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

1971 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile

1971 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile Page Fourteen

As the sun began to set around 6:30 p.m. the starter put out the signal for all cars to turn on their lights. Some had already come in to have headlight and driving light covers removed. To do that too early risked having your lights damaged or destroyed by debris from the crumbling track thrown up by leading cars. Some cars were equipped with the best driving lights they could afford because at night certain areas of the circuit were pitch black and the vast areas of concrete runway and taxi ways looked for all the world like a dark ocean with no landmarks or lights showing the way. Just about every year the race was run some poor soul would get lost on a remote part of the circuit. In the March/April 2016 issue of Vintage Motorsport noted German driver Jochen Mass, in his Memories of Sebring wrote, “….some drivers had lost their bearings (in the darkness) and one of them got lost for almost 30 minutes, trying to find the track again, his orientation obscured by the tall grass.”

On lap 149 Larrousse’s Martini 917 finally passed the Alfa T33/3 of Galli and Stommelen to take the lead and they would not relinquish it for the rest of the race. Having the lead, the Elford – Larrousse Porsche would travel another 110 laps and 572 miles to before taking the checkered flag at 11 p.m. This was the first victory for Porsche at Sebring since 1968. Those final six hours were without the drama of the first six and one motorsports writer referred to the last half of the race as “dull”.

Vic Elford and Gerard Larousse's winning Martini 917K (Photo: Lou Galanos)
Vic Elford and Gerard Larousse’s winning Martini 917K (Photo: Lou Galanos)
The Galli/Stommelen Alfa T33/3 would come in second overall (Photo: Louis Galanos)
The Galli/Stommelen Alfa T33/3 would come in second overall (Photo: Louis Galanos)
Vic Elford was always a bit tense right up until the last minutes of the race (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)
Vic Elford was always a bit tense right up until the last minutes of the race (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)
The Alfa would finish third, the Porsche fifth and the Ferrari sixth overall (Photo: FlaGator73)
The Alfa would finish third, the Porsche fifth and the Ferrari sixth overall (Photo: FlaGator73)

That’s not to say the last half of the race for Martini was without incident. As the last hour of the race approached some in the Martini pits were keeping their fingers crossed while others began getting themselves cleaned up in anticipation of looking good for the photographers in victory circle. It was then they had one of those “Oh, no!” moments when the car pitted and was diagnosed with a broken exhaust manifold. Nothing could be done so the car returned to the circuit with Larrousse at the wheel while Vic Elford kept his vigil by the pit wall looking worried. Except for a quick refueling with minutes to spare the big flat-12 Porsche engine ran flawlessly and cruised across the finish line 3 laps ahead of the second-place Alfa T33/3 of Galli/Stommelen. The winning Porsche covered 260 laps beating Mario Andretti’s 1970 record by 11. It also racked up almost 1,347 miles which was another record and posted an average speed for the 12 hours of 112.500 miles per hour.

Nino Vaccarella and Rolf Stommelen came in third in their factory Alfa T33/3 and this 2-3 finish for Autodelta was their best showing at Sebring ever. The best the Gulf Porsches could do was 4th and 5th and some felt that if not for that incident with the Penske Ferrari 512M that Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver, in their Gulf 917, could have possibly been in the top three.

Donohue and Hobbs tried valiantly to make up for lost time (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)
Donohue and Hobbs tried valiantly to make up for lost time (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)

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The damaged fuel-cell vent was the nail in the coffin for Penske (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)
The damaged fuel-cell vent was the nail in the coffin for Penske (Photo: www.autosportsltd.com)

Despite some hard driving to make up for lost time Donohue and Hobbs finished a disappointing sixth overall in their Penske 512M being continually hampered by long refueling times due to the fuel cell vent damage. The Corvette of John Greenwood and TV personality Dick Smothers came in seventh and first in the over 2.5-liter grand touring class followed by George Eaton and Luigi Chinetti, Jr.’s Ferrari 312 P. The Porsche 911T of Jim Locke and Bert Everett finished ninth overall and first in the under 2.5-liter grand touring class.

One of the top finishing independent teams was Bruce Behrens Racing’s Chevrolet Camaro driven by John Tremblay and Bill McDill both of Orlando, Florida. They finished 13th overall and first in the over two-liter touring class. Bruce describes his time at Sebring in ’71 as follows:

“Our 1971 class win at the Sebring 12 Hour race was the culmination of a three-year effort. 1969 was a real heartbreak when the engine blew just 20 minutes before the finish. In 1970 it was very frustrating due to team personality conflicts and lug nut problems.

I feel that 1971 was our team’s crowning achievement especially since we overcame having to change engine parts on Friday night and into Saturday morning and then the problems with the brakes during the race. We were blessed to have raced during the ‘Golden Age of Racing.’”

In the above quote Bruce kind of glosses over the difficulties his car faced in winning its class. During practice and qualifying the heads cracked and there were no spares. A machine shop in Orlando worked all night Friday to supply new heads and they were dispatched to the Speedway at 5 a.m. on race day which was a two-hour drive under the best of circumstances. After they arrived the heads had to be installed and the engine was still being worked on when the car was pushed toward the starting grid.

For one reason or another the rear brakes on the Camaro never fully worked during the race and all the breaking effort ended up on the front brakes and tires. They went through eight front tires instead of the usual four as well as extra brake pads. The fact that they finished as well as they did and won their class spoke well of the entire team.

The Bruce Behrens Racing Camaro driven by John Tremblay and Bill McDill finished 1st in class and 13th overall (Photo: Ken Breslauer)
The Bruce Behrens Racing Camaro driven by John Tremblay and Bill McDill finished 1st in class and 13th overall (Photo: Ken Breslauer)

While the fireworks blazed overhead and the crowd celebrated, champagne was being served at the green and white patron’s tent in the paddock. More than one toast was made to the memory of Sebring and for many veterans of the race it was a sad moment sometimes interspersed with humorous stories about Fangio, Moss, Shelby, Castellotti and other legends from Sebring’s past.

After the ’71 race Alec Ulmann announced plans to build a new circuit if funding materialized. Some quietly speculated that Ulmann was trying to con the FIA into giving him an extension so he could hold another race on the same dilapidated race circuit. Well, it worked and a FIA sanctioned race was run in 1972 but the FIA, after realizing that Ulmann would never be able to build a new circuit, finally pulled the plug at the end of ’72 and that year was truly the “…last Sebring.” Maybe it was the last traditional Sebring for a few years but, like the Phoenix bird of Greek mythology, Sebring would rise from the ashes to regenerate itself and run again.

[Source: Louis Galanos]

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Show Comments (38)

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  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.