1966 12 Hours of Sebring – Page Three
At the driver’s meeting the usual admonitions about watching for slower cars and proper passing were discussed but there was something new. For the first time in many years there would be no countdown by Joe Lane leading to the Le Mans-style start. Instead the drivers were to make their run to their cars when the starter, in this case newly elected Florida Governor Haydon Burns, dropped the starting flag.
Well, the governor didn’t botch his big chance and the drivers dashed to their cars and all got away clean with no major fender benders along the way. However, something was wrong and it was in the shape of the big #2 Guardsman blue Shelby Ford Mk. II of pole sitter Dan Gurney. Try as he would the big 427c.i. engine wouldn’t start. There he sat while the other prototypes passed by. There he sat while the GT cars passed by. There he sat while the Porsches, MG’s, Alfa’s, Triumphs, etc. passed by. Finally with only one other car left on the starting grid the engine came to life and off he sped as if the hounds of Hades were about to descend upon him.
Now you might ask why the Mk. II engine failed to start. According Gurney himself the answer was simple, “vapor lock.” It seems that, just like they did with the team cars in 1965, the Shelby mechanics warmed up the engine (“A little too much,” according to Gurney) prior to the start and then the dark-colored blue car sat in the hot sun for some time. And, just like it happened to several Shelby team cars in 1965, the Gurney Ford Mk. II, failed to start. As the historian Santayana said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
While Gurney sat there trying to get the car started the #46 Ferrari Dino of Lorenzo Bandini and Ludovico Scarfiotti led the pack through the first turn and held that lead for half a lap until passed by Graham Hill driving the #24 Alan Mann Ford GT40.
At the end of the first lap Hill’s Ford was in first place followed by the Dino, then the Ferrari P3 of Mike Parkes, a P2 driven by Pedro Rodriguez, a Corvette Stingray driven by Dick Thompson, the Mk. II Ford of Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue, then two more Fords, a Porsche and rounding out the first ten was a Chaparral driven by Hap Sharp.
The #17 Comstock Ford GT40 of Eppie Wietzes and Craig Fisher would have been in the first ten except they went too deep into turn 12 (the last turn) and hit a hay bale.
Also having trouble on the first lap was the Yenko Stinger of Donna Mae Mims and John Luke. Mims blew a piston on the first lap and became the first car to retire from the race.
Traveling like a jet plane on full afterburner was “ole tail-end Charlie” Dan Gurney who passed 27 cars on the first lap alone. On the 44th lap Gurney set a new race-day record of 2 minutes, 54.8 seconds with a speed of 107.09 m.p.h. Soon after he takes the lead away from team mate Ken Miles who is driving the #1 Shelby Ford X1 roadster.
The two drivers then began a duel to see who could maintain the lead and began passing and repassing each other. This did not sit well with team manager Carroll Shelby and he sent out the signal for both of them to slow down. It was assumed he felt that it was way too early in the race for this kind of nonsense.
The signal was promptly ignored by both drivers. So, Shelby walked over to the pit wall and sent a signal they wouldn’t be able to ignore. Shelby waved a “knock-off” hammer at them. The drivers complied and began doing 3-minute laps with Gurney in the lead. All of this was recorded for posterity by the ABC TV cameras.