Classic Car Capital

1971 24 Hours of Daytona – Race Profile

1971 24 Hours of Daytona – The End of an Era

Story and photos by Louis Galanos

Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez & Jackie Oliver on the starting grid at 24 Hours of Daytona 1971.Few fans of endurance racing who attended the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1971 were aware they were witnessing the end of an era. Some would later say that the 1971 World Manufacturer’s Championship (previously known as the World Sportscar Championship or WSC) series would be the zenith for that series, although it would drag on until its demise in 1992.

Blame for the slow death of this race series can be laid at the feet of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and their independent competition committee known as the Commission Sportive International (CSI).

The FIA and CSI were known for frequent rules changes many of which defied logic and common sense. In the late 1960’s the Ford – Ferrari Wars produced some magnificent machines like the 7-liter Ford GT40 Mk. IV prototype and the 4-liter Ferrari V12 prototype. These cars began to dominate the WSC series and the competition between the two kept driving up the costs of racing, as well as the speeds. Cars were driving at unheard of speeds at places like Le Mans but safety features were slow to catch up. As a result there were numerous bad accidents with the resultant injury and death.

In an attempt to get speeds down and costs under control the FIA mandated that for four years, starting in 1968, the limited production prototype race cars would be limited to no more than 3-liters in engine size and cars in the sports car category would be limited to 5-liters. This rules change effectively killed the big Ford and Ferrari prototypes.

Unfortunately many of the race constructors were unable or unwilling to develop and build the required 50 cars needed for homologation under the new rules. As a result the FIA faced the very real possibility of seriously diminished entry lists at their premier endurance events. No cars, no race fans. No race fans, no gate receipts. As they say, “Money talks and u-know-what walks.”

So, it was back to the drawing board for FIA and they rescinded the 50-car requirement and instead said all you need to produce is 25 cars for homologation. This change was supposed to entice more car manufacturers to build and enter cars in the series. Good for competition, no?

Seeing a loop hole in these new rules, the folks at Porsche jumped in with both feet. They took their venerable and well-tested 908 and upgraded it to produce a 5-liter car for the sports car category. That category was originally meant for production sports cars with two seats and a spare tire.

Using the 908 platform, with the minimal sports car requirements, they developed a 5-liter car they hoped will beat any of the new 3-liter prototypes and claim an overall win at the Holy Grail of racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They called their new car the 917 an in just 10 months the new 917 made its racing debut on May 11, 1969, at Spa in Belgium.

The new 917 “sports car” was incredibly fast but also incredibly unstable and dangerous at high speeds. It was so unstable that Porsche had problems getting drivers willing to drive the car in events. Some flat refused instead demanding they drive the old 908LH.

Jo Siffert and Derek Bell Gulf Porsche 917K
Jo Siffert doing some last minute adjustments to his Gulf Porsche 917K. His co-driver was Derek Bell.
Pedro Rodriguez won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1971 driving a Gulf Porsche 917.
Pedro Rodriguez won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1970 driving a Gulf Porsche 917 for J.W. Automotive and would look to repeat that success in 1971.

This stability problem wasn’t resolved until Porsche partnered up with John Wyer and his automotive group. Porsche would continue to develop engines but J.W. Automotive would enter and race the cars. They were the ones who eventually solved the aerodynamic problems and created the 917 body style we know and love today.

No doubt when Enzo Ferrari was told what the early 917 could do, he knew that this was a serious threat to Ferrari’s chances of winning any more World Sportscar Championships. So Enzo, now flush with needed capital from selling half his stock to Fiat, shut down development on the 312P program to concentrate on creating a car that could equal or beat the new 917. In a remarkable nine months the Ferrari 512S made its racing debut at the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona.

Author’s Note: When Porsche’s Dr. Ferdinand Piech brought in the FIA homologation inspectors to try and get the 917 certified he had only 18 completed cars and the parts for the remaining 25 on the factory floor. The inspectors gave a thumbs down on certification saying that all 25 cars had to be assembled and ready to drive. Yet, one year later Enzo Ferrari had only 17 cars assembled with five of them already in Daytona for the 24 hour race. Despite only having 17 cars fully assembled the FIA inspectors granted homologation for the 512. This homologation came when the Daytona race was already seven hours old. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately the six month lead that Porsche had in development and testing was too much of a handicap for Ferrari. Porsche won nine of the last twelve endurance races (as of January 1971) and the manufacturer’s title in 1969 and 1970. During the 1970 season the FIA, trying to close that loophole that allowed the birth of the 917 & 512, changed the rules again. They mandated that “all” Group 5 sportscars (917’s, 512’s and so on) would be limited to a maximum of 3-liters for the 1972 season. This would effectively retire those wonderful cars from any more FIA events after only 2 ½ years. The series name was also changed from the World Sportscar Championship to the World Championship of Makes.

Since 1971 was going to be the last year for the 5-liter sports cars, Enzo Ferrari felt he didn’t have the resources to support a 512 factory effort in the 1971 season. He would leave it up to private entries like Luigi Chinetti and his North American Racing Team (N.A.R.T.) and Roger Penske to represent Maranello while Ferrari continued to develop his 3-liter car for the 1972 season.

Tony Adamowicz / Ronnie Bucknum NART Ferrari 512S Spyder
The Tony Adamowicz – Ronnie Bucknum Ferrari 512S Spyder of the North American Racing Team.
NART Ferrari 312P/71 of Luigi Chinetti, Jr and Alain De Cadenet.
The North American Racing Team (NART) Ferrari 312P/71 of Luigi Chinetti, Jr., Nestor Garcia-Veiga and Alain De Cadenet.

Porsche took the opposite view. They continued to help J.W. Automotive and their other defacto factory team (Martini International Racing Team) and didn’t even consider developing a 3-liter engine for the 1972 season. Instead they quietly decided to withdraw from the World Championship of Makes and enter their 917 cars in the very popular American Can-Am Championship.

So, in January of 1971, at Daytona there were technically no factory teams. We have the Porsche factory-supported Gulf and Martini Porsches, the Ferrari-supported NART and Penske Ferraris as the main competition. Alfa and Matra were absent from this event, Matra mostly because of the horrendous and embarrassing accident that occurred at Buenos Aires earlier in the month that took the life of Ferrari favorite, Ignazio Giunti.

Giunti was driving the new factory Ferrari 312PB when he plowed into the Matra 660 of Jean-Pierre Beltoise. Beltoise had run out of gas a quarter mile from the pits. For some unknown reason he decided to push the car (a disqualifying offense) to his pit. At one point he was literally in the middle of the track. At that particular moment Beltoise looked over his shoulder and saw two cars coming toward him and barely got clear of his car when Giunti, his view blocked by the slower car in front of him, tried to pass and struck the Matra. The impact at full speed and resulting fire gave Giunti little chance of survival.

After the race Enzo Ferrari announced, that in honor of Giunti’s memory, they would not race any factory cars at the Daytona event which was the first points race of the season. Some automotive writers scoffed at this saying that Porsche humiliated Ferrari in 1970 and Enzo was just looking for an excuse not to be beaten again.

Martini & Rossi Porsche racing team at the 1971 24 Hours of Daytona.
Martini & Rossi Porsche racing team at the 1971 24 Hours of Daytona.
Martini and Rossi Porsche 917K of Helmut Marko and Rudi Lins
Martini & Rossi Porsche 917K of Helmut Marko and Rudi Lins.
Ferrari 512M of Masten Gregory and Gregg Young
The Ferrari 512M of Masten Gregory and Gregg Young in the pits prior to the start of the race. The car failed to finish.

The 917 Porsches were a known quantity since they had been regular winners the past season but the dark blue and yellow Penske/Kirk F. White/Sunoco Ferrari 512M was something new and a remarkable piece of fabrication by the Penske boys back in Philadelphia.

Penske literally took a Ferrari 512S and rebuilt it from the ground up adding on the more aerodynamic “M” body. The new body made it look more like a 917 than a 512 and for all intents and purposes, it was a brand new car. Again, the FIA didn’t see it that way and approved the new body without much fuss. Enzo must have known someone who knew someone at FIA.

Added to the aerodynamic improvements Penske got TRACO to boost engine power by 35 horses to an impressive 640 hp. With a new wiring configuration plus a whole host of other improvements the car could have been a serious contender for the 1971 manufacturer’s championship if the Ferrari factory had adopted the Penske improvements or contracted with Penske to build a version of the 512M.

While a J.W. Automotive Gulf 917 had won Daytona the previous year John Wyer was no lover of this particular race. According to Wyer, “The (Daytona) race should be shorter than 24 hours so we could have a motor race instead of having to conserve cars.” Having spent several cold January nights on the track as a corner worker doing the midnight shift I wouldn’t disagree with that point of view. Shorter might be better.

The 61-year-old Englishman also vented his feelings concerning the changing nature of racing back in 1971, saying, “Racing…is still a sport but includes more business.” Ironically it was his wildly successful cars that contributed to the evolution of endurance racing into what it is today…big business.

Lost in all the hub bub about 917’s and 512’s in 1971 were the cars that made up almost two-thirds of the 65 cars that were supposed to fill up the starting grid. They were the touring and grand touring cars, many of which were entered by weekend racers who might enter one or two big events a year like Daytona and Sebring. Many of these privateers raced on limited budgets with many camping out in the infield and cooking their meals over an hibachi.

John Greenwood - Chevrolet Corvette
John Greenwood stands next to his Chevrolet Corvette that he co-drove with Allan Barker and Dick Lang.
Ferrari 512S of Arturo Merzario and Jose Juncadella
Ferrari 512S of Arturo Merzario and Jose Juncadella.
Chevron B16 at 24 Hours of Daytona, 1971
Chevron B16 of Clive Baker, Sam Brown, Bob Grossman and Charles Reynolds.

Unfortunately quite a few of these small-time racers got shafted that year at Daytona when the FIA trimmed the starting field from the previously announced 65 cars to 48.

Cars that qualified slower than 93 miles per hour over the 3.81 mile course were judged as too slow and withdrawn from the race (no idea if their entry fee was refunded.) The rationale behind this unexpected last-minute decision was the speed differential that could reach over 100 mph between the fastest and slowest cars.

This danger was especially acute at night on the high banks where line of site is shortened by the curve of the banks plus a closing speed that left little chance for evasion. As they told the slower drivers at the driver’s meeting, “Stay in your lane on the high banks. You don’t want to get a Porsche (917) enema.”

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  1. Louis – Thanks to you for bringing this back to life. While it is 40 years old, your writing and images make it seem fresh and relevant. End of an Era indeed. Can you imagine if tomorrow’s race included modern versions of the factory Porsches and Ferraris? But no, we get to watch Daytona Prototypes…yawn.

    Wonderful piece!

  2. Never knew Pedro was such a slick looking guy. He looks so calm before the race.

    Superb photos and storytelling!!

  3. Louis,

    This is an amazing story indeed. It really reminds us of wonderful memories, with stunning cars, actually more good-looking than now. Congratulations for the text and the pictures.

  4. Louis…what a great summary of a fabulous race! As you remember, our small-block Camaro (302c.i.) set a track record of 2:04 with John Tremblay @ the wheel… breaking the Penske Javelin’s old record of 2:06.5…our camaro made it into the top ten…then retired about 2;30am because of overheating… then at Sebring…but that’s another story for another article…!
    Thanks for the memories…!

  5. Great photos and great story Lou. The real reason Ferrari didn’t enter Daytona was because the transmission was still the F1 unit and not sufficiently robust for the longer races. The Giunti story was a convenient dodge…. They entered Sebring anyway and fessed up- it lasted until sundown.
    My last memory of Daytona ’71 was Davey Hobbs on the cool off lap, waving at everyone through the hole in the side window of the Sunoco Ferrari. It was a warm weekend unlike the year before and a great time to be there. Sure doesn’t seem like 40 years ago.

  6. Louis: Great article and pictures. Oh, to be back their and to have one of the classic cars of yesterday! Keep up the good work.

  7. Thanks to Louis Galanos and Sports Car Digest for this excellent account of this race, which must rate as one of the greatest endurance racing events the the U.S. Narrative and images dead on. Pedro Rodriquez – best of the best? Well done, Lou. Doug Seeley

  8. Really a terrific job; excellent background research (I’m sure you didn’t remember all the details!) with all the FIA/CSI rules and homologation requirements plus the alternative Ferrari – Porsche decisions. The race narrative is fantastic as the photos (as always)!

  9. Amazing photos. Glad they survived 40 years. Porsche and Ferri– what a dog fight. I think I’ll go out and buy several rolls of duct tape.

  10. Thanks for the wonderful article Lou. Reading it and seeing some of your great photos really brings back some good memories!

    1. Phil,

      We remember the good old days don’t we. Seeing your name brought back some good ones too. How are you doing? My fun consists tooling around in my ’83 Ferrari 308 GTS when the weather is good. I’m in Snowmass Village, CO and it is cold and snowing today. Where are you these days.


  11. Louis, I have to hand it to you for another great story.

    Although I agree with your assessment of the FIA and its penchant for heavy-handed and biased regulation of the sports car racing world, I would suggest that you were much too kind. If I had been telling the story, I would have used stronger words to describe their inane meddling with rules and regulation to achieve whatever agenda they may have had, to favor or punish whomever they chose.

    You certainly well presented the spirit of the Golden Age of Sports Car Racing in this story, as well as in your magnificent photos over the years. When the end of an era comes, sometimes it’s hard to recognize, and difficult to make oneself accept the fact that what was great has passed into history. As an active participant, if only peripherily, during a few of those Golden years, I have often thought of how exciting it was to see the tremendous battles among Ferrari, Porsche, Ford, Cobra, and all the others. Back then we had very little in the way of safety equipment, and as such, the drivers went charging around the tracks with “reckless abandon”. Many of them paid the price for that lack, and did not survive to tell their stories. The excitement of the factory battles and the courage of the men who drove the cars are what made the Golden age golden, at least in my perspective.

    Now that age has caught up with me, I try to keep my memories of those times alive through books and photos such as your collection. That was a long time ago, though, and time fades all memories. Someday, and all too soon, there will be no living memory of those times, and the Golden Age will exist only in the books, films, and photos such as yours. That’s why your work has been so important. I thank you for that work-keep it going!

  12. Lou,
    You never cease to amaze me in your wide range of activities in past years. Knew of your Vietnam experiences in the Army during some tough times with good company. Knew you were a retired history teacher who helped many local children understand how history changed our world….but never knew about your work with race car folks in the 60’s. Wow, what an interesting life you have lived. Thanks for sharing this very fine piece and some great photos of the races that made history at Daytona!

  13. Lou,

    Another great article. The background surrounding the rules added alot to the race coverage.

    Looking forward to your next article. Maybe I will meet up with you at this years Sebring.


  14. This is a fantastic, extremely well-written and well documented story. I loved it. It was pictures from this very race that got me hooked on racing. Just a few months later, I went to see Stve McQueen’s movie. I’ve had 917’s and 512’s etched on my retina ever since. There is no doubt in my mind that these were the most spectacular and virile cars ever to grace a racetrack.

    I’d also like to vent some dissenting opinions. The 50 car rule was designed to dissuade constructors from building ever-faster, ever bigger-engined monsters whilst keeping the Lola T70 and Ford GT40 eligible, as grids would have been very thin if these cars hadn’t been allowed to compete. The number was reduced to 25 at the request of Porsche. The CSI relented, assuming that Porsche was going to build a Lola T70-type 5 liter car for privateers in the spirit of the 904 and 906, a sort of low-rev, low stress 908 spinoff. You may call it naïve, but they were caught off-guard when they discovered Porsche had made the request in order to facilitate a full-blown factory effort and I’m sure that contributed to their looking the other way when Ferrari fell a few 512’s short. Without Ferrari there simply wouldn’t have been anything to race for in 1970. The old man, of course, knew how to maximize this bargaining chip.

    I would also suggest that the 512 M was no more different from the 512 S than the 1970 short-tail John Wyer 917 was from the original 1969 model. Again, not a very principled point of view from the CSI, but certainly opportunist because there would not have been any competition without the Ferrari.

    Porsche has had a history of violating the spirit of rules whilst arguably sticking to their letter. Look at the Can-Am 917, the 911 Carrera RSR, the 935, the 936, or more recently the 911 GT1 and the RS Spyder. All of these cars made the existing opposition obsolete by, shall we say, “creatively” interpreting the rules in a way that they were never intended. More often than not, this killed off an attractive series in the process because mostly privateer competition didn’t have the resources to follow suit.

    The 917/512 era was the best there ever was, but there’s more to the rules story than meets the eye.

  15. Louis, well done.
    I keep looking for myself in your pictures; for some of them we must have been standing next to each other.
    I was seated in the Timing & Scoring stand when the private plane went down and I thought I was the only one who saw it so I didn’t tell anyone.
    As you well know, it seemed like the lower half of the 24hr field was made up of Central Florida Region regulars, but the mutual respect between the drivers (well except for Mssrs F and A) was always there.
    I promise, I will find those boxes of pictures!
    All the best

  16. Louis,
    Great story and text. Like too many good series ie the Can-Am politics and promotors screw things up. Thanks for the E mail.
    Good to hear from you.

  17. Lou:
    To confirm your statements that “The new 917 sports car was incredibly fast but also incredibly unstable and dangerous at high speeds. It was so unstable that Porsche had problems getting drivers willing to drive the car in events. Some flat refused instead demanding they drive the old 908LH” and that “This stability problem wasn’t resolved until Porsche partnered up with John Wyer and his automotive group.”
    In a recent interview for the Italian AUTOSPRINT magazine, Brian Redman recalls that initially none of the factory Porsche drivers wanted to drive the 917. The 908 was the preferred model with the 917 considered unstable and dangerous.This was true even after Siffert won on the Osterreichring circuit in Austria. Finally the solution was found when, thanks to Redman and John Horsman (John Wyer Gulf engineer), it was observed that although the windshield had bugs, the top part of the rear body was clean; therefore, where the moving air should have a reverse wing effect and force the rear tires to the ground there was , in fact, no downforce. With some aluminium, rivets, and tape the mechanics modified the aerodynamics shape of the rear aerodynamics and after a few fast laps on the track, the problem and solution were confirmed. The car was then definitely modified and became the winning Porsche 917.

  18. Lou, great article. That era is maybe my favorite one in car racing (even when I was only 2 at that time!). I envy anybody who was able to live it. BTW, a friend of mine happened to be in Buenos Aires when Giunti died, sitting in the grands only meters from the accident. Sadly, there is not even a small plaque to remember that great italian driver in the place where he passed away.
    Will we ever have again a Sport Cars Championship with so beautiful 8 and 12 cylinder monsters like 512s, 917s and Gt40s? Sadly, I don’t think so…

  19. Because of my schedule, I’m only now able to review this extraordinary article. You’ve brought it back to life for me.
    Whatever they’re paying you…it isn’t enough!

  20. Lou,

    Thanks a lot for bringing back those days, I am the biggest fan of the 917 and Pedro of course!
    I´ll love to know your point of view regarding the lack of recognition from Porsche to Pedro as the best driver that has ever driven their cars!

  21. We have the great privilege of frequently attending the events at Le Circuit, Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, Canada where the Number 6 Ferrari that so dramatically survived to place at this event currently resides. From time to time it is driven very competitively by it’s passionate owner who is never afraid to let it sing! If you ever have the chance to visit this beautifully restored track that Michael Schumacher refers to as “The Little Nurburgring”, just go. Here is a link to a Ferrari topic on our forums that includes current to a couple of seasons, pictures of this, and other historic Ferrari’s .

  22. Lou, Thanks for a great review. I was there thru all of it. I was only 17 at the time but was in the thick of it. I was part of a pit crew on a Datsun 510. Unfortunately, it was on the trailer before the race started. Having credentials to the pits, I made friends with Pedro and Derek. I still see Derek Bell regularly. It was cool seeing the photos, sure brings back a lot of memories. I am even in one of the pictures. I am in the crowd watching them repair the transmission. When they won, I got to help push the car into the winners circle. What a cool time. Unfortunately both Pedro and Seppi would both lose their lives just months later doing what they loved.

  23. “Author’s Note: When Porsche’s Dr. Ferdinand Piech brought in the FIA homologation inspectors to try and get the 917 certified he had only 18 completed cars and the parts for the remaining 25 on the factory floor. The inspectors gave a thumbs down on certification saying that all 25 cars had to be assembled and ready to drive. ”

    Not according to Walter Naher as well several other people who have done extensive research. All 25 cars WERE built up, some by normal factory mechanics off the 911 line as well as any other employee who wanted to help. The FIS inspectors had made only ONE trip to Werk 1’s forecourt and there are many photo’s of them standing in front of the 25 cars (you can clearly count them) and they were shown a bowl with 25 keys in it and told to pick any key they wanted and to start that car using the numbered key they picked. You’ve got it backwards: It was Ferrari who showed up to the Daytona 24H in 1970 with only proof of 17 512S’s built – the rest were in kit form and STILL they were granted homologation by the authorities – some say as a pay back to Piech for the way he ‘fooled’ then in 1969.

  24. The Ferrari 512M was not developed by Penske, it was a work car made on 2nd half of the 1970 season. Ickx-Giunti raced at Zeltweg 1000 Km and proved to be much faster than the 917s, they dominated the race but retired for electrical problems. Later they won the 9 hours of Kyalami ahead of Siffert-Ahrens’ Porsche 917. Penske purchased a 512M and further develop it, actually at Daytona and Sebring Donohue-Hobbs were the fastest on track….

  25. Perdo R. won Dayton 4 times, won Spa with a 5 lap lead after being penalized, in the rain … in a 917, fastest lap at Le Mans 1970 and still in the top 5 fastest lap to date…in a 917. One of Best Drivers of the 917 of his time!

  26. This is a very good read and gets the pulse racing particularly if you were about at the time and remember the cars and drivers. I would make just one comment regarding this thread which is that most of the posters on here rightly praise Pedro Rodriguez’s drive to regain the lead but there seems precious little credit given to man that co-drove with him for those 24 hours – Jackie Oliver. You don’t win a 24 hours sports car race without a guy who can maintain a similar pace so all credit to them both.

  27. *Thanks for the memories, Lou. I was there with Gary Wright and his RM Porsche 914-6 team. Helped crew the first day. It was quite an experience and a great weekend for racing, despite a little rain.
    Also, during the night listening to the high pitched sound of a P512 Ferrari banking on the oval at 200+ miles an hour.. Then watching its flicking headlights level out entering the long start/finish straightaway. Gave me goosebumps then and still does remembering it :-))

    1. 917 no 2 is the car that won Daytona in 1971. It looked a bit second hand at the end. . But is alive and well now. Chassis 013.
      It is now in the National Motor Museum UK. Has been in the same family ownership for almost 50 years. Appears at the Goodwood events and various other events round Europe.
      It won every race it entered in 1971, except Barcelona because of a misfire due to sub standard Spanish petrol
      Drivers: Rodriguez, Kinnunen, Oliver. Attwood, Siffert, Bell , Van Lennep, Redman.

  28. Louis,
    Great to read and see pictures of the ‘71 24 Hr. race again. Don, John and I had a great run in the Owens-Corning Corvette.
    Thanks for reviving great memories.
    Tony DeLorenzo