Right before 7 p.m. Pedro Rodriguez was called into the pits because when he passed the front straight he had one headlight out and possible tail light problems. After he pitted mechanics found that the car’s generator was not working and there were blown fuses to the tail lights. It took a long and agonizing 19 minutes and 45 seconds before brother Ricardo was able to rejoin the race and try to regain the lead. By some accounts Ricardo was cutting down the lead of the first and second place cars by as much as six seconds a lap. This would be extraordinary in day light let alone the extreme darkness found on the Sebring race circuit in those days. At one point in this fabulous drive Ricardo actually got on the same lap as the Ginther/von Trips Ferrari.
With two hours to go the top three positions remained the same and following them was the Ferrari 250 TR of Hap Sharp and Ronnie Hissom in fourth, the Jim Hall/George Constantine NART Ferrari Dino in 5th and the Bob Holbert/Roger Penske Porsche 718 RS61 in 6th.
Coming into the pits for the final time at 9:20 p.m. was Gendebien. Just enough gas to finish the race is put in the car and Phil Hill was given the honor to take the checkered flag. Knowing that there wasn’t enough time for his sons to win the race “Papa” Rodriguez consoled himself at the bar set up in the A.R.C.F. hospitality tent.
Phil Hill took the checkered flag from starter Jesse Coleman at 10 p.m. with his car covering a record 1,092 miles and 210 laps at an average speed of 91.3 m.p.h. around the 5.2 mile circuit. As he crossed the finish line a round of applause arose from those assembled in the pits to watch the finish. As reporters and photographers headed for Victory Lane the George Robertson – Ben Burroughs Corvette was pushed across the finish line to try and qualify as a finisher.
Finishing second at Sebring and only two laps off the winning pace was the Ginther/von Trips/Baghetti/Mairesse Ferrari and one lap behind them was the Rodriguez brother’s Ferrari in third spot. The Hissom/Sharp Ferrari was fourth and saving Porsche’s honor with a fifth place finish was the RS61 of Roger Penske and Bob Holbert.
Disappointed Corvette fans had to console themselves with an 11th place finish by Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan while Maserati fans saw another disastrous performance by their cars with only the 2-liter Tipo 61 Birdcage of Briggs Cunningham and Bill Kimberly managing 19th overall.
Denise McCluggage and co-driver Allan Eager finished tenth overall and first in the GT3000 class in their Ferrari 250 GT SWB. When you consider her very limited budget for the race, an all volunteer crew in the pits and occasional help from NART mechanics it was a remarkable finish.
The 1961 Sebring 12 Hour Florida International Grand Prix Of Endurance For The Alitalia Cup was one for the record books. It was the most active Sebring 12-Hour race program since its inception in 1951. Lap records and averages were broken in ’61 along with a record crowd of over 43,000 spectators. One record that won’t go into the official record books is the number of injuries needing medical attention at Sebring in ’61. The track medical personnel treated 144 race fans with everything from bad sunburn, deep cuts and bruises, a broken foot plus one unlucky race fan who had to be treated for burns associated with the improper use of an accelerant to start a campfire. The race was a crowd-pleasing and hard-fought 12 hours and will go down as the finest, and the fastest in the history of the event up to that time.
For Additional Reading:
Autosport: Britian’s Motor Sporting Weekly, March 31, 1961 pp. 401-405.
Autosport: Britian’s Motor Sporting Weekly, April 7, 1961 pp. 440-443.
“Ferrari Takes The 12-Hour,” Car & Driver, June 1961, pp 25-29.
Rudeen, Kenneth, “A Fiesta for Ferrari,” Sports Illustrated, April 03, 1961.
Sebring: The Official History of America’s Great Sports Car Race, Ken Breslauer, pp. 68-71.
Sports Car Graphic, June 1961, pp. 10 – 15.
Tampa Tribune, March 24-25-26, 1961.
Ulmann, Alec, The Sebring Story, Chilton Press, 1969, pp. 138-144.