three world titles available to manufacturers of Grand Touring cars. These supplant the one world championship accorded in the past to the builder of the pre-eminent all-out sports racing car. Thus Daytona kicked off a "GT" world series which will move next to Sebring, Fla., in March and on to the rest of the world's great sports car courses—among them Le Mans in France and the N√ºrburgring ring in Germany.
There were 27 Gran Turismo machines and 23 sports racing cars in the Continental (the latter eligible for a chunk of the $21,800 Daytona purse but not, of course, for GT title points)—Ferraris, Maseratis and Alfa Romeos from Italy; Porsches from Germany; Lotuses, Coopers and Jaguars from Britain; Corvettes, Chaparrals and the Pontiac Tempest from the U.S.—50 lovely, fierce and ear-splitting machines.
If the driving field for Daytona's three-hour race was a surprising marriage of disparate road-and-track racing types, so was the course itself an extraordinary amalgam of blazing-fast track and twisty road. Conceived as an arena for stock cars, it consists primarily of a 2½-mile speed track, shaped like a flattened triangle, and a tortuous stretch of road in the spacious infield, so that one complete lap adds up to 3.81 miles.
The circuit was peculiar but, as Bill France, president of the Speedway, and the 14,000 spectators thankfully observed, one can see all the racers all the time. Under a clear, blue, windy sabbath sky, the race began with a Le Mans start, that crazy, mixed-up but enthralling way of getting a field rolling which has the drivers sprinting to their angle-parked cars, starting them and then lurching into motion in a big and boiling traffic jam.
Pennsylvania's Roger Penske, the fastest sales engineer Alcoa ever had, led at first with a tiny red Cooper Monaco, but he was bracketed and overtaken on the Speedway's east turn by the Ferraris of Phil Hill and Ricardo Rodriguez. Hill, displaying all his old finesse after his long layoff of five months, drove a 2.4-liter rear-engined car of a type that had set records at Sebring and Le Mans. Also passing Penske and snarling up on Hill and Rodriguez came the squat Lotus 19 of Mr. Gurney, who had demonstrated a major road-racing talent in 1961 by tying for third place with Stirling Moss in the Grand Prix world championship series won by Hill. Like Hill's, Gurney's car was a smallish rear-engined one but with Coventry Climax 2½-liter power.
These were the cars—all foreign-built, though two were American-driven—that held attention in the early stages. But then an all-American interloper asserted himself. He was slim, oil-rich Jim Hall of Texas. His big, home-bred Chaparral (powered by a 5.2-liter Corvette engine) closed into fourth place and held there. Behind, far outpaced but running no less an exciting race of their own, came the GT cars, new bearers of championship points, led by Stirling Moss.
Brilliant as ever, Moss kept his elegant white-striped gray Ferrari GT coupe, a rather special beast with a lightweight aluminum body and a three-l√¨ter V-12 engine equipped with six carburetors, up among the front-runners all afternoon.
Ferraris scrapped with Corvettes, Tempests and British Jaguar XKEs for title points in the big-engine category (above two liters) of the new GT championships. Porsches were in combat with Lotus Elites and Alfa Romeos in the middling division. If Daytona people were largely in doubt about the GT duels during the race—except in the case of Moss's flying Ferrari, clearly ahead for the big-engine prize—they were given clear proof that the American crack racing men were doing splendidly in this alien affair. Fireball Roberts in a GT Ferrari, Joe Weatherly from Virginia in a hybrid British-American Lister-Corvette, Rodger Ward in a Tempest—all were shifting gears and braking for corners like old road-racing pros before the day was out. This was no easy transition. ("All a track driver does," said Ward, "is hang onto the wheel, get his foot onto the accelerator and steer.")
But mostly the spectators had eyes for Gurney, Hill and Co. out there in the lead. On the 19th lap Gurney slipped ahead of Hill, who proceeded to haunt him until both made refueling stops halfway through the three hours. Then what had been a pulse-stirring duel abruptly became a runaway for Gurney. Rodriguez, having turned his Ferrari over to Peter Ryan, jumped into Hill's car as relief driver, but transmission trouble kept him from ever catching up.
With a lead of more than a lap over the Hill-Rodriguez car and but few moments to go before the three hours were up, Gurney had trouble himself. Riding high on the east bank, he heard (as he described it later) "a frightening brup-brup-brup." Suspecting a major engine breakdown, he glided the short distance remaining toward the finish line. Agonizing seconds passed as he waited for the checkered flag to fall. When it did, he coaxed his sick Lotus across the line by using his starter button. He won at an average speed of 104.101 mph.
Third behind Hill-Rodriguez came Hall's hustling Chaparral; then Moss, the day's GT champ. In the smaller GT division contested at Daytona, the winner was Florida's Charles Kolb in an Alfa Romeo. And who was second to Moss in the larger Ferrari GT racers? None other than Daytona's own stock car leadfoot, Fireball Roberts.
THE NEW LINEUP
Last Sunday's race at Daytona, which for the first time saw cars and drivers of international auto racing's four major divisions competing in one race, initiated a year of fundamental and far-reaching change. The new year was made possible by alterations in racing rules adopted last year by the world governing body of the sport, Federation Internationale de l'Automobile. Most notable was the decision to transfer world championship points for auto manufacturers from sports racers to the Grand Touring category—a type of car which is basically a readable, passenger-carrying machine. This interests the major auto manufacturers and makes it possible for such familiar makes as Pontiac Tempests, Chevrolet Corvettes and Corvairs, etc. to compete.
Other categories of automobiles which will make headlines during the coming year are:
Grand Prix (also known as Formula I): single-seaters which race on road courses (distinct from track circuits like Indianapolis). Grand Prix racing is the only category in which drivers accumulate points for the World Drivers Championship.
Sports racers (also known as "prototypes"): two-seater road racers which must have certain qualities of a roadable car, e.g., self-starters, headlights, fenders.
Though the new FIA rule deprives these of championship status, their great popularity ensures their continued appearance in such classics as Sebring and Le Mans. Grand touring cars (popularly known as GTs): raceable but roadable coupes, sedans or convertibles, which under the new FIA rules can accumulate points toward the world manufacturers' championship. They are divided into three groups, each with separate championship standing. Group III cars include the larger Ferraris, Jaguars and, recently, Chevrolet Corvettes. Stock cars: highly modified derivations of familiar, mass-produced sedans. In America they are organized in two major groups:—the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and the United States Auto Club (USAC)—and have separate national championship titles.
Within these major classifications are other, subsidiary categories, e.g., Formula Junior (smaller Grand Prix type cars), Formula Intercontinental (larger ones) and American single-seat track racers of the Indianapolis variety. Until 1961 Indianapolis counted toward the World Drivers Championship. Last year it did not, but Indy's prize money and prestige are such that this year it will attract not only America's top drivers but foreign drivers and manufacturers as well.