1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – Page Five
The Hall/Sharp Chaparral continued to lead the race at 4 p.m. with the Hill/ Rodriguez Ferrari 330P second and the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40 third. Positions had not changed for the top three by 5 p.m. but very dark clouds were approaching from the north and a storm was imminent. It became so dark that a few racers found it necessary to turn on their driving lights.
Some spectators went to their cars to turn on the AM radios looking for a local weather update. Unfortunately all that many could find on their radios was static or very distant stations. It seems that the cold war was still in full force in south Florida with both Communist Cuba and the U.S. Government doing their best to jam radio signals from each other.
At 5:25 p.m. the storm hit with surprising force. The initial winds exceeded 50 mph and caused the Good Year blimp, Mayflower, to stand straight up on its nose. The ground crew rushed to secure the air ship lest it break free from its mooring. A few of the tents and temporary structures in the spectator area were either blown away or blown over. One tent ended up in the branches of a nearby tree with its tie-down ropes and tent stakes still attached.
Then the rains descended like a gray wall of water on the track cutting visibility almost to zero. By most accounts at least 5 inches of rain fell during the first 30 minutes totally overwhelming the track’s drainage system.
Under these conditions race cars lap times began to double, then triple as the cars plowed through standing water on the track. Water levels reached 8 inches or more in some areas. More than one car stopped on the track or sputtered into the pits with soaked ignitions and didn’t get going until their distributor and electrics were dried out.
Low slung cars like the Chaparral, Lola, Ford GT and Ferrari prototypes had a particular problem. Their air intakes were so low that the standing water was being scooped up and force fed by the forward movement of the car into all parts of the car including the cockpit. The force of the water being funneled throughout some cars caused gauges and switches to pop out of the dash. When they pitted mechanics were seen stuffing rags and towels into those air intake vents.
Because of the newly constructed protective pit wall the pit lane was awash and looked like a canal to everyone. Spare tires and other items were seen floating around in the pit enclosures and tools disappeared in the water. Drivers, crew and race officials waded in water approaching eight or more inches. Some will always remember the comical sight of Carroll Shelby with the brim of his soaked black Stetson down around his ears standing in water up to his ankles.
As the waters continued to rise in the pit area Bizzarrini team owner, Giotto Bizzarrini, decided to save his expensive Italian leather shoes by placing them in the corner of the pit stall. He then rolled up his pants legs and went back to managing the two Bizzarrini Iso Grifos in his bare feet. In the meantime the waters rose to the point where they flooded the pit stalls and his shoes floated out in the maelstrom never to be seen again. The next day when Bizzarrini boarded the plane for Italy he did so in his stocking feet.
On the race course the cars with wide race tires began to aquaplane and lose traction and handling. Some drivers and crew said later they were waiting for the race officials to red flag the race because conditions were too dangerous. That decision was never made and the rains continued unabated.
As Paul Rainville tells it, his father Charlie brought in the Bizzarrini Iso Grifo he was driving for a scheduled pit stop and driver change. The rain was still pounding down when co-driver Mike Gammino got into the car. He didn’t bother to fasten his safety belt before reentering the race.
Two or three laps later the car hydroplaned on the start/finish straight and struck the Mercedes-Benz Bridge abutment broadside cutting the car in two.
When the corner workers arrived to render assistance they found Gammino in his seat in the front half of the car. His hands were still on the steering wheel. The driver’s seat was still firmly affixed to the floor. His firmly affixed seat belts were with the back half of the car which was now twenty-plus feet distant. It was a lucky day for Mike Gammino.
When the corner workers initially assisted Gammino from the car it was still raining heavily and he really didn’t take note of the condition of the car. After determining that he didn’t suffer any serious injuries he was allowed to walk back to the pits. When he got there Charlie Rainville asked, “how bad’s the car?” He replied, “don’t know.” Charlie said, “Well, let’s go see.”
When they arrived at the accident scene Gammino took one look at the car cut in two with the pieces over twenty feet apart and promptly fainted.
Lap times for most of the prototypes and big-bore sports cars were now approaching 10 minutes. The Miles/McLaren GT40 actually did one lap in the rain that took 16 minutes. Race lap averages went from just over 100 mph before the storm to an incredible 28 mph. Visibility was so poor that one Cobra Daytona driver, seeing what he thought was a turn, found himself in one of the aircraft parking areas. Looking behind him he saw that several other racers had followed him into the lot thinking he knew where he was going. The blind were leading the blind and the fact that the torrential rain had washed away many of the course pylons didn’t help things. The race continued and so did the monsoon rains.
Phil Hill in the #16 Cobra Daytona Coupe had to stop twice in one lap to open his door and let the water drain out. According to him it would get up to his waist and slosh around back and forth in waves. Several drivers pitted so their crews could punch holes in the floor of the car and let water drain out.
Running second before the deluge the Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari got drowned, got dried out, got drowned a second time and was finally left with two gears in the transmission. In all fairness to Graham Hill, it was Pedro Rodriguez who blew second gear early in the race. At the first driver change around noon Hill found much to his consternation that second gear was gone. It looked like Rodriguez was living up to his well deserved reputation of being tough on cars. There was a rumor among the mechanics that Rodriguez didn’t like using the clutch when he shifted.
Not all racers were hampered by the torrential rains. The small displacement sedans and sports cars running on narrow tires knifed their way through the standing water. The #61 Sebring Sprite of Clive Baker and Rauno Aaltonen passed a Ford GT40 three times in a short period of time while the #62 Sebring Sprite of Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen passed the leading Chaparral four times in the rain. The #62 Sprite finished fairly high up in the standing at 15th while the #62 car finished in 18th position. It was all due to the rains.