What makes a cool motor race? Whether or not a race was good to watch can be determined by the amount of action it served up. For example, this season the BTCC and WEC have both consistently served up some quality action, but how do we get from a good race to a genuinely cool one?
Obviously there’s no definitive answer and a lot depends on one’s personal taste, but generally we reckon that the venue, series, drivers, cars-and-liveries, the plot and the era itself play the biggest parts. To this end the 1970 running of the Sebring 12 Hours must surely take some beating. We’ll explain…
Supposedly styled after European Grand Prix venues, Sebring opened in 1950 and, like Goodwood, emerged from the remains of a Word War II airfield. Unlike Goodwood though, racing has continued at Sebring ever since, uninterrupted. Known as a bumpy circuit it is nevertheless one of the cornerstone venues of American motorsport and, situated in sunny Southern Florida, it’s always ranked as one of the American venues that most European racers would like to experience.
As for the series itself, we’re talking Group 5 here; surely one of the coolest series there’s ever been? Ferrari’s 512S, Lola’s T70 MkIIIb and something called a Porsche 917K, some examples of which represented a certain oil company, known for its blue and orange livery…
In terms of drivers, the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours was pure box office: Brian Redman, Mario Andretti, Arturo Merzario, Dan Gurney, Peter Revson, Jacky Ickx, Jo Siffert, Vic Elford, Pedro Rodriguez and Steve McQueen (racing with a broken foot) all featured. As driver line-ups go that’s a classic, but what if we were to tell you that the Hollywood superstar McQueen and his co-driver Peter Revson came within an ace of actually winning? Way cool.
Going into the race Porsche was coming off a 1-2 win at Daytona just weeks earlier and was ahead of Ferrari – its closest rival – in the manufacturer’s standings. However, Andretti bagged pole position and the Ferraris looked quick. Apparently Andretti wasn’t too enamoured of a Hollywood actor trying to prove his worth in a top international sportscar race and this was to become a factor as proceedings drew to a close.
We’ll stop shy of spilling all the beans of this classic encounter, but suffice to say this 15 minute film sums it all up beautifully. Oh and look out for the candid mid-race interview with McQueen at 6:22.
Best of all, we’re going to see some of the very cars from this film at the 74th Members’ Meeting in March (19th – 20th) for a high-speed demonstration. Frankly, if the whole caper ends up being a fraction as cool as Sebring was in 1970 then we’ll consider it a roaring success.