Mario’s Finest Performance
With thanks to Andy Hall for making the image of the 1970 Ferrari 512S available, and for the reminder of Mario’s achievements at Sebring – notably in 1970.

dailysportscar.comMario will of course be present next week, to be inducted into the Sebring Sports Car Racing Hall of Fame. Ceremonies will take place on March 19.

Here we quote from relevant parts of Janos Wimpffen’s Time And Two Seats report from the epic 1970 12 Hours.

“Two of the three factory Ferrari 512Ss were open cars (Andretti / Merzario and Ickx / Schetty), with a coupe for Giunti / Vaccarella.

“Andretti not only began from the pole, but had a distinct advantage this year. For the first time, a rolling start was used and his Indianapolis experience paid off. He anticipated the flag much better than his European rivals and the Ferrari headed off into the distance. Siffert briefly headed him, but otherwise Andretti stayed in front until he handed over to Merzario. Porsche pit work was dramatically better than that of Ferrari and after completion of the pit stops it was a 917 1-2-3, with Siffert / Redman, Elford / Ahrens and Rodriguez / Kinnunen all ahead of the Ickx / Schetty 512.

Vic Elford then had a Fiat 124 swerve into his path, and the damage put this 917 out of the race…“Briefly it was the two “works” ie. JW Gulf 917s, at the front. But then Redman lost ten minutes trying to trace an ignition fault, while the Rodriguez / Kinnunen car had a punctured tire. At Daytona, annoyances like these can easily be made up in a short time. But Sebring had become such an intense sprint that the loss of a few minutes often fatally compromised one’s chances. Entering the second quarter of the race, it looked like Ferrari was emerging as dominant as Porsche had ever been. The three factory 512s were 1-2-3: Andretti / Merzario, Ickx / Schetty and Giunti / Vaccarella - the latter at the wheel of #21 in this image.

“Attempts by the two JW 917s to move up were thwarted by problems with a re-designed hub and wheel bearing assembly. Both cars lost time making repairs. The Rodriguez / Kinnunen 917 also had to have a new tail piece fitted after a collision. As for the Siffert / Redman Porsche, the spectators pointed in awe as the cooling fan came loose and was launched into a sub-orbital trajectory.

“At the six hour mark it was still a Ferrari 1-2-3, with the Giunti / Vaccarella 512 taking second from Ickx / Schetty. The only untroubled Porsche was the 908 of McQueen and Revson, and their steady drive merited a third place, but seven laps behind the three Ferraris.

“Hours six through nine saw the Ferraris’ control of the race slowly crumble. A head gasket blew on the Ickx / Schetty car and the suspension on the Giunti / Vaccarella car was damaged when it continued too rapidly on the rim, after experiencing a flat.

"There was little fear as the Andretti / Merzario 512S had built up an eleven lap cushion. The Siffert / Redman 917 had its second hub failure and Siffert was transferred to the other car, where he joined Rodriguez. Almost immediately, this car had a hub break. By now the Porsche crew was quite adept at replacing it, so that the Mexican / Swiss duo only lost a few places.

“There were now less than two hours left and still the Andretti / Merzario 512 had a comfortable lead. McQueen / Revson were second, the Hezemans / Gregory Alfa Romeo T33 / 3 third, the rapidly recovering 917 fourth. The Swiss driver was giving an amazing lesson on how to fling a car wide on each turn, catching it at the last possible moment.

“All was not well at the front. Andretti came in voicing dire comments about the state of the gearbox and a few laps later, Merzario returned to the pits on foot. Siffert had already passed the Alfa, and was bearing down on the 908 when the Ferrari retired. So now it was again a Porsche one-two, as Rodriguez / Siffert assumed their rightful place at the head of the field, having passed the McQueen / Revson Porsche. The remaining 512S (Giunti / Vaccarella) was called in from fourth place and Andretti took it over with 55 minutes remaining.

“For the next half hour, Andretti drove what he has since come to regard as his finest performance. He had little trouble with Hezemans’ Alfa and then fought a searing battle with Revson. But there was little the Porsche driver could do, because Andretti was closing at five seconds per lap. With 22 minutes left on the clock, Andretti passed into second place. He was now on the same lap as the leaders, Rodriguez / Siffert, but over a minute behind. More was to come.

“The 917 pulled in with yet another hub failure. The JW crew replaced it astoundingly quickly – but it was far too late. It was now Andretti’s 512S ahead, with Revson trying to give chase. The Ferrari manager, Mauro Forghieri, became concerned about fuel. Fifty minutes was longer than the car had gone between stops all day, and it had never been driven that hard. With three minutes to go – time for two laps – Andretti blasted into the pits to be topped up. Revson was coming round the final turn when Andretti went back out. The three liter Porsche was simply no match for the big V12 Ferrari and Andretti came across the line 22 seconds to the good, amidst the wildest celebration seen at a circuit known for its post-race parties.

“One of America’s all-time favorite sports stars brought Ferrari back to victory, having battled up from a distant fourth place in one quick stirring sprint.”

From Nigel Roebuck's Mario Andretti quotes on

"I'll always think my best drive was at Sebring in 1970. I was co-driving with Merzario in a Ferrari 512 roadster, but we retired, and I took over Giunti /Vaccarella coupe, which running second behind the Porsche 908 driven by Peter Revson and Steve McQueen. What really drove me was all this talk
'the McQueen Porsche', when he hardly touched the thing throughout all the 12 hours! I never went harder than that night at Sebring - I truly drove like a man possessed. No way I was going to let a goddam movie actor win the race!"


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