Lined up and ready to race (Photo: SIR Photo)
Lined up and ready to race (Photo: SIR Photo)

1971 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile

The Old Gal was on Life Support in 1971

Story by Louis Galanos | Photos as credited

In March of 1971 I was attending the University of Florida on the GI Bill and in our free time my wife and I worked as race officials for Central Florida Region of Sports Car Club of America (CFR/SCCA). The region was blessed with providing race officials for both the Daytona 24 Hours as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring.

In 1970 we had officiated at what many today agree was one of the best if not the best Sebring 12 Hour Grand Prix races ever run. We were looking forward to the ’71 race although with a little apprehension and foreboding.

It was common knowledge among veteran race officials that the Sebring facility, with its storied 5.2-mile circuit, was on borrowed time. The international sanctioning body for motorsports (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA) had repeatedly warned Sebring race founder and promoter, Alec Ulmann, that unless improvements were made to the track, pits, paddock and spectator accommodations that they would decline to sanction any future events at the facility. This loss of sanctioning would effectively kill the race as an international event and seriously undermine the ability of the track to survive.

Even the most die-hard supporter of the Sebring race would readily admit that the “Old Gal” was showing her age and the facility and environs were long overdue for a major overhaul and it was looking more and more like that was not going to happen.

Sebring founder and promoter Alec Ulmann in paddock (Photo: Gene Bussian)
Sebring founder and promoter Alec Ulmann in paddock (Photo: Gene Bussian)

For those who were there early in race week you just might have seen Alec Ulmann, in his blue blazer, riding around on his BMW motorcycle or talking to folks in the pit area. He was conversant in four languages and greeted a variety of people in those languages and fielded questions from them. The question of the day, from reporters, drivers and team managers alike, was if this was going to be the last Sebring. His response was always the same, “If local backing doesn’t materialize, I’ll have to make the inevitable decision I hate to make and say that this is the last race in Sebring.”

When Ulmann referred to “local backing” he was talking about the Sebring Airport Authority which held title to the airport and property containing the track. Each year Ulmann leased the property from them to put on the race. He was not about to put up his own money for track improvements or willing to hustle for the funds. He felt that the track owners had the responsibility to maintain the facility and make the necessary improvements.

As if the demands for improvements by the FIA weren’t enough the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had notified Mr. Ulmann and the track owners that they could no longer shut down the active runways of the Sebring Airport to use as part of the 5.2-mile circuit. The race surface would have to be shortened or an entirely new circuit would have to be built. In 1971 we were afraid that America’s premier sports car race was coming to an end.

Author at the 1971 Sebring race (Photo: Louis Galanos)
Author at the 1971 Sebring race (Photo: Louis Galanos)

As usual we arrived at Sebring early during race week to get a good camping spot but also to get up close and personal with the drivers and cars without the hassle of what was expected to be a record crowd of race fans. As we wandered through the pits and paddock we noticed a hand-made placard on the wall of one of the pits that said in Italian, “In memoria di Ignacio Giunti”, along with a picture of a driver. It was pretty obvious that this was a memorial to Italian factory driver Ignacio Giunti who won Sebring in 1970 and died in an accident at the 1000 km of Buenos Aires two months earlier. He was driving a factory Ferrari 312PB prototype when he plowed into the rear end of Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s Matra 660 who was ilegally pushing his stalled car in the center of the track. Beltoise was not hurt but the impact with the Matra and subsequent fire were fatal to Giunti.

The death of one of Enzo Ferrari’s favorite drivers put a strain on the relationship between the factory Ferrari team and the Matra team. Ostensibly to honor Giunti’s memory there was no factory Ferrari entry at Daytona in ’71. There was also no Matra factory team there either with word coming through sources that Matra decided to skip Daytona and Sebring in order to concentrate on Le Mans. Not having Matra at Sebring in ’71 probably saved all of us from a nasty encounter between the Italians and French. Time was needed for the Italians to cool off.

The line-up for Sebring in 1971 promised to be great with a good selection of first-class cars, drivers and teams. If this indeed was the last Sebring it was going to go out with style. Representing factory Porsche and returning to Sebring were two J.W. Automotive Gulf Porsche 917s, plus a spare 917 “T” car. The Gulf/John Wyer Team had won 10 of 12 World Manufacturers races and were favorites to win Sebring.

Gulf Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver (Photo: Ken Breslauer)
Gulf Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver (Photo: Ken Breslauer)
Gulf Porsche 917K of Jo Siffert and Derek Bell (Photo: Lou Galanos)
Gulf Porsche 917K of Jo Siffert and Derek Bell (Photo: Lou Galanos)

[full_width_banners]


Gulf drivers Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert (Photo: Gene Bussian)
Gulf drivers Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert (Photo: Gene Bussian)
The testing (“T”) Gulf 917 reserved for Jo Siffert (Photo: Gene Bussian)
The testing (“T”) Gulf 917 reserved for Jo Siffert (Photo: Gene Bussian)
Martini & Rossi driver Vic Elford (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)
Martini & Rossi driver Vic Elford (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Next

Show Comments (38)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Hello Louis, Your 1971 Seabring race report is the best I’ve ever read. Qudos, on that. I was a sportscar racer starting in the early 1960s in a number of classes including HM, Osca SN 951. and then went sailing and went back into racing in A Sports in the 1990s in Floriida. I have plenty of time racing at Seabring. The point I want to make is your great report leaves out the lower displacement classes which I find to be disappointing. That said, your own racing background that makes you such a good reporter.

    1. My race profile reflects the research material I was able to collect. Sadly the newspapers and magazines of the time concentrated on the big name drivers and race teams and neglected the smaller cars and independents. Will try to do better research next time to see if I can correct this oversight.

  2. Lou,

    As usual, your writing skills are top notch. Your attention to detail is by far the best out there! Thanks again for all your hard work. You help keep the spirit of Sebring alive and for that, I and the generations that follow, thank you!

  3. You’ve done it again my friend –
    Your story brought back many memories as I was there too. And once again, your photography is just outstanding. Your work as a corner marshal gave you the opportunity to get up very close and you made the most of it with your camera. Would that I had been anywhere near as good as you in those days. Congratulations also on a great story with several back-stories adding to it.
    Chuck Mclaughlin

  4. Louis. Great stuff as usual. I was there. I saw Pedro in the pit lane a bit later and asked what had happened between him and Donahue. With a smile he said ‘he reversed into me’!
    Ed

  5. This material is simply astounding!. Thank you so much for the history and beautiful photos. Looking forward to the 65th running, I hope you stop by the Turn 2 Crew viewing trailer for some refreshments and food and have you take some pictures from its vantage point.

  6. You were just a few years after me at Uof F. I attended the race some 7 years in the 60s. A couple years I hitchhiked to the race from about across Sorority row. and got rides right to the track within 15-20 minutes! A couple years we ended up in the pit area at race’s end and helped pushing the winning car on the Alitalia ramp

  7. Our feet trod like paths but different years. My wife and I joined the SCCA- Central Florida Region-in the mid-80’s starting as corner workers. She ultimately chose to work grid and I ended up Chief of Tech. If ever there can be a surreal experience it’s being a race worker during the 12 hour of Sebring race back in the bacchanal, x-rated infield days.
    Your writing captures the flavor of the event and the photos are excellent. I may have to dive into pile of my old pictures and see what surfaces.
    Story: We were working the Green Park Chicane when the nose of the Miller Porsche came adrift. Looking to save it for the team to retrieve we put it in the bed of my pickup truck parked near our corner station. As it started toward sunset I could see the animals in the infield plot to jump the fence and swipe the nose. Not that I cared but I figured the damage that was gonna be done to my truck might be a wee tough to explain to my insurance man. We had control tell the Miller team to please come get their body parts or we were going to toss it to the crowd. They did.

  8. The Abarth 2000SP of Toly Arutunoff pictured at the hairpin was driven by Brian Goellnicht (not Bob). This was my first professional drive.

  9. Louis…
    Another superb article on the ’71 12 hours of Sebring race…thanks for including our team in your coverage… !

  10. Was a Grad Student at Colorado Univ. in 1970, and got involved with Del ‘Russo’ Taylor from Denver for this race in his Alfa GTA. Del T. was a ne’er-do-well huckster, but had won his class at Sebring a year or two prior. I towed Del’s GTA from Denver to Sebring with a volunteer crewman, Clark “The Happy Hippy” Hanson, we practiced and qualified, but then Peter ‘Perfect’ Gregg pitched a bitch to the organizers that our U2L class was too slow and a hazard…..and our entire class was NOT allowed to run the race. If I coulda’ got my hands on Peter Gregg I’d have gladly strangled him. After the race, I was in someone’s hospitality tent and Carroll Shelby stumbled in. They popped a bottle of champagne for CS, and we drank champagne straight out of the bottle with Carroll S., so the trip was memorable……not a total loss. It was one of those life experiences you cherish & never forget!
    Buzz Dyer

  11. Beautiful job putting this together Lou. This might even have been better than being there…..because there would have been no way to see it all in real time. Although I really would have loved to be there. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Page eight, Thanks for sharing Janet Guthrie’s email. Could you I.D. the other drivers on her team shown in that photo on page eight? Wonderful article and photos. Thanks, Andrew Chisholm

  13. Now that’s really good stuff…went to Bucknell University on the GI Bill back in the 50’s so can relate to your background, just wish I could follow your grasp of race photography.Thanks for a job well done.

  14. Thanks. Great photos. 1971 was the last Sebring I attended as a spectator. Crewed for your friend Phil Currin in 1973. Wish you had photographed from the other side of the Esses because we always camped on the side from which you photographed. Might have proof then that I was there;} The sound of the cars coming out of the esses and through the long bend towards the hairpin sticks with you forever.

  15. Lou – thank you so much for including Gene Bussian’s photo of Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert. Both together in the same photo and both to be lost to the sport they loved by the end of the year. A very human tribute to these two drivers who gave so much to the sport they loved. I remember the BBC broadcast of Jo winning a Brands Hatch in 1968 and the Autosport report of Pedro’s win at Spa.

  16. The 1971 race at Sebring was my ninth year working timing and scoring at that race. I initially came to work at the track in 1963 as part of a group from the Cape Canaveral Sports Car Club. We all knew that the track was antiquated and we all had concerns about whether there would be another race after this year. All of us in the Central Florida Region of the SCCA had heard the rumors, but we all hoped there would be some agreement about safety improvements as well as technical improvements for people working the race and more improvements for spectators. But, that 1971 race certainly lived up to the kind of race that had one of the best fields we ever saw at Sebring. I had worked the Daytona race earlier that year (also doing T & S), so many of the cars were familiar to me. I think my boss (Dave Heinz) was racing in a Corvette with Or Costanzo that year. This car later became the fabled “Rebel Corvette #57” that won GT class a couple of years later at both Daytona and Sebring. But all of the cars I loved were there. I did not miss the Matra’s because they had to have been the loudest race cars ever built and by the time the last shift in the timing stand came around, you just wished those darn cars would go into the pits and never come back out. It was a great race, though, and I miss the original track with the “esses” that led onto the long gentle curve that led into the original hairpin, about 100 yds. from where the hairpin is now, and then the dash down the warehouse straight to Webster, a right-left combination that led cars out to the first of the back straights. Those were wonderful days to work timing and scoring, although the facilities were miserable. Sebring desperately needed updating as the 1965 downpour proved when the pits became a river and there was water all over the tables in the timing stand. But, in a masochistic sort of way, we all loved that place. The current track is much improved and much safer, but some of the “color” has been lost. As usual SCD has done a wonderful job of bringing all of that back for me. I went on, working timing and scoring until after 21 years there, I moved on to other masochistic forms of entertainment, long-distance ocean racing. But, I hope, Sebring will be around for a long time to come. It is a one-of-a-kind spectacle that we would miss greatly for its history and contribution to motorsports in America.

  17. Nice article, facts which have been unknown all these years. You know how to tell a story. I met Giunti when he was in Daytona for the 24 hour with the T-33 Alfa Romeo. He crunched it in practice, it was repaired but since the tubular frame was critical in carrying cooling from the engine to the radiator and had been bent and cracked, Alfa decided not to run the car. The quote at the time was, “We will not enter the fourth car. We will enter three cars and finish the three cars.” Which they did, finishing 1,2,3 in class. Guido Levetto

  18. Haven’t had a chance to read the article yet, but the photos are marvelous. Sobering to see so many departed greats.

  19. For anyone interested in prototype racing as I have most of my life,(worked at Sebring ’70, 71, and ’72) I invite readers to visit http://www.AutodeltaGoldenYears.com where you will find the only historical ‘insiders’ record of the full construction of the Alfa Romeo prototype “Type 33” cars from 1964 until the end around 1977. I have been privileged to live and work “Inside the Walls” of Autodelta in Settimo Milanese, (Milano) and was granted full authority to photograph everything inside (and outside !) of the secret complex. There exist no Ferrari, Lola, Porsche or Gulf factory images to be found on the Internet…secrecy has prevailed to this very day…..the only such image collection can be found in the series I photographed 40+ years ago along with 1972 Le Mans and that same years’ Targa Florio. Visit the site and be amazed. “I guarantee it or your money back! “

  20. OK, you did a hell of a lot of research; but, without your personal Sebring experience , photo-taking ability, and descriptive writing this fantastic account of the 1971 Sebring experience would not have been possible! Fantastic …… as usual.

  21. Good work as usual, Lou. I missed this race as well as the ’70 race thanks to Uncle Sam. Fort Benning in ’70 and Germany in ’71 (the latter not a complaint as there were worse places to be at that time!). I always enjoy the photos and tales of Pedro R. since he is still my favorite driver. Unfortunately, about 4 months later, I was about 100 yards or so away when he crashed in Herbi Müller’s Ferrari at the Norisring in Nürnberg in what was sort of a nothing Interserie race where Pedro went to have something to do that weekend. He was in the lead and pulling away when it happened. I didn’t see the crash itself but the black smoke was horrid looking. Then, only about 3 months after that, while returning from visiting a college friend who was on maneuvers at Grafenwöhr, I heard on Armed Forces Radio that Siffert had been killed, also in something of a nothing non-championship F1 race. As wonderful as that period in racing was, it did have a big down side. I look forward to your next article.

  22. “Step into the wayback machine Sherman” Another terrific account. Louis’ articles are far more detailed than anything at the time. Accurate and excelent photos. Thank You

  23. Lou, Another excellent article, your detailed writing and photographs really capture what the Golden Era of Sports Car Racing in Florida from the 60’s and ’70’s was like, almost as good as being there! I always look forward to reading all your stuff on SCD, you have done a wonderful job. Thank you!! – Lou S.

  24. Another Great Article Lou!! Did anyone notice the two corner workers had different opinions on who had the inside line for the same turn#9? I think the second report is more accurate for damage on the cars.

  25. Always enjoy reading, and then re-reading, your race profiles which are always accurate, full of interesting details, and packed with excellent photos.
    Mario

  26. Here it is Christmas Eve and I am sitting in France reading this story again….must get a life! It was a great year at Sebring and I enjoy reliving it. Ed

  27. Sports Car Digest can publish all of your race articles every year and I will read each one every year ….. and enjoy reading your accounts and viewing the great photos each time !

  28. Louis,

    What a great article and fantastic photos, thank you. I was there and it was my first Sebring which so hooked me that I came to many more over the years. But the Porsche/Ferrari battles of that era were so exciting. I have some slides of this race that I will digitize and share. Even worked my way in to the pits during the race and got some shots of Mark Donohue. My first Sebring has a very special place in my heart.