1970 24 Hours of Daytona – Opening Round of the World Sportscar Championship
By Louis Galanos | Photos as credited
The ninth running of international sports car endurance racing at the Daytona International Speedway was historic as the new group 5 Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s met for the first time in a battle for the 1970 FIA World Sportscar Championship (WSC). This fierce competition between Porsche and Ferrari would last just two short years until the FIA closed the loop hole in the rules that allowed for the creation of the 5-liter 917K and 512S “sports cars” and mandated that for the 1972 championship (renamed the World Championship for Makes) season that ALL cars would be limited to no more than three-liters. To many in the racing community this change signaled the end of what some called the “Golden Age” of endurance racing.
However, the first points race for the 1970 WSC championship series held promise and hope for both Porsche and Ferrari. By the end of the previous year Porsche had a ten-month lead over Ferrari in development and testing of their new 917 and the car had its competition debut at the Spa 1000 Km. in May of 1969. Not one single model 512 Ferrari had been completed by then.
Despite the time lead in testing and development the new 917 race car was having teething problems to the point that some factory drivers refused to drive the car. They considered it too unstable at high speeds. The Porsche drivers instead preferred to drive the 908 in competition.
Only after Porsche decided to hire John Wyer of J.W. Automotive (JWA) were the handling and aerodynamic problems resolved. At a testing session at Österreichring in October of 1969 JWA chief engineer John Horseman made modifications to the 917 body that solved the handling problems and produced the aerodynamic 917K (Kurzheck or short tail) body that is most identified with the 917 today.
Ferrari at one time dominated (12 titles in 16 years) the WSC series until the late 1960’s when, during the Ford – Ferrari War, Ford was able to win several championships. The Ford Motor Company also won what was the Holy Grail of endurance racing, The 24-Hours of Le Mans (’66,’67,’68,’69). It was during this time (1968) that Enzo Ferrari decided to withdraw his cars from endurance racing competition instead concentrating on Formula One.
By the end of the 1967 WSC season Ford felt it had nothing further to prove and in their mind had won the Ford – Ferrari War. This was also a great excuse for Ford to terminate their very expensive support for teams racing their products in European competition. Another thing encouraging Ford’s withdrawal from the endurance championship was the fact that the governing body for endurance racing (FIA) had again changed the rules effectively making all unlimited capacity Group 6 prototypes (such as the 7-liter Ford GT40 Mk. IV and 4-liter V12 Ferrari prototype) ineligible for competition. From 1968 through 1971 all prototypes would be limited to a 3-liter engine size. However, a group 4 Sports Car category (later renamed Group 5) was created for 5-liter sports cars as long as the cars had a minimum of two seats, a luggage compartment, spare tire and the ability to be licensed for street use.
With Ford out of the picture Enzo Ferrari saw this an opportunity to get back into endurance racing by taking advantage of the group 4 Sports Car category and building a 5-liter “Sports Car” that could take the overall win away from the new 3-liter prototypes. The Germans at Porsche were the first to spot this loop hole in the new FIA rules and already had adapted their model 908 Porsche to meet the new regulations and called it the Porsche 917. While Porsche had the resources to build and test these new cars Ferrari was a much smaller auto manufacturer and also had a very active Formula One racing commitment. They needed to find the funds to build the 25 car minimum the FIA required for homologation of the new 5-liter cars.
In June of 1969 Enzo Ferrari sold half his Ferrari stock to Fiat. After the sale was complete he ordered development on a new three-liter race car halted and all effort turned to creating a five-liter racer to compete against the Porsche 917 for the 1970 WSC season. In a remarkably short six months the Ferrari factory had created the necessary 25 Ferrari 512S race cars for FIA homologation with five of them already on the way to America for the 1970 Daytona race. Of the five Ferraris sent to Daytona three would be entered as factory cars while the other two would be in the hands of privateers like Luigi Chinetti of the North American Racing Team (NART) and a team from Milan, Italy called Squadra Picchio-Rosso.
The 512S Ferraris were powered by 5-liter V12 engines while the 917K Porsches had a flat 12 at 4.5-liters. The Ferrari engines were rated at 550 horsepower while the Porsches were at 500 horsepower. On the plus side for Porsche they were carrying 90 pounds less weight than the Ferrari. Factory price for the Ferrari 512S in late 1969 would have set you back $40,000 while the Porsche 917K was a bargain at $35,000. Adjusted for inflation the Ferrari would have cost you the equivalent of $245,714.43 today. Considering what those cars sell for at auction today it could have been a good investment if you were flush with an extra $40,000 back then.
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