1971 24 Hours of Daytona – Race Profile

1971 24 Hours of Daytona – The Start
The weather for the start of the race at 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, 1971 was an unusually warm 78 degrees. As expected the Penske Ferrari 512M, driven by Mark Donohue and David Hobbs, pulled away from the field when the green flag dropped followed by the two J.W./Gulf Porsche 917Ks driven by Pedro Rodriguez, Jackie Oliver, Jo Siffert and Derek Bell.

The Penske Ferrari set a blistering pace with one lap in excess of 135 mph and they held the lead for two hours and forty minutes until electrical problems forced them to pit twice, once for a broken alternator wire and the second time when the car was black flagged for no tail lights. These stops cost them four laps and by 6 p.m. they were in third place behind the two Gulf Porsches, one of which (Rodriguez-Oliver) had lapped the entire field save their other team car.

At 6:01 p.m. the second place 917K driven by Derek Bell blew its engine and the car retired after limping into the pits in a cloud of oil smoke. Succumbing to another blown engine 90 minutes later was the fifth-place Belgium-entered Ferrari 512S of Hughes de Fierlant and Gustave Gosselin. At 9 p.m. the Rodriguez-Oliver Porsche 917K was first, second was the Vic Elford – Gijs van Lennep Martini and Rossi 917K with the Donohue – Hobbs Ferrari third. Moving up to fourth position was the Tony Adamowicz – Ronnie Bucknum Ferrari 512S.

Penske Ferrari 512M of Mark Donohue and David Hobbs

At the start of the race the Ferrari 512M of Mark Donohue and David Hobbs set a blistering pace.

Pedro Rodriguez in the Porsche 917K

Pedro Rodriguez in the #2 Porsche 917K and Jo Siffert in the #1 Porsche 917K were second and third behind Mark Donohue’s Ferrari 512M early in the race.

Jo Siffert / Derek Bell Gulf Porsche 917K retired early with a blown engine.

Jo Siffert / Derek Bell Gulf Porsche 917K retired early with a blown engine.

Tony Adamowicz in his NART Ferrari 512S,  Luigi Chinetti, Jr. in his NART Ferrari 312P.

Tony Adamowicz in his NART Ferrari 512S leads Luigi Chinetti, Jr. in his NART Ferrari 312P.

Porsche 917K of Helmut Marko and Rudi Lins.

Martini & Rossi Porsche 917K of Helmut Marko and Rudi Lins. The car was a DNF due to an accident.

Ferrari 512S of Hughes de Fierlant and Gustave Gosselin

Belgium-entered Ferrari 512S of Hughes de Fierlant and Gustave Gosselin was a DNF due to a blown engine.

Ferrari 512S of Arturo Merzario and Jose Juncadella

Ferrari 512S of Arturo Merzario and Jose Juncadella in for a regular pit stop. They failed to finish.

Jo Siffert Porsche 917K, Ferrari 512S of Tony Adamowicz.

Jo Siffert’s Porsche 917K passing the Ferrari 512S of Tony Adamowicz.

Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver Porsche 917K

As the sun began to set the Rodriguez / Oliver Porsche 917K had already lapped the entire field.

Right before midnight, 11:48 p.m. to be exact, Vic Elford, in his silver Martini 917, was doing over 190 m.p.h. on the 31 degree east bank near the track tunnel when his right rear tire blew. His car hit the wall, spun down to the grass then back up the banked track to hit the wall again, finally rolling down to the apron. Seconds later the third place Penske 512M, being driven by Mark Donohue, entered the scene and he slowed because of the cloud of dust thrown up by the accident. Right behind Donohue, but not slowing, was the Porsche 911S of Charles Perry and he gave the Donohue car a mighty wallop shoving it into the wall and causing major body and suspension damage.

Perry’s car then spun down to the apron where he hit the disabled 917K of Vic Elford totally demolishing it. The 911S rolled eight times before coming to rest. Fortunately Elford had exited his car just seconds before and was OK. Perry had to be transported to Halifax Hospital in Daytona for x-rays. Later, while looking at what was left of his car sitting in the track garage Elford said, “I’m glad to be alive.”

Donohue, uninjured in the melee, managed to get his car onto pit lane and back to the Penske pits. After a quick evaluation of the damage the Penske crew broke out a case of duct tape and proceeded to tape the car’s body back together and replace damaged suspension parts. This took one hour and 15 minutes. Within minutes of reentering the race, the talk on each corner was of the “duct tape special.”

Before this accident happened the Rodriguez – Oliver 917 had continued to rack up the miles and extend their lead. After nine hours of driving they were averaging 124.285 m.p.h. and had a 30-mile lead over the ill-fated 917 driven by Vic Elford.

As the midnight hour struck the Rodriguez 917 was still in first, the Bucknum N.A.R.T. Ferrari 512S was second, Luigi Chinetti, Jr. was third in a Ferrari 312P, Mark Donohue’s Ferrari 512M was fourth (but in for repairs) and the Owens Corning Corvette of Tony De Lorenzo was now fifth.

Vic Elford/Gijs van Lennep Porsche 917K

The Vic Elford/Gijs van Lennep Porsche 917K was forced to retire after Elford blew a tire at 190 mph on the high banks and hit the wall.

Vic Elford/Gijs van Lennep Martini 917K

This is all that is left of the Vic Elford / Gijs van Lennep Martini Porsche 917K after Elford blew a tire on the high banks at 190 mph.

Mark Donohue / David Hobbs Ferrari 512M

Mark Donohue / David Hobbs Ferrari 512M shows the damage caused by the three car accident when Vic Elford blew a tire on the high banks. That accident probably cost the Penske/Donohue team the win.

Sunoco Ferrari 512M

It took several rolls of duct tape to put the damaged body back together. Despite all these problems they managed to finish third.

Comments

  1. David McArthur says

    Louis – Thanks to you for bringing this back to life. While it is 40 years old, your writing and images make it seem fresh and relevant. End of an Era indeed. Can you imagine if tomorrow’s race included modern versions of the factory Porsches and Ferraris? But no, we get to watch Daytona Prototypes…yawn.

    Wonderful piece!

  2. Chad B. says

    Never knew Pedro was such a slick looking guy. He looks so calm before the race.

    Superb photos and storytelling!!

  3. says

    Louis,

    This is an amazing story indeed. It really reminds us of wonderful memories, with stunning cars, actually more good-looking than now. Congratulations for the text and the pictures.

  4. Bruce Behrens says

    Louis…what a great summary of a fabulous race! As you remember, our small-block Camaro (302c.i.) set a track record of 2:04 with John Tremblay @ the wheel… breaking the Penske Javelin’s old record of 2:06.5…our camaro made it into the top ten…then retired about 2;30am because of overheating… then at Sebring…but that’s another story for another article…!
    Thanks for the memories…!

  5. Dave Kutz says

    Great photos and great story Lou. The real reason Ferrari didn’t enter Daytona was because the transmission was still the F1 unit and not sufficiently robust for the longer races. The Giunti story was a convenient dodge…. They entered Sebring anyway and fessed up- it lasted until sundown.
    My last memory of Daytona ’71 was Davey Hobbs on the cool off lap, waving at everyone through the hole in the side window of the Sunoco Ferrari. It was a warm weekend unlike the year before and a great time to be there. Sure doesn’t seem like 40 years ago.

  6. Jim Beebe says

    Louis: Great article and pictures. Oh, to be back their and to have one of the classic cars of yesterday! Keep up the good work.

  7. Doug Seeley says

    Thanks to Louis Galanos and Sports Car Digest for this excellent account of this race, which must rate as one of the greatest endurance racing events the the U.S. Narrative and images dead on. Pedro Rodriquez – best of the best? Well done, Lou. Doug Seeley

  8. Mario Levetto says

    Really a terrific job; excellent background research (I’m sure you didn’t remember all the details!) with all the FIA/CSI rules and homologation requirements plus the alternative Ferrari – Porsche decisions. The race narrative is fantastic as the photos (as always)!
    Superb!

  9. Pete Diamond says

    Amazing photos. Glad they survived 40 years. Porsche and Ferri– what a dog fight. I think I’ll go out and buy several rolls of duct tape.

  10. Phil Currin says

    Thanks for the wonderful article Lou. Reading it and seeing some of your great photos really brings back some good memories!

    • Bill Jobe says

      Phil,

      We remember the good old days don’t we. Seeing your name brought back some good ones too. How are you doing? My fun consists tooling around in my ’83 Ferrari 308 GTS when the weather is good. I’m in Snowmass Village, CO and it is cold and snowing today. Where are you these days.

      Bill

  11. John Norris says

    Louis, I have to hand it to you for another great story.

    Although I agree with your assessment of the FIA and its penchant for heavy-handed and biased regulation of the sports car racing world, I would suggest that you were much too kind. If I had been telling the story, I would have used stronger words to describe their inane meddling with rules and regulation to achieve whatever agenda they may have had, to favor or punish whomever they chose.

    You certainly well presented the spirit of the Golden Age of Sports Car Racing in this story, as well as in your magnificent photos over the years. When the end of an era comes, sometimes it’s hard to recognize, and difficult to make oneself accept the fact that what was great has passed into history. As an active participant, if only peripherily, during a few of those Golden years, I have often thought of how exciting it was to see the tremendous battles among Ferrari, Porsche, Ford, Cobra, and all the others. Back then we had very little in the way of safety equipment, and as such, the drivers went charging around the tracks with “reckless abandon”. Many of them paid the price for that lack, and did not survive to tell their stories. The excitement of the factory battles and the courage of the men who drove the cars are what made the Golden age golden, at least in my perspective.

    Now that age has caught up with me, I try to keep my memories of those times alive through books and photos such as your collection. That was a long time ago, though, and time fades all memories. Someday, and all too soon, there will be no living memory of those times, and the Golden Age will exist only in the books, films, and photos such as yours. That’s why your work has been so important. I thank you for that work-keep it going!

  12. Pete Perkins says

    Lou,
    You never cease to amaze me in your wide range of activities in past years. Knew of your Vietnam experiences in the Army during some tough times with good company. Knew you were a retired history teacher who helped many local children understand how history changed our world….but never knew about your work with race car folks in the 60′s. Wow, what an interesting life you have lived. Thanks for sharing this very fine piece and some great photos of the races that made history at Daytona!
    Pete

  13. Bill Stowe says

    Lou,

    Another great article. The background surrounding the rules added alot to the race coverage.

    Looking forward to your next article. Maybe I will meet up with you at this years Sebring.

    Bill

  14. Jurriaan Tas says

    This is a fantastic, extremely well-written and well documented story. I loved it. It was pictures from this very race that got me hooked on racing. Just a few months later, I went to see Stve McQueen’s movie. I’ve had 917′s and 512′s etched on my retina ever since. There is no doubt in my mind that these were the most spectacular and virile cars ever to grace a racetrack.

    I’d also like to vent some dissenting opinions. The 50 car rule was designed to dissuade constructors from building ever-faster, ever bigger-engined monsters whilst keeping the Lola T70 and Ford GT40 eligible, as grids would have been very thin if these cars hadn’t been allowed to compete. The number was reduced to 25 at the request of Porsche. The CSI relented, assuming that Porsche was going to build a Lola T70-type 5 liter car for privateers in the spirit of the 904 and 906, a sort of low-rev, low stress 908 spinoff. You may call it naïve, but they were caught off-guard when they discovered Porsche had made the request in order to facilitate a full-blown factory effort and I’m sure that contributed to their looking the other way when Ferrari fell a few 512’s short. Without Ferrari there simply wouldn’t have been anything to race for in 1970. The old man, of course, knew how to maximize this bargaining chip.

    I would also suggest that the 512 M was no more different from the 512 S than the 1970 short-tail John Wyer 917 was from the original 1969 model. Again, not a very principled point of view from the CSI, but certainly opportunist because there would not have been any competition without the Ferrari.

    Porsche has had a history of violating the spirit of rules whilst arguably sticking to their letter. Look at the Can-Am 917, the 911 Carrera RSR, the 935, the 936, or more recently the 911 GT1 and the RS Spyder. All of these cars made the existing opposition obsolete by, shall we say, “creatively” interpreting the rules in a way that they were never intended. More often than not, this killed off an attractive series in the process because mostly privateer competition didn’t have the resources to follow suit.

    The 917/512 era was the best there ever was, but there’s more to the rules story than meets the eye.

  15. John Bradley says

    Louis, well done.
    I keep looking for myself in your pictures; for some of them we must have been standing next to each other.
    I was seated in the Timing & Scoring stand when the private plane went down and I thought I was the only one who saw it so I didn’t tell anyone.
    As you well know, it seemed like the lower half of the 24hr field was made up of Central Florida Region regulars, but the mutual respect between the drivers (well except for Mssrs F and A) was always there.
    I promise, I will find those boxes of pictures!
    All the best
    john

  16. Scooter Patrick says

    Louis,
    Great story and text. Like too many good series ie the Can-Am politics and promotors screw things up. Thanks for the E mail.
    Good to hear from you.
    Cheers,
    Scooter

  17. Mario Levetto says

    Lou:
    To confirm your statements that “The new 917 sports car was incredibly fast but also incredibly unstable and dangerous at high speeds. It was so unstable that Porsche had problems getting drivers willing to drive the car in events. Some flat refused instead demanding they drive the old 908LH” and that “This stability problem wasn’t resolved until Porsche partnered up with John Wyer and his automotive group.”
    In a recent interview for the Italian AUTOSPRINT magazine, Brian Redman recalls that initially none of the factory Porsche drivers wanted to drive the 917. The 908 was the preferred model with the 917 considered unstable and dangerous.This was true even after Siffert won on the Osterreichring circuit in Austria. Finally the solution was found when, thanks to Redman and John Horsman (John Wyer Gulf engineer), it was observed that although the windshield had bugs, the top part of the rear body was clean; therefore, where the moving air should have a reverse wing effect and force the rear tires to the ground there was , in fact, no downforce. With some aluminium, rivets, and tape the mechanics modified the aerodynamics shape of the rear aerodynamics and after a few fast laps on the track, the problem and solution were confirmed. The car was then definitely modified and became the winning Porsche 917.

  18. Jo Castillo says

    Lou, great article. That era is maybe my favorite one in car racing (even when I was only 2 at that time!). I envy anybody who was able to live it. BTW, a friend of mine happened to be in Buenos Aires when Giunti died, sitting in the grands only meters from the accident. Sadly, there is not even a small plaque to remember that great italian driver in the place where he passed away.
    Will we ever have again a Sport Cars Championship with so beautiful 8 and 12 cylinder monsters like 512s, 917s and Gt40s? Sadly, I don’t think so…

  19. Tal Burkett says

    Because of my schedule, I’m only now able to review this extraordinary article. You’ve brought it back to life for me.
    Whatever they’re paying you…it isn’t enough!

  20. Manuel Diaz de Sandi says

    Lou,

    Thanks a lot for bringing back those days, I am the biggest fan of the 917 and Pedro of course!
    I´ll love to know your point of view regarding the lack of recognition from Porsche to Pedro as the best driver that has ever driven their cars!

  21. says

    We have the great privilege of frequently attending the events at Le Circuit, Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, Canada where the Number 6 Ferrari that so dramatically survived to place at this event currently resides. From time to time it is driven very competitively by it’s passionate owner who is never afraid to let it sing! If you ever have the chance to visit this beautifully restored track that Michael Schumacher refers to as “The Little Nurburgring”, just go. Here is a link to a Ferrari topic on our forums that includes current to a couple of seasons, pictures of this, and other historic Ferrari’s http://alturl.com/f7j99 .

  22. Craig Morse says

    Lou, Thanks for a great review. I was there thru all of it. I was only 17 at the time but was in the thick of it. I was part of a pit crew on a Datsun 510. Unfortunately, it was on the trailer before the race started. Having credentials to the pits, I made friends with Pedro and Derek. I still see Derek Bell regularly. It was cool seeing the photos, sure brings back a lot of memories. I am even in one of the pictures. I am in the crowd watching them repair the transmission. When they won, I got to help push the car into the winners circle. What a cool time. Unfortunately both Pedro and Seppi would both lose their lives just months later doing what they loved.

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