By the end of the second hour of racing the Andretti/Ickx 3-liter Ferrari 312PB had captured the lead demonstrating the competitiveness of the car compared to the 5-liter behemoths. Helping that competitiveness was the fact that they didn’t have to fill up as often doing at least 30 laps while the Penske Ferrari could do only 20. Andretti and Ickx would maintain the lead for four hours and had built up a four-lap lead when the car lost power at 4:10 p.m. and began to coast to a stop in the region of Big Bend and not too far from the Hairpin Turn.
As the 312PB coasted and stopped a huge cloud of smoke erupted from under the engine bay hood and corner marshals came running with fire extinguishers. The smoke was not coming from a fire but a huge crack in the transmission oil cooler case that drained the transmission of fluid resulting in a seizure. The car was retired after 117 laps.
With the demise of the Andretti/Ickx Ferrari the Alfa Romeo T33/3 of Nanni Galli and Rolf Stommelen assumed the lead on lap 118 but it was short lived as they had to pit twice to replace a battery and an alternator. The time lost for repairs allowed the Vic Elford, Gerard Larrousse Martini Porsche 917 K to go into the lead.
Around this same time the Penske team was about to receive a double dose of bad luck, as if having their 512M rear-ended at Daytona six weeks earlier wasn’t enough. The Donohue/Hobbs Ferrari came into the pits for an unscheduled stop limping along on a flat tire caused by running over a beer can thrown onto the circuit by a race fan. Time was lost changing the tire and when the car returned to the race Donohue was at the wheel determined to make up that lost time.
On the back part of the course, before entering turn 9, Donohue caught up to and was passing the Porsche of Pedro Rodriguez when contact was made. According to Donohue, Rodriguez hit his car three times causing significant damage to both. Coming out of the turn they slowed then continued to the pits to assess the damage leaving numerous bits of fiberglass and headlight glass in their wake.
Both cars entered pit road with the Porsche ahead of the Ferrari by several car lengths. Rodriguez drove right into the Penske pit area. In his bi-weekly serial called Don’t Wash Me car owner Kirk F. White, who was there in the Penske pits, describes what he saw and heard. “He (Rodriguez) threw up the door of the 917 and shouted at Penske saying, “You’ driver a loco gringo!” Mark came limping in behind Rodriguez. Painfully getting out of the car, he was utterly dejected. Roger did something he never did before. He used profanity in public. In a fit of justifiable temper, he shouted at Mark: “I told you not to f**k with Rodriguez!” Poor Mark’s face fell even further.”