1971 24 Hours of Daytona – Race Profile

1971 24 Hours of Daytona – The Finish

As many were going to lunch Jackie Oliver brought in the leading car ahead of schedule. Somewhere on the high banks the transmission on his 917 crapped out and he coasted down pit lane to the Gulf pits with the transmission stuck in high gear.

Under normal circumstances this would be a simple repair because they had plenty of time. Just swap out the damaged transmission for a working one. However FIA rules didn’t allow this. You had to fix the damaged transmission, but was there enough time to do so?

John Wyer decided to go for it and the Porsche mechanics bent to a task that many, who were witness to it (including me), thought was impossible, totally rebuild the transmission one gear at a time in less than two hours.

Jackie Oliver Porsche 917K
Three hours before the end of the race, and with a huge lead, Jackie Oliver brings his Porsche in with a busted gearbox. Porsche mechanics work feverishly to rebuild the transmission.
Jackie Oliver - Gulf Wyer Porsche 917K
Jackie Oliver waiting patiently for the transmission repairs to be completed on his Gulf Wyer Porsche 917K.

As if this drama at the Speedway wasn’t enough, something happened outside the track that brought everyone in the grandstands to their feet in shock and horror.

At the Daytona International Airport, adjacent to the Speedway, a private plane had just taken off and at about 100 feet off the tarmac lost power, stalled and nose dived into the ground producing a huge ball of flaming black smoke. It took the airport crews over 15 minutes to douse the flames and the occupants were burned beyond recognition.

Back at the Speedway the Porsche mechanics were working feverishly to make the transmission repairs as the Bucknum – Adamowicz Ferrari 512S steadily chipped away at their lead. From the pit enclosure Rodriguez and Oliver watch, mostly in silence. They were both exhausted because, like most drivers, neither had slept since Friday night but they were both alert and ready to race.

After what seemed an interminable 92 minutes the car was ready to reenter the race. The time was now 1:05 p.m. with just under two hours left to go. However, they had lost their huge lead and were now second behind the Bucknum – Adamowicz Ferrari by almost three laps with the Donohue – Hobbs Ferrari coming up fast in third place just two laps behind the Porsche.

Ronnie Bucknum - NART Ferrari 512S
Ronnie Bucknum leaves the pits in an attempt to chip away at the lead the Rodriguez and Oliver have while the Porsche is in for repairs.
Ferrari 512S of Adamowicz/Bucknum
While the Rodriguez/Oliver Porsche 917 is in the pits for repairs the Ferrari 512S of Adamowicz/Bucknum takes the lead. However their car is ailing with broken valve springs.

The “little Mexican” Pedro Rodriguez was tasked with regaining that lead and since the Porsche 917K (when healthy) was 10 to 12 seconds a lap faster than the ailing Ferrari 512S it seemed possible, and it was. In a brilliant feat of “balls-to-the-wall” driving, Rodriguez regained the lead in a remarkably short 33 minutes.

What followed then were two unscheduled pit stops for Porsche, both for tires. A brief rain shower forced the Porsche to pit for rain tires. It was over quickly and when the track dried sufficiently they pitted again for slicks. During one of those stops they lost the lead to the Bucknum – Adamowicz Ferrari which stayed out the entire time on slicks.

When Rodriguez took the checked flag at 3 p.m. he was ahead of the Bucknum – Adamowicz Ferrari by just over one lap. This was the closest finish at the Daytona 24 in the history of the event up to that time.

Pedro Rodriguez Porsche 917K
After 92 minutes for repairs Pedro Rodriguez takes the Porsche out to reclaim the lead. However, brief rain showers makes driving dangerous as he goes for the leading car.
Pedro Rodriguez Porsche 917K
Despite the blue smoke coming from a cracked tail pipe it only took 33 minutes for Rodriguez to reclaim the lead and go on for the win just one lap ahead of the second place Ferrari. An amazing drive by 'The Little Mexican'.
Adamowicz/Bucknum NART Ferrari 512S
The Adamowicz/Bucknum NART Ferrari 512S manages to hold on to second place. This was the closest finish in the history of the Daytona 24 up to that time.
Donohue/Hobbs Penske Ferrari 512M
The Donohue/Hobbs Penske Ferrari 512M crosses the finish line in third place with the Adamowicz/Bucknum Ferrari coming in second and the Greenwood/Barker Corvette coming in 10th.
Luigi Chinetti, Jr. - Ferrari 312P at Daytona 24 Hours 1971
Luigi Chinetti, Jr., Nestor Garcia-Veiga and Alain De Cadenet drove this Ferrari 312P to 5th place and 1st in class.
These three cars finished 1-2-3.  The #2 Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver finished first.  The #23 red Ferrari 512S of Tony Adamowicz and Ronnie Bucknum finished second and the blue #6 Penske Ferrari 512M finished third driven by Mark Donohue and David Hobbs.
These three cars finished 1-2-3. The #2 Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver finished first. The #23 red Ferrari 512S of Tony Adamowicz and Ronnie Bucknum finished second and the blue #6 Penske Ferrari 512M finished third driven by Mark Donohue and David Hobbs.
Oliver and Rodriguez to victory lane
Oliver met Rodriguez up the pit lane and hopped in to the car to drive it to the winner’s circle. Rodriguez got cleaned up and into an orange Gulf jacket to ride on top of the car. That is him waving to the crowd.
Winner Circle at Daytona
The Winner’s Circle at Daytona. Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver flanked by Miss Universe (on left) and Miss Speedweeks (on right).

The Rodriguez – Oliver Porsche 917K averaged 109.203 m.p.h. and covered 2,621 miles making it the second fastest Daytona 24 up to that time.

For their efforts the JW/Gulf Porsche team was awarded $17,000 of the $55,000 total purse for the event. Bucknum – Adamowicz got $6,800 for second place, Donohue and Hobbs got $3,700 for third place, DeLorenzo and Yenko got $1,400 for fourth and Chinetti and Veiga got $500 for coming in fifth.

The nail-biting drama that occurred during those last three hours saved the race from becoming a boring runaway by Porsche and turned it into a contest worthy of remembering. Despite the fact that there were no “factory” teams entered at Daytona in 1971, the 24 Hours of Daytona was full excitement and drama worthy of any international event. Unfortunately it was also the last time the very popular, and now legendary, 917s and 512s would race competitively at Daytona. It was the end of an era.

[Source: Louis Galanos]

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Show Comments (41)

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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)!
    Superb!

  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.

      Bill

  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!
    Pete

  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.

    Bill

  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
    john

  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.
    Cheers,
    Scooter

  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 http://alturl.com/f7j99 .

  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.
    Best,
    Tony DeLorenzo