The car and the event that hooked me into motor racing

The car and the event that hooked me into motor racing

I got hooked into motor racing for more reasons than just a car but then as an impressionable 8-year old I read about how the biggest of the big bad Italian “dadas” had resisted the brash moves of a rich American sugar daddy to buy his company, racing team and all!

Yes it was all about Enzo Ferrari rebuffing Henry Ford’s offer to join in making Ford-Ferraris for the street and Ferrari-Fords for the racetracks and that was great news to me then in 1964. One time chicken farmer and a Le Mans 24hour winner to boot, Carroll Shelby’s massive Ford V8-powered Cobras had exacted a sort of vengeance over the Commendatore when they displaced the Prancing Horse from the GT class winners’ perch at Le Mans and this was what it all boiled down to.

Le Mans in the 1950s and 1960s commanded as great and equal stature in motor racing’s pecking order as did Formula One Grand Prix racing and Ferrari was quick to milk that thought for all it was worth! Henry Ford II realised this when Enzo famously brushed off his accountancy moves and knew that he had to beat Ferrari on the Sarthe circuit. And that’s how the Blue Oval in its all out Total Performance approach decided that not only would it bid for supremacy in American NASCAR stock car racing and also with Indycars but would also take Ferrari head on for outright wins at Le Mans.

The tool to do that was a striking mid-engined racer – the gorgeous GT40, designed, built and developed by a team that included Eric Broadley of Lola Cars, John Wyer former manager of the 1959 Le Mans winning Aston Martin team, Bruce McLaren, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby himself, the Wood Brothers and many others. To use a huge displacement push-rod V8 derived from the firm’s Galaxie, Falcon and Fairlane saloons against the thoroughbred DOHC V12s seemed a futile and unreliable choice and the 1964 and 1965 seasons illustrated that line of thought.

Ferrari kept on winning Le Mans though, from 1960 to 1965, but by 1966 Ford was ready. In the beginning of 1966, the GT40s served notice that they would be a force to reckon with when Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby took their mighty Ford GT40 Mk. II to win the Daytona 24 Hours. And then they followed it up with a crushing 1-2-3 victory at Le Mans with Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon driving the winning car.

Ford had stopped Ferrari where it hurt and since then the Prancing Horse has never won at Le Mans ever! Ferrari tried to get even the next year and first stunned Ford on home turf when its magnificent 330P4s dealt the Blue Oval a crushing 1-2-3 defeat at Daytona. But Ford had its new GT40 Mk IV ready for Le Mans and it looked as if there would be battle royal. Ferrari had four of its 330 P4s and three of its 412P (updated 330 P3s). These were ranged against four of the new GT40 Mk IVs and three GT40 Mk IIs. The GT40 Mk IV of Bruce McLaren and Mark Donohue took pole and the Fords had a massive edge in top speed down the long long Mulsanne straight that wasn’t then castrated by the chicanes we have today.

In the race, the Fords hit the front and seemed to have the race well and truly in their bag when around early morning it all began to go bad and six of its 7 cars had either crashed or had mechanical issues. However, the solitary Mk IV driven by the All-American pairing of Dan Gurney and A J Foyt had run with metronomic efficiency and had pulled out a lead of well over 5 laps with about a quarter of race distance to go and even though try and they might, the glorious sounding Ferrari 330 P4s could only hound them but not defeat them!

For the second year in a row Ford had humbled Ferrari where it hurt and then “the Deuce” (as Henry Ford was nicknamed) pulled out of racing, mission accomplished! That wasn’t the end of the GT40 though for its two greatest wins were just round the corner. John Wyer Automotive with the backing of the Gulf Oil Co recognised the new FIA rules for sports prototypes allowed cars like the GT40 to compete with 5.0-litre engines and they set up a great outfit that went on to win Le Mans in 1968 with Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi.

What was so heartening about the blue and orange liveried cars was that they also won the 1968 FIA World Sports Car Constructors title, something that had eluded Ford in 1966 and 1967! But more was to come in 1968 when with the same GT40 that had won in 1968, Jacky Ickx and Jacky Oliver won Le Mans for Gulf-Ford again by a mere hundred metres from a fast but weak on brakes Porsche 908. So go figure it out, with history and success such as these how difficult would it have been for yours truly not to be smitten by the lure of the GT40?

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