1966 12 Hours of Sebring – Page Six
Anticipating what everyone thought would be the winner, the Goodyear Blimp was overhead already announcing on its lighted sign that the #2 Ford GT40 Mk. II of Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant were the “winners.” At that moment Ken Miles was a full lap behind the leader in the #1 Shelby Ford GT40 X-1.
If Dan Gurney had some bad luck at the start of the race he would have even worse luck in the final minutes of this “12-Hour Grind.”
Harry Kennison was a college student at Michigan State on Spring Break in 1966 and had driven down for the race. He was in the spectator bleachers across from the pits and describes the last five minutes of the race as follows:
From my position in the spectator bleachers I could see two headlights appear to be stationary at the head of the pit straight. It was as though the driver of the car couldn’t make up his mind as to whether to pit or go another lap, after all, it’s another 5.2 miles around.
Then the car begins to move ever so slowly. It’s on the track side of the pit wall but the motor is dead. It’s being pushed by the driver.
It’s an agonizing two or three minutes before the machine comes into view. The PA (public address) announcer keeps saying, “This is unbelievable. This is un-bee-lee-va-bull.”
The crowd simultaneously groans as it becomes clear that the car in trouble is none other than the lead Ford and the guy doing the pushing is Dan Gurney. The crowd then cheers Dan toward the finish line as the clock strikes 10 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Ford Mk. X-1 roadster with Ken Miles at the wheel has made up its lap and motors across the finish line to take the checquered flag.
Confusion reigns. Would the Blue Ford that dominated the race finish second? It is not to be. As a result of his Herculean efforts, Dan’s car is unceremoniously disqualified.
Ironically the disqualification of Gurney’s car at Sebring in 1966 had a direct correlation to what he did at the very first Daytona 3-Hour Continental race held at the Daytona Speedway in 1962.
Gurney led most of that race driving a Lotus 19B Climax until the final minutes when he experienced mechanical difficulties. He had a huge lap advantage by then.
Rather than finish the race in the pits he parked his race car on the banked track right before the start/finish line and waited for the time to run out. When it did he used the car’s starter motor to cross the finish line and win the race.
A protest was filed by the race starter claiming that the Lotus did not finish “under power” as required by FIA regulations but used gravity to cross the finish line. The car was impounded but the protest was denied when the stewards were shown that the car could move “under its own power” using the car’s Prestolite battery and starter motor.
Upon hearing that the protest was denied and he was declared the winner Gurney’s only comment was, “Thanks Mr. Prestolite.”
Pushing a car on the track at Sebring in 1966 was a disqualification offense and Gurney knew it but he either forgot or chose to ignore that rule. The crowd cheering on Dan as he pushed his car across the finish line was, by and large, blissfully ignorant of that rule.
It was later revealed that what failed on the Gurney car was the timing chain. Gurney couldn’t determine what the problem was on that dark track but he was within eyesight of his pit. He asked the corner workers if it was OK to push the car to his pit and they didn’t object. If he had just left well enough alone, and not pushed the car, he wouldn’t have been disqualified and the Gurney/Grant car would have been awarded second just on number of laps completed.
The winning Miles – Ruby #1 Ford X-1 roadster covered 228 laps with an average speed of 98.067 m.p.h. and, after the Gurney – Grant car was disqualified, the second place spot was awarded to the Holman Moody Ford GT40 Mk. II of Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue with the GT40 of Skip Scott and Peter Revson claiming third.
In fourth place was the Porsche 906 of Hans Herrmann, Joe Buzzetta and Gerhard Mitter. Fifth was the Ferrari Dino 206P of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini. Sixth place went to Jo Siffert and Charles Vogele in a Porsche 906. Seventh was a Porsche 904 of George Follmer and Peter Gregg. Eighth was Lake Underwood and Ed Hugus in a Porsche 906. Ninth was the Penske Stingray of George Wintersteen and Ben Moore, and tenth was the Shelby Cobra of Bob Grossman and Ed Lowther.
Within two months of the Sebring race the mighty Fords would repeat the 1-2-3 finish at Daytona and Sebring but this time it was at the Holy Grail of endurance racing, The 24-Hours of Le Mans. It was a good year for Ford and a not so good one for arch-rival Ferrari.