Legendary Races Week: Le Mans 1966

The 24 Hours of Le Mans 1966 is such a legendary race that a Hollywood film about the fierce competition between rivals Ford and Ferrari is being released later this year. But so much about what makes this race legendary isn’t just what happened during the 24 hours itself, so much as the months and years leading up to it.

For Ford, active involvement in racing had been limited by Henry Ford II’s position in the Automobile Manufacturers Association and the focus on safety that it championed, with Ford finally entering the racing world after seeing its competitors’ success in racing fuel their sales on the road. Meanwhile, for Ferrari, the years preceding 1966 had been hugely successful, but somewhat bloody, with Enzo Ferrari having been cleared of manslaughter for the deaths of aristocrat racing driver Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver Edmund Nelson, and nine spectators in a horrific 1957 crash.

In 1963, Enzo Ferrari had put his company on the market, entering talks with Ford. Ferrari wanted to protect his racing team, which he intended to continue running, while handing the majority of the road car business to Ford. However, the contract proposed by Ford outlined that Ford would have control of the budget for racing and the deal was called off, with both parties determined to beat each other on track.

Ford unveiled their first Le Mans challenger, the GT40, in April 1964. By all accounts, it looked good, and Ford boasted of its power, but in reality there was little idea how it would perform on track. Ultimately, it failed to live up to expectations, and Ford suffered a humiliating introduction to Le Mans in 1964, while Ferrari celebrated their fifth successive victory.

For 1965, Henry Ford II sought the involvement of Carroll Shelby, who had enjoyed some success with his own 1964 entry which had finished top of the GT class and placed 4th overall. With Shelby’s involvement, 1965 finally saw speeds Ford could be happy with, but in the race their cars were dogged with unreliability and failed to go the distance. The winning car, yet again, was a Ferrari, run by Ferrari North American Racing. The result was a further bitter and ironic blow to Ford, who had hoped to be the first American team to claim victory at the prestigious event.

And so came 1966. Ford had finally been able to balance speed and durability stateside, with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby winning the first ever 24 Hours of Daytona.  For the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford fielded three cars built by Shelby, as well as five cars built by other manufacturers. The plan for the race was clear, however: they would work together to secure a win, with drivers following clear orders and being instructed to stick to pre-agreed lap times, with Gurney having the fastest target, to avoid intra-marque battling. All teams would run Goodyear tyres, with the exception of the #2 car, whose driver Bruce McLaren had a contract with Firestone.

Ferrari had a total of seven cars, including two factory cars. Following months of rehabilitation after a crash, John Surtees was ready for the race at the helm of the Ferrari 330 P3, and came prepared with a plan to help take Ferrari to victory once again, despite the growing might of the Fords. Surtees was confident in the Ferraris’ reliability, and so he suggested attack the Fords heavily early on, forcing them into responding and causing them to fall foul of unreliability problems. However, Surtees would not get the chance to put his plan into action.

Surtees’ position at Ferrari had been on shaky ground for some time. The team’s manager, Eugenio Dragoni, had convinced Ferrari to oust him, only for Surtees to win the Belgian Grand Prix, causing that idea to be abandoned, or, at the very least, postponed. Now, however, Dragoni had suggested that Surtees take somewhat of a back seat at Le Mans, suggesting instead that Ludovico Scarfiotti start the race in his place with Surtees’ driving duties reduced, apparently because of concerns over his health. Surtees was adamant that the suggestion had nothing to do with his health, and refused to race, with Scarfiotti and Mike Parkes sharing the car without him.

Enzo Ferrari himself had all but admitted defeat before the race had even begun, viewing a Ford victory as an inevitable consequence of their practically uncapped budget. Qualifying soon confirmed his fears: Dan Gurney’s #3 Ford set the fastest lap, with Ken Miles’ #1 car in second. The top-placed Ferrari was fifth.

On race day, Gurney set the initial pace in the #3, as Ford had planned. The #1 car, piloted by Miles, was forced to pit as soon as the race had started due to door damage. The setback meant that the pre-agreed lap times went out of the window and Miles fought back to third place, with Fords running in first, second and third at the 1 hour mark.

Without Surtees and his plan, the Ferraris stuck to a fairly conservative pace, but remained close behind the leading pack of Fords, waiting to take advantage of any problems they might face. As the cars started to come in to the pits for their first scheduled visits, it became clear that while the Goodyear tyres were holding up well, the Firestones were struggling with heavy graining. Bruce McLaren, despite being contracted to Firestone, made the call to switch to Goodyear tyres as well, knowing that there would be little chance of victory otherwise.

By ZANTAFIO56 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/zantafio56/4771000677/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82896324

After the first round of driver changes, Denny Hulme had taken over for Miles and the #1 car now sat in the lead. By 10pm, however, the Fords endured long pit stops, allowing the Ferraris to leapfrog into the top two positions. This was to be short-lived, however.

Rain hit overnight, and the Fords set staggering lap times and charged ahead. The Ferraris, meanwhile, were not so lucky, with Jean Guichet spinning in his factory Ferrari. Scarfiotti, in the other factory car, suffered an accident, ploughing into the wreckage of an earlier incident. He escaped relatively unscathed, but his race was over. Before morning came, Ferrari suffered more bad luck, with their non-factory entries running into mechanical problems, and one-by-one, retiring from the race. Ferrari had now given up the fight, but would Ford go on to win?

Gurney and Miles had been trading lap times throughout the early hours of the morning, ignoring any ideas of pre-agreed lap times. At around 9am, disaster struck. Gurney was forced to retire the #3 car with a radiator leak. Had the Fords been pushing each other too hard?

However, the other Fords managed to go on without problems. With the clock ticking, and with Ford running in the top three positions several laps ahead of any other competitors, the race was all but won, but the controversy was far from over. The team instructed Miles and McLaren to cross the line side-by-side, with the third placed car behind them in formation, to create a tie for first place.

However, what looked like a dead heat resulted in McLaren and Amon in the #2 car being declared the victors on the basis that they had started further back in the field, and therefore had travelled further over the course of the race. Ken Miles and Denny Hulme would be second, and Miles especially was far from happy. Debate would rage for years about whether Ford knew what the result would be, and if they should allowed a race to the finish. But Ford had won the war with Ferrari, and they would go on to take victory at Le Mans for the next three years.

Verva Street Racing 2019 – photos

Halo Vs. AeroScreen – Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo & Scott Dixon On F1 Cockpit Safety | Mobil 1 The Grid

Check out the newest video from Mobil 1 The Grid in which Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo give their thoughts on what they call an ‘ugly’ Halo design, and the reasons behind its full-scale introduction, while Scott Dixon comments on IndyCar’s Aeroscreen alternative, which has been inspired by jet fighter canopies.

Max Verstappen on the Halo: “The car is very ugly with it. I’ll keep saying that for the rest of the season, because I really don’t like it. It’s a shame really for Formula 1. It’s a bit safer, but at the end of the day, you can never make it 100% safe anyway.”

Photographer Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Daniel Ricciardo on the Halo: “It’s visually not the most pretty thing, but it’s fine. I think people will just get used to it. It’s there for a reason; it’s there for those freak accidents and for head injuries. What the fans and viewers need to not get confused or get misled by is that it doesn’t change anything what we do… racing, attacking, defending, how much you’re willing to put the car on the limit – the Halo doesn’t change any of that. Is it attractive? No. But were the F1 cars in 2009 attractive when they went to the big front wings and skinny rear wings? No, they thought they were ugly as hell. But after a few races your eyes just get used to looking at them. Yeah, they’re ugly, but they’re not as ugly as they were a few months ago. If there’s a crash and a part comes flying in the air, if it is going to land in front of you, it could save a death, that’s really all it is.”

Scott Dixon on the Aeroscreen: “The Halo wasn’t something that was feasible for us [in IndyCar], mostly because of the ovals sight-line. You’re in a looking up position, so you’d be looking directly at it. I think the Aeroscreen, with the backing of PPG [Industries], with what they’ve done in the past with fighter-jets, they’d already had a good concept and a good idea of what works and what doesn’t work.”

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The Future of Women in Motorsport | Nicki Shields

On International Women’s Day, and especially this year, it feels like a great time to celebrate the incredible women working in motorsport and give encouragement to future generations of women that will work in our industry.

I’m proud to be a woman working in motorsport and there is a great network of strong, brilliant women doing a wide variety of roles across the industry. Of course, the percentage is a lot smaller than men in the industry, but I do have confidence that as time goes by more women will enter as barriers are broken down and girls become more aware of their opportunities; which will happen if we increase the visible role models to spread the message.

There are many opportunities for women to get into motorsport in and what we need to do is educate girls that they have whatever opportunity they want and that they shouldn’t feel like those jobs are unavailable to them because of their gender.

There are so many different jobs you can do in motorsport – from things like engineering and mechanics, to the media side of it in marketing and PR and, like me, presenting. Then there are roles from HR and finance to legal positions and health and fitness. The only barrier is perception and lack of visible role models. I feel there is starting to be a sea change in attitudes towards this and in girls studying STEM subjects, which is something I’m very passionate about as I studied biological sciences at university.

There are a couple of important initiatives at the moment promoting women in motorsport that I think are fantastic.

Photo: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1.

Racing driver Susie Wolff runs an initiative with the Motor Sports Association called ‘Dare to be Different’ which is a community to inspire girls who want to work in motorsport by providing access to these role models and connecting them in the industry. It shows that there is a great community of female talent in motorsport – we just need to make the world aware of it to help it grow.

The FIA (motorsport governing body) is also striving to do important work in this area and already has an FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, which aims to attract young women to motorsport. On 7th March this year, in recognition of International Women’s Day the following day, the FIA will official launch its European Young Women Programme. This is a two-year project based on a cost-effective ‘arrive and drive’ karting slalom format in central urban locations. It will be promoted to young women between 13-18 years old in eight countries and the girls that progress with be supported by the FIA through a sporting and educational programme.

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