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Close, But No Cigar: Ferrari 512S – 1971 24 Hours of Daytona

Submitted by on January 22, 2012

Ferrari 512S Daytona 71In America in the mid-20th century carnivals and county fairs would hand out cigars as prizes for anyone who might win at the games offered on the midway.  Failure to win might elicit the response “Close, but no cigar.”

Well for Tony Adamowicz and Ronnie Bucknum at the Daytona 24-Hour race in 1971 those words would ring loud and long in their ears following the race.

At Daytona in 1971 few expected that Ferrari had much of a chance against the formidable Porsche 917.  The previous year Porsche had practically swept the field in winning the Manufacturer’s Championship and the only points race won by Ferrari that year was at Sebring after the Gulf 917s succumbed to faulty wheel hubs.

There was a glimmer of hope for Ferrari at Daytona in 1971 in the form of the beautifully prepared Penske-Sunoco Ferrari 512M that was driven by Mark Donohue and David Hobbs.

While the Donohue/Hobbs car won the pole position and led the early stages of the race they began experiencing mechanical difficulties.  On top of that a horrendous accident in the night put them in the pits for over an hour for repairs and when they returned to the track the car’s body was literally held together with duct tape.

In the meantime the Rodriguez/Oliver 917 was running like a train on rails and continued to build up a lead.  After 21 hours of racing their win was thought to be assured and they were 213 miles ahead of the second place NART Ferrari 512S of Tony Adamowicz and Ronnie Bucknum.

With three hours left, and with Jackie Oliver at the wheel the transmission on the 917 crapped out and he coasted off the high banks and down to the Porsche pit with the transmission stuck in top gear.

Under normal circumstances this would be a simple repair since they had plenty of time.  Just swap out the damaged transmission for a working one like Ford did in 1967 when they swapped out no less than twelve units in their Ford Mk. IIs.  However, rules changes by the FIA prevented this and some questioned if there was enough time to rebuild the transmission.

The John Wyer Gulf Team decided to go for it and in an amazingly short 92 minutes rebuilt the transmission.  The time was now 1:05 pm with just under two hours left in the race.  The Porsche had lost its huge lead and was now three laps behind the ailing Adamowicz/Bucknum Ferrari with the Dononue/Hobbs Ferrari coming up fast.

The “little Mexican” Pedro Rodriguez was tasked with regaining the lead and did so in a brilliant piece of driving that took him only 33 minutes.  What followed then were two unscheduled pit stops for Porsche, both for tires.  A brief rain shower forced them to pit for rain tires and when it cleared up they pitted again for slicks.  The Adamowicz/Bucknum Ferrari stayed out the entire time on slicks and regained the lead when the Porsche pitted for tires.

Once back on the track with new slicks Rodriguez continued his aggressive driving style and ended up beating the Ferrari by just over a lap.  It was the closest finish at a Daytona 24 hour race up to that time.

The photo above shows the then leading NART Ferrari 512S of Tony Adamowicz and Ronnie Bucknum as it brakes for turn three at Daytona.  The flames belching from the exhaust were caused by broken valve springs.  Ronnie Bucknum admitted to Tony Adamowicz many years later that he had been running the car at higher RPM’s that he should have and that caused the broken valve springs.  As a result they had to slow the car down to save it for the finish.  If not for that they could have won the race.  “Close, but no cigar.”

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