1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – Page Six
The lightweight Chaparrals were running on very wide tires and found the conditions next to impossible. The new Firestone rain tires were of little use in the standing water. With 7 laps on the field, and track conditions less than ideal, the leading #3 Chaparral decided to pit at 5:50 p.m. and wait out the storm. This lasted for approximately 15 minutes according to the official time charts.
The other Chaparral had a hairy spin on the track during the storm and decided to pit until conditions improved. Later in the race they had a problem with a faulty voltage regulator and it took a 40-minute pit stop to correct it.
With three hours left in the race the rains began to diminish and then stop. The standing water on the course was quickly absorbed by the soft porous sands of south Florida and high-speed racing resumed with the Hall/Sharp Chaparral still in the lead and the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40 in second.
As far as some spectators were concerned the race was already over. Not because the Chaparral was in the lead but because many race fans were soaked to the skin and tired of wet clothes, the heat, and the mud. They just wanted to get to their hotel or home, take a shower and change into some dry clothes. At 7 p.m. the tail lights of many spectator cars could be seen exiting the track.
In those days some race fans going to Sebring for just race day dressed for the event. Men in sports jackets and ties and women in dresses and heels were not uncommon. But, for most of the in-crowd the dress code was casual dressy. Men in sports shirts and dress slacks while women wore stretch pants and silk blouses. A reporter from Women’s Wear Daily was present to report on the latest trends in racing fashion. People, especially the Palm Beach crowd, wanted to look good for an international event where the foreign press might be present. Race promoter, Alec Ulmann, and team owner, John Mecom, Jr., were classic examples of what a proper gentleman should wear on race day.
If you were not close to your car or shelter when the storm hit you got thoroughly soaked. Those who found shelter near concession stands or in some of the paddock tents discovered water rising around their feet, then up to their ankles, then above their ankles. Shoes, pants and dresses were ruined.
Very few of those folks came prepared for the deluge. Umbrellas were of no use in the high winds and if you wore a poncho or rain suit it didn’t take long for you and your clothes to get drenched in perspiration in the Florida heat and humidity. Even if you had a change of clothes and shoes there wasn’t a proper place to get dressed unless it was the back seat of your car and remember they didn’t have tinted windows in those days.
In the 9th hour of the race and after completing 133 laps the Graham Hill – Pedro Rodriguez Ferrari 330P finally succumbed to clutch problems. When they retired they were running in third place and with only two gears left in the transmission. Moving up to replace this car was an authentic private entry the #31 Ferrari 250 LM of David Piper and Tony Maggs.
And that is the way it stayed until the checker flag at 10 p.m.. The Jim Hall/Hap Sharp Chaparral 1st with 197 laps completed and 1,019.2 miles covered with an average speed of 84.723 mph. Not a record and you can blame the deluge for that.
In second place and four laps down was the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40. As the race wound down Miles and McLaren wanted to make a run at the leading Chaparral but Carroll Shelby vetoed that request. Later when reporters asked why he said, “We’d rather finish second than not finish.” The British racing green colored Ferrari 250 LM of David Piper and Tony Maggs finished third but first in class. Fourth but first in GT was the #15 Daytona Coupe of Bob Bondurant and Jo Schlesser.
Obviously this finish made many folks happy. First were Jim Hall and Hap Sharp. They proved that regardless of heat, flooding rains and a notoriously rough track their revolutionary cars could go the distance. Despite the fact that Chaparral won, Carroll Shelby was happy. His Shelby American GT40 came in second and first in the prototype class. Also, Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes came in 1-2-3 in the GT class, a clean sweep.
Porsche fans were happy because there were four Porsches (three 904’s) in the top ten. Despite their smaller engines the well-engineered cars proved they had staying power. Sports writers were already predicting that Porsche was another “dark horse” with which Ford, Ferrari and now Chaparral must contend.
American race car fans were no doubt very happy. An American-built car driven by American drivers beat the best Europe had to offer and did it on American soil at America’s most difficult track and under terrible weather conditions. The last time an American car with an American driver won a major international sports car race was at the 1921 French Grand Prix when Duesenberg came in first.
Chaparral went on to have its most successful year ever in 1965 with 16 wins in 22 starts. Ford picked up valuable experience at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans that year and it paid off big in 1966 when Ford finished 1-2-3 at what Dearborn considered the Holy Grail of racing, The 24-Hours of Le Mans. Ford would repeat its victory at Le Mans in 67, 68 and 1969.
For Carroll Shelby and his Shelby American organization 1965 was a great year. His cars went on to win eight of eleven races entered and the Cobra Daytona Coupe is the only American made car to win the World Manufacturer’s Championship for Grand Touring Racecars. At the end of 1965 the FIA revised the rules again making the Cobra Daytona Coupe obsolete in international competition.
The Chaparrals would race again at Sebring but in a different configuration. The winning 1965 car would be transformed into a coupe and race as a prototype at Sebring in 1966 and 67 but the biggest contribution Chaparral made back then was to the creation of the Can-Am series which was probably one of the most popular racing series ever run by Sports Car Club of America.
For decades European machinery dominated the world of sports cars and endurance racing. For a brief moment in time in the 1960’s that domination was interrupted.
For Further Reading:
The Sebring Story by Alec Ulmann Chilton Book company 1969
12-Hours of Sebring 1965 by Dave Friedman and Harry Hurst Hurst Communications 2006
Automobile Magazine Sept. 2009 “Henry Ford II vs Enzo Ferrari by Joe Lorio p.” 56
[Source: Louis Galanos; photo credit: B/W by Dave Nicholas and Color by Walker Fricks, Jr.]