1971 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile Page Five
Production Porsches would outnumber all other street cars with six 911’s, four 914’s and three 906’s entered. One of the Porsches would be driven by Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad. Co-driving with Conrad was John Buffum and Steve Behr in the Meany prepared 914/6. Those 13 production Porsches were almost matched by the 12 Camaros entered in the race. Sadly, for Ford fans, there were only two Mustangs at Sebring and one Shelby GT500. All three would fail to finish. For British race fans, there were two MGB’s but neither was running at the end to take the checkered flag.
All total there were 57 cars sitting on the starting grid ready for the rolling start that was scheduled for 11:00 am on Saturday. There was also a record crowd of more than 50,000 race fans with many coming to see what they thought was their last Sebring. The Le Mans style start that was so much a part of Sebring for decades was eliminated in 1970 due to the mandates of the FIA, ostensibly for safety reasons. More than one steward said to me that Sebring has never had a major accident associated with the Le Mans style start where drivers sprint across the track, jump in and then see who would be the first under the Mercedes – Benz Bridge. Admittedly many of those who were first under the bridge never bothered to buckle their seat belts but all did by lap two.
The FIA never issued clear guidelines for 1970 as to what kind of start was appropriate and up to three hours before the 1970 Sebring race the officials were considering a modified Le Mans style start where a driver would sprint across the track to their car in which their co-driver was already buckled in. Only when the sprinting driver could touch the car did the co-driver start the engine and pull out onto the racing surface. This created a nightmare image in the minds of some stewards of a much quicker driver getting to his car ahead of some slower drivers and when the co-driver blasted out of the grid box he might encounter a slower sprinter. Race fans might get a laugh at the sight of a race car with a driver holding onto the hood for dear life as the car careened through turns one and two. Fortunately for everyone, the stewards settled on a rolling start which today is commonplace in most motorsports events.