David Hobbs recalls the 1971 near-misses in Penske/Sunoco Ferrari 512M


NBC Sports Group Formula One analyst David Hobbs’ driving career featured him driving some seriously iconic cars.

Among them, despite a lack of results in the three marquee endurance races of Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans, was the Penske/Sunoco Ferrari 512M Hobbs shared with Mark Donohue during the 1971 international season. The car is featured as part of Ferrari North America’s 60-year celebration this year.

“That car… that Sunoco car, in spite of itself, has become an iconic Ferrari,” Hobbs recalled, in a conversation with MotorSportsTalk. “And it’s one of the most well known Ferraris, even though we never actually won anything, which is the bizarre thing.”

They quite easily could or should have but, motor racing being motor racing, things happened to the blue and yellow Ferrari well outside their control.

Starting at Daytona with the first 24-hour campaign of the season, Hobbs and Donohue stuck the new car on pole. Hobbs praised Penske’s work in building the piece of machinery nearly from scratch.

“Roger completely rebuilt it and turned into a stunning piece of equipment. It was beautifully finished, and the Europeans were amused by the highly polished wheels and tires.”

We let Hobbs tell the rest of the story from there.

“Well of course we put it well and truly on pole in front of the Gulf (Porsche) 917s. We led the race handily, until Mark was driving in the middle of the night, and Vic Elford spun the 917 at NASCAR 3. Some 911 we’d lapped about 1,000 times ran into Mark and came into the scene of chaos. But we strapped about 10,000 pounds of tape on it and came third.”

Staying in Florida, things didn’t improve for the 12 Hours of Sebring. The pair led at Sebring before Donohue contacted Pedro Rodriguez on the back portion of the 5.5-mile circuit. A tire had become unraveled, damaged the oil tank, and the pair finished 10th.

Le Mans? Same story of frustration and unfinished business.

“Generally speaking the engines were very reliable. But then we went to Le Mans, and it was a tosser, as we didn’t have a long tail,” Hobbs says. “The 917s had the long tail, so they were quicker down the straight. By 7 p.m., we were up to third. I’d driven a very satisfying late afternoon early stint. They tried to get me to the four-hour (driving) limit. But then double stinting, and the engine let go. I’m not 100% sure, but they may have changed engine night before the race.”

The fourth and final race of frustration for this particular car saw more mechanical issues strike at Watkins Glen.

“The final race was the Watkins Glen six-hour, and then Mark would drive it Sunday in the Can-Am,” Hobbs says. “We were comfortably on the pole. Then Mark drove into the distance, and I never drove. The steering post broke on top of the upright.

“We had a fantastic chance winning at least two of three, Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. We certainly should have won Daytona and Sebring.”

Hobbs recalled the bygone era where not only were the cars lacking in aero but seriously cool in appearance, but where they only ran with two drivers.

“We didn’t know any better! And it was just the way you did things,” he says. “The car was fairly quick. There were no ground effects, so they didn’t generate the G-forces the modern cars do.

“The new cars have massive downforce and having three guys, you’re usually six hours in-between stints. The most we had was four, and your max nap time was two and a half, maybe three hours at a stretch.”

Despite the lack of results, the car still holds a special place in Hobbs’ car honor roll.

A video from Petrolicious from the car’s outing at Mont-Tremblant this summer, with Hobbs’ voice, is linked here.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).