Sebring is the name of a small town in the midlands of Florida that is annually the scene of an important automobile race—a race whose eighth renewal will be run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. this Saturday. The event is very young, but it is to American devotees of road racing cars what the Kentucky Derby is to improvers of another temperamental breed.
The big event at Sebring has several distinguishing features. For one thing, it has perhaps the wordiest title in sport: The Florida International 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance for the Amoco Trophy. For another, it is nearly unrivaled in sport for complexity.
True-blue road racing fans are not puzzled by this complexity. Others who do not share their information and special language frequently are. An effort will be made, then, to preview Sebring lucidly for those who haven't yet discovered its merits, and informatively for those who regularly follow racing.
Let it be said, first of all, that this should be as fine a weekend as Sebring has seen. A dozen of the 65 entries will have a reasonable chance of winning the absolute victory, largely because of the new international ceiling on engine size for the most powerful cars. Last year, one car of vastly superior horsepower and speed, the 4.5-liter Maserati, made the over-all race no contest.
The field of drivers will be first-rate, with the cream of the international corps, the best American road racers, the Indianapolis drivers Jim Rathmann and Pat O'Connor, and many talented American amateurs for whom Sebring has come to be the racing treat of the year.
Among the foreigners will be five from Britain who have not heretofore competed in the U.S.: Tony Brooks, Jack Fairman, Ron Flockhart, Ninian Sanderson and Archie Scott-Brown.
The field of cars will be the best yet; the European factories which keep the sport alive have done themselves proud. This is especially true of the most powerful cars. Aston Martin of England will have a strong two-car entry captained by Stirling Moss, the best active racing driver in the world. (The No. 1 driver, World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio, will lend his presence at Sebring but probably will not race.
Ferrari of Italy, world champion manufacturer in 1956 and 1957 and favorite to win a third consecutive title, will enter a three-car team bolstered by additional U.S.-owned Ferraris. The Ecurie Ecosse, a swashbuckling Scottish team whose D Jaguars won the premier event of this kind, the Le Mans 24-Hours, in 1956 and 1957, will make its American bow with two D Jaguars.
The chief novelty will be two streamlined racers from the tiny English shop of Brian Lister, powered by Jaguar engines and representing America's foremost enthusiast, Briggs Cunningham, and his associate, Alfred Momo. Cunningham may personally drive another car from his stable, a D Jaguar. Momo will call signals for the team via a two-way radio hookup rigged by the Vocaline radio and Gentex helmet people—the first time this has been tried on so large a scale.
Off-course the pace will be swift, with, among other things, a ball Thursday evening and a gymkhana and cavalcade for more than 40 antique and classic cars on Friday.
A few facts should be kept in mind if Sebring is to be appreciated fully. It is, above all, a unique U.S. event—the only American auto race in which the stars of the international circuit compete. It is a stop on the way to one of the two great international championships—that for manufacturers of sports cars. The other world title is for drivers, and is campaigned for in Grand Prix (specifically, Formula I) cars, not sports cars. Grand Prix is used in the Sebring title in its general sense of "great prize," not in its narrow sense of "all-out racing car."
Sports cars and Grand Prix cars differ from U.S. track racing cars in that they are designed to compete on roads, or simulated roads, rather than on elliptical tracks. Gearboxes and brakes are of secondary importance on track cars; they are vital in road racing. This is especially true of brakes at Sebring, because its 5.2 miles of airport runway and adjacent road, with long straights and sharp turns, make the world's most severe test of brakes.
A Grand Prix car is easy to spot, because it has cockpit space for a driver only and usually has no fenders. Sports cars come in two main varieties—the kind that can be driven in ordinary traffic, and the kind designed only to be raced. Both types must have fenders, headlights and spare tires. The cars shown on page 35 are good examples of all-out sports racing cars. At Sebring these are called sports cars and are segregated in the scoring from the tamer variety, which are called grand touring cars. The murderous thing about keeping all this straight is that these broad categories are further broken down into 11 separate classes, according to engine size. There are winners in these classes as well as one absolute winner, and there is, as well, a handicap winner. This is the car that rates best on a mathematical formula that is designed to put small cars on an equal footing with larger ones.
Classification by engine size is auto racing's equivalent of the scale of weights in prizefighting. Ferraris and the like are heavyweights, Porsches middleweights, etc. Engine size is always measured in road racing under the European metrical system. The cars shown are 3-liter racers, because the pistons of each operate through a total volume of 3 liters. A liter equals 1,000 cubic centimeters or 61 cubic inches or, for those who visualize poorly, about one Martini more than a quart. This is the favorite illustration of Art Peck, a sports car evangelist who will share a CBS radio microphone at Sebring with Walter Cronkite.
Cronkite and Peck will broadcast a 15-minute Sebring preview at 9:30 p.m. Friday; a five-minute report at 9:55 a.m. on race day; 10-minute progress reports at 1:30, 4:05, 6:05 and 8:35 p.m.; and the results from 10:05 to 10:25 p.m. All times are Eastern Standard. There will be race bulletins on CBS-radio hourly network newscasts.
Ferrari is the team to beat at Sebring, and Peter Collins and Phil Hill are the pair to watch. Limited to a maximum displacement of 3 liters in the championship race by the new rules, Enzo Ferrari has plucked the 3-liter V-12 engine from his very fast touring car, souped it up to 300 hp and placed it in a superb lightweight chassis for maximum effect. Two of these "250TR" cars placed one-two in the first round for the manufacturers' title, in Argentina in January, with Collins and Hill in the winner.
There is no doubt about Collins' ability to drive fast; there are some reservations about his ability to conserve the car, because last year he went so swiftly in the opening laps that he all but used up his brakes. The Briton's teammate is California's best driver and one of the very best Americans. Factory Drivers Wolfgang von Trips and Mike Hawthorn in a second 250TR and Luigi Musso and Olivier Gendebien in a third make the "prancing horse" formidable indeed. Domestic support comes from John von Neumann and Richie Ginther, John Fitch and Ed Martin, and Chet Flynn and Ed Hugus, all in 250TR models.
NO CINCH FOR FERRARIS
The Ferraris will be given absolutely no respite by the Aston Martin DBR1s. Moss and the sensational young Briton, Tony Brooks, are paired in what could well be the overall winner. Britain's steady Roy Salvadori and the brilliant American, Carroll Shelby, will drive the other DBR1.
Britain's Archie Scott-Brown, an old Lister hand, will share one of Cunningham's Lister-Jaguars with the American, Walt Hansgen, winner of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S 1957 U.S. Sports Car Driver award. The other will be driven by the Indianapolis "500" veteran, Pat O'Connor, and another fast American, Ed Crawford.
The Lister-Jaguars and the standard D Jaguars of the Ecurie Ecosse will have the famed Jaguar XK 6-cylinder engine, with the length of the stroke cut down to fit the new regulation.
Salty Dave Murray, chief of the Scottish team, will show off his Le Mans winners, Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb, along with Ninian Sanderson, Jack Fairman and the very rapid American, Masten Gregory.
Now that Maserati has officially quit racing its cars will not be great threats. Two private 3-liter models have an outside chance.
Prodigies have been performed in the past by the ultralight, small-engined Porsche Spyders. At Sebring two of the latest 1,600-cc. models will get expert handling from Jean Behra, last year's co-winner with Fangio, Harry Shell, Richard von Franken-berg and Edgar Barth.
No wonder, then, that there are great expectations for Sebring. Its 12 hours should have enough sis-boom-bah for a dozen races.
LISTER-JAGUAR, most novel car for Sebring, combines chassis designed by Britain's Brian Lister and a 3-liter Jaguar engine. Said to be lighter and potentially faster than the well-known D Jaguar, it has a tubular frame and inboard disc brakes at the rear.
ASTON MARTIN DBR1, an outstanding car on the Continent in 1957, winner at the Nurburgring and at Spa, is a 3-liter, 6-cylinder racer with space frame and disc brakes. The Britons Tony Brooks (above) and Stirling Moss head a strong two-car team.
FERRARI 250TR, latest of the brilliant Italian line, has a 3-liter V-12 engine, derived from Ferrari touring car, and drum brakes. With 300 hp it is the most powerful of the over-all contenders. A topnotch factory team may make it the prerace favorite.
FERRARI ENGINE for 250TR racers, a V-12 workhorse with cylinders inclined at 60°, has six dual-throat Weber carburetors, dual overhead camshafts, 73-mm. bore, 58.8-mm. stroke. It weighs about 380 pounds and develops 300 hp at 7,200 rpm.