1957 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix – Race Profile Page Four
Race day, March 23, 1957, dawned clear and sunny which seemed like heaven for all the sports car aficionados who had come down from the frozen northeast.
Early risers, who camped out at the track, began the familiar trek to the restrooms to try and beat the crowds and be the first to use the facilities before they got too nasty. Some experienced hands were seen even carrying their own toilet paper supplies.
There were already lines of cars at the front gates of the raceway as fans hoped to get in to the track, parked and in viewing position prior to the 10 a.m. start.
By 8 a.m. activity began to build in the paddock and on the grid as pit stewards arrived and mechanics began to do some last minute checking of engines and suspensions.
At 8:30 a.m. a driver was seen going up and down the pit lane muttering expletives and looking into each pit stall. His helmet had been misplaced and he was desperate to find it. He eventually did.
By 9 a.m. the public address system in the pit area was cranking out one announcement after another. Pit stewards are ordered repeatedly to begin moving spectators and “unauthorized personnel” from the pit area.
The throaty and distinctive roar of Ferrari and Maserati engines could be heard as mechanics began warming up engines. Fangio could be seen talking to Behra, who would take the first turn at the wheel of their 450 S Maserati. Mechanics began to move the cars to the “stalls” on the starting grid in preparation for the Le Mans-style start.
Gene Bussian, a 21-year-old, had traveled from Illinois to be the Chief Porsche Pit Steward at the Sebring race. He had been recruited for the job by Chief Steward Tex Asche because he knew a bit of the German language.
He remembers the atmosphere in the pits and on the grid that day. The drivers were in an upbeat mood and devoid of the tension found in today’s races. Back then racing was still a gentleman’s sport and drivers often treated each other as good friends instead of competitors. Sometimes this convivial attitude would get out of hand. During the opening ceremonies of the 1956 Sebring race a group of drivers surrounded the female majorettes of the Sebring High School Band stopping the entire band in the midst of their marching and playing. Everyone had a good laugh and the band eventually was allowed to continue.
A small crowd of photographers was snapping away at the Renault Dauphine pits. It seemed that the women drivers, who were scheduled to drive one of the three 845 cc (smallest engines in the race) Renault Dauphines this year, were posing for the press. Only one or two photographers could be seen at the Corvette and Maserati pits. I guess that John Fitch and Juan Fangio were not as pretty as the French women.
Near the Renault pits were the four factory Lotus-Elevens brought over from England by Colin Chapman. Chapman had an innovative way of financing the Factory Lotus team effort at Sebring this year. All four entries were pre-sold to American customers. If you had purchased one of the cars you got to drive it at Sebring in 1957. However, you couldn’t take possession of the car until after the race. During the race the car was a “Factory Lotus.” After the race the car was yours or what was left of the car was yours.
With minutes remaining Alec Ulmann conducted a driver’s meeting by opening with the statement, “You are all experienced drivers so you don’t need any briefing….” He then went on at length to brief them about passing, looking out for slower cars and so on. In what some will laugh about later he announces that Ferrari had “erroneously” entered engine displacements for their #11 and #12 Ferrari 315 S cars. With pressure from FIA the Ferrari folks had come clean. The actual engine displacement on the two cars was 3800 cc’s and not 3442 cc’s. This announcement received a chorus of boos and whistles from the assembled drivers much to the embarrassment of Ferrari drivers Collins, Trintignant, de Portago and Musso.
1957 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix – The Start
Thirty seconds before the 10 a.m. race start Chief Starter Joe Lane began the countdown. At zero the flag dropped and the drivers sprinted the short distance to their cars.
Peter Collins in the #11 Ferrari was first away with Moss not far behind but the 3-liter engine on Moss’s #20 Maserati 300 S sputtered for a brief moment and Collins gained a commanding lead. The rest of the field followed with the tiny Renault Dauphines bringing up the rear. By the end of the first lap Collins was ten seconds ahead of Moss with Behra in the Maserati 450S not far behind.
Within the first hour the new and relatively untested Corvette SS began to experience brake trouble and pitted to have them checked and for new tires. A Cunningham Jag driven by Bill Lloyd was out with engine problems as Collins continued to lead with Behra now in second place just seconds behind Collins. Stirling Moss was third in his 3.0 Maserati, Portago fourth in his Ferrari 315 S, fifth was Masten Gregory in his Ferrari 290 S and sixth was Phil Hill’s Ferrari 290 MM.
Behra broke the old course record with a time of 3:24.5 in pursuit of Collins and finally takes the lead on the 19th lap. John Fitch had already made two pit stops in the Corvette SS and was now stranded on the race course with a burned-out coil. He made the repair himself in 30 minutes and returned to the race 20 laps behind the leader.
During the second hour of the race the heat began to take its toll on car and driver alike. The Maserati 150 S of Jo Bonnier and Giorgio Scarlatti blew an engine and retires. Jean Behra was still in the lead by one minute over Collins with Portago, Moss, and Gregory rounding out the top five.
Phil Hill brought in the #14 Ferrari 290 MM ahead of schedule with electrical problems. It could have been a faulty generator or voltage regulator and it caused the battery to weaken and die. He later told Bill Grauer, recording the race for Riverside Records, that the Ferrari brakes needed a lot of muscle to engage. He trained for this by doing deep knee bends with 100 pounds on his back. He said the other Ferrari drivers were always complaining about the brakes but he was not having any problems. Hill felt that Ferrari may have been the last race constructor to go to any kind of brake booster.
During the third hour tragedy struck as Chicago Driver Bob Goldich, who drove the #39 Arnolt Bristol for Team Arnolt, went into the Esses too fast and flipped his car several times. He died instantly of a skull fracture and broken neck. Later, team owner Stanley H. “Wacky” Arnolt withdrew the rest of the team in honor of Goldich. This marked the first death of a driver in the history of Sebring race. There was talk in the pits that Goldich may have hit one of those “dangerous” 55-gallon oil drums and this caused him to wreck.
At 1:15 p.m. Behra entered the pits and finally turned the car over to Fangio. During his three hours in the car he broke the course record several times and at this point had a fairly large lead. Moss was second, Collins was third, Portago fourth and Carroll Shelby’s 2.5 liter Maserati was fifth.