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.
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.