Once one of the more exciting part of some races came at the very beginning: the drivers would line up across the track from the cars; then, at the drop of the starter’s flag, run across the track and jump into their racers, (presumably) fasten their belts, and peel out, hoping to be the first to Turn One. You could count on it to be dramatic, sometimes funny, but always dangerous, as some tried to win the race in a sizzling sprint followed by a dramatic leap into the car, while others, more laconic or less athletic, still had to get across the track in time not to be wearing tire tracks on their driving suits after the more aggressive group had departed.
This version of that fine madness took place at Sebring in 1968, one year before it ended there forever. This image was caught from a box over the pits just as some of the cars were launching: three Porsches, a Lola T-70, and a Ford GT40, the latter two putting the squeeze on Porsche #50. Porsche’s weapon of choice at Sebring that year was the 907, which featured a relatively tiny 2.2 liter engine. Although dramatically smaller than many of the other competitors, they were coming off a 1-2-3 win at Daytona, and looked to be a real threat, especially considering their roster of master drivers: Hermann, Siffert, Mitter, Elford, Scarfiotti and others.
There was real talent to be found in the competition, too: Hobbs, Hawkins, Redman and Ickx were in the John Wyer entered GT40s (this race of course predated the time when the Wyer-signature blue and orange came to grace the 917s that made him a Porsche hero). Three of the hulking T-70 Lolas showed up, powered by large V8s, and there were fascinating pairings of cars and drivers elsewhere on the grid: Mark Donohue in a Camaro, Peter Revson in a Javelin, Sam Posey in a Mustang, “King Carrera” Bruce Jennings in a Cougar. Pedro Rodriguez had even signed on to drive a Corvette!
At day’s end, two of the 907s were triumphant, and two had broken, the #48 car of Mitter and Stommelen after 46 laps and the #50 of Lodovico Scarfiotti after only seven. I still remember that sad car sitting on pit lane, leaving behind a puddle of oil when it was finally pushed away, its mechanical tell-tale tachometer needle pegged north of the redline. Porsche racing boss Husche von Hanstein observed, without a great deal of warmth, “Too much Italian.” I wonder today if Scarfiotti wasn’t victim of the testosterone and adrenalin, the red mist of that penultimate Le Mans start. But he was an experienced F1 driver, had won Le Mans (in a Ferrari) in 1963, and had twice been European Hillclimb Champion. Tragically, a scant few weeks after these events of this Sebring, he was killed in practice at a hillclimb in the German Alps, thrown from his Porsche 910 when it left the course.