"Le Mans 66": The true story about the epic motorsport duel


On November 14, "Le Mans 66" will be released, or as the original says, "Ford v Ferrari". Let us be happy! It looks like a murder passport:

Christian Bale and Matt Damon – both always convincing, clearly. Whether that will be the movie as a whole as well? Actually, it does not matter, because even if the strip, as the Guardian describes it, is more "blandly sentimental", the real story behind it is nothing but epic and great.

And that's the point here.

At the beginning of the sixties it is bad for the big Ford Motor Company. In the domestic market as well as on the racetrack GM dominates. In particular, Chevrolet is technically more advanced. patron Henry Ford II White: Ford needs a sexy sports car that can withstand GM's Corvette and European imports. And he wants a racing team with which he can make these cars successful.

Henry Ford II. Picture: getty

Above all, he wants it with the 24 hours from Le Mans win, because at the beginning of the 1960s, this race was the measure of all things. If a car brand wins Le Mans, it knows the whole world. But even though Ford is one of the biggest automakers, its know-how is lacking.

Since the message is most welcome, that Enzo Ferrari. Il Commendatore personally, would be interested in selling his company. Just that Italian sports car manufacturer, which enjoys a flawless reputation in racing, is for sale. Ferrari had just won Le Mans three times in a row.

Last year's winner Ferrari on the 1963 poster. Picture: getty

Despite these sporting successes Ferrari is currently in financial difficulties and is open to Ford's advances. The negotiations are under way, Ford spends enormous sums on auditing and lawyer fees and in the end it is agreed: Ford buys Ferrari for 16 million dollars. And so they meet on 21 May 1963 in Maranello near Modena to sign the contracts.

Enzo Ferrari. Picture: getty

Ford is with a half army of lawyers on the ground, the Commendatore itself comes only with the municipal notary. And then Enzo Ferrari reads this one passage of the treaty text, takes his fountain pen and writes:

The clause is about the future racing department, about which he still wants to keep control (and who also Ferrari-Ford should be called). Enzo Ferrari was of the opinion that it was agreed; but it is different in the contract text. There follows a vociferous insult in Italian towards the Ford representatives, followed by the announcement to his notary, "Andiamo a pranzo!" (Let's go lunch!). The Italians leave the room, the Americans are left behind, bewildered.

At home in Detroit, Henry Ford II is furious. Now there is war. We have to beat Ferrari. Where it hurts him the most: in Le Mans.

But you have to do that first. It takes European expertise to beat Ferrari on European soil. So Ford turns to his British department. This will be presented to Lotus, Cooper and Lola – and decides to give the order to Lola. With the Mk6 GT Lola already had a car that had participated in Le Mans in 1963 – with a Ford engine.

In a small workshop in Slough west of London (the city by the way, which has already given us the Mars bar, the zebra strip and "The Office", etc.), you get to work. In just 10 months, a car could reach 320 km / h. And that for 24 hours under the most exhausting conditions of Le Mans.

The result looks like this:

Ford GT. From the floor to the roof it is only 40 inches (101cm) – henceforth the thing is called the Ford GT40.

In the first training runs at Le Mans in 1964, the GT40 proves to be unassailably fast … and extremely unstable. On the notorious Mulsanne straight about the rear wheels turn through – at 280 km / h. Two GT40 are injured during the training.

Ford finally enters the race with three cars. But in the course of the race, two of them will suffer gearbox damage and one will catch fire. And in the end wins … Ferrari.

Victor 1964: Jean Guichet and Nino Vaccarella in the Ferrari 275P. Picture: getty

And, oh yes, in second and third place is also a Ferrari.

Now Henry Ford II turns to the former chicken farmer Carroll Shelby (portrayed in the movie by Matt Damon), a cranky Texan who runs one of the most successful racing teams in the United States. In the 1950s he had been factory driver for Aston Martin and Maserati. And in an Aston he had 1959 – tadaa! – Le Mans won.

Shelby immediately after his Le Mans victory in 1959; Congratulatory is Mademoiselle Sophie Destrade, Miss Europe 1959. (AP Photo / Jacques Marqueton) Picture: AP NY

Shelby set early on European design, paired with American horsepower. He had equipped the handy British AC Cobra with a big Ford V8 and thus dominated the GT Championship for quite some time.

Two Shelby Cobras on the Riverside International Speedway. Picture: getty

And how was that, in just that Le Mans race of 1964, when Ferrari could just take a triple victory? Who was behind in fourth place and was also winner in the GT class? a Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe!

Dan Gurney 24 Hours of Le Mans 1964 in the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Picture: getty

So Shelby gets the job to turn the GT40 into a winning car. He commits his best test driver: Ken Miles (shown in the movie by Christian Bale).

Ken Miles from Birmingham, England, was a tank commander in World War II and has been working closely with Shelby for quite some time. He's an engineer, a mechanic and a great racer … and enjoys a reputation as an incorrigible loner (something Ford grudgingly acknowledges). After a test drive with the GT40 Miles judges:

He and Shelby get down to work. Brakes, suspension, aerodynamics, engine – everything you want to improve from the ground up. Above all, one wants to get the dangerous instability at high speeds under control … but finally there is no time to clarify all this until Le Mans 1965.

Le Mans 1965: Ken Miles in No.1, Phil Hill in the 2nd Picture: getty

In the race, the Fords are still the fastest, but all six started GT40 have to give up because of various technical damage (nb: also the car of Swiss driver Herbert «Stumpen-Herbie» Muller).

And Ferrari? Again a 1-2-3 victory. Slowly it gets embarrassing for Ford.

To give up? That's out of the question for Ford. Shelby gets a nearly unlimited budget, and a year later, the engine has grown to 7 liters, the brakes withstand the rigors of a 24-hour nonstop operation, and most importantly, the car stays straight and stable 340 km / h.

Ford GT40 MkII – that went in 1966 to Le Mans. Image: hemmings.com

At the 1966 race are no less than eight Ford GT40 at the start. Henry Ford II himself arrives to attend the event. He prints business cards, which he distributes to his team bosses, drivers and chief mechanics, which read:

But Ferrari was not idle in the meantime. In 1966, the Italians compete with this one:

Ferrari 330 P3 – is there another Le Mans victory? Image: wikicommons

The beauty contest has won the new 330 P3 before, so. But the red bullet has real advantages over the GT40. It is easier and more agile. Although the top speed of 305 km / h is significantly lower than that of the Ford, but it is expected to make up for this with higher cornering speeds. In addition, the Ferrari consumes less fuel due to the lower weight, which in turn means less time-consuming pit stops. And Enzo Ferrari has a trump card: the fastest racer on the planet, Formula 1 World Champion John Surtees,

Surtees with the Commendatore. Picture: getty

And John Surtees has a plan: One of the three Ferraris is said to be the hare to hunt. This is to give right from the start full pot to force the Fords to strain their cars excessively. Le Mans is a war of attrition; winning does not necessarily mean the fastest car, but the most reliable one. Surtees is ready to sacrifice a Ferrari when the Fords have to give up.

But shortly before the race, Surtees is dismissed by Ferrari team boss Eugenio Dragoni – although he is demonstrably the fastest driver. Surtees calls the reasons "political" (his replacement Ludovico Scarfiotti is the nephew of Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli) and when he seems to get no support from Enzo Ferrari, he leaves the team completely (which Ferrari ultimately the Formula 1 Master title will cost).

With Surtees out of the way, the Fords secure the front-most starting positions. Since the GT40 with Ken Miles at the wheel just the 24 Hours of Daytona and who won 12 Hours of Sebring, you feel confident of victory. But at dawn it looks like a repeat of the years before: Two Ferraris lead, four of the eight GT40 are out of the race.

The announcement of the Ford team bosses is also: drive gently, the cars do not overstress too much. But Ken Miles, who co-developed the car, does not give a damn about it. He drives like a berserker, sets lap records and secures the lead until morning. Meanwhile, all Ferraris suffer transmission or engine damage or accidents. On the afternoon of June 19, 1966, Henry Ford II allowed his cars to win a 1-2-3 victory.

Goal achieved. But at what price? How much does an Ami have to spend to beat a spirited Italian? Official figures do not exist, but it is estimated that the development of the GT40 cost the Ford Group inflation-adjusted by the 400 million dollars. No sober investment, so. But: Ford won with the GT40 another three times Le Mans. In addition, it changed the image of the car brand at a stroke. From then on, Ford was considered sporty. The GT40 proved so iconic that it still serves as a model for the current Ford GT supercar.

Are there any heroes and villains in this epic? No, too varied is racing. But there is a tragic hero: Ken Miles. When it becomes evident in the final hours of the race that Ford will win, Henry Ford II orders, the two leading GT40 should simultaneously cross the finish line – a public stunt beyond compare. Although Ken Miles is against it, he still does well.

Miles and Shelby during a pit stop in Le Mans. Picture: getty

But this is confronted with the race organizers with a problem: The statutes do not provide a stalemate, which is why in such a case, the rule is that the vehicle wins, the has covered the longest distance, The car of the two young New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon was 20 meters behind that of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme started – and thus winner.

The winners: Bruce McLaren, Henry Ford II and Chris Amon. Picture: getty

A disappointment beyond compare for Miles, who had been instrumental in the success of the car. He had previously won Daytona and Sebring. With Le Mans, he was the first to make the endurance race hat-trick. Tragically, Le Mans was his last race in 1966. Two months later, he died fatally during a test drive in the latest GT40 version on the Riverside circuit in Southern California.

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