"It would be a miracle," said a seasoned racegoer, "if they should beat the Ferraris in their debut at Le Mans."
Precisely at 4 o'clock Saturday afternoon the race began—and for one gorgeous hour it looked as if the miracle might come to pass. Peering through the broad expanse of windshield before him, perky little Richie Ginther of California sprinted out ahead of the Ferraris and everything else in the 55-car field, and stayed out ahead until time to trade off with co-driver Masten Gregory.
Pit mechanics took a good two minutes to refuel the Ford; as they dawdled, the Ferraris swept past, sounding the shrill, piercing exhaust note for which they are famous, and dreamers of miracles came back to earth. Phil Hill, thrice winner of LeMans in Ferraris, had started tardily in a second Ford and was far behind. The third Ford, driven by Britain's Richard Attwood and France's Jo Schlesser, was being outpaced.
Meanwhile, Shelby's Cobras were doing fine. "They're running first and second in GT," he exclaimed. "I don't care about the overall standings." Shelby's only concern was that his two Cobras, promising to repeat a GT victory at Sebring, were going a bit too fast. "The fellow who can keep his foot off the accelerator is the one who wins," he said. "It's a very long race."
Suddenly there was an accident that nearly became a tragedy. A green Triumph Spitfire, driven by an American, Michael Rothschild, went out of control at 100 mph, struck an earth barrier and bounced back onto the track. Pedro Rodriguez whipped by between the Triumph and the embankment, missing Rothschild literally by inches. An hour later Rodriguez was himself forced out of the race when his Ferrari blew a gasket.
At the Ford pit Phil Hill lamented his slow start and five stops for carburetor trouble. "I'm four or five laps behind now," he said, "but by the 23rd hour I'll be back among the leaders." Few took him seriously.
Less than an hour later, Hill's car was the only one of the three Ford prototypes left in the race. On the 58th lap, while in sixth place, Attwood's Ford inexplicably caught fire. Attwood escaped injury, but the car was out.
On its 64th trip around the circuit Gregory's car pulled into the pits with transmission trouble. For an hour mechanics desperately sought to fix the gearbox. They were unable to do so and out went Ford No. 2.
Disappointed fans settled back for another Ferrari walkaway. Then Shelby's Cobras began to move up and occupied fourth and fifth places, behind three Ferraris. Once in 28th place, Phil Hill, too, gained on Ferraris and by midnight he was eighth.
Toward midnight a British-entered Ford Cobra and a Ferrari collided. Three teen-agers standing on a forbidden section of the track were killed by debris from the collision.