The 1957 12-Hour Florida International Grand Prix of Endurance for The Amoco Trophy took place on 23 March, on the Sebring International Raceway, (Florida, United States). It was the second round of the F.I.A. World Sports Car Championship. This was sixth running of the 12-hour race, and with the growing popularity of sports car racing in post World War II America, the event was finally coming into its own since its creation in 1952.
Besides the governor of Florida, LeRoy Collins, who proclaimed March 18–23, 1957 as International Sports Car Race Week, thus gaining additional media attention for the event, the people of New York and Detroit were well aware of the significance of this race. For weeks leading up to the event, national newspapers and magazines who fed the public’s interest by reporting on the international celebrities who would drive in it, like Marquis de Portago of Spain and Count Wolfgang von Trips of Germany.
Just days before the race, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile issued an appendix to its rules concerning the race, mandating that during the first tyre change, the team had to use the spare tyre that all the cars were required to carry. While this didn’t the affect the Corvette and some other cars, but for the Ferrari and Maserati, it was a major problem, as on their cars, the wheel on the front and rear of the cars were of different sizes. Ferrari’s Peter Collins, a representative from Maserati and the organiser, Alec Ulmann then met with the FIA to discuss this problem. Collins told the press that these changes were in violation of FIA’s own rules concerning how such changes were adopted. Supposedly any rule changes had to be unanimously approved by all the competitors or it is rejected. It is assumed that this argument carried the day with the FIA, and the race saved. The even-vocal Collins also had a few words to say about the use of 55 gallon oil drums outlining the track. Despite the Englishman protested that their use was “very, very dangerous…” and that they should be “banned”, Sebring continued to use them for several more years.
A massive total of 86 racing cars were registered for this event, of which 76 arrived for practice. Only these, 66 qualified for, and started the race. Of the several media stories circulating about this race was that Chevrolet Division of General Motors Company would challenge the European dominance by entering four Corvette sport cars. One of these would be a radically new car, the magnesium-alloy bodied Super Sport (SS), with its 4,638 c.c. engine complete with lightweight aluminum cylinder heads. In addition to this elegant metallic-blue SS, there was a practice SS built, equipped with a standard Corvette engine and a plastic body. Despite looking shabby, it was very fast and in the days prior to the event, other race drivers were constantly asking Chevy competition director, Zora Arkus-Duntov for a chance to drive one of the SS’s. He would only a selected few to drive one of these. After finishing practice in their Maseratis, both Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss were allowed by Duntov to take a courtesy run in the practice car. Within two laps, Fangio broke the course lap record.
The other story ahead of Sebring, was the defection of Fangio to Officine Alfieri Maserati from the Scuderia Ferrari. Fangio had won this event for Ferrari in 1956. In their attempt to lure Fangio from Ferrari, Maserati offered to supply him with no less than six brand new race cars for testing. He picked a 450S for the race, which he eventually drove to victory at Sebring. Meanwhile, back at Maranello, the burden for winning for Ferrari at Sebring fell on the shoulders of Eugenio Castellotti, who partnered Fangio in 1956. However, on 14 March, Castellotti was testing a Formula One Ferrari at the Aerautodromo di Modena when he was crashed heavily, dying instantly from his injuries.
Prior to the race, a small crowd of photographers was snapping away at the Renault Company pits. It seemed that Gilberte Thirion and Nadège Ferrier, who were scheduled to drive a 845cc Renault Dauphine, were posing for the press, while only few photographers were seen elsewhere down the pit lane. Perhaps, the likes of Fangio and Collins, were not as pretty as these female drivers.
Meanwhile, Lotus Cars had brought four Lotus Elevens over from Norfolk. Their designer and founder, Colin Chapman had an innovative way of financing the works team effort at Sebring. All four entries were pre-sold to American customers. If you purchased an Eleven, you got to drive it in the race, but you couldn’t take possession of the car until after the race. Therefore, during the race it was a Factory Lotus, however afterwards, the car yours, or what’s left of it was yours.
Because they was no qualifying sessions to set the grid, the starting positions were decided according to engine size with the 4.6 litre Corvette of John Fitch and Piero Taruffi in first place. Next was another Lindsay Hopkins entered Corvette of Paul O’Shea and Pete Lovely. In fact Corvette’s held the first four places. Next in line were six Jaguar D-Types.
Collins, in a Ferrari 315 S was the first away with Moss not far behind, but the engine in Moss’s Maserati 300S sputtered for a brief moment, handing Collins a commanding lead. The rest of the field followed with the small Dauphines bringing up the rear. By the end of lap one, Collins was already ten seconds clear of Moss, with the Maserati 450S of Behra not far behind.
Within the first 60 minutes, the new Corvette SS began to experience brake troubles and pitted to have these checked, while there also changed their tyres. The Briggs Cunningham Jaguar D-Type, driven by Bill Lloyd was the first the retire with engine problems, as Collins continued to lead with Behra now in second, just a few seconds down on Collins. Moss was now running in third, with Portago fourth in his Ferrari 315 S. Masten Gregory and Phil Hill rounded out the top six, in their Ferraris. As the cars moved into the second hour, the heat started to take its toll on both the cars and the drivers alike. The Maserati 150S of Lloyd Ruby blew its engine and retires. Behra moved into the lead, now ahead of Collins by over a minute at the two-hour mark, with Portago, Moss, and Gregory completed the top five.
During the third hour tragedy struck, when Bob Goldich, driving an Arnolt Bolide, crashed at the Esses, flipped his car several times. He died instantly of a fractured skull and broken neck. When news of Goldich’s death reached Stanley Arnolt, he withdrew the rest of his team. This marked the first death of a driver in the history of the Sebring race.
At 13:15 Behra pitted and handed to 450S over to Fangio. During his spell, Behra had broken the lap record several times, and at this point, had a fairly large lead over team-mate Moss. The Ferrari’s of Collins and Portago were third and fourth with Carroll Shelby now in fifth in a Maserati.
By 15:00, the Corvette SS was listed amongst the retirements. Word from the pit lane, was that persistent overheating problems led to the withdrawal, although the official classifications show the cause to be failed rear suspension. Fangio was still leading and Moss finally decided to hand his car over to his co-driver, Harry Schell. At 15:19, Portago brought his Ferrari with serious brake trouble. The mechanics couldn’t seem to remedy the problem and let the car back onto the track with Luigi Musso behind the wheel. Portago reported that the car had “no brakes”. By the end of the hour, Mike Hawthorn brought his Jaguar D-Type for a brake change.
At the half-way point, Maserati Factory team had Fangio leading the race, but a major mistake by the team, led to a disqualification. It seemed that Fangio and Shelby were running low on fuel. Shelby brought his 250S and had begun refuelling when he was told to get back on the track because Fangio was due in. After Fangio was serviced and cleared the pits, Shelby returned to the pits for the remainder of his fuel, but was immediately disqualified. There was a FIA rule, that stated you had to drive at least 20 laps before you can come in for more fuel, and the Maserati team had forgotten this rule.
After 10 hours of racing, Fangio was still leading with Hawthorn, Portago and Schell following. That order hadn’t changed in over an hour. The Ferrari of Portago had to pit because of a problem with his fuel pump, which cost him 30 minutes. Moss continued to gain on the leaders. By 21:00, Fangio was still at the wheel of his car and was now four laps ahead. Because of pit stops and driver changes Moss was now in second with Hawthorn dropping to third, Gregory fourth and Walt Hansgen now in fifth. In the factory Ferrari, Collins was way off the pace due to failing brakes. The small but reliable Porsche 550s were now in 8th, 9th and 10th position.
With just 30 minutes to go, there was some commotion in the Maserati pits. It seemed that during the scheduled final pit stop a mechanic had spilled a large quantity of fuel on Fangio’s seat. In typical Italian fashion there was a lot of yelling and hand gestures, meanwhile, the team manager went off to find a replacement seat. They found one and Fangio returned to the race with his lead reduced. With less than half-hour to go and everyone in the Maserati pits was holding his breath.
At 10 p.m. fireworks appeared over the track. This signalled the end of the race and a tremendous victory for Maserati. Coming home in first were Fangio and Behra at the wheel of their Maserati 450S with the Moss/Schell Maserati 300S in second, having reduced the lead down to just two laps. The podium was complete by the Jaguar D-Type of Hawthorn, co-driven by Ivor Bueb, the English pairing salvaging some honour for the Coventry marque. In fourth, Gregory and Lou Brero, who had earlier collapse due to heat exhaustion, were the first Ferrari to finish. Hansgen and Russ Boss were fifth in a Cunningham Jaguar D-Type, Collins and Maurice Trintignant were sixth in the first of the factory Ferrari 315 S, Portago and Luigi Musso were seventh in the other factory Ferrari 315 S, Art Bunker and Charles Wallace were eighth in a Porsche 550 RS, Jean Pierre Kunstle and Ken Miles were ninth in another Porsche 550 RS. Howard Hively and Richie Ginther rounded out the top ten in their Ferrari 500 TRC. Bunker and Wallace also came away with a first in the Index of Performance which rated cars according to performance.
It was later revealed that Fangio had to get medical attention for painful burn blisters, from his waist down to his knees on his right side. It seems that the insulation that surrounded the exhaust pipes, which ran along the driver’s side of the car, had worn away, leaving Fangio’s lower body exposed to very, hot temperatures.
Class Winners are in Bold text.Fastest Lap: Jean Behra, 3:24.5secs (91.540 mph)
Note: Only the top five positions are included in this set of standings.
Championship points were awarded for the first six places in each race in the order of 8-6-4-3-2-1. Manufacturers were only awarded points for their highest finishing car with no points awarded for positions filled by additional cars. Only the best 4 results out of the 7 races could be retained by each manufacturer. Points earned but not counted towards the championship totals are listed within brackets in the above table.