Until last year there was one constant in international automobile racing: the vivid red Ferraris of Italy were bound to win the big endurance events. The biggest of all, the 24-hour race at Le Mans, became a Ferrari parade. Then Ford decided that Ferrari was hogging the glamour and dealt America in, not only winning Le Mans in 1966 but also the Florida tests at Daytona and Sebring. Enzo Ferrari, a man who views defeat with all the composure of Green Bay's Vincent Lombardi, got sore and got tough.
Last week at Daytona International Speedway, 20,000 fans gathered in excellent weather for the second 24-hour Continental, which officially opened the sports car season. Ford was heavily favored. The Mark IIs were back, largely unchanged from 1966—giant 7-liter machines that are the end product of three years of intensive effort by Ford. The new P4 Ferraris, though significantly better than the P3s of last season, were not expected to be ready in time to offer a real challenge. The Mark IIs were so good, in fact, that Ford officials were not especially worried that the development of their new J-Car, the successor to the Mark II, was behind schedule.
They are worried now. The Continental produced one of the most stunning upsets in motor-racing history as Ferraris swept in one, two, three, led by Chris Amon, a 23-year-old New Zealander and Lorenzo Bandini, 30, a Milan garage owner, and the Fords flopped.
The result was all the more impressive since Ferrari, for the first time in a decade, entered the sports car racing season as an underdog. The Fords had established American superiority in a field dominated practically since the invention of the wheel by European manufacturers.
Ford was well supplied with drivers. Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt were in one car, pairing America's best road racer with its top Indianapolis pilot. Mario Andretti, the 5'4" Italian-American from Nazareth, Pa. who had dethroned Foyt as the American champion in 1965, was in a second car with the equally diminutive Richie Ginther, a Grand Prix veteran. Bruce McLaren and Lucien Bianchi, Mark Donohue and Peter Revson, Ronnie Bucknum and Frank Gardner and, finally, Dennis Hulme and Lloyd Ruby—the last of the soft-spoken Texans who, with the late Ken Miles, had won both Daytona and Sebring in Mark IIs last year and should have won at Le Mans—completed the Ford teams. It was a formidable crew, and one that should have been reeking with confidence. It was not.
First of all, the Mark II weren't going appreciably faster than they had last year. True, Gurney was on the pole with a record lap of 1:55.1 (119.165 mph), but only because of an 11th-hour effort. He made his run with less than 45 minutes remaining in Thursday's practice-qualifying period—and on special soft-rubber tires that allow a car to go fast for a short time but would have to be changed for the race itself. At that, he barely beat out a Chaparral and two very quick Ferraris. John Cowley, the Ford director of racing, said wryly, "We don't quite have the edge we enjoyed last year."
The strong Chaparral performance in practice was more or less expected. After weeks of hiding in the Texas weeds near Midland, Jim Hall and Hap Sharp showed up at Daytona later than anyone else; too late, in fact, to get a garage assignment. John Holman, the jovial stock-car entrepreneur who, with Carroll Shelby, tunes up the Mark II stable for Ford, let the Chaparrals have one room in Ford's spacious building. "I can keep an eye on them there," Holman said, "and they've been real busy."
The Chaparrals were outfitted for the first time with big 396-cubic-inch engines to close the horsepower gap with the Fords. Although Hall qualified the 2D model second to Gurney (with the now-famous spoiler wing flapping 2� feet above the rear deck); the driving was left to Phil Hill and Mike Spence, while Bob Johnson and Bruce Jennings drove the wingless 2F version. But Enzo Ferrari's chief concern was not the Chaparrals. It was Ford he wanted to beat. The gruff old wizard of Maranello was determined to recoup the losses of 1966. Italians who cared were murmuring something like, "Mantieni la fede, caro," which translates roughly as "Keep the faith, baby." And Ferrari drove his men as never before.
After a year of labor disputes, driver disputes and threats by Ferrari to pull out of racing and leave the field to the "Ford steamroller," it was now clear that Ferrari had no intention of giving up. He had preempted part of the section of his small factory used for production cars and had given it to the racing division. Learning that Amon, the quiet, slope-shouldered driver who had won Le Mans last year in a Mark II as Bruce McLaren's co-driver, was available, he offered Amon a ride. Amon jumped at the chance. "I could have stayed with Ford for nearly eight times—exactly eight times—what I'm making with Ferrari," Amon said. "But for a long time I've wanted to work for these people. Ferrari has been in this business for 50 years and he knows a few things."
Ferrari planned well for the Continental. Last December Amon and the rest spent eight days of testing on the peculiar Continental course—a combination of the high, 31� banks of the 2� mile speedway and a flat, taut infield road course. Amon and Lorenzo Bandini were keeping the faith in a 4-liter V-12 P4 Spyder. Mike Parkes, the Englishman who has been a Ferrari engineer and chief tester for five years, and Ludovico Scarfiotti had a sister coupe. Both cars toured the 3.81-mile circuit at clockings near 1:54, four seconds and four mph faster than the track record. Ferrari was furious when the word leaked out, and if Ford had been a bit complacent until then, it was no longer. As Holman said, "If you underestimate anybody in this business, you're a fool."