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Old 11-05-2011
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Default Ford GT40 History

INTRODUCTION



I note with interest how the new Mothers catalogue uses the Ford GT image throughout the product list.

This car was released as a homage to the original GT40 which was manufactured, primarily as a sports racing car, in the mid 1960's.

Most of you are probably aware of some of the history of the Ford GT40, but for some who aren’t, I thought that you might like to read something about the history of this wonderful car, which, in my opinion, is probably the second most aesthetically pleasing looking car ever to be designed, after the Jags of the 50's through to that best of all, the E Type Jaguar.

Tony.
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Last edited by TonyfromOz; 11-05-2011 at 11:35 PM. Reason: Check context
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Old 11-06-2011
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

GENESIS

The genesis of the GT40 came about when Henry Ford II was in the process of actually negotiating with Enzo Ferrari, who had showed interest in selling the Ferrari Company to Ford. After much had been done, Enzo Ferrari pulled the plug on the deal when informed he would no longer have control over Ferrari Racing, and also that he could not enter Ferrari at the Indy 500 if the deal went through, as Ford would only enter Fords with a Ford engine at the 500.

Enraged that the deal fell over, Henry then set out to construct a Ford that would beat Ferrari at its own game, and the main game at that time was International Sports Car Racing, and the main focus was the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, at the Circuit de la Saarthe.

Ferrari had a monopoly on this race with it’s P Models and its variants, and at this time that was its 250 Model, both the 250P and the enclosed 250LM..

It took a couple of years for Ford to finally win, in 1966, with the GT40, and when it did, it ended that Ferrari domination of 6 consecutive wins and 7 in the previous 8 years, split only in 1958 by an Aston Martin DB1, the last of those earlier British car dominated wins with this Aston and the earlier Jaguars, the XC, and the C and D Types with the beautiful flowing lines.

Henry decided to build his new sports car in the UK, and originally sought out Lotus, Lola, and Cooper, settling on the Lola group, who were using Ford engines in their mid engined Mark 6 sports cars. (The Lola GT’s)



This image shows the Lola Mark 6 GT Ford.

While there is a school of thought that the GT40 was based on this Lola Mark 6, they were in fact two entirely different cars, and while they may look similar, the GT40 was in fact designed at Ford in Dearborn Michigan by a team that Henry Ford has already assembled for this express purpose of designing his Ferrari beater. The Lola was already using the Ford V8 and was making its own mark, both as a sports racing car, and raising the profile of the Lola Company.

The original car was built with Le Mans specs in mind, and that stipulated that the car had to be 40 inches in height at the top of the windscreen, hence the designator 40 after the GT. Some conjecture exists that the GT40 name was originally just a nickname, but those early models were in fact designated GT40.

The original engine came from the Fairlane, the 260CI Windsor engine. This was later replaced by the famed 289CI engine.

As Part of the development team, Ford also poached John Wyer, the team manager from the Aston Martin team. Wyer was team manager for some of the early races that these first GT40's were entered in.

Tony.
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

LE MANS 1964 and 1965

The first Le Mans for the GT40 was 1964. Three Mark 1 GT40's were entered under the team banner of the Ford Motor Company, and all 3 entries retired during the race. The last car to survive made it almost to the 14 hour mark, and had climbed up the field to be in third place, and this car set the lap record for the race, averaging almost 132 MPH, before retiring with gearbox failure.



This image shows the Ford Motor Company Mark 1, (the best finishing GT40 in the race) at Le mans in 1964, driven by Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren.

Not long after this race, the cars were then transferred to the Shelby organisation. Carroll Shelby ran the successful Shelby American team, mainly running Cobra’s with Ford engines.

The 427/8/9 big block engine was added, and that was probably due to the fact that Henry Ford supposedly wanted 250MPH down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. The GT40 now became the Mark 2. They consumed considerably more fuel than the 289 engine, and this fuel problem was not really sorted out prior to Le Mans.

The new Shelby American Team entered 4 GT40's for the 1965 Le Mans, two of the new Mark 2's and two Mark 1's. The two Mark 1's were entered by a team combination with the Shelby team and two other teams, Shelby offering their team support to these 2 private teams.

There were also 2 other Mark 1's entered by other teams. Shelby American had a large contingent at this 1965 Le Mans, having also entered two Shelby Cobra Daytona’s.

Both of the new Mark 2's led early at Le Mans, but suffered mainly from fuel consumption problems, and overheating brought about by the very hot temperature on race day. The last of all 6 GT40's, one of the Shelby Mark 2's, retired just short of the 7 hour mark.

Then came the 1966 Le mans, the race that started the history of the GT40.



This image shows the late Ken Miles sitting in a Mark 2 at the 1966 Daytona, a rare look inside a racing GT40.
(Image credit Ford Archives)

Tony.
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

LE MANS 1966

The 1966 Le Mans finish is the stuff of legend, but there are just so many different versions of how the end result came about, mostly urban legends, and I’ll mention some of them here.

By now, all the fuel problems had been completely sorted, and the Mark 2's were reliable.

This year the Ford GT40's finished 1-2-3, and those different stories about the finish all vary on some points. Because all these stories eventuated ‘after the fact’, and with most of the relevant people not still around to explain them, then they took their reasons with them, and these stories become in part the stuff of those urban legends.

The Shelby- American team entered a 3 car team. Holman and Moody also entered a 3 car team, and there were another 7 GT40s in the race entered by other teams, 13 GT40's in all, (7 Mark 2's and 6 Mark 1's)

Of all these cars, only 3 of the Mark 2's finished, the first 2 of them from the Shelby-American team, and the third placegetter from the Holman Moody team.

With most of the race run, the 2 remaining cars from the Shelby team were way in front, and the Holman Moody car was easily 3rd, and here’s where the different stories arose.

The leading Ford team was (maybe) concerned that if the 2 leaders raced it out, there may have been the possibility that cars might either crash, or break, so discussion in the pits led to the possibility of a formation finish if they eased back somewhat and drove a little more conservatively.

The Shelby team’s lead driver was the Englishman, Ken Miles with New Zealander Denny Hulme as his co driver. The second Shelby team car was being driven by two New Zealanders, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon.

Ken Miles, while the Number 1 Shelby test driver, was rumoured to be difficult to deal with at times, but he had the results on the board having won the 2 major lead up endurance races, the Daytona 24 Hour, and the 12 Hour at Sebring.

To say he was put out by these team instructions from the pits, and the probability of not actually winning comfortably was an understatement when he heard that Ford had decided on a ‘dead heat’. Keep in mind that this is in the days long before radio communications, so the only way he had of getting this information was at pit stops, and from the pit boards hung over the fence as the cars flashed by.

Race organisers got wind of this Ford plan, and told the team that if they were to proceed with this planned dead heat, then the second car, the McLaren Amon car would be awarded the race. This second car had started further down the grid, and as the winner was decided on who had travelled the furthest distance in the 24 hours, then this second car would have travelled a very slim 30 feet further if both cars crossed the line in a dead heat position. 30 feet after more than 3,000 miles.

A second story had it that the Miles Hulme car was actually one lap ahead instead of both cars being on the lead lap, but again, that can not really be taken seriously, as it is inconceivable that lap counting could be incorrect at such a crucial time in such a big race as this, either by the team, or by the race officials.

The dead heat eventually did not come to pass, as for some reason, Miles slowed just prior to the finish line, allowing the McLaren Amon car to cross the finish line clearly in first place. Miles never did say why he elected to slow like this, and it is something that will never be known, as he died while testing the new J Car barely 7 weeks later.

After the finish, and due to the non event of the dead heat when Miles slowed down, there was a story going around that Henry Ford wanted this formation finish as he wanted to signify a V for Victory formation, thumbing his nose at his arch nemesis Ferrari.

That V for Victory formation might be seen in the image above, the most recognised image of the finish, with an inverted V the two lead cars in that dead heat position. While this became an official Ford image, this was taken just prior to the finish line showing the two Shelby cars dead heating. Immediately following this photograph being taken, the Miles car slowed somewhat, and the McLaren car crossed the line clearly in first place, as indicated in this following sequence of images shown just prior to, at, and following the flagfall.







That second image has been recreated many times, both for actual photographs, all reconstructions, and also for numerous depictions in art work of this formation finish, but here I have tried to get the actual images from the time, hence that third place car is not in that second image at the flagfall on the finish line.

The story about the dead heat can be put down to an urban legend, as the original intent from the pits was for a dead heat, and, meaning that even had he crossed first, Miles would still have the result taken from him anyway, because of distance travelled, possibly giving rise to one reason why Miles slowed, as the race was never going to be his anyway. Either way, no one will ever know. The same could also be said if Miles in fact finished clearly in front, again due to that distance travelled thing, so for Miles to actually be declared the winner, he would have to cross the line almost ten car lengths or more in front of the McLaren car, hence completely destroying the close formation finish idea. Either way, Miles was never going to win, so you can imagine how he must have felt about that, after so many years with such good results.

Both Shelby cars had slowed to allow the third placed Holman Moody car to enter the picture for the formation finish, which would prove to be an advertising bonanza for Ford. This 3rd place Mark 2 was driven by Ronnie Bucknum and **** Hutcherson for Holman Moody.

While both Shelby cars were on the same lap, the 3rd place car was 12 laps down on them almost 100 miles back. This car was a further 9 laps clear of the 4th placed car, a Porsche. So, the 2 lead cars were almost 180 miles clear of that 4th placed car, a truly comprehensive win. In all, the 2 lead cars covered just a little more than 3,000 miles in that 24 hours.

While in the same teams, both Shelby cars had a different paint scheme. Henry didn’t want ‘GT40' painted along the side of his cars. The Miles car was painted in the Gulf colours while the McLaren Amon car was painted black. This was because both drivers being from New Zealand wanted that black colour as a tribute to New Zealand. They also had a white fen leaf on the side of the car. This black colour and fern leaf relate to the New Zealand Rugby Union football team. New Zealanders are all fierce followers of their Rugby team, known as the All Blacks, wearing a fully black jersey with just that white fern leaf on the front upper breast.

As an odd sidelight to this result, in hose two Shelby cars, you have an English driver and three New Zealanders. All 4 were noted big race drivers and winners.

However, Chris Amon was considered to be one of the unluckiest drivers racing around that time in all areas of motor racing. He was naturally gifted, and he had good cars, but always seemed to have mechanical problems when in the lead, especially in the North American Can Am scene, where he was the premier driver. Because of his propensity for bad luck, Mario Andretti once joked that if Chris Amon was an undertaker, people would stop dying.

Keeping that in mind, and referring to this 1966 result at Le Mans, he is the only one of those 4 drivers still alive. The other 3 all died in car racing while at the wheel. Ken Miles in that J Car crash just after this Le Mans, Bruce McLaren while testing his own Can Am car in the UK. Denny Hulme died at the famed Australian Production car race, the Bathurst 1000 during the 1992 race. He suffered a heart attack while at the wheel, and had the presence of mind to slow from 150MPH to a full stop without crashing, only gently caressing the track wall before parking off to the side of the track. When track marshalls reached his car, the engine was still running, the car in neutral, and Hulme still strapped in.

So when it comes to luck, it may seem that Chris Amon was in fact the luckiest of all these 4 drivers.

This one result started the legend that followed.

Tony.
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Old 11-06-2011
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

WHAT CAME NEXT

Following from this result, a number of things happened, that may seem like Ford was ‘cashing in’ on this wonderful result at Le Mans, but what needs to be realised here is that things like this don’t just happen instantaneously, but sometimes with a lot of pre planning, so these things were already in train.

The Mark 3

Ford released a road going version of the GT40 for sale to the general public, well to those who were interested anyway, and even then, only those among that select group who had enough money, because they were not cheap, and also not readily available. In any event, only 7 of these Mark 3's were constructed in the UK. They had the detuned Ford 289 V8, and a slightly different front end for the headlights, and a small luggage space in the rear.

Others who did want to own a road going GT40 ended up buying the earlier Mark 1 models, mainly from Wyer Ltd, and these were indeed quite spartan as a road going car, with basic seating, and in the main, Right Hand Drive.

Original road going GT40's are very rare indeed, and these days, most of the ones you do see are Replicas, as the originals would be too rare to actually take them out on the road.

The J Car

Ford was busily working on the J Car, an extension of the GT40. While this J Car was still a GT40, the only similarity was the GT40 designator and the now big block engine. Ford had been working on this J Car prior to the 66 Le Mans, but decided to run the Mark 2's, which now fully sorted, were far more reliable.

As it eventuated, this was a fortuitous decision, as was so tragically proved when Ken Miles was killed during testing of the J Car. While looking aesthetically ‘smooth’ the car was actually aerodynamically unstable at high speed which is what happened in the Miles crash. The honeycomb construction broke up completely in the crash.

From this, a better aerodynamic design resulted in a different rear end, and the construction of a basic hardened shell for driver safety including a roll cage, something that actually saved the life of Mario Andretti in his crash in the 67 Le Mans.

The J car now morphed into the Mark 4, but with the now extra additions, the weight savings of the original J Car were somewhat negated.

Only 6 of these Mark 4's were constructed, and they only appeared in two races, the 12 hours of Sebring and the Le Mans race.

GT40 comes to Australia.

While I was still only a teenager, the mystique of these wonderful GT40's was something that interested me when I became aware of this le Mans victory and saw images of those beautiful GT40's.

The late Keith Williams, an entrepreneur on Queensland’s Gold Coast developed a racing track in Surfers Paradise, the first one in the area local to where I lived at the time, and this course was one of the most popular in Australia from when it was first developed.

The track opened to much fanfare in 1966. It was designed specifically to cater to most motor sport, and to accommodate the increase in support for Drag Racing, it had a long main straight which incorporated the quarter mile strip with a long run off at the limit of where the main track joined the strip. The course itself was not very long, at barely 2 miles exactly, but was quite tight, turning and also physically demanding.

Originally holding its first race meeting on the 22nd May, the Grand opening was a 10 day long occasion in mid August, and this huge ‘splash’ was called ‘Speed Week’.

Numerous events were held over that 10 days. The opening event was a two day race car meet on the first weekend. They also held a major speedboat racing event on the nearby Broadwater. There was a major Drag Race afternoon on the Wednesday. A Concours D’Elegance was held on the Thursday evening. The Friday was set aside for practice for the 12 Hour Race, and the track was opened for this practice for 5 hours, including practice in the dark. The second weekend started with a motor bike race meet, and the signature event was held on the Sunday 21st August, the Rothmans 12 Hour Race for International Sports Cars. Williams wanted it to be a ‘big name’ event, and that resulted, with six International teams nominating as starters, something quite difficult to organise in 1966, considering the cars all had to come to Australia by ship.

Our family attended for both of the Sunday race meets and I also was there on the Friday for practice session. A family friend had a large stall in the infield for car parts, and because of that, we got Pit passes, so I spent most of the day in the infield looking at all the cars and watching practice from behind the fence in the infield, and seeing what happened in the pits.

This was where I saw my first GT40. This was a Mark 1, which was shipped to Australia by Peter Sutcliffe, and the Australian driver Frank Matich was to be his co driver for the race. It was the only Ford Sports Car in the race amongst a field which included no less than 3 Ferrari’s and a Porsche, and some Alfa’s. Still only 15 years old, what surprised me was that the GT40 was just so low, even if I was 6 inches shorter at that time than my full height.

Race day came, and it may seem boring to watch cars going round and round for 12 hours, but I sat with my Dad for the whole race, not that I remember all that much of it now, 45 years later.

I do remember the closeness of the big four, the GT40 and the 3 Ferrari’s, but I wanted that gorgeous Ford to win.

One of the Ferrari’s only lasted a bit more than an hour, leaving two 250LM’s and the GT40.

One of the remaining Ferrari’s had mechanical problems late in the race, and while still mobile was considerably slower.

The remaining Ferrari and the GT40 slugged it out for the whole 12 hours. At race end, the Ferrari won by just a little more than one lap, the two cars crossing the line barely metres apart, albeit the GT40 minus one lap.

In, all the winning Ferrari had completed 493 laps, so at the finish, both leading cars had covered almost 1,000 miles, to be only separated by that short 2 miles, just one lap.

It was a truly great race, and from that point this track was destined to keep that fine standard.

My Mum is more astute than I might seem, and all these years she kept the original Programme for that Speed Week, and a couple of years back, she gave me a folder with around 25 of those old Surfers Paradise Race programmes, and this was one of them, so I still have a fairly pristine copy of that first program for the Track, and the entry sheet for that original 12 hour race.







While the 12 Hour was repeated the next year, it was not as good a race as that original, and after that, the race reverted to a 6 Hour race, and then to a 3 Hour Race for Production Cars, before dropping off the calendar, as people became more interested in Touring Car Racing.

That GT40 in that first 12 Hour race was Peter Sutcliffe’s own car, and other than here at Surfers Paradise, it had only appeared in a few other races. Sutcliffe drove a different GT40 Mark 1 for a different team at that 1966 Le Mans.

For this Rothmans 12 Hour, the winner was Jackie Stewart driving that Ferrari 250LM. Stewart was becoming a top F1 driver at the time, and was in Australia for the Tasman Series an 8 race Series around Australia and new Zealand for 1.5 litre open wheel racing cars, The major class for racing cars in Australia at the time . This was Australia’s Premier racing series at the time, and Stewart, driving for the BRM Team won 4 of the races and very comfortably won the Series.


Tony.
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Old 11-06-2011
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

1967 LE MANS

Again, there are some urban legends surrounding this race as well, some true, and some, well, not quite true.

The Le Mans 24 Hour Race has been run 80 times in its 89 year history. This 1967 race is the only time in all that history that an American team racing an American car with American drivers has won this prestigious race. While the Mark 1 was constructed in the UK, only the Mark 2 and Mark 4 were constructed in the US, and in each of the other race wins, 1966, 68 and 69, the races were won with non American drivers.

Shelby American had a 3 car team of 2 Mark 4's and a Mark 2B. Holman and Moody had 3 car team of 2 Mark 4's and a Mark 2B. Holman and Moody also had a second Mark 2B with a subsidiary team Ford France, and there were a further 3 Mark 1's in the race, Ten GT40's in all.

Shelby American had Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt driving one Mark 4, the Number 1 Car, Bruce McLaren and Mark Donohue in the second Mark 4 and Ronnie Bucknum and Australian Paul Hawkins in the third team car the Mark 2B.

In the Holman Moody team had Americans Mario Andretti teamed with Frenchman Lucien Bianchi, Lloyd Ruby teamed with Denny Hulme, and Roger McCluskey teamed with Australian Frank Gardner, and 2 French drivers in their combination team.

Only 2 of those ten cars finished, the 2 Mark 4's of the Shelby American Team, the Number 1 car winning the race, and the Number 2 car in 4th Place.



This image is of the winning Mark 4. Note the bulge above the driving position for Dan Gurney.
(Image credit Carroll Shelby Archives and Ford Archives)

Of all the remaining GT40's, the longest surviving of them was one of the Holman Moody Mark 4's with Mario Andretti at the wheel.

Surprisingly, the winners were in fact Gurney and Foyt, and a couple of those urban legends surround that. They led the whole race except for the first hour and a half. Considerably faster, they put the new Ferrari’s to shame.

Gurney and Foyt won by four laps from the Ferrari 330P driven by Scarfiotti and Parkes. The race distance covered was 3,270 Miles beating the record from the previous year by a little more than 250 miles, so in 2 years the GT40's had increased the distance travelled by more than 500 miles. This distance record was passed, just, in 1971, and then in an effort to reduce speeds down Mulsanne, engine size limits had been introduced, and then chicanes were added in the 90's. This race distance was not broken until 2010, 43 years after this race.

Another Ferarri was a further 7 laps behind second, and the other Shelby American Mark 4 driven by McLaren and Donohue was a further 18 laps back in 4th Place.

Urban Legends And The Truth.

The pairing up of Gurney and Foyt was considered by many to be a huge mistake, as the pair were the fiercest of rivals in all fields of motor sport. It was thought that each would try to outdo the other in driving times both lap speeds and top speed down Mulsanne. This was actually thought to be proved true when the car took over the lead after what seemed hard driving near the 90 minute mark, and then proceeded to just keep pulling away. One urban legend goes that both drivers were not keen on ‘hanging around’ for the full 24 hours as in every other field, they were behind the wheel for around two or three hours at most. The thinking was that they were not keen on driving at night, so they were going to ‘thrash’ the car unmercifully until it broke, so they wouldn’t have to drive through the whole night. Not many people expected the car to last at the pace it was being put through.

In actual fact, the car was just so well constructed that it could actually take this pace hour upon hour. It was just so good. True, Gurney complained about the weight of the car, when compared to the Ferrari’s he was used to piloting, but the phenomenal power of the Ford just kept the car humming along.

The two drivers actually worked together well contrary to what was thought. Once well in the lead, they just dialled back a little and just motored around, 4 laps clear and staying there.

Gurney even developed a ploy that Foyt also took on board and used as well, proving that the pair, while intense rivals, could actually work together towards the one goal. At the bottom of Mulsanne, Gurney would ease off the throttle and coast, in gear, gradually slowing down for a distance before applying the brakes, this done in an effort to protect the brakes from the immense heat generated when slowing the heavy car from a huge speed, up around 250MPH. When some people saw this ploy being used, it was thought that the rumour was coming true, that they had in fact worked the car too hard, but when you had a car as far and away faster than anything else in the race, something like this was in fact a good thing.

The whole race went really smoothly for the pair and they won quite easily in fact by that 4 laps, a margin that remained constant for quite a number of hours.

Three Truths From The Race.

The Mark 4 that won the race had to have a modification fitted specifically for the race. Dan Gurney at 6 foot 3 tall couldn’t sit in his normal driving position, so they had to hastily make an adjustment to the car. The roof had a slight bulge inserted in it above the driver’s seat, so that Gurney could actually fit into the car.

During the night, the chasing Ferrari driven by Englishman Mike Parkes was following Gurney’s Mark 4 quite closely, and while only cruising (for want of a better word in a high speed race) Gurney just stayed there, knowing that, at any time he could just pull away. Parkes didn’t overtake in any effort to make up one of the 4 laps he was down. He just sat behind Gurney, flashing his lights continually at him, which must have been intensely annoying for Gurney, seeing that in his mirrors. This went on for a number of laps deep in the night, Parkes just sitting there and harassing Gurney in an attempt to put him off.

Having had a ‘gutful’ of this, Gurney slowed near the Arnage corner and gradually eased right back, with Parkes doing the same behind him, still flashing his lights. Gurney eased to a crawl, and then slowly pulled off the circuit and came to a full stop on the verge, with Parkes parked right behind him.

The pair stayed parked one behind the other for a short time, before Parkes realised that his plan to unsettle Gurney was to no avail. Parkes pulled back onto the circuit around Gurney, who then eased out behind him. Within 4 laps Gurney had caught Parkes, passed him, and never saw him again.

There is a wonderful one page detailing some of this race and that incident with Mike Parkes, from Dan Gurney himself, where he also tells just how easy the car was to drive. That excerpt is at this link, and is well worth taking the few minutes to read.

Gurney was at the wheel for the finish of the race, and, on the winners podium looked down at the assembled group below Henry Ford II, and other team members. As well as many from the Media who thought this pairing was doomed to failure. He was pretty ‘stoked’ too, as you might imagine.

Part of the presentation ceremony was that Magnums of Moet Champagne were presented to the winners, something that had always been done.

In a moment of sheer joy, and remembering what had been said of the pairing, Dan Gurney snapped off the cork of the Moet, shook the bottle and proceeded to spray everyone around him, including those gathered below.

This in fact was the start of what has now become tradition for big race winners. That bottle and the image of a delighted Gurney spraying the Moet is now a recognised image.


A compilation image of Dan Gurney spraying the Moet et Chandon Champagne Magnum, blended with an image from the race and an Image of the Mark 4.
(Image credit Dan Gurney site)

The Andretti Crash.

This may even be in some way connected to the Andretti Curse.

Mario’s Holman Moody Mark 4 was quite competitive, and had made it to half race distance, when, in the dead of night at around 3AM, and just following a pit stop when the brakes were changed, and Andretti had taken the seat for the next session, the car crashed violently after a brake lock up in the Esses just prior to Tetre Rouge.(the entry corner to the long Mulsanne Staight) In an effort to avoid the Andretti crash, two following cars, unluckily, both Holman Moody Mark 2B’s, one of these from the combination team crashed while avoiding the wreckage of the Andretti car. Officials were slow on the scene and both drivers from the other two cars removed Andretti safely from the wreck. The modifications to the Mark 4 following the fatal Miles crash in the older J Car are credited with saving Andretti’s life. As a result of this crash, Andretti took his own Doctor to every big race.

This one crash took out three Holman Moody cars.

Tony
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

1968 AND 1969 LE MANS

1968

Following later in the year after the Mark 4 won at Le Mans in 1967, the rules were changed, mainly to limit speed. The Prototype Sports Car engine limit was reduced to 3 Litres, so now those Mark 4's with their 7 Litre engines were ruled out. This affected more than just the Fords, and also applied to some of the new Ferrari’s, as well the Cobra’s, and other marques. Because the rule change did not allow much time for development of new cars to comply, existing cars with engines of 5 Litres were allowed to compete for a couple of years, provided a certain number had been manufactured.

This allowed the now aging Mark 1 GT40's to compete.

The two big American teams now pulled out of International competition and the factory Ford backing also stopped.

The Le Mans circuit also started to change, with barriers now appearing alongside the track, and the first of the Chicanes starting to appear, and this, coupled with the new engine restrictions limited top end speed.

For the 1968 Le Mans, only 5 GT40's were entered, and one of them didn’t even finish the first lap.

Three of these GT40's were entered by the English team, John Wyer Automotive. Wyer handled the initial GT40 racing, with the first Mark 1's in 64 and 65, and then the project was handed over to the US based Shelby American and Holman Moody Teams.

One of the Wyer GT40's won the race, the only GT40 to finish. It was 5 laps clear of a Porsche. The race distance travelled was 500 miles short of the 1967 Mark 4's distance, and even well short of the 1966 Mark 2 result.

The winning GT40 was the only one to finish, and the next best GT40 didn’t even make half race distance. The drivers were Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi.



This image shows the winning Wyer Automotive Team Mark 1.

1969

This was the year that marked the serious attempts from Porsche to win their first Le Mans.

The now aging GT40 Mark 1 was gradually being overtaken as the Sports car to beat. The smaller, lighter new prototypes from other manufacturers were much better on the tighter circuits of the European Sports Racing Program, and the only real place these big engined cars excelled was on the much longer tracks with big straights where the large capacity V8's could ‘stretch their legs’.

Five Mark 1's were entered, and two of these were from the John Wyer Team. These two Wyer cars finished First and Third, with another from a German team in Sixth place. Jackie Ickx and Jackie Oliver drove the winning Mark 1. The Third placed Mark 1 was driven by David Hobbs, and legendary motor bike racer Mike Hailwood, and their car was 4 laps behind the leaders.

In another close finish, Ickx, at the wheel for the last session, battled it out with a Porsche 908 driven by Hans Hermann. Both cars were on the same lap, and the lead changed numerous times. The Porsche was great in the tight areas of the track, while the Ford blasted away on Mulsanne. The Porsche was having brake problems, probably due to the tightness of the racing in the closing stages, and at the finish line, the Ford crossed first, barely seconds ahead of the Porsche, separated only by a distance of 400 feet.

The race distance travelled was creeping up after the previous year, but was still 150 miles short of the 1967 victory with the Mark 4.

This winning car was the same car that had won the previous year. This had only been achieved once before , in the early days of the race, and with the huge English Bentley Speed Six in 1929/30. This feat was not repeated until the Joest Audi team did in twice in recent years, now into the 21st Century.



This image shows the finish of the race with both cars in the frame.
(Image credit Jackie Ickx site)

This was also the last year of the traditional Le Mans style start where the cars are lined up on the pit wall, and the drivers lined up on the opposite side of the track. At flagfall, the drivers would sprint across the track and then strap in, and then drive off. The next year, 1970 saw the start with the cars on pit wall with drivers already strapped in. Then, in 1971 the start moved to the now current rolling start.

Jacki Ickx, who won the race was a strident protester of this form of start, saying it was inherently dangerous, proved in this race when one the unstable new Porsche 917's, still in development had a horrendous crash on the first lap, and the driver was killed, not having completely strapped in. The restart was delayed two hours while the wreckage of this and the Chris Amon Ferrari, which hit the wreckage was cleared.

Ickx made his protest at the original start of the race by walking slowly across the track, and nearly being hit, then slowly and correctly strapping in, and then driving off. He was the last car to leave the start.



This image shows the start with Jackie Ickx walking slowly across the track to his car.
(Image credit Jackie Ickx site)


Tony.
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  #8  
Old 11-06-2011
TonyfromOz's Avatar
TonyfromOz TonyfromOz is offline
 
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

THE GOLDEN ERA

By now, the Ford GT40 as a race car had become obsolete, considering that the design was now 6 years old.

Smaller, lighter and more nimble prototypes were coming out, and the race now moved into the area of the big name Euro sports car manufacturers.

1969 was the last time a Ford GT40 graced the track at Le Mans.

What had started out as a form of revenge on the part of Henry Ford 2 to beat Ferrari at his own game had indeed achieved just that.

When that first Mark 2 won in 1966, Ferrari had won the previous 6 races, and in all, since the end of the Second World War, Ferrari had won at Le Mans nine times in all.

The last of these, 1965 before the Ford’s won was in fact the last time a Ferrari won this prestigious race.

All versions of the racing GT40's had won the race, and while 1966 stands out as the iconic year with Ford filling all the Podium places, 1967 ranks as the only time an American team racing an American car, with American drivers is the only time in the race’s long history that this has been achieved.

The Ford GT40 was truly a golden racing car, and while Le Mans has seen many famous victories from many famous cars, this four year period is probably one of the most fondly remembered.

I have used numerous sites for this detailed history, and even then, there's a lot more that could be said.

Tony.
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  #9  
Old 11-06-2011
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Forrest T. Forrest T. is offline
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Default Re: Ford GT40 History

I just saw that red Mark 4 at SEMA. It was in the Ford booth next to us.

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