The green flag dropped at 3:09 p.m. (nine minutes late) and from the very beginning the Phil Hill Chaparral 2F jumped into the lead with a blistering pace over the rest of the field. By the end of the first lap Hill had a three second lead over Mario Andretti’s Mk. II and after only 30 minutes of racing would extend that lead to 20 seconds.
In their Mk. II Mario Andretti and co-driver Richie Ginther were supposed to be the “rabbit” or pacesetter that would stay in the front ranks and push the Ferrari and Chaparral team cars to the breaking point. However, try as they could they couldn’t keep pace with the Hill Chaparral especially on the 31-degree high banks where the Chaparrals wing and 427-cubic-inch aluminum engine gave the car the downforce and power needed to achieve 190-plus-miles-per hour speeds. (Note: In 1967 there was no chicane on the back straight as there is today so cars raced flat out and achieved dangerously high speeds on the high banks after they left turn six and before they began to slow for turn one.)
Being the first to retire from an endurance race is always an embarrassing moment and so it was for the Porsche Carrera 906 of Tony Dean and Trevor Taylor. They dropped a valve as the car was being driven out to the grid and failed to make even one official lap. Next to withdraw was the Shelby GT350 of Martin Krinner who retired his car after only three laps.
Also in the pits after only a couple of laps was the Gerhard Mitter/Jochen Rindt Porsche 906E which made three unscheduled pit stops to change four out-of-balance wheels. It seems that the Goodyear tire technicians had forgotten to put balance weights on the tires when they were mounted. All the spares that Mitter and Rindt had in their pit were this way and they had to wait until properly balanced ones were run over from the Goodyear truck in the paddock.
Another car having tire problems was the Andretti/Ginther “rabbit” which threw a tread on the high banks and had to pit twice for new tires. That car had been in second place until the tire problems occurred on the 17th lap.
At the 50-minute mark the Chaparral 2F was still in the lead and increasing it each lap. The Ronnie Bucknum/Frank Gardner Ford came into the pits on the 23rd lap missing 3rd and 4th gear. The mechanics changed the T-44 transmission in 28 minutes but it would not be the only one they would have to change.
One hour into the race the Chaparral 2F continued to lead with the Mark II’s of Lloyd Ruby, Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren/Lucien Bianchi, A.J. Foyt/Dan Gurney and Mark Donohue/Peter Revson close behind. Some of the Ferrari race fans were surprised that the Ferrari P4’s weren’t further up in the field but in the pits it was apparent that the Ferrari team had a strategy to not challenge the Fords or Chaparrals unless they had more than a 5-lap lead. They kept to their target lap times and, as a result, they would move steadily up the field as attrition took its toll on the leading cars.
During the second hour, except for the Hill/Spence Chaparral, the leading cars changed position several times as they came in for fuel and driver changes. The McLaren/Bianchi Mk. II was in the pits again for radiator water due to a blown head gasket. Overheating would plague them for the entire race but they would be the only Mk. II to finish.
Just after 6 p.m. the Andretti/Ginther Mk. II was in the pits with the same transmission trouble that affected the Bucknum/Gardner Mk. II. When word spread in the Ford pits that another Mk. II had a missing 3rd and 4th gear they knew they had major problems. Later examination of the broken transmissions revealed defective heat treatment of the output shafts.
While the Ford mechanics were doing transmission repairs the leading Chaparral was in the pits for gas, tires and a driver change. Mike Spence turned the car over to Phil Hill and around 6:10 p.m. Hill left the pits on the 88th lap and back into the lead.
However, when Hill entered turn 6, the last infield turn before going onto the high banks, he hit a carpet of asphalt pebbles created by the disintegrating track. Prior to the race several turns had been widened and places patched. However the beating the track took from the wide tires on the cars was too much for the new asphalt and the road surface began to break up.
The Chaparral lost adhesion on those pebbles sliding up to the retaining wall at the top of the banked track. The Chaparral struck it twice causing damage to the right rear of the car.
Hill managed to get the car back into the pits where a bent wishbone and other suspension items were repaired. Once back on the track the car made a couple of more laps and then officially retired at 7:15 p.m. due to the accident damage. To his credit Hill accepted the blame for carelessness as he came around turn six too fast to retain control. Later Hill would tell the story that when Mike Spence turned the car over to him he said nothing about how dangerous things had become in turn 6 and Hill went into that turn with devastating results.