1971 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile Page Four
Qualifying times showed how fast the Ferrari cars were with Donohue, in his 5-liter 512M, turning in the fastest time but Mario Andretti was very close behind (by about a second) in his 3-liter 312 P. The best the 917 Porsches could do was third and fourth on the grid with times several seconds slower than Donohue and Andretti and fifth on the grid was the 3-liter Alfa T33/3 of Galli and Stommelen. With two 3-liter cars in the top five on the grid it was apparent that lighter weight and better agility were more than a match for the big 917s and 512s but could they survive the very rough Sebring circuit and what some called “The 12-Hour Grind.”
To many Donohue’s qualifying time was extraordinary because he drove with a heavily bandaged ankle that some thought might be broken. The injury occurred several days earlier when he was helping load the car for the race and accidentally stepped into a drain near the Penske shop in Newton Square, Pennsylvania.
With Donohue limping around on a swollen and very painful ankle his ability to drive at Sebring was in doubt. That is when Roger Penske took over and decided that if Donohue couldn’t drive then he would. Calls were immediately made to the national HQ of Sports Car Club of America to see about renewing Penske’s national and FIA license which had expired seven years earlier when he retired from racing.
Several licensing rules were waived and the SCCA justified it based on Penske’s long and illustrious driving record before he retired. Just to cover their butts the SCCA told Penske that he would be observed by stewards during practice at Sebring and if they felt he did not have what it took to drive they would remove him.
As it turned out Donohue’s ankle was not broken and he even drove the transporter all the way from Pennsylvania to Sebring having only to stop twice for mechanical issues with the transporter.
To make sure that the sprained ankle didn’t get any worse during the race Penske talked to Alec Ulmann and Ulmann arranged to have Miami Dolphins trainer Bob Lundy check Donohue out and properly wrap the ankle. Lundy was working in the track hospital trailer during the race and every time Donohue turned over the car to co-driver David Hobbs Lundy would come over to the pits to see how Donohue was doing and tend to him if needed. You must wonder if Lundy would have done the same for one of the drivers who drove an MGB in the race?
Also on the grid, with all that exotic machinery (Ferraris, Alfas, Porsches), was enough American iron to make any American racing fan happy. A half dozen Corvettes were among the top 25 qualifiers and in that group, was legendary Corvette driver John Greenwood who would share driving duties with TV personality Dick Smothers. Within two years Greenwood would be referred to as “The Sebring Angel” because he literally would save the Sebring race from the trash heap of history.
Just ahead of the Greenwood Corvette, in 14th position on the grid, was the 7-liter Vette of Don Yenko, Tony DeLorenzo and Jerry Thompson. Like Greenwood all three of these men would eventually become legends in Corvette racing. There were four other Corvettes on the grid and all six were among the top 25 qualifiers.