Later that same afternoon it was Brian Redman’s turn to practice in a Porsche 917K for the race. As he entered the infield portion of the Daytona road course the 917’s Graviner automatic fire extinguisher system inexplicably went off filling the driver’s compartment and engine compartment on the 917K with fire suppressing gas.
Although blinded and choked by the gas Redman was able to get the car off the paved track coming to a stop on the infield grass. He struggled to open the car’s door to get a breath of much needed fresh air and when the corner workers arrived at the car he was partially incapacitated and had to be assisted from the car. He eventually recovered but many in the Porsche pits shuddered at the thought of what could have happened if that fire extinguisher had gone off somewhere on the high banks with Redman going at over 200 mph.
The Porsche factory wasn’t the only team dealing with problems during the fourteen hours of practice for the race. Two of the new Ferrari 512s were experiencing transmission problems and some overheating even in the cool January temperatures. According to a Ferrari spokesman, “This is a new car. We’ll need a couple of days to get sorted out. After that, we’ll go as fast as anybody.”
Dan Gurney and co-driver Chuck Parsons had a number of headaches with the NART Ferrari 512S they were scheduled to drive in the race. There were fuel pump problems caused by vapor lock and because he was much taller than the average Italian driver, Gurney had to deal with a cockpit that was too small for his 6’2″ frame. The NART mechanics addressed Gurney’s height problem by creating a dome to accommodate his helmet. Using the dome and sitting on the floor he could drive the car but it was not an ideal situation for him. Gurney also had the audacity to suggest to the Italian mechanics that they replace the Italian-made fuel pumps with ones made in America. This did not go down well with the Italians.
After fourteen hours of practice officially timed qualifying was to take place on the Friday before the race starting at 8 a.m. and run for two hours. For some reason an afternoon timed qualifying session was not announced and it became apparent later that many of the teams were unaware of it.
On that Friday morning it was cold and a light rain was falling. When the timed session ended the Mario Andretti – Arturo Merzario Ferrari 512S held the pole position with a time of 1 minute, 51.6 seconds and a record speed of 122.9 mph. Second on the grid would be the Jo Siffert – Brian Redman Gulf 917K at 121.5 mph, the Jean Pierre-Beltoise – Henri Pescarolo Matra-Simca 650 was third at 121.4 mph and the Gulf 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen was fourth at 115.445 mph.
In interviews prior to the start of the race Mario Andretti was his normal very candid self when he indicated that the Porsche 917s were probably faster than his Ferrari 512. He also opined that the Porsche drivers were probably told not to try for the pole position as part of the overall Gulf Porsche strategy. Andretti’s opinion would be proven correct before the first lap of the race was completed.
While Andretti was on the track during that rainy qualifying session in the morning there were several teams in the garage and paddock working furiously in an attempt to get their car ready for qualifying. Several of them assumed there would be an afternoon timed session. When word spread that the morning session was all there was going to be and anyone who didn’t qualify that morning would be put at the back of the pack a number of protests were filed with the stewards. After a hasty meeting the stewards relented and scheduled an afternoon timed qualifying session. The only complication was that the weather had improved with bright sun and a dry track so the stewards created a “rain handicap” for the afternoon session and the cars were placed on the grid accordingly. By the close of the second qualifying session on Friday a complete starting grid was published and cars with the “rain handicap” were indicated with an asterisk next to them.
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