1969 24 Hours of Daytona – Race Profile Page Three
At approximately 3 pm on Saturday, February 1, 1969, the green flag dropped on the 63 cars entered in the race and the five works Porsches plus the Donohue and Bonnier T70 Lolas began distancing themselves from the rest of the field. Each of the white works Porsches had a colored panel to help identify the car at a distance and the panel even glowed in the dark. During those early hours of the race the Porsches swapped the lead so many times that the scoreboard operator had trouble getting the changes quickly enough before the positions changed again. It looked like a repeat of the 1968 finish was in store.
For Penske the promise of having one of the fastest cars on the track and possibly winning this event faded quickly due to a serious fuel pick-up problem. The pump system could only pick up 20 of the 37 gallons in the tank and this necessitated having to pit every 40 to 45 minutes, twice as often as planned.
Later Mark Donohue, an engineer, admitted the fuel problem was all his fault. He said: “I engineered the fuel system myself and I take full blame.” Despite these problems the Penske Lola pressed on, but fell further and further behind the leaders.
Sometime around the 84th lap one of the leading Porsches unexpectedly pitted. Driver Brian Redman had noticed exhaust fumes entering the enclosed cockpit and he managed to pull into the Porsche pits before he passed out. A broken exhaust manifold was the problem and the Porsche mechanics took over 20 minutes to replace it.
Before darkness fell over the Speedway the Jo Bonnier T70 Lola would retire after hitting the wall on the the high banks, an Alfa Romeo T-33 driven by Mario Calabattisti would hit the wall in turn one and spin into the path of the Porsche 911 of Peter Gregg. The resulting impact flipped the Alfa over with the Gregg Porsche on top. A fire started that consumed the Alfa. Gregg was uninjured but Calabattisti suffered head, knee and hand injuries. While all this was going on another works Porsche would pit with exhaust problems.
By one o’clock on Sunday morning the two Ford GT40’s were now in the lead as problems continued to plague the remaining three works 908’s. Even the Penske Lola had to pit twice for welding repairs on cracked exhaust manifolds that took 90 minutes to fix. Plus a jammed starter took another 23 minutes to sort out. And let’s not forget the continuing fuel pick-up problems. There was some talk in the Penske pits of retiring the car because they were many laps and many miles behind the Fords and Porsches but Roger Penske persevered and ordered the repairs.
To add insult to injury the Penske Lola made contact with the #51 Richard Attwood/Joe Buzetta works Porsche 908 on the track causing a pit stop for body repairs (mostly using duct tape). Also in the pits was the leading Ford GT40 driven by David Hobbs and Mike Hailwood. Their problem was a cracked cylinder head which was causing a loss of coolant and eventually led to their retirement.