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As the 63 starters rolled away on Saturday afternoon, the 20-yard-long Porsche pit gleamed with surgically clean tools. Down the pit wall little could be seen of the Penske team in its modest, tarp-enclosed area. The start was as reverberant as any at Indy—the Porsches moving out ahead except for a brief but prophetic surge into the lead by Jo Bonnier's Swiss Lola-Chevy after 18 laps.
By sunset it looked like a Porsche blitzkrieg. Penske's No. 6 Lola was having serious fuel pickup problems and, with only 20 gallons of its 37-gallon-tank capacity available at each pit stop, was having to pull in every 40 to 45 minutes. The Fords, possibly lying back deliberately to ease the strain on their engines, were in the second flight of cars.
Under the setting sun—which looked like a giant ad for Minute Maid—fires glowed in the infield as fans prepared their dinners. The smoke drifted to the high east bank of the track, confusing inexperienced drivers and lending an oddly barbaric tone to the race.
And as the sun went down more trouble began. An Alfa Romeo crashed and went up in flames. Bonnier's Lola creamed the wall. The mighty Porsches began leaking exhaust fumes into their closed cockpits and the drivers pulled into the pits nearly asphyxiated, clutching their throats, their tongues protruding as they gasped for air.
Viewing the Porsches in jeopardy, John Wyer sipped tea laced with brandy in his homey Ford GT-40 pit. By one o'clock Sunday morning he was able to light up a confident cigar, for his Fords were running 1-2. Though Porsche had done some fast patching on the exhaust menace, two of the 908s had broken down and another was soon to go.
Under his tarp Penske was suffering in silence. His Lola had a cracked exhaust pipe requiring welding, a desperately hasty job that still took an hour and 19 minutes. Pro that he is—owner of last season's top Trans-American and U.S. Road Racing Championship cars—Penske conceded himself a gambler's chance to win it all. "I told my boys there were 15 hours left," he said later, "and that if we could get the car fixed we'd still be in there." Back on the track in the Florida night, No. 6 streamed a brilliant blue-white exhaust.
And then the race came back to Roger. Of the two remaining Porsches, one blew its engine at 5:40 a.m. Snip-cut went the GT-40s—Jackie Ickx's into the wall and David Hobbs's out with a cracked cylinder head. Which left the No. 53 Porsche of Gerhard Mitter an insurmountable 50 laps ahead of the Penske Lola. As Sunday's sun arched up in the sky, that last obstacle between Penske and glorious upset fell. It was an intermediate shaft in the Porsche, "a little part between the camshaft and the crankshaft," in Team Manager Rico Steinemann's words, which blew.
When Chuck Parsons wheeled the big Lola under the checkered flag—he and Donohue having driven 2,383.75 miles at 99.268 mph—Penske permitted himself a small grin. Likewise Donohue, who is called "Mr. Clean" for his gentlemanly and efficient racing approach.
He and Parsons had cleaned up $15,000 for their 24-hour journey, Penske had cleaned the clocks of the teams that couldn't be beat, and all the visitors had struck a blow at bingo.