1956 Sebring 12 Hours Grand Prix – Race Profile Page Seven
In the racing paddock that Saturday morning many of the drivers, crews and mechanics were hard at work getting ready. Already a few of the factory European teams, including the Corvette contingent, had breakfast set up on folding tables for their people. In those early hours a steady stream of race fans, drivers, crew and race cars made their way into the track from hotels and garages outside the raceway. The Ferrari factory team was headquartered in the Pontiac garage in the heart of Sebring some seven miles from the track while the Aston Martin team had everyone in Avon Park some seventeen miles from the track. It was not unknown for police to escort competitors and cars to the track in order to make the start on time.
“Doc” Wyllie, driving a Lotus Mk. IX, was driving his car at high speed on the paddock road trying to clear up an ignition problem at high rpms. His co-driver would be his wife, Peggy. Along with the sounds of Wyllie’s Lotus in the paddock were the sounds of dozens of cars getting warmed up or doing some last-minute tuning.
Getting around the paddock was becoming a challenge on race day due to the crowds. The official paid attendance, announced later in the day, was 25,754. But for some it seemed that most of them were in the paddock making life difficult for all.
Sebring had a history of handing out “all access” passes to many locals and their families. Passes were also distributed to the people who owned or leased warehouses on the race course as a way of compensating them for the use of their warehouse by the racing teams or the loss of business due to the races. End result, a very crowded paddock and pits.
By 9:30 a.m. many of the 59 cars that would actually start the race were on the starting grid with 14 factory entries and at least 10 nations represented. The previous year 80 cars started the race but that number was deemed too unwieldy for 1956 so only 65 entries were accepted. Adding to that crowd of 80 in 1955 were six cars that did not make the cut. Their drivers felt that they should be allowed to race and after the start they entered the course causing great confusion in the timing shack when the six mystery cars passed by. When it was realized what was happening the cars were quickly black flagged off the course. One can only assume that Ulmann and company were ready in 1956 for anyone trying to do a repeat.
Because they didn’t have qualifying for starting positions in those days the cars were placed on the grid according to engine size with the 5.2 liter Corvette of John Fitch and Walt Hansgen in first position. Next was the 5-liter Ferrari of Troy Ruttman and Howard Hively. In third position was supposed to be the 4.4-liter Ferrari 121 LM of Jim Kimberly and Ed Lunken. The car had thrown a flywheel more than once in practice and a disgusted Kimberly withdrew the car at the last minute. The Ferrari team allowed him to drive with Alfonso de Portago in the factory 857 Monza. Next in line came three 4.3-liter Corvettes then eight 3.4-liter Jaguars and so on. Last on the grid were three tiny 745 cc French-made Deutsch-Bonnets (DB).