This is the second post in the Annotated History of Sebring Series.
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For Ferrari, Sebring 1956 represented a terrific opportunity to win the Manufacturer’s Championship they did not win in 1955 and so Ferrari made their first factory team appearance, entering three cars, a pair of 860 Monzas and an 857 Monza. The factory paired Fangio with Eugenio Castellotti in one Ferrari and teamed Luigi Musso, Harry Schell and Olivier Gendebien in another 860; they also placed Alfonso de Portago /Jim Kimberly/Harry Schell/ William Helburn in an 857 Monza. (Gendebien and William Helburn practiced in the Ferrari but did not race according to records of the event.)
Ultimately, tragedy cut a wide swath through the 1956 Ferrari Team.
Castelloti died a year later in 1957 during a testing session in Modena; de Portago , who once flew an airplane under a bridge—on a bet—when he was a teenager and was a renowned international playboy, died in the Mille Miglia the same year. During the race he spotted his girlfriend, Linda Christian, along the course, stopped the car, jumped out to run and kiss her, and then ran back to the car to continue racing. He died in a crash a short time later. Harry Schell died in practice for at an event in Silverstone in 1960 when his car flipped. He was 40. Only Fangio, Kimberly, and Gendebien lived to old age (Gendebien went on win LeMans 4 times and Sebring 3 times. ) Jim Kimberly—an heir to the Kleenex fortune—became famous (or infamous, depending on your moral stance) for his marriage to a 19 year old girl (Jacqueline) when he was 62 years old. Luigi Musso died in 1958 at age 33 racing in the French Grand Prix. Racing in the 50s was a very dangerous and hazardous sport and there was little of the safety engineering that is present today.
Drivers in the event included Stirling Moss, Porfirio Rubirosa (another famous international playboy), Hans Hermann, Huschke von Hanstein (who rose to become head of Porsche’s racing department), Count Wolfgang von Trips, Carroll Shelby, Mike Hawthorne (future F1 Champ), Jean Behra, Tony Brooks, Roy Salvadori, and Peter Collins.
In 1957, Fangio won at Sebring again, this time driving a Maserati 4.5.
Fangio was paired with Jean Behra and Stirling Moss teamed with Harry Schell although he was also listed as a driver in Fangio’s car. Fangio had left Ferrari to drive for Maserati in something of a surprise move; speculation for decades has been that the reason Fangio left was because Enzo Ferrari was mad with Fangio for refusing to leave Florida immediately after the 1956 race. Instead, Fangio stayed in Florida and at the side of his fellow countryman, Carlos Mediteguy (who was listed a driver in Moss’s car) who had suffered a horrific injury in the 1956 race.
Another major event at the 1957 race involved a new car called the “Corvette”. At the 1957 race, both Moss and Fangio were given special test drives in the new Corvette SS P designed by GM wizard Zora Arkus Duntov. Fangio immediately went out and broke the Sebring track record and then broke it again. When Moss got his turn in the car, he broke Fangio’s record—those guys were hyper competitive. There were rumors that GM had been trying to induce both Fangio and Moss to race the Corvette, but the drivers remained committed to Maserati, in part because they were worried about the reliability of a new model in the notoriously difficult 12 Hour race.
Jean Behra was a French driver who raced for Ferrari, Maserati, Gordini and Porsche. His quote about the dangers of racing –“only those who do not move, do not die…but are they not already dead?” turned out to be prescient. Behra had a somewhat difficult personality and was highly flammable. He famously punched Ferrari team manage Romolo Tavoni after an argument in a restaurant following the 1959 French GP. Ferrari immediately dismissed Behra from the team and he died a month later in an accident while driving a Porsche.
Despite widespread rumors that the big Maserati 450S that Fangio and Behra drove would have reliability issues–it did not. When the flag dropped, Fangio won his second 12 Hours of Sebring in a row. In second position: another Maserati, this one driven by Stirling Moss and Harry Schell. Carroll Shelby and Carlos Menditeguy were “listed” as drivers for the No. 20 Maserati, but did not race it. This was a rather common situation in the early days in racing, as factory teams and entrants would list multiple drivers for cars and even have all of them test and practice in the car, but not all of them would drive in the race.
In 1958, the Scuderia again took first place in the 12 Hours of Sebring. This time the car was drive by American Phil Hill—who would go on to become the first America F1 champion in 1961 and the British driver Peter Collins. The car they ran was a Ferrari 250 TR58. The Ferrari/Maserati battle was seriously on by 1958 but Maserati was having financial issues which would plague the company for almost forty years (due in no small part to the expense of running big racing programs in both F1 and in Sports Cars)and Ferrari seized the opportunity and went all in, sending three works cars (Hill/Collins; Musso/Gendebien; and Hawthorne/von Trips); another three private entrant Ferraris were also in the race (Fitch/Martin; Ginther/von Neumann; Andrey/Lloyd) Ferrari’s main competition was believed to Aston Martin; Aston sent DBR1s for Stirling Moss/ Tony Brooks and Carroll Shelby/Roy Salvadori. The Astons set the early pace but by the 5th Hour, Hill and Collins—who had planned early on to go easy on the gearbox and brakes in the Ferrari—took the lead and brought the Ferrari Testa Rossa home for the win. Gendebian/Musso took second. Ferrari was now grooved at Sebring and they would begin a historic run at the Florida track .
In interesting note to the 1958 race, a young English designer/builder named Colin Chapman drove his own design, a Lotus Eleven Climax , into 6th by the end of the race. Chapman would evolve into a dominant Formula 1 designer and championship team owner with his Lotus teams.
For the race in 1959, the Scuderia brought an updated 250TR 59, easily one of he most beautiful and Iconic Ferraris of all time. Scuderia Ferrari entered cars for Dan Gurney/Chuck Daigh; Phil Hill/Olivier Gendebien (one of the very best endurance racing teams of all time); and Jean Behra/Cliff Allison but there were also private entrant Ferraris for Pedro Rodriquez/Paul O’Shea; George Reed/Don O’Dell/George Arents/William Sturgis (GT); Rod Carveth/Gerald Geitner/Gaston Andrey (NART) 250TR; Lloyd Casner/Jim Hunt/Dan Collins 500TR (NART), Alfonzo Gomez-Mena/Juan Montalvo/Paul O’Shea (250GT) (Havana Auto Sport Club), a 250 GT California Spyder for Howard Hively/Richie Ginther (Scuderia Ferrari) ; Edwin Martin/Lance Reventlow/William Kimberly in a 250 TR; and Ed Lunken/Augie Pabst/Gaston Andrey/James Johnston in another 250 TR private entry.
When the checkered flag dropped, Ferrari took First and Second places and, in all, five of the first 9 places. Hill and Gendebien, whose Ferrari suffered a differential problem, joined in the Gurney/Daigh effort and were listed as winning drivers.
In a sign of things to come, Porsche 718RSKs took 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Within Ferrari’s group of drivers were some very talented and interesting people. Augie Pabst, one of the heirs to the Pabst Blue Ribbon brewing fortune, went on to become a very accomplished sports car driver and won several championships. He is well remembered for his drives in Harry Heuer’s famous Meister Brau Scarab team.
A scan down the finishing list for 1959 will turn up the names Jim Hall, Hap Sharp, and Carroll Shelby, finishing in position 41 in a Maserati 250S. Hall and Sharp drove the Maserati and in just a few years (1965), they would win Sebring with a car of their own design, the legendary Chaparral; the entrant for Hall and Sharp? Another Texan, Carroll Shelby, who would go on to fame as the founder of COBRA. Shelby won Sebring with a Ford GT40X-1 in 1966 and startled the racing world with the beautiful, aerodynamic, and very competitive Cobra Daytona Coupe, designed by a very young and very brilliant Pete Brock.
Porsche took their first win at Sebring in 1960, with Hans Hermann and endurance specialist Gendebien winning in a Porsche RS-60 entered by Swede Joakim Bonnier.
Another Porsche driven by Bob Holbert/Roy Schechter/Howard Fowler (Fowler practiced in the car but did not drive) finished second. A Ferrari 250 TR was third; Ferraris took 7 out of the top 10 places but two big changes highlighted 1960. Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (NART) had become the de facto Ferrari factory entrant and Ferrari GT cars, notably the lovely little 250SWB, had started the rise to competitive prominence of GT cars.
Ferrari won again in 1961 with Hill/Gendebien driving a 250 TRI61. The update from previous models included a new space-frame chassis (lighter weight and greater rigidity). SEFAC Automobile Ferrari (the new name for the Ferrari rectory team) entered the Hill/Gendebien Ferrari, along with another one for Carlo Baghetti/”Wild” Willy Mairesse/Richie Ginther/ Wolfgang von Trips. Willy Mairesse earned his nickname the hard way–he had a series of massive crashes but always returned to the track because of his intense love of the sport. One writer asked whether Mairesse was gifted with far more bravery than skill–which may have been true–but he loved the sport and literally lived for the experiences it gave him. When he could no longer race, he took his own life
Chitt’’s NART entered a TR60 for the famous and ridiculously fast young Mexican drivers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriquez and Hap Sharp entered a TR for himself and Ronnie Hisson. These four entries went 1-2-3-4 in The 12. The TRI61 was a beautiful car with a “shark nose” and high “Kamm” effect tail and is generally considered the last of the great front engine Ferrari 12 Cylinder racers.
The Ferrari factory team was back in 1963 and they brought heavy weapons: F1 World Champion-to-be John Surtees (7 Time GP Motorcycle Racing World Champion before switching to cars)and Ludovico Scafiotti, who was also an F1 driver and who won the 24 hours of Le Mans that year.
Ferrari entered another 250P for Mairesse/Vaccarella/Bandini and Rodriguez/Hill ran a 330TRI/LM, the last of the long line of front engine Testa Rossa designs from Ferrari, for NART. Houston oilman John Mecom entered a 250 GTO for Penske/Pabst. Two more GTOs were entered: one for Abate/Bordeu and another for Ginther/Ireland (one of the more stylish drivers on the circuit). When the dust settled, Ferrari had dominated again , taking the top 6 places.
For the 1964 race, the factory brought three new prototypes, the 275P for Parkes/Maglioli and Scarfiotti/Vaccarella and a 330P for Surtees/Bandini. All three finished and the team went 1-2-3. Right behind them, however, in 4th, 5th, and 6th positions were three Shelby Cobras—the beautiful, stylish, Daytona Coupe designed by Peter Brock in 4th (Holbert/McDonald); Bondurant/Spencer in 5th in a roadster and Schlesser/Hill in 6th in another Roadster. A changing of the guard was coming, and the future could be found in the stack of Shelby Cobras behind the winning Ferraris.
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