The following two years, Ferrari was back to the fore, with the 250 of Dan Gurney and Peter Collins taking the win in 1958, and the all-American pairing of Phil Hill and Chuck Daigh doing the business a year later. Hill would also win for Ferrari in 1961 (the same year he brought America its first F1 World Championship), sharing with Olivier Gendebien and reigniting a Ferrari win streak temporarily ended by Porsche's compact RS 60 (Gendebien's first Sebring win, alongside Hans Herrmann) a year earlier.
Ferrari's streak continued through 1964 ('62 winners, Jo Bonnier and Lucien Bianchi in a Ferrari 250, ABOVE), before Jim Hall's Chevrolet-powered Chaparral 2 gave the bragging rights back to the USA in '65, thanks to an extraordinary, monsoon-defying victory with Hall and Hap Sharp sharing the driving. Jim Hall recounts that famous win in next week's Sebring 60th Countdown story on RACER.com.
During the second half of the '60s, Ford firmly set its sights on sports car racing's biggest prizes and embarked upon an incredibly successful program that had its roots in Eric Broadley's 1963 Lola GT design, then blossomed into the iconic Ford GT40 and its various iterations under the Ford Advanced Vehicles banner, aided and abetted by the likes of John Wyer and Carroll Shelby – serious players in a serious plan to end Ferrari's dominance of sports car racing and showcase the Blue Oval's technology and muscle.
As well as winning at Le Mans in four consecutive years between 1966 and '69, GT40 variants triumphed three times at Sebring, starting in '66 with the Shelby-entered, 7-liter V8-powered Ford X1 roadster driven by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby. Sadly, the win would be overshadowed by an accident involving Canadian Bob McLean, who lost control of his GT40, rolled several times and died in the fiery aftermath, and by a second tragedy, when Don Wester's Porsche tangled with Mario Andretti's Ferrari and speared off the track into a spectator area, killing four.
A year later, Andretti would take the first of his three Sebring wins in a 7-liter Mk IV (LEFT), sharing with New Zealand's Bruce McLaren. Later that year, that same Mk IV design in its second and final outing took the credit for saving Andretti's life when he crashed heavily at Le Mans, but walked away with minor injuries, thanks to its sturdy roll cage.
In 1968, Ford got a rude awakening when, on safety grounds, its big-block V8s were pegged back in capacity and performance, giving the advantage to Porsche's smaller, more agile 3-liter 907. Sure enough, the works 907 of Jo Siffert and Hans Herrmann romped to the win, ahead of its sister car driven by Vic Elford and Jochen Neerspasch. Top GT40? That would be 16th….
But the GT40 enjoyed a glorious coda in 1969, winning both Sebring and Le Mans, thanks to John Wyer's bulletproof preparation and savvy race management…oh, and a driver lineup that exuded class and speed. Amazingly, Wyer enjoyed his success running tried and tested Mk I models, albeit with engines bored out to 4.9 liters. At Sebring, Ferrari and Porsche were the big favorites, along with the longshot Lola-Chevy entered by Roger Penske. As expected, they dominated the early hours, but reliability turned ugly in the closing stages and the metronomic GT40 of Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver would be there to inherit a stunning win.
Much to his continuing annoyance, Andretti's extraordinary second win in 1970, played second fiddle to the story of the guys who finished second (RIGHT): Peter Revson and a certain Terrence Stephen McQueen, Hollywood superstar and sometime racer. Andretti will be recalling the story of his stunning, final-hour charge in a future Sebring 60th Countdown story on RACER.com, so on to 1971….
That's when the mighty and majestic Porsche 917 took its one and only Sebring victory, with Vic Elford and Gerard Larrousse at the wheel of a Martini-sponsored entry. Tough competition from Ferrari's 512M and 312PB machines, plus a gaggle of Alfa Romeo 33/3s, meant Porsche's 917Ks (Wyer had also entered two Gulf-backed cars) didn't have it their own way in the early going, but Sebring's usual attrition rate allowed the Martini Racing machine to head home the first of the Alfas by a useful three laps.
And so to the 1972 race, which was won by Andretti (his third) and Ickx (his second) in a Ferrari 312PB, but was sadly to be the last for Sebring with WSC status (well, aside from a single-year appearance on the World Championship of Makes calendar in 1981, but that's another story). Sadly, the writing had been on the wall for several years, with the FIA becoming increasingly irritated by the condition of the track and the lack of facilities in nearby Sebring itself.
The FIA's Paris-based elite wanted slicker, more modern venues on their schedules, with five-star hotels within easy reach (sound like a familiar story?). So, despite Ulmann's promises of rebuilding the circuit, or even finding a new location nearer the bright lights, Sebring was off the '73 WSC calendar.
At which point…enter the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and its Camel GT series to kick start a second golden era for the Floridian track. But that's a story for a couple weeks' time...
The 60th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida takes place at Sebring International Raceway, Fla., March 14-17. This year, adding even more luster to this classic event, the race is once again the opening round of a world championship – the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship.
Find out more at www.sebringraceway.com
And to purchase tickets, CLICK HERE