McQueen v Andretti: A Digital Exhibition Benefiting The United Way COVID-19 Community Response Fund
All Images ©Al Satterwhite
As spectators of top-flight motorsport we become accustomed to seeing single teams dominating the results for periods of time. It has always happened and it likely always will. However, what makes motorsport most exhilarating is the unexpected. That one race in a season when fate lends a hand and turns the whole thing on its head. The 1970 Sebring 12 Hour race was just that kind of race.
With the factory Porsche and Ferrari teams suffering a host of misfortunes the victory very nearly went to Peter Revson and Steve McQueen driving an underpowered Porsche 908, and McQueen driving with a broken foot no less! Ultimately, Revson and McQueen lost out to a determined Mario Andretti who beat them across the line by just 23 seconds. McQueen may not have won, but the race was heralded as one of the most exciting of its time.
To mark the 50th anniversary of this fateful Sebring 12 Hour race a series of intimate, behind-the-scenes photos have been published in a digital exhibition titled “McQueen vs Andretti”. These remarkable photographs give us a unique perspective, capturing the emotions of the drivers and helping us to relive one of motorsport’s all-time great races. Here is a brief summary of how the race went down.
It was the turn of a new decade and Porsche was the dominating force in the World Sportscar Championship. In 1969 they won 7 out of the 10 rounds. As expected, this trend continued into 1970. At the season opening 24 hours of Daytona, the first two cars to finish were Gulf-Porsche 917Ks with a Ferrari following in third.
Following Daytona, as usual, was the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Gulf-Porsche team was once again the favorites, but Ferrari had worked hard between the two races addressing the fragility of the 512S’s rear suspension. Ferrari came out on top in practice with Mario Andretti securing pole position. Starting in second and third were the Porsche 917Ks of Siffert/Redman and Elford/Ahrens with the Ickx/Schetty Ferrari starting in fourth. The Rodriquez/Kinnunen Porsche 917K lined up in fifth with a pair of Ferraris in sixth and seventh. The stage was set for the ultimate Ferrari-Porsche showdown, but the racing gods had other ideas.
Further down the order was Steve McQueen and Peter Revson. McQueen was due to film his movie epic at Le Mans later in the year and entered Sebring in preparation. Despite the plaster cast on his broken left foot, he and Peter Revson qualified fifteenth in a Porsche 908; a car that would later run at Le Mans as a camera car for the movie. When asked about his broken foot McQueen responded casually,
“I busted it in a motorcycle race at Lake Elsinore. I busted it in six places but I already said I’d drive. It’s a little difficult. I can’t use the footrest as we had to cut part of it off.”
Race day was dry, and Andretti opened up an immediate lead over the Siffert/Redman Porsche. Porsches bad luck began when the 917K of Siffert/Redman lost 11 minutes with an electrical fault. By one-third distance an over-revved engine, a rear tire puncture and a collision with a Porsche 911 saw three 917K retirements. Ferrari were left to race in the top three spots with the Alfa Romeo of Maston Gregory and Toine Hezemans in fourth. Astoundingly, running in fifth was the Porsche 908 of Steve McQueen and Peter Revson.
For hours McQueen and Revson battled hard with the Alfa Romeo T33/3 of Gregory and Hezemans, but another turn of fate would put them in contention for the lead. It was now Ferrari’s turn for some bad luck. Two Ferraris dropped out, one with a head gasket failure and the other with a rear puncture and subsequent suspension damage. The Ferrari of Andretti/Merzario was left with an 11-lap lead only to retire as night fell with gearbox failure. This left the Rodriquez Porsche 917K, now piloted by Siffert, leading the race with McQueen and Revson in second. Just as Porsche thought that the race might go their way, Sebring’s infamous bumpy surface took its toll and the 917K pitted with front suspension damage. Ferrari responded immediately by putting Andretti, their number one driver, into the Giunti/Vaccarella car to try and take the lead from McQueen and Revson.
“I hear the announcer saying, “And Steve McQueen takes the lead!”. That pissed me off, and fired me up. So I said, “I’ll take over at the next stop”. The rest is history.”
Everybody expected a comfortable win for Andretti but in the dying laps he pulled into the pits for more fuel. The Porsche 908 remained on track as the Ferrari received its last few gallons.
“I ran out of fuel, I tried to stretch it, but the reserve ran out and I barely made it in”
Andretti charged out of the pits with only seconds to spare. Revson drove impeccably but didn’t have the pace to challenge Andretti in the Ferrari. Andretti crossed the finish line just 23 seconds ahead. The Gregory/Hezemans Alfa Romeo picked up third leaving the only remaining Porsche 917K to take fourth.
All the photographs featured here and in the “McQueen v Andretti” digital exhibition are taken by Al Satterwhite. Al started his career as a freelance magazine photographer, working on assignment for publications including Life, Newsweek, Time, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated. His photographic prints are now in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and LACMA, amongst others.
Prints from this collection are available through the “McQueen v Andretti” digital exhibition website with all proceeds going to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund.