The field featured works Coopers for Brabham and 22-year-old Bruce McLaren of New Zealand; blue Rob Walker-entered Coopers for Moss and Frenchman Maurice Trintignant; four Ferraris--three in Italian red for Englishmen Brooks and Cliff Allison, and German Wolfgang von Trips; one in American white and blue for Phil Hill; front-engined Lotuses for Innes Ireland and Alan Stacey; and, incomprehensibly for the European road-racing elite, the number 1 Kurtis-Offy Midget of USAC National Champion Rodger Ward, the only American-built and American-driven entry.
Ward's car had an underpowered engine (1.7 liters to 2.5 for the F1 cars), separate gear-change levers for the two-speed gearbox and two-speed rear end, and an outboard handbrake! Ward explained how his participation in the race came about by saying, "Ullman called me up and invited me to race in the Grand Prix. He offered me some money, and I was in the habit of accepting money, so I told him I'd bring the midget."
The night before practice began, Cooper Team Manager John Cooper, and his drivers Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren, came across Ward at the hotel in Sebring. Ward, who had won the Indy 500 that year and would win it again in 1962, told the Cooper team members he was in Sebring to drive a dirt track car.
"In the Grand Prix?," Brabham asked, astonished.
"Sure. And have you guys got a surprise waiting for you! Why, on every turn I'll blow you right off the road!" Ward gushed.
The Cooper team soon realized they could not explain things to Ward. He insisted, "I know what a Midget can do and I know it can take a corner faster than any of those sports cars you have in Europe. You might be faster on the straights, but when it comes to turns you just won't have a chance. Sebring's a lot of turns, isn't it?"
Well, to the Europeans' amazement, Ward's car made it through the technical scrutineering, perhaps a tribute to his Indianapolis reputation, but during the first practice lap, Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham arrived at the first turn in their Coopers about the same time as Ward. The rear-engined cars sped through the turn, while Ward seemed to almost come to a stop. Afterward, Ward shook his head and said, "I've got to hand it to you. Those European buggies sure take corners fast!"
- -- The Grand Prix Carpetbaggers, John Cooper, 1977.
Qualifying ended with Moss, Brabham and Brooks on the front row, but, overnight, American Harry Schell was given third position, next to Moss and Brabham. The 3:05.2 lap that got Schell on the front row apparently had come at the tail end of the session, and had gone unnoticed by almost everyone; his best time previously had been 3:11.2, good enough for 11th.
Protests ensued from nearly every other team, most vociferously Ferrari, whose man, Brooks, was displaced on the front row. The shouting match raged even as "The Star-Spangled Banner" was being sung, but when it was through, Schell started from third place.
What had really happened with Schell did not come out until after the race. At Sebring, just beyond the MG bridge and before the esses was a sharp right turn that apparently led nowhere. Schell found, however, that it connected with the end of the Warehouse Straight, bypassing the entire straight and the Warehouse Hairpin. He had secretly cut across and come back on the course during a lull in the traffic--and cut six seconds off his time! Alas, it didn't help him in the race; he was eighth after the first lap and retired after only six.
Moss led the race from the drop of the flag, but his day, and his Championship hopes, ended after only five laps with a broken gearbox. Already out of the running for the title was Brooks, who had been bumped off the front row by Schell's qualifying ruse. Brooks made contact with teammate von Trips in the first turn, and pitted to examine the damage. The stop cost him two minutes, and proved to be unnecessary. Though he rejoined to drive a sensational race and finish third, he never had a realistic shot at Brabham.
Brabham took the lead from Moss and led McLaren for most of the race. When he slowed to allow his teammate to close up to him, Trintignant's Rob Walker Cooper took huge bites off the gap, as his pit crew kept him informed of his position.
On the last lap, as his team waited for him to appear and take the checkered flag, Brabham rolled to a halt in sight of the line on the uphill front straight. He had refused to follow Team Manager Cooper's exhortations to start the race on full tanks, hoping instead to find more speed from a lighter car. McLaren, surprised to see Brabham slowing, lifted his foot and slowed as well. Brabham waved him on frantically, and McLaren resumed speed just soon enough to cross the line less than a second ahead of Trintignant, who had set the race's fastest lap only three laps from the end. He was the last man to receive one Championship point for recording the race's fastest lap, as the next year the rule was changed.
Brabham was also passed by Brooks for third place, but pushed his car over a quarter mile up the hill to finish fourth and clinch his first World Championship. It was also the first for Cooper, the first for a rear-engined car, and the first for an Australian driver. Brooks' third gave Ferrari second place in the Championship; Innes Ireland came fifth, three laps down in his Lotus, and Wolfgang von Trips ended up sixth after his Ferrari's engine gave way with four laps to go. With his victory, McLaren became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner at age 22 years 104 days. In addition to his prize money, he also won several acres of land adjoining Sebring Lake!
Despite the exciting finish of the race and the Championship, however, the United States Grand Prix at Sebring was a financial disaster. The crowd was half the size of that year's 12 Hours of Sebring sports car race, and after distributing the $15,000 purse, including a huge $6,000 winner's share, Alec Ulmann just about broke even. The next year, he would try again, on the opposite coast, in Riverside, California.
|2||6||Maurice Trintignant||Cooper-Climax||42||+ 0.6||5||6|
|3||2||Tony Brooks||Ferrari||42||+ 3:00.9||4||4|
|4||8||Jack Brabham||Cooper-Climax||42||+ 4:57.3||2||3|
|5||10||Innes Ireland||Lotus-Climax||39||+ 3 Laps||9||2|
|6||4||Wolfgang von Trips||Ferrari||38||Engine||6|
|7||17||Harry Blanchard||Porsche||38||+ 4 Laps||16|
|Ret||1||Rodger Ward||Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser||20||Clutch||19|
|Ret||14||Alessandro de Tomaso||Cooper-Osca||13||Brakes||14|
|Ret||15||Fritz d'Orey||Tec-Mec-Maserati||6||Oil Leak||17|