The FIA had been warning Alec Ulman, the organizer of the Sebring 12H, multiple times about the necessary improvements to be made to the track and accommodation. But as Ulman only leased the track from the Sebring Airport Authority. So he had no intention at all to invest his own money in the facilities he leased. Many believed the 1971 Sebring 12H might be the last race on ‘ the Old Gal’, as the track was nicknamed.
The line-up for the 1971 Sebring 12H promised to be great. A good selection of excellent cars, drivers, and teams showed up. Whenever the 1971 race was the last race, it would definitely be an exit in style. The John Wyer Team represented the Porsche factory with 3 Porsche 917s in the typical Gulf livery, one of them a “T” Car. Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver in the #2 car, Jo Siffert and Derek Bell in the #1 car. The test car was reserved for Jo Siffert.
Porsche/Audi of Austria and Martini & Rossi Racing joined forces and entered another Porsche 917, with the support of the Porsche factory. Vic Elford and Gerard Larousse would share the wheel. An important difference between the Martini Porsche 917 and the Gulf Porsche 917s was that the latter had a 5-speed transmission whereas the Martini Porsche only had a 4-speed transmission.
Roger Penske entered an upgraded Ferrari 512S, without factory support. Ferrari had decided to focus on perfecting the 3-liter 312 PB racer after the FIA’s decision to outlaw the iconic 5-liter 917 and 512 for the 1972 racing season. No one was surprised the Penske Ferrari 512S, with Mark Donohue and David Hobbs at the wheel took pole position. Rodriguez / Oliver started in 3rd position, Larousse/Elford in 4th. and Siffert / Bell landed on 6th. Soon after the start of the race, the #1 Porsche 917 passed his team-mates and took 2nd position
John Horsman, John Wyer’s race-engineer, had calculated that the Gulf Porsche 917s had to refuel at 26 laps. However, quite unforeseen, in lap 25, Jo Siffert’s car sputtered and ran out of fuel. Siffert climbed on the back of a visitor’s scooter to bring him to the pits, get a can of fuel and return to the car. However, rules say that cars have to be refilled in the pits. So for these infringements, the race organization penalized Siffert / Bell’s car with 4 laps. In the meantime, Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx led the race in the Ferrari 312PB, until their transmission failed.
The Donohue – Rodriguez collision
It was however an incident between Pedro Rodriguez Gulf Porsche 917 and Mark Donohue that is best remembered up to now. Donohue ran in 2nd position and approached Rodriguez with an intention to lap him. Just at the moment that Donohue wanted to pass Rodriguez, they encountered a slower car. The result was a collision, forcing both cars to the pits for repair. Donohue blew a tire that sent him off the road. Rodriguez’s car suffered damage mainly to the right front bodywork and suspension.
It took the team several minutes to repair the damage. However, the Porsche 917 had an undetachable nose, so lots of duct-tape had to keep the nose together. The aftermath of the collision caused some more delays later in the race, including a puncture and the floor under the driver’s feet that tore away. In total, they lost over 45 minutes, but in the end, Rodriguez / Oliver managed to finish 4th. In the meantime, Elford / Larousse had a race without too much trouble.
They climbed their way up, and Larousse’s Martini Porsche 917 took the lead in lap 149 Larrousse’s Martini 917. Elford / Larousse would not relinquish it for another 110 laps and 572 miles before taking the checkered flag at 11 p.m. This was the first victory for Porsche at Sebring since 1968 and the 1st victory for Vic Elford in a Porsche 917. Rodriguez / Oliver finished 4th and Jo Siffert / Derek Bell 5th.
Pictures courtesy as credited.
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