Unfortunately the bad weather in Italy during the Fall and Winter of 1969 plus labor disputes caused unplanned delays and didn’t leave much time for proper testing of the new Ferrari 512 and a “shakedown cruise” of sorts would have to be in the heat of the battle with the Porsche 917s at the Daytona 24-Hour race in January of 1970.
The JWA Gulf Porsche team was able to add to their 10-month time advantage in testing and development of the new Porsche when it rented the Daytona International Speedway (DIS) for a testing session in November of 1969. It was at that testing session that they were able to see how the new Kurzheck body configuration worked on the super-fast 31-degree NASCAR high banks.
During a 30-hour test with two 917s they achieved lap times of 1 minute, 47 seconds which beat the old track record by almost five seconds. The only change to the cars was a request from the drivers for a “view window” to be placed above the windshield so drivers could see further ahead on the curved high banks. Drivers felt this was necessary to eliminate a blind spot and help them avoid the slower cars which would make up the bulk of the Daytona entry list. With some of those slower cars the closing speeds between them and a 917K could exceed 100 mph.
While the new 5-liter supercars would get the lion’s share of publicity at Daytona in 1970, there were some old hands present at Daytona for the race who felt that the “big cars” wouldn’t be there at the finish of America’s longest and most grueling race. One of those with that opinion was the well known and respected Italian motorsports journalist, Franco Lini. In 1967 Enzo Ferrari appointed him team manager for the factory team at Daytona. With only two 4-liter Ferrari factory prototypes he had to contend with the Ford factory and seven of their monster 7-liter GT40s. Despite such odds Ferrari made a 1-2-3 sweep in what some said was the greatest comeback in endurance racing history up to that time. Helping the factory complete that sweep was a privately entered NART Ferrari 412P. Later motorsports journalists would nickname the new Ferrari 365GTB/4 the “Daytona” in honor of that victory and the name stuck despite getting no support from Enzo Ferrari.
One team hoping that the larger displacement cars wouldn’t finish the 1970 Daytona endurance race was the two-car factory Matra team. With French government support this aerospace firm fielded two three-liter Matra-Simca 650 Spyders for Daytona. They had hoped to field their new Monocoque 660 at Daytona but the cars were not quite ready.
The 650 Spyders were flown into New York to be trucked from there to Florida. To keep prying eyes, and photographers, from getting a sneak peak at the Matras they “sealed” the race cars in the truck. For the trip to Florida not even the truck’s drivers had access to the cars. This was unfortunate because the truck loading crew had failed to properly tie down the cars and during the trip the vehicles banged around inside the van and against each other. Upon arrival at Daytona the fiberglass bodies were a mess and a spare race car had to be flown into Florida from Argentina. The body parts and panels from that car were used to make the two Matra entries presentable for the race.
Matra’s chances of a podium finish at Daytona that year increased with the announcement that factory Alfa Romeo would not field any cars for the race. This was not expected because Alfa Romeo had won the Buenos Aires 200 mile race in early January but Autodelta decided to skip Daytona. Instead they shipped their new T33/3’s back to Italy for additional testing before returning to Florida in March for the 12-Hours of Sebring.
Adding to Matra’s hope for a respectable showing at Daytona was the inclusion of three-time Formula One World Driving Champion Jack Brabham to their driver roster. He would co-drive a Matra-Simca MS650 with Francois Cevert. This was the very first appearance of Brabham at the Daytona endurance race and he was asked why by the motoring press. He indicated that his Formula One competition raced more often than he did and he needed the extra track time to maintain his skill level and stay competitive.
With Alfa Romeo out of the picture at Daytona Matra’s main opposition in the Group 6 prototype class would come from Ferrari and the two very beautiful 312P coupes entered by Luigi Chinetti’s, Sr.’s North American Racing Team (NART). Sam Posey and Mike Parkes would pilot one 312P while the other was handled by Tony Adamowicz and David Piper. In addition to the 312P Coupes there was competition from a couple of Porsche 908s, a former Penske Lola Mark 3B and three Ford GT40s. One of the 908s finished second behind the Alfa Romeo at Buenos Aires so they were definitely in contention for the overall win.
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