As expected, in those early laps, there would be some retirements and the first to go behind pit wall was the Chevron B-16 Ford of Janet Guthrie. The record books indicate that the car retired with a blown head gasket after completing only one lap. Those official results rarely tell the whole story of what happened so I contacted Ms. Guthrie at Janet Guthrie Racing and asked her to explain why she and her co-drivers (all female) became the first to retire in ’71. She kindly consented to email me an answer and it is as follows:
“In 1970, Ring-Free Oil had finally engaged a competent contractor, and our women’s team won the Under 2 Liter Prototype category. As usual, the men driving for the team had a better car: but in 1971 we arrived at Sebring with the promise of a Cosworth-engined Chevron B-16, similar to the one the men had driven the previous year. However, one of the Cosworth Chevrons didn’t show up, and we women were (naturally) assigned the slowest car, which had a BMW engine. One of my co-drivers over-revved it in practice by at least 1500 rpm (the tachometer was pegged), and it swallowed a valve.
Owing to the terms of the Ring-Free contract, I then got three laps of practice in the Cosworth-engined car that was originally supposed to be ours. It was a beauty! I found delight that I could get through the turns as fast as the fastest cars entered, although the engine displacement was much smaller. If the other car couldn’t be repaired; I would start in this one. I lusted after it.
Minutes before the race, I was getting into the Cosworth when a mechanic came hustling up. At the last moment, they had found a BMW engine in a junkyard, and I was forced back to the car. The junkyard engine didn’t last long.
Curious about an odd handling issue, I looked under the hood. The bolts securing some major suspension pieces were loose, about to fall off, and had the engine lasted just a little longer, the outcome would likely have been disastrous. So, I guess you could say that the engine failure was good news.”
Five laps later the Camaro driven by John Cordts retired with a blown differential and following them, 14 laps later, was the NART Ferrari 512 of Chuck Parsons. Parsons was coming into the Hairpin Turn when the throttle on his car stuck open. He slammed heavily into the sand bank, which stood almost eight feet high, and the impact tore away the front oil coolers leading to a retirement.
Now you might assume that the loss of this car would sadden and depress some in the NART camp. However, with the loss of that car it made it immeasurably easier for the short-staffed pit crew and mechanics (only two) to maintain the other NART entries during the race.