In addition to the two factory cars from Maranello, there were two bossed by Luigi Chinetti, the American distributor for Ferrari. These were entered by his North American Racing Team. A P4 was driven by Pedro Rodriguez of Mexico, a two-time winner of the Continental (at shorter distances), and Jean Guichet of France; a 1966 P3 model was driven by Jo Schlesser of Paris and Peter Gregg of Jacksonville, Fla.
The fact that Ford outsped Ferrari in practice sessions did nothing to shake the faith of Chris Amon. "I definitely believe," he said, "that the Ferrari is a better car, not potentially, but right now. We've got 50 less horsepower [450 to 500], but they're about 900 pounds heavier [2,800 to 1,900], and we've got a better power-to-weight ratio."
Both sides were naturally reticent about strategy before the 3 p.m. Saturday start. Franco Lini, a former writer for L'Equipe, the French sports daily, who recently joined Ferrari as its racing team manager, stressed the human factor. Lini is a diminutive man who, unlike most Italians, does not talk with his hands. He uses his eyes, which smile or scowl as circumstances dictate. "At a meeting," he said, scowling, "we can sit down with the drivers and decide this and decide that, but when they get on a track and see somebody go past them, ah! They go crazy.
"I think, though, that if we can run 2:03s or 2:04s for 24 hours we can win by three laps." One of those "crazy" drivers, Amon, disputed even that. "We'll turn 1:56s and 1:57s," he smiled, "and still be there at the end."
Ford's strategy was a bit more complicated. With six cars at its disposal, Dearborn could afford to send out one or two "rabbits" to set a pace just higher than the competition might like and hope the Ferraris and Chaparrals would break down, leaving the circuit clear for the rest of the Ford fleet.
Hill started the race in the winged Chaparral and upset everybody's plans by taking an early lead over the second-place car, the Andretti-Ginther Mark II. But just after 6 p.m., when Hill began his second turn in the Chaparral, he hit loose sand and slid into a cement retaining wall. After an hour's work on the suspension, the car was withdrawn.
With the Ferraris running cleanly and with one Chaparral out and the other falling behind (it retired with a sick engine just before dawn Sunday), the Ford strategy altered. Rabbit Andretti pitted on lap 17, complaining of low pressure in a rear tire. The Ford crew changed it. Two laps later Andretti was in the pits again. Wrong tire. This time the crew changed both rear tires, but by then Andretti was in no position to lure anyone into trouble.
Ford's problems had begun a little earlier, when the Bucknum-Gardner car came in with third and fourth gears inoperable. It took 50 minutes to replace the transmission. At 6:30 p.m. Andretti came in again—without his third or fourth. Both Holman and Shelby suspected what was to come: an epidemic of gearbox woes.
Into the sixth hour the Ferraris were going by in a parade reminiscent of their heyday in the early 1960s, when they were all but unopposed. No. 23 (Amon-Bandini), No. 26 (Rodriguez-Guichet), No. 24 (Parkes-Scarfiotti) and No. 33 (Mairesse-Beurlys in a P3) occupied the first four positions. In fifth place was the Gurney-Foyt Ford, but it was nearly 20 miles off the pace.
With 10 hours gone the race was over for Ford. The agony that had struck the two Mark IIs spread through the entire six-car fleet. It was quickly diagnosed by the multitude of Ford engineers as a broken output shaft (the shaft on which the four forward gears are situated, like spinners on a stick). It is a piece of metal 1� inches in diameter and 14 inches long that costs less than $50. By one a.m. that paltry item in Ford's multimillion-dollar racing budget had kayoed all six Mark IIs.