1956 Sebring 12 Hours Grand Prix – Race Profile Page Fourteen
Castellotti’s joy at being allowed to finish the race and take the checkered flag didn’t cloud his judgment because he began driving at a slower pace now that the threat of the Hawthorn / Titterington Jaguar D-type was gone. He was determined that the car would finish and during one lap his time was 3 minutes, 55 seconds which was slower than most of the cars left in the race. However, he made sure not to slow down enough to give the second place Ferrari of Luigi Musso and Harry Schell any chance of catching his car.
With just a few minutes left in the race there was an announcement that the official finish line would be in front of the timing shack in the last turn. At 10 p.m. Castellotti took the checkered flag with the number seventeen Ferrari 860 Monza completing 194 laps and a record 1,008.8 miles at an average speed of 84.07 mph. It was the first time that the thousand mile mark had been achieved at the Sebring 12-Hour GP.
Coming in second was the factory Ferrari 860 Monza of Luigi Musso and Harry Schell with 192 laps completed. It was the first one-two sweep ever by a manufacturer. Salvaging Great Britain’s honor with a third-place finish were Americans Bob Sweikert and Jack Ensley in a Jaguar D-type. Coming in fourth and also a class winner was the Aston Martin of Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby. Fifth was the Behra, Taruffi, Perdisa Maserati 300S. Interestingly enough it was Perdisa who set what was reported as the lap record for the race at 3 minutes, 29 seconds. When Behra came in for a pit stop and driver change Piero Taruffi was nowhere to be found. They had no choice but to let Perdisa take over for Taruffi. Later it was determined that Mike Hawthorn had actually set the lap record at 3 minutes, 27.2 seconds in his D-Jag. Eventually Taruffi was found asleep in the back of a truck behind the pit. Sixth place went to Hans Herrmann and Wolfgang von Trips in their class-winning Porsche 550 Spyder followed by Jack McAfee and Pete Lovely in the second Porsche 550 Spyder. Amazingly the McAfee – Lovely Porsche ran the entire distance without a brake adjustment or tire change. The Porsches swept first, second and third in their class. In eighth place was the D-Jaguar of Alfonso Mena and Santiago Gonzales, ninth was the John Fitch – Walt Hansgen Corvette and tenth the 2-liter Ferrari of Porfirio Rubirosa and Jim Pauley. Only 24 of the original 59 cars that started the race were there for the finish.
As overall winners Fangio and Castellotti were awarded $3,000 with an additional $500 for finishing third in the Index of Performance. Musso and Schell took home $1,500 for their second place finish while the sixth place Hermann-von Trips Porsche got $3,000 for winning the Index of Performance. Bob Sweikert and Jack Ensley were awarded $500 for coming in third overall. Third was not a bad result when you consider that Sweikert had never driven in this type of race before and only got his hands on the D-Jag one week prior to the race. Coles Phinizy’s report on the race for Sports Illustrated intimated one reason for Sweikert’s good showing at Sebring was: “…Fangio found the time to take Sweikert over the course in prerace practice and give him a few pointers on the light-footed handling of brake and accelerator pedals which Sebring demands.” On a sad note, Sweikert would die three months after Sebring in a sprint race in Salem, Indiana. He was only thirty years old.
The next day, Sunday, Fangio went to the hospital in Sebring to see his good friend and fellow countryman, Carlos Menditeguy. Carlos was in bad shape and by today’s standards his condition might be considered critical. A message had been sent to his family members in Argentina about his condition and prognosis, which wasn’t good.
All day Sunday many of the factory race cars were being readied for the trip back to Europe for the Mille Miglia in late April. Fangio stayed at the bedside of Carlos Menditeguy from Sunday until the following Tuesday when Menditeguy’s brother and sister arrived from Buenos Aires. Later Menditeguy was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach for further treatment.
All during those trying days at the hospital Fangio received numerous and sometimes angry telegrams from Ferrari in Modena requesting his presence to prepare for the next race. It was during this time that the relationship between Fangio and Ferrari began to change and might have been one of the reasons that Fangio decided to drive for Maserati at Sebring in 1957. He won that race.
When Fangio defected to Maserati in 1957 Eugenio Castellotti was elevated to top driver for Ferrari. Tragically one week prior to the 1957 Sebring race Castellotti was killed driving a Ferrari in a private testing session at the Modena Autodrome. He was only 26 years of age. Castellotti was considered the greatest Italian driver since Alberto Ascari who had died testing a Ferrari two years earlier at Monza.
Alec Ulmann was well aware of what Fangio was risking with Ferrari by staying with his friend at Weems Hospital in Sebring and not returning to Europe. He had referred to his actions as, “a remarkable act of sportsmanship.” Carlos Menditeguy eventually recovered from his injuries and raced for several more years. He retired from racing after competing in the Argentine Grand Prix in 1960.
During that first couple of days following the 1956 Sebring race everyone connected with promoting the event waited anxiously to read the reviews from the automotive press. While the newspaper accounts were available almost immediately the magazine reports might take up to three months. They shouldn’t have worried because in general terms they had a hit on their hands. Jeff Cooper, writing for Road & Track magazine, summarized how many in the racing community felt after witnessing the ’56 Sebring race when he said: “Sebring has come a long way in five years….it has developed into a truly great sporting event of intercontinental stature, and the only contest in the U.S. in which we can observe the masters at work.”
For Additional Reading, Viewing and Listening
Adams, Noland, Corvette American Legends: 1956 Racing Success, Cars & Parts Publishing, July 1998.
Breslauer, Ken, Sebring, The Official History…, David Bull Publishing, 1995, pp. 43-45.
Cahier, Bernard and Paul-Henri, The Cahier Archive, www.f1-photo.com.
Colbert, Haines, The Miami News, March 24, 1956, p.56.
Cooper, Jeff, “Sixth Sebring,” Road & Track, June 1956, pp. 13-17.
Edgar, William, “Battle Royale,” Excellence Magazine, November 2006, pp. 94-101.
Folden, Roy, Sarasota Herald Tribune, March 25, 1956, p.34.
Foster, Barry, “Sebring 1956,” April 2, 2011, www.mistermedia20.com.
Ocala Star Banner, “Ferrari Wins Sebring Test,” March 22, 1956, pp. 6-8.
Phinizy, Coles, “Leadfoot And Lightfoot,” Sports Illustrated, April 2, 1956, pp. 1-3.
Sitz, Jim, “Sebring ’56,” IL Tridente, Issue #46, Spring 2004, pp. 2-5.
Sloane, Jay, “The Tampa Hotshoe,” North American Lotus Eleven Register, Summer 1996
Sounds of Sebring 1956 Grand Prix, Riverside Records, Bill Grauer Productions 1956.
Ulmann, Alec, The Sebring Story, Chilton Books 1969, pp. 88-108.
[Source: Louis Galanos]