To the encouragement of pit crews, race fans and even grid marshals the drivers vaulted into their cars to see who would be the first away. Having the advantage of being first in line two Corvettes were 1-2 under the Mercedes-Benz Bridge followed by the #18 Ferrari of Gaston Andrey and Allen Newman in third place. They were quickly passed by the #9 Nethercutt/Lovely Ferrari 250 TR 59 which finished third at Sebring in 1960.
As all eyes watched the thundering herd of cars blast through turns one and two it was almost comical to see coming under the bridge the 748 c.c. Berga of Bentley/Grady putt-putting along as the last to leave the grid.
But hold on, there was still one more car on the grid and it was none other than British champion Stirling Moss in his Camoradi Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage. Moss was unable to get the engine to turn over due to a dead battery. To say that Moss was not happy would be an understatement and it took six minutes to place a new battery in the car so he could get going. Moss described what happened on the grid in his own words (stirlingmoss.com). Moss, “…the battery was flat as a pancake! It took six minutes or so to coax the car into life.” Before the Le Mans start Moss had asked the team very specifically whether the cars battery was fully charged. “Oh yes” they reassured him, there would be “no problems”. Once he got going Moss drove flat out for two solid hours managing to get the car up as high as second place before bringing the car into the pits for a scheduled stop and to turn the car over to Graham Hill.
Fifteen minutes after the 10 a.m. start the leading four cars were amazingly close and on the same lap. In the words of one sports writer they were so close when they passed the start/finish “…you could throw a blanket over them.”
Much to the dismay of the factory Ferrari manager Romulo Tavoni the leading car at 10:15 was not one of his but the private entry North American Racing Team Ferrari 250 TR 59/60 of Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez. The Maserati Tipo 63 of Masten Gregory and Lloyd “Lucky” Casner was second, the factory Ferrari 250 TRI/61 of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien was third and the Maserati Tipo 63 of Bruce McLaren and Walt Hansgen fourth. Stirling Moss was literally burning up the track to make up for lost time on the grid. In 15 minutes he went from dead last and a lap and a half behind to 14th overall. For many race fans they were getting what they had come for and that is a duel between Ferrari and Maserati.
Even in 1961 there were conspiracy theorists and the start of the race spawned the thought that when Stirling Moss switched Maseratis at the last minute that someone in the Camoradi camp decided to teach him a lesson by putting a dead battery in the car. It made for great theater but, if true, turned out to be a disaster for the team because Moss beat hell out of the car in trying to make up for lost time on the grid. Moss beat his own 1960 Sebring record at least three times in the first hour and was picking up as much as five seconds a lap on the competition. Some in the Maserati pits groaned when they heard the news because they believed the car wouldn’t last long at that pace. And, they were right.
As usual during those early laps of the race some drivers will push a little too hard to keep up with the pack and not get lapped too often. For some of them it came at a high price and on the second lap the Pete Lovely, Jack Nethercutt Ferrari 250 TR 59 entered pit road trailed by a cloud of oil smoke being pumped out of the engine breathers.