America's Dan Gurney got the 1962 international road-racing season off to a rousing start last Sunday at Daytona Beach when he outshone the most remarkable galaxy of driving stars ever assembled for a single race. The race was the brand-new Daytona Continental, and entered in it were the top drivers from the world's four major racing divisions (see box, page 59), all together on the same track for the first time.
Here were the most eminent Grand Prix and sports-racing men: the world champion driver, America's Phil Hill; Britain's redoubtable Stirling Moss; Mexico's baby-faced Ricardo Rodriguez; the handsome Gurney himself. Here, too, were the Sports Car Club of America's road-racing heroes, Walt Hansgen, Jim Hall, Roger Penske, Peter Ryan, George Constantine, to name but a few. And here were tough and tenacious American track racers: Rodger Ward and A. J. Foyt, both Indianapolis "500" winners; and stock car aces Fireball Glenn Roberts, Joe Weatherly and Marvin Panch.
The race was the first in the world counting toward a brand-new set of world championships. There are now three world titles available to manufacturers of Grand Touring cars. These supplant the one world championship accorded in the past to the builder of the pre-eminent all-out sports racing car. Thus Daytona kicked off a "GT" world series which will move next to Sebring, Fla., in March and on to the rest of the world's great sports car courses—among them Le Mans in France and the N�rburgring ring in Germany.
There were 27 Gran Turismo machines and 23 sports racing cars in the Continental (the latter eligible for a chunk of the $21,800 Daytona purse but not, of course, for GT title points)—Ferraris, Maseratis and Alfa Romeos from Italy; Porsches from Germany; Lotuses, Coopers and Jaguars from Britain; Corvettes, Chaparrals and the Pontiac Tempest from the U.S.—50 lovely, fierce and ear-splitting machines.
If the driving field for Daytona's three-hour race was a surprising marriage of disparate road-and-track racing types, so was the course itself an extraordinary amalgam of blazing-fast track and twisty road. Conceived as an arena for stock cars, it consists primarily of a 2�-mile speed track, shaped like a flattened triangle, and a tortuous stretch of road in the spacious infield, so that one complete lap adds up to 3.81 miles.
The circuit was peculiar but, as Bill France, president of the Speedway, and the 14,000 spectators thankfully observed, one can see all the racers all the time. Under a clear, blue, windy sabbath sky, the race began with a Le Mans start, that crazy, mixed-up but enthralling way of getting a field rolling which has the drivers sprinting to their angle-parked cars, starting them and then lurching into motion in a big and boiling traffic jam.
Pennsylvania's Roger Penske, the fastest sales engineer Alcoa ever had, led at first with a tiny red Cooper Monaco, but he was bracketed and overtaken on the Speedway's east turn by the Ferraris of Phil Hill and Ricardo Rodriguez. Hill, displaying all his old finesse after his long layoff of five months, drove a 2.4-liter rear-engined car of a type that had set records at Sebring and Le Mans. Also passing Penske and snarling up on Hill and Rodriguez came the squat Lotus 19 of Mr. Gurney, who had demonstrated a major road-racing talent in 1961 by tying for third place with Stirling Moss in the Grand Prix world championship series won by Hill. Like Hill's, Gurney's car was a smallish rear-engined one but with Coventry Climax 2�-liter power.
These were the cars—all foreign-built, though two were American-driven—that held attention in the early stages. But then an all-American interloper asserted himself. He was slim, oil-rich Jim Hall of Texas. His big, home-bred Chaparral (powered by a 5.2-liter Corvette engine) closed into fourth place and held there. Behind, far outpaced but running no less an exciting race of their own, came the GT cars, new bearers of championship points, led by Stirling Moss.
Brilliant as ever, Moss kept his elegant white-striped gray Ferrari GT coupe, a rather special beast with a lightweight aluminum body and a three-l�ter V-12 engine equipped with six carburetors, up among the front-runners all afternoon.
Ferraris scrapped with Corvettes, Tempests and British Jaguar XKEs for title points in the big-engine category (above two liters) of the new GT championships. Porsches were in combat with Lotus Elites and Alfa Romeos in the middling division. If Daytona people were largely in doubt about the GT duels during the race—except in the case of Moss's flying Ferrari, clearly ahead for the big-engine prize—they were given clear proof that the American crack racing men were doing splendidly in this alien affair. Fireball Roberts in a GT Ferrari, Joe Weatherly from Virginia in a hybrid British-American Lister- Corvette, Rodger Ward in a Tempest—all were shifting gears and braking for corners like old road-racing pros before the day was out. This was no easy transition. ("All a track driver does," said Ward, "is hang onto the wheel, get his foot onto the accelerator and steer.")