The race evolved into three main phases. The first belonged to the go-go-go Rodriguez boys. For five glorious hours Pedro and Ricardo were out in front more often than not, putting on a spirited show—perhaps too spirited for an endurance grind. Moss and Ireland in their Ferrari took the lead from time to time, and McLaren and Penske in their Maserati-powered Cooper appeared to be successfully working a strategy that aimed at jumping way out ahead by taking fewer refueling stops than the Ferraris. The theory was sound; the trouble was that the Cooper- Maserati spent ruinous amounts of time having brakes and generator repaired when it did come into the pits. It ultimately finished a remarkable fifth despite all the time lost, which bespeaks superb driving.
The first Ferrari to be stricken, in this Rodriguez-dominated phase, was George Constantine's veteran V-12—it broke an axle. The new V-12 Maseratis—as brittle as Bonnier feared they might be—bowed out, too. Then the Ryan-Fulp Ferrari ran out of fuel on the course and went hopelessly behind. And in midafternoon, when Pedro was driving, the engine in the Rodriguez Ferrari suddenly seized up. The valiant Pedro tried pushing it for 1,000 yards or so, but it was a hopeless case.
That ended phase one of the race; there were now three Ferraris left, with Moss and Ireland commandingly in the lead in one of them. Bonnier and Bianchi, who had been tooling along quietly all day up close to the leaders, were a mere two laps behind in second place in theirs. And Ricardo and Pedro, as ready to race as ever, took over the third-place Grossman-Connell Ferrari—only to have the hard-worked engine in that car blow two hours before the race's end.
A flap with the stewards
Like two red Indians left of the original six, the Moss- Ireland and Bonnier-Bianchi Ferraris sped along—until Moss's finest chance to triumph at Sebring since his 1954 victory (in an Italian OSCA) evaporated in a rancorous flap with the pit stewards. The race was in its eighth hour when it was definitely established that an inexperienced mechanic had refueled the car illegally during a stop made merely to have the brakes adjusted. Sebring's rules stipulate 20 laps between refueling, and the stewards stuck to them. That left Bonnier and Bianchi with nearly five hours to go and clear sailing, but they still had to sweat out a clutch that had been slipping since the very first lap. "I never thought," said Bonnier afterward, as well-wishers milled around him, "that we'd make it."
Hill and Gendebien, although they appeared to be floating along with not a problem in the world as they moved toward their GT victory, actually were sweating, too. The legs of their bucket seat had snapped in the third hour, and from then on they skimmed through by cinching extra tight a shoulder harness that kept the seat precariously in place.
"It was nothing," said Gendebien as he sauntered toward the finish to watch Hill soft-shoe the good, brave GT car home. "The way we were driving, we could go for another 12 hours."