Porsche had problems, too. Moments before the Le Mans-style start, the 911 of Maryland's Jim Netterstrom was up on blocks, mechanics probing into its engine. That was bad news, since it was Netterstrom who, at Daytona, inadvertently wiped out the French Matra—and who might have done the same this day to its Italian counterpart. Still, Netterstrom made it onto the track, along with the rest of the field of 70.
After the starting scramble the Porsches led for 30 laps and then the Penske Lola took charge. Subsequently, what with pit stops and traffic and rubber pylons at the corners eddying up against some cars, each of the contenders had his turn. Rico Steinemann, Porsche's team manager, sent his quickest driver, Switzerland's Jo Siffert, into an early lead, holding back the gentler duo of Joe Buzzetta and Gerhard Mitter in hopes of coming on strong toward the end. Penske's drivers, Mark Donohue and Ronnie Bucknum, who customarily don't fall for such bait, charged right after the Porsches, as did Ferrari's Amon and Andretti. However, Wyer's drivers, Belgian Jackie Ickx and Englishman Jack Oliver, hung back and kept their car healthy. As the sun skidded down toward the timing pits, the wear on the rest became evident.
Porsches began failing with broken suspension arms. (The Germans are swift to remove their dead; soon two cars, draped in see-through plastic, were lying in state beside the big Porsche van.) No sooner had Ronnie Bucknum given way to Donohue in a midafternoon pit stop than the husky Lola cracked—its suspension stricken by the wrenching, wriggly course. By this time the Ferrari had begun to smoke like Vesuvius and was pulling in frequently for symptomatic treatment—gallons of water into the car and quarts more over the steaming windshield and hood. On one stop Andretti looked parboiled, and his engineers quickly scissored a vent in the sizzling fiber glass over his feet.
The GT-40s were having their own troubles. Wyer's second car went out just before sunset, having lost a door and broken its front suspension. Oliver and Ickx had to perform like Houdinis in changing places, since their own door only opened about eight inches. Fortunately both drivers are as small as they are steady.
After dark Ferrari was solidly in the lead—until Andretti pulled in for 10 minutes and 50 seconds of watering. Only three Porsches were left in the race, all with rebuilt rear suspensions, and Jo Siffert—now earless—came up to commiserate with the cooking Mario. By the time Andretti got back out and running, Oliver had surged ahead in the GT-40. Sensing a potential need for his presence in victory lane, Wyer sipped a cool glass of milk and donned his blazer, while his Ford crewmen donned miner's lamps against possible emergency work within the car's innards. Well into the 11th hour, Oliver whipped in for a pit stop, Ickx took over, and from then on Ferrari never had a chance.
Though the quick red Ferrari closed on Ickx at a rate of five seconds each lap, it was not enough. Still, when the flag came down and the champagne flowed—some of it over Oliver's head, making him look like something out of Dickens—as much of the crowd's applause was for Amon, Andretti and the new Ferrari as for the winners. Both cars had bettered the Sebring single-lap speed record, and the Ferrari had equaled the record of 238 laps, but the Wyer Ford had gone it one better. Its 239 laps over the 5.2-mile course came to 1,242.8 miles at a record speed of 103.363 mph.
And so Wyer had another sip of milk, the graffiti artists departed and Sebring returned to 1946.