Ahead of the Cobras on the starting grid at Sebring in 1963 were seven of the latest competition models of the Corvette Sting Rays and all of them were listed as private entries.
In those days the cars with the largest displacement were placed at the front of the grid and the Corvettes all sported 5.3-liter (327 c.i.) engines. There were no qualifying sessions in 1963.
Next on the starting grid, after the Vettes, were two Chaparral 1’s from Jim Hall and Hap Sharp’s Texas garage and both were equipped with 5.3-liter aluminum Corvette engines. Their cars would be the only American challengers in the Prototype Class at Sebring in ‘63.
The cars to beat in both the Prototype and GT classes at Sebring were the Ferraris. They had claimed overall honors at Sebring five times in the last seven years. In ’63 it looked like they were shooting for win number six for when the boys from Italy arrived they brought with them two new open-seat Ferrari 250Ps sporting 3-liter rear mounted 12-cylinder engines. Sebring would be the first test for these new cars.
For the competitors arriving at Sebring few would have guessed that a gauntlet of challenges awaited them in the form of tech inspectors and the rules for the new Manufacturer’s Championship.
As the first race run under these rules a number of incidents occurred during the inspection process on Tuesday (March 19) that had many race veterans describing the whole process as one big SNAFU. In military parlance that meant Situation Normal, All Fouled Up. However, instead of the word “Fouled” the American G.I. might be prone to use another “F” word. You figure it out.
It wasn’t long before some of the race car entrants began filing verbal protests with Johnny Baus , Chief Scrutineer, and the stewards over the interpretation of the new FIA rules. As a result the process of getting cars inspected and certified to race almost ground to a halt.
Tech inspectors and stewards were seen going from garage to garage with tape measures, cardboard templates, straight-edges and rule books in hand as they tried to determine what the new rules really meant and if each car complied with them. To wit, did a Plexiglas window permanently fitted to a car’s door make it part of the door? Inspectors determined that it did not, “A window is a window and a door is a door.”
This interpretation of the rules caused Jim Hall’s Chaparral cars to run afoul of the inspectors when they were told late on Friday that the body lines of his two Chaparral 1 prototype cars were too low. This is amazing when you consider that both cars passed initial inspection earlier in the week and were even allowed to practice for the race. In a late night session in the Chaparral garage that Friday the Chaparral mechanics were able to attach fins to the car and aluminum to the side windows. This raised the body lines and ultimately got them certified.
The NART Ferrari 330 TRI/LM of Pedro Rodriguez and ’62 Formula One Champion Graham Hill also had a similar problem but by placing aluminum on the fitted Plexiglas windows on each of the Ferrari’s doors they were able to change a window into the upper part of a door and get approved to race. Go figure.
Of little help in bringing sanity to this chaos was Sebring special guest, Maurice Baumgartner, President of the Commission Sportive International (CSI) of the FIA. He was the fellow who helped draft the new rules. At Sebring he would function as honorary starter on race day.
It was apparent to most there that the tech inspectors were making individual on-the-spot interpretations of the rules. Nowhere was it more apparent than what happened to the three identically prepared factory Triumph TR4’s that were rejected for three entirely different reasons. This mystified everyone because all three cars were prepared by the same man, R. W. “Kas” Kastner of California. This had more than a few scratching their heads in wonderment.
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