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Tom Mallett2012-06-12 18:25:07

Le Mans: Ford vs. Ferrari - Part 2

 
 
Slideshow
Ford vs. Ferrari - The Rivalry: Part 2

Between 1960 and 1965 Ferrari had dominated Le Mans, with six straight victories, a feat only surpassed by Porsche, who enjoyed seven consecutive victories between 1981 and 1987. Carroll Shelby was faced with the daunting task of disrupting the dominance by the red machines.

Shelby enjoyed instant success, with his 7-litre creation taking victory at the Daytona 24 hours in February 1965.  The rest of the 1965 season was a qualified success, with the main aim being to develop the GT40 into a reliable front runner. Shelby continued to use the wind tunnel and introduced a dynamometer which was used extensively, including a 48 hour Le Mans simulation. The use of the proven and reliable 7-litre stock car engine was proving to be a good move.

In 1966 Ford took a historic 1-2-3 at Le Mans. Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon took the chequered flag first, ahead of ken Miles and Denny Hulme. Despite this success, the event was marred by internal strife. Ford’s star driver, Ken Miles, had been ahead when Ford made the decision to orchestrate a photo finish and not risk their drivers fighting for victory until the end. Miles, who had at times been difficult to work with, was bitter that victory would be taken from him after his dedication to the program, slowed down before the line to let McLaren cross first.

Ford succeeded in toppling Ferrari at only its third attempt at Le Mans. However, some observers suggested that the GT40 was merely an English car funded by the might of Ford Motor Company. This accusation would lead Ford to build an all-new car for the 1967 assault.

The 1967 challenger, the Mk. IV was built around a reinforced J-car chassis, which used a honey comb aluminum construction rather than traditional steel. The Mk. IV’s were all built in America, with six constructed in total.

The 1967 Le Mans 24 hour race would see Ford’s greatest battle with Ferrari unfold. Dan Gurney was brought in from Ferrari and was immediately concerned by the weight of the big Ford. The Mk. IV was 270 kg heavier than the Italian cars he had been used to driving and he was worried about the Ford’s braking performance. Gurney and his co-driver Foyt decided to lift off several hundred yards before the braking zone for the Mulsanne hairpin each lap, the technique caused much speculation as lap times dropped off, but ultimately saved their brakes.

Ford led the race early on but lost three cars through the night, all to crashes, however, the car driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt continued serenely, eventually beating the second and third placed Ferrari’s by four laps. The seven litre Ford also won the coveted ‘Index of thermal efficiency’ award, which rewards the car extracting the most performance from the least amount of fuel.

Following the success of the ‘lazy litre’ 427 engine the FIA capped engine capacity at 5 litres. This did not deter Ford Total Performance, who, funded by Gulf Oil sponsorship returned to Le Mans in 1968 and 1969. They won both races, but the GT40 was by this point outdated and by 1970 the revised Porsche 917 prototype would dominate.

It is worth remembering how far the GT40 had come in the five years that it competed at the front. In 1969, with only 425bhp the GT40 was timed at 217mph along the Mulsanne straight, such had the aerodynamics been honed. The first use of a roll-cage in 1967 can be credited with saving the great American driver Mario Andretti, who crashed badly at Le Mans in that year.

The GT40 era was over by 1969, but Henry Ford had made his point. Ford was back on the motorsport map.

Return to part 1:

Le Mans: Ford vs. Ferrari - Part 1

Encyclopedia
FordFord
GT40GT40
GT40 Mk IIIGT40 Mk III
Engine
V 8
Displacement
288 cu in
Top Speed
160 mph
Transmission
5, Manual
Maximum power
310 hp @ 6000 rpm
Type
Fixed-head coupé
Fuel
Petrol
Fuel consumption (combined)
--
price
--
annual ownership cost
$ 1.042

3 comments

Vetteman
But that was probably the only time Ford had any success in LeMans right?
07.02.2012 @ 15:40
authomobilia
This is a nice chunk of automotive history, with 2 big egoes auto mogul wanting to be the best at what they do...
12.02.2012 @ 10:33
jazz23
This is going to be really easy when we can get the house of fun free coins at http://hofcoins.online for free generator of coins.
24.09.2018 @ 07:23
Anonymous

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