Until last year there was one constant in international automobile racing: the vivid red Ferraris of Italy were bound to win the big endurance events. The biggest of all, the 24-hour race at Le Mans, became a Ferrari parade. Then Ford decided that Ferrari was hogging the glamour and dealt America in, not only winning Le Mans in 1966 but also the Florida tests at Daytona and Sebring. Enzo Ferrari, a man who views defeat with all the composure of Green Bay's Vincent Lombardi, got sore and got tough.
Last week at Daytona International Speedway, 20,000 fans gathered in excellent weather for the second 24-hour Continental, which officially opened the sports car season. Ford was heavily favored. The Mark IIs were back, largely unchanged from 1966—giant 7-liter machines that are the end product of three years of intensive effort by Ford. The new P4 Ferraris, though significantly better than the P3s of last season, were not expected to be ready in time to offer a real challenge. The Mark IIs were so good, in fact, that Ford officials were not especially worried that the development of their new J-Car, the successor to the Mark II, was behind schedule.
They are worried now. The Continental produced one of the most stunning upsets in motor-racing history as Ferraris swept in one, two, three, led by Chris Amon, a 23-year-old New Zealander and Lorenzo Bandini, 30, a Milan garage owner, and the Fords flopped.
The result was all the more impressive since Ferrari, for the first time in a decade, entered the sports car racing season as an underdog. The Fords had established American superiority in a field dominated practically since the invention of the wheel by European manufacturers.
Ford was well supplied with drivers. Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt were in one car, pairing America's best road racer with its top Indianapolis pilot. Mario Andretti, the 5'4" Italian-American from Nazareth, Pa. who had dethroned Foyt as the American champion in 1965, was in a second car with the equally diminutive Richie Ginther, a Grand Prix veteran. Bruce McLaren and Lucien Bianchi, Mark Donohue and Peter Revson, Ronnie Bucknum and Frank Gardner and, finally, Dennis Hulme and Lloyd Ruby—the last of the soft-spoken Texans who, with the late Ken Miles, had won both Daytona and Sebring in Mark IIs last year and should have won at Le Mans—completed the Ford teams. It was a formidable crew, and one that should have been reeking with confidence. It was not.
First of all, the Mark II weren't going appreciably faster than they had last year. True, Gurney was on the pole with a record lap of 1:55.1 (119.165 mph), but only because of an 11th-hour effort. He made his run with less than 45 minutes remaining in Thursday's practice-qualifying period—and on special soft-rubber tires that allow a car to go fast for a short time but would have to be changed for the race itself. At that, he barely beat out a Chaparral and two very quick Ferraris. John Cowley, the Ford director of racing, said wryly, "We don't quite have the edge we enjoyed last year."
The strong Chaparral performance in practice was more or less expected. After weeks of hiding in the Texas weeds near Midland, Jim Hall and Hap Sharp showed up at Daytona later than anyone else; too late, in fact, to get a garage assignment. John Holman, the jovial stock-car entrepreneur who, with Carroll Shelby, tunes up the Mark II stable for Ford, let the Chaparrals have one room in Ford's spacious building. "I can keep an eye on them there," Holman said, "and they've been real busy."
The Chaparrals were outfitted for the first time with big 396-cubic-inch engines to close the horsepower gap with the Fords. Although Hall qualified the 2D model second to Gurney (with the now-famous spoiler wing flapping 2½ feet above the rear deck); the driving was left to Phil Hill and Mike Spence, while Bob Johnson and Bruce Jennings drove the wingless 2F version. But Enzo Ferrari's chief concern was not the Chaparrals. It was Ford he wanted to beat. The gruff old wizard of Maranello was determined to recoup the losses of 1966. Italians who cared were murmuring something like, "Mantieni la fede, caro," which translates roughly as "Keep the faith, baby." And Ferrari drove his men as never before.
After a year of labor disputes, driver disputes and threats by Ferrari to pull out of racing and leave the field to the "Ford steamroller," it was now clear that Ferrari had no intention of giving up. He had preempted part of the section of his small factory used for production cars and had given it to the racing division. Learning that Amon, the quiet, slope-shouldered driver who had won Le Mans last year in a Mark II as Bruce McLaren's co-driver, was available, he offered Amon a ride. Amon jumped at the chance. "I could have stayed with Ford for nearly eight times—exactly eight times—what I'm making with Ferrari," Amon said. "But for a long time I've wanted to work for these people. Ferrari has been in this business for 50 years and he knows a few things."
Ferrari planned well for the Continental. Last December Amon and the rest spent eight days of testing on the peculiar Continental course—a combination of the high, 31° banks of the 2½ mile speedway and a flat, taut infield road course. Amon and Lorenzo Bandini were keeping the faith in a 4-liter V-12 P4 Spyder. Mike Parkes, the Englishman who has been a Ferrari engineer and chief tester for five years, and Ludovico Scarfiotti had a sister coupe. Both cars toured the 3.81-mile circuit at clockings near 1:54, four seconds and four mph faster than the track record. Ferrari was furious when the word leaked out, and if Ford had been a bit complacent until then, it was no longer. As Holman said, "If you underestimate anybody in this business, you're a fool."
In addition to the two factory cars from Maranello, there were two bossed by Luigi Chinetti, the American distributor for Ferrari. These were entered by his North American Racing Team. A P4 was driven by Pedro Rodriguez of Mexico, a two-time winner of the Continental (at shorter distances), and Jean Guichet of France; a 1966 P3 model was driven by Jo Schlesser of Paris and Peter Gregg of Jacksonville, Fla.
The fact that Ford outsped Ferrari in practice sessions did nothing to shake the faith of Chris Amon. "I definitely believe," he said, "that the Ferrari is a better car, not potentially, but right now. We've got 50 less horsepower [450 to 500], but they're about 900 pounds heavier [2,800 to 1,900], and we've got a better power-to-weight ratio."
Both sides were naturally reticent about strategy before the 3 p.m. Saturday start. Franco Lini, a former writer for L'Equipe, the French sports daily, who recently joined Ferrari as its racing team manager, stressed the human factor. Lini is a diminutive man who, unlike most Italians, does not talk with his hands. He uses his eyes, which smile or scowl as circumstances dictate. "At a meeting," he said, scowling, "we can sit down with the drivers and decide this and decide that, but when they get on a track and see somebody go past them, ah! They go crazy.
"I think, though, that if we can run 2:03s or 2:04s for 24 hours we can win by three laps." One of those "crazy" drivers, Amon, disputed even that. "We'll turn 1:56s and 1:57s," he smiled, "and still be there at the end."
Ford's strategy was a bit more complicated. With six cars at its disposal, Dearborn could afford to send out one or two "rabbits" to set a pace just higher than the competition might like and hope the Ferraris and Chaparrals would break down, leaving the circuit clear for the rest of the Ford fleet.
Hill started the race in the winged Chaparral and upset everybody's plans by taking an early lead over the second-place car, the Andretti-Ginther Mark II. But just after 6 p.m., when Hill began his second turn in the Chaparral, he hit loose sand and slid into a cement retaining wall. After an hour's work on the suspension, the car was withdrawn.
With the Ferraris running cleanly and with one Chaparral out and the other falling behind (it retired with a sick engine just before dawn Sunday), the Ford strategy altered. Rabbit Andretti pitted on lap 17, complaining of low pressure in a rear tire. The Ford crew changed it. Two laps later Andretti was in the pits again. Wrong tire. This time the crew changed both rear tires, but by then Andretti was in no position to lure anyone into trouble.
Ford's problems had begun a little earlier, when the Bucknum-Gardner car came in with third and fourth gears inoperable. It took 50 minutes to replace the transmission. At 6:30 p.m. Andretti came in again—without his third or fourth. Both Holman and Shelby suspected what was to come: an epidemic of gearbox woes.
Into the sixth hour the Ferraris were going by in a parade reminiscent of their heyday in the early 1960s, when they were all but unopposed. No. 23 (Amon-Bandini), No. 26 (Rodriguez-Guichet), No. 24 (Parkes-Scarfiotti) and No. 33 (Mairesse-Beurlys in a P3) occupied the first four positions. In fifth place was the Gurney-Foyt Ford, but it was nearly 20 miles off the pace.
With 10 hours gone the race was over for Ford. The agony that had struck the two Mark IIs spread through the entire six-car fleet. It was quickly diagnosed by the multitude of Ford engineers as a broken output shaft (the shaft on which the four forward gears are situated, like spinners on a stick). It is a piece of metal 1¼ inches in diameter and 14 inches long that costs less than $50. By one a.m. that paltry item in Ford's multimillion-dollar racing budget had kayoed all six Mark IIs.
Although they obviously could not win, the Ford people got their cars going again. Replacing the transmissions took from 90 minutes to 22 minutes (practice makes perfect), but it was obvious that nobody was going to catch the Ferraris unless they broke down as well. All the Mark IIs continued until other trouble forced five of them behind the pit wall and out of the race for good. At the end only the McLaren-Bianchi car was on the track.
At the other end of the pits from Ford, Lini's eyes were smiling as the red P4s toured easily around the course. At the start they were turning two minutes flat, with an occasional 1:59 or 1:58 thrown in just to show they could go that fast. But after midnight both the Amon-Bandini and Parkes-Scarfiotti cars were going 10 seconds a lap slower.
Lini said, "Everything is fine. All we do on our pit stops is add gas and water and give the drivers Coca-Cola to drink."
That wasn't quite true. Shortly after dusk the Amon-Bandini car had an abnormally long pit stop, because air had gotten into the brake line, necessitating a trackside bleeding, and around 3 a.m. the Parkes-Scarfiotti car was in the pits for six minutes, because the brake pads had worn too much and had nearly caused the disc brakes to lock. But, by and large, that was all.
In the garage behind the Ferrari pits, which served as the Ferrari "ready room," Pedro Rodriguez' father and Scarfiotti's vivacious wife, Ida, chatted. Refusing sleep while her husband was on the track, she brewed espresso coffee for Ludovico. "With Italian coffee," she explained, "you no sleep."
Even without espresso, Anion refused sleep during the entire 24 hours. He munched sandwiches in the Ferrari pits, chain-smoked and drank American coffee when Bandini was out in the car.
Bandini and the others weren't quite so hardy. They preferred a few winks between tours behind a door on which a Sign, QUIET PLEASE, FERRARI TEAM SLEEPING, was hung. The daylight hours went more smoothly for Ferrari than the night hours. The Rodriguez-Guichet car experienced a series of minor difficulties, which put it out of first-place contention, but it was never seriously challenged for third.
With less than 10 minutes left the Ferraris converged three abreast, Nos. 23, 24 and 26 in formation, reminiscent of the Ford finish at Le Mans last June, with tough little Porsches coming along fourth and fifth. As the Ferrari crewmen and Lini embraced in the pits, the three took the checkered flag. Anion and Bandini completed 666 laps (2,537.46 miles) at an average speed of 105.703 mph, three laps ahead of No. 24 and 29 laps ahead of No. 26. Amon was at the wheel at the end for his second straight triumph in a 24-hour race.
Immediately Lini went to a telephone and called Maranello. After a few minutes he came away from the phone. "Mr. Ferrari," he said, "is very pleased."
Ferrari, no man to reveal his hand prematurely, did not disclose whether he would send the first team back to resume the Ford-Ferrari duel at Sebring on April 1. The decision from Maranello would not come for several weeks. But Ford certainly would be there. Said Holman sternly, "We don't go to races expecting to lose."