1971 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile Page Twelve
With both cars now in the pits their crews immediately went to determine what repairs were needed. The Porsche lost its front right headlights and part of the fender over the right front tire. Duct tape was immediately applied to the damaged fiberglass but the headlight repair would have to wait until later. The initial repair took 4 minutes and 30 seconds before returning to the race. The damage to the Ferrari was more significant with left rear body work pushed in toward the tire and fuel cell vent damage. The vent had to be permanently shut which made refueling agonizingly slow losing them time they could ill afford.
In the opinion of most of the Penske crew it was all over and they should pack their bags and head for home. The only two holdouts were Roger Penske and Mark Donohue and they insisted they continue. It was a long race and anything could happen. When the car returned to the race, after almost an hour of repairs, they were 20 laps down. Regardless of what happened earlier on the track or who was at fault it became apparent later that the Penske Ferrari didn’t stand much of a chance of catching the leading Martini 917 or even finishing in the top three. Someone had to pay for this and that someone would be John Wyer’s Gulf Automotive Team.
Around 8:30 p.m. Penske went to the stewards and informed them that he would be filing three protests against the Gulf team. First he would protest the decision of the Stewards of the Meeting (SOM) to only penalize Siffert four laps for hitching a ride to the pits for gas when ten years earlier Stirling Moss had been disqualified for essentially the same infraction. Second, a protest would be filed against the Rodriguez/Oliver Porsche for insufficient body work following the collision with the Penske Ferrari and last a protest would be filed claiming the Siffert/Bell 917 failed to turn off its engine when it pitted on lap 149. No protest was filed against Rodriguez for deliberately hitting the Donohue Ferrari as Donohue had claimed.
No doubt some of the stewards groaned inwardly when the protests were filed because this was one big hot potato that could have ramifications well beyond the race and their decision would be inspected with a magnifying glass by every newspaper, motorsports publication and reporter both nationally and internationally. What made it so hot was the fact that they were dealing with the biggest names in the oil business (Sunoco – Gulf) and they were also dealing with two major racing team managers, Roger Penske and John Wyer. Added to the burden faced by the stewards was the threat by Wyer that he would withdraw the entire Gulf team of Porsches from the rest of the race if the stewards ruled against the Gulf team.
The decision of the stewards was as follows: In regard to Siffert’s 917 receiving a four-lap penalty the stewards decided it was sufficient for the infraction. Regarding insufficient body work over the fender of the Rodriguez/Oliver 917 the stewards ruled that sufficient body work did exist but the headlight had to be replaced, which was done, before darkness fell. The last protest concerned the fact that the Siffert/Bell 917 did not come to a full stop when it entered the pits and turn off its engine as required by the rules. The stewards pointed out that the car did not come in to refuel but to have a door slammed shut due to a faulty latch and an open gas cap shut. That was done as the car rolled slowly through the pit and then out onto the track. They had to do this one more time due to a faulty door latch. Like the others that protest was also denied.