Often used loosely, “legendary” is an accurate description for the 1965 12 Hours of Sebring – a race which pitted legendary cars, drivers and a torrential rainstorm all against each other.
In the end, Jim Hall and Hap Sharp, aboard their Chevy-powered Chaparral 2, took down a host of contenders, including Ferraris, Ford GT40s, Cobra Daytona Coupes and Dan Gurney's Lotus-Ford, and a driver lineup boasting Gurney, Graham and Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren, Pedro Rodriguez and Ken Miles, among others.
As we continue our countdown to the 60th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, Hall (whose team manager for the race was one Roger S. Penske, by the way) recalls that famous victory.
Chaparral Cars, Inc., was set up by racers Hall and Sharp in 1962, and based out of Hall's hometown of Midland, Texas. As well as being a handy guy behind the wheel, Hall's involvement in the Texan oil and gas industry gave him a good grounding in engineering, and he wasn't afraid to pursue innovative ideas or look to the aerospace industry for solutions when it came to building racecars.
Preliminary design of the Chaparral 2 can be traced back to 1962, and development continued pretty much incessantly once it began racing in late '63. By the time of the '65 Sebring race, the mid-engine, fiberglass-monocoque car sported a clutchless, semi-automatic transmission and state-of-the-art, integrated aerodynamics. With a certain Roger S. Penske installed as team manager for the two-car entry, taking on the might of the manufacturers on Sebring's bumpy, car-breaking runways would be Chaparral's biggest test to date, but Hall was prepared and felt confident his cars would be on the pace.
“Well, yes, we were pretty confident, to be honest,” he admits. “The car was pretty well developed by that time – it was a quick car, and it had done a lot of miles and had proven reliable. So we felt like we had a good chance. But we did go down there to do a little testing and find out how we wanted to run, and we probably did 500 miles, something like that.”
The fact that Hall's prototype machines were being allowed to compete at Sebring was a consequence of the difficulty the race organizers often had in convincing the European-based manufacturers, most notably Ferrari, to ship their factory cars across to the U.S.
“It was interesting,” says Hall. “We'd got a call from Reggie Smith, who worked for (Sebring track originator) Alec Ulmann, saying, ‘We're thinking of opening this race up to the prototype cars. Would you be interested in running?' And they had good reason. They always had a real tough time negotiating with Ferrari to get the whole team over, because racing didn't have the big money in it in those days and it was tough to get them to commit. They'd often farm it out to Chinetti, and they sent pretty good cars, but it wasn't really a factory entry. So why not get the race opened up to cars that people knew about in the States? Then maybe it wouldn't be so easy for Ferrari to win it, you know? Probably a good strategy on the Sebring guys' part…”