Thoroughgoing disciples of road racing in the U.S. are subject to an annual mass-migratory instinct. When this takes effect they press onward regardless of hell, high water and southern traffic cops until they reach the small central Florida town of Sebring. You may see them each March at the Sebring race course, broiling in the noonday sun and groping around like somnambulists in the evening, now and then nibbling the stale sandwiches of their box lunches, pricking their ears to the sweet, deafening roar of the racing cars.
They are not necessarily unhinged. They go to Sebring because its race is unique in the U.S. It is the only one counting toward the world championship for manufacturers of sports cars; it is the only one that brings virtually all the best European drivers and racing sports cars to American soil. Furthermore, it lasts for 12 solid hours, from 10 in the morning until 10 at night—an automotive feast of Lucullan proportions for the migrants.
They are awaiting next Saturday's ninth annual 12-hour Grand Prix of Endurance with special anticipation because it is the first race of the new season for an American driver of rare promise, Phil Hill (see cover and page 42). At long last the U.S. has, in Hill, a road racing driver capable of winning the highest international honors. Defending champion at Sebring, again a member of the first-rate Italian Ferrari team, he is tentatively set to co-drive with his up-and-coming fellow Californian, Dan Gurney. If Hill goes on to excel this year in the more difficult sphere of Formula I racing he will be welcomed back to Sebring on December 12 with patriotic jubilation. For at Sebring on that day will be held the first postwar American Grande Epreuve (i.e., Formula I race counting toward the world driver championship).
Hill and Gurney may be hot favorites for the over-all victory next week, but neither they nor any other topflight pair can be certain of even finishing the race. Some mechanical failures are to be expected, and uppermost in everyone's mind is the fact that Sebring's 5.2 miles of long straightaways and sharp turns make the world's most severe racing test of brakes. This year the Italian wizaro, Enzo Ferrari, has gone so far as to equip his three factory entries with disc brakes, despite his traditional reliance on and great success with drum brakes. The famous Connecticut sportsman Briggs Cunningham and his associate, Alfred Momo, have gone a step beyond. They have fitted one of their three English Lister-Jaguars with experimental water-cooled disc brakes (see diagram below).
Water-cooled drum brakes have been tried before (by Cunningham and Momo, in fact, on a Ferrari at Le Mans in 1954), but water-cooled disc brakes are unprecedented in racing. Developed by the Raybestos Co., they are quite unlike conventional wheel-and-caliper disc brakes. With two copper discs pressing a central friction plate when in use, they provide nearly three times as much friction area for each wheel as normal disc brakes; if the special cooling system works properly they will not suffer from the braking malady of overheating.
As usual, the cars most in the running for the over-all victory are the all-out European team entries with engines built to the maximum displacement of three liters. There are seven in all: the Lister-Jags, the Ferraris and a single English Aston Martin. Privately owned Ferraris and Maseratis also have a chance; so do the small-engined but superlight German Porsches, which always finish well up in the standings and rarely have serious brake trouble.
Having dominated Sebring in 1956 and 1958, Enzo Ferrari now sends three new disc-braked racers with 3-liter, V-12 engines that are slightly hotter, at 320 hp, than last year's, and with lighter, more streamlined bodies and revised suspension systems. As a group, his team drivers will be the best at Sebring: the Americans Hill, Gurney and Chuck Daigh; Britain's Tony Brooks; France's Jean Behra; and Belgium's Olivier Gendebien, co-winner with Hill of the renowned 24-hour race at Le Mans last year. Backing them up will be four good privately owned 3-liter Ferraris and two touring Ferraris that will be favored in their class.
Ferrari's British opposition should be much stiffer than it was last year, when the best British cars succumbed early to a variety of ailments. Two of the current Jaguar-engined, six-cylinder, 270-hp cars from the tiny Cambridge shop of Designer Brian Lister—managed at this end by Cunningham and Momo—have the same ungainly-looking bodies they had last year, and it is one of these which boasts the water-cooled brakes. The crack Americans Walt Hansgen and Dick Thompson are likely to drive it. Cunningham himself and the American, Lake Underwood, will probably co-drive the other.
The third Lister-Jaguar comes with impressive credentials. Britain's Stirling Moss, the finest road racing driver in the world today, will share the wheel with his countryman, Ivor Bueb, twice a winner at Le Mans. The slick new body of improved aerodynamic design (see page 41) is the work of a De Havilland Aircraft man, Frank Costin. It is quite possible that this car will be miles ahead of the field after a couple of hours if Moss starts, because he goes like blazes in races long and short. Whether the car will last in top form is another matter. If it does last year's Ferrari record of 1,040 miles covered in 12 hours is sure to be broken sharply, either by Moss-Bueb or the team they pursue.
In 1958 all the Jaguar-engined entries had destroked 3.4-liter engines to comply with the then new 3-liter maximum, and they all retired with valve spring ills. This year Jaguar has supplied bored-out 2.4-liter engines for the Lister-Jaguars, and no special difficulties are anticipated.
Aston Martin has had bad luck at Sebring but has entered, at the last moment, one of the six-cylinder, 3-liter, 265-hp cars which have performed beautifully in Europe. Co-drivers Carroll Shelby, the swift Texan, and Roy Salvadori, of England, know the course intimately and have teamed before.
With its 65 entries, its class races along with the over-all race, its long list of drivers and the glamour and prestige that go with a world championship event, Sebring has enough facets to keep car cranks chattering for months. For example, the Italian Umberto Maglioli, sensational winner of the last Pan-American road race in 1954, is due to return to competition after a long absence. He is to co-drive a highly regarded 1.6-liter Porsche. More chatter concerns Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., who bows in at Sebring with an entry of Fiat-Abarths. The gifted Mexican teenagers Ricardo Rodriguez, 17, and his brother Pedro, 19, will make their Sebring debut. Additionally, there will be a cavalcade of 75 fine antique cars at the course on Friday.
For stay-at-homes CBS will broadcast the race action Saturday at 9:55, 11:05, 12:05, 1:05, 6:05, 7:10 and 8:15 (E.S.T.) and the results at 10:15.
On Sunday our hardy migrants will start home, and on Monday they will be snoozing at their desks throughout the land.
WATER-COOLED DISC BRAKES, unique in racing, will be on one Lister-Jaguar. This exploded view shows a complete assembly. When brake pedal is depressed, inboard and outboard copper pressure plates (6, 8) squeeze friction disc (7). Hydraulic fluid (3) causes inboard plate to act as piston. Coolant (1) is pumped into inboard casting (4). One flow (5) cools inboard plate. Second flow channels into outboard casting (9) and outboard plate assembly (8), rejoins first flow in inboard casting and recirculates (2) via special radiator. Friction disc, gear (10), hub (11) and hubcap (12) rotate with road wheel; other parts are fixed.
SUPER-STREAMLINED British Lister-Jaguar with body by Aerodynamicist Frank Costin will be driven at Sebring by the topflight British pair, Stirling Moss and Ivor Bueb.