Ferrari Fight Through To Win Again
For a change it looked as though Ferrari might receive some severe opposition in the 24-hour race at Le Mans, for in the Prototype category there was the team of three 4.2-litre Lola-Ford V8 coupés, entered by the Ford Motor Company, with the drivers Phil Hill/McLaren, Ginther/Masten Gregory and Schlesser/Attwood, and in the GT category the 4.7-litre A.C. Cobra-Ford V8 from A.C. Car Company, driven by Sears/Bolton, and two Shelby-Cobra-Ford V8 coupes driven by Gurney/Bondurant and Amon/Neerpasch. The Cobras had shown their possibilities at Daytona, Sebring and Spa, and the Lola-Fords with the power of Detroit behind them were sure to be a menace, and Nurburgring had revealed their possibilities. Against this opposition Ferrari mustered a true fighting force, with Surtees/Bandini in a 4-litre rear-engined 330P, Guichet/Vaccarella, Parkes/Scarfiotti, Baghetti/Maglioli in 3.3-litre rear-engined 275P models, and he supplied another 4-litre 330P to Maranello Concessionaires (London) for Graham Hill/Bonnier and a similar one to Chinetti’s North American Racing Team for Rodriguez/Hudson. As further support for Maranello in the Prototype category and for an overall win, there were two 275LM coupés, the E.N.B. car for Dumay/Langlois and the N.A.R.T. car for Piper/Rindt. In the GT category there were four 1964 GTO models, one run by E.N.B. for Bianchi/”Beurlys,” the Maranello Concessionaires car for Ireland/Maggs, and two for the N.A.R.T. drivers Hugus/Rosinski and Tavano/Grossmann. Mixed in with all this crowd could well be the two factory Porsche 904 8-cylinder cars of Barth/Linge and Davis/Mitter, the competition Jaguars of Lindner/Nocker and Lumsden/Sargent, the 5-litre Maserati coupé of Trintignant/Simon and the DB4GT Aston Martin of Salmon/Sutcliffe.
Altogether 55 cars started in the race, and though the Ferraris of Surtees, Hill and Rodriguez led to begin with, Ginther soon got his Lola-Ford really wound up and passed them and went on and on into an enormous lead, the Ferraris making no attempt to keep up. When the Lola-Ford stopped for fuel a nonsense was made of the refilling and Ginther lost all his lead, but nevertheless held second place behind Surtees. At the second stop Ginther handed over to Gregory and all seemed well but it was not much later that the car was back in the pits with trouble in its Colotti-Francis gearbox and, after staying there for a long time, it was withdrawn. The Attwood/Schlesser car was well placed in the first ten, ready to take over the challenge, when it caught fire while going along the MuIsanne straight and was badly burnt, which put it out of the race, and the third Lola-Ford, driven by Phil Hill, had made a very poor start and then popped and banged in and out of the pits for several laps. Everything was inspected and the trouble was finally found in a choked jet in a carburetter, and once cleared the car went extremely quickly. At the end of the first hour it was in 44th position and it then went superbly, both Hill and McLaren lapping very fast, and by the thirteenth hour it was up in fourth position. Not long after this, in the early hours of the morning, it had reached third place overall and set a new lap record in 3 min. 49.4 sec., when it had similar gearbox trouble to the Ginther/Gregory car. Although it might have been repaired to enable the car to limp on and finish slowly, it was withdrawn as a matter of Ford policy. It seems strange that a car purported to be the product of the great Ford Empire should use a proprietary Italian gearbox, for gearbox design and manufacture is not a specialised art. This final retirement by the blue and white cars left Ferrari in complete command, but they were far from well, for the Surtees/Bandini car lost a lot of time over a broken petrol pipe and then developed an internal leak which caused it to overheat and use water, while the Hill/Bonnier car was delayed by numerous small things, including a collapsed left rear wheel and a serious loss of water. These troubles allowed the Guichet/Vaccarella car to build up quite a big lead, which it kept to the finish.
In the GT category Ferrari was in much worse trouble, for the Cobras of Gurney/Bondurant and Sears/Bolton dominated the class, and they were backed up in this temporary downfall of the Ferrari GTOs by the Salmon/Sutcliffe Aston Martin, which held third place. The Gurney/Bondurant car, which was a brand new Daytona-type coupé, led almost throughout, losing the lead to the GTO of Tavano/Grossmann for a short time due to a long stop to fix a leaking oil pipe. At one point it got as high as third place overall, but then dropped back to fourth, and was always up near the leaders. The second Shelby coupe was disqualified during the night for an infringement of the rules regarding batteries, having at one point been ahead of its sister car. The GTO Ferraris, apart from not being fast enough to combat the greater power of the Cobras, were also having their troubles, the Ireland/Maggs car suffering from intermittent clutch slip, the Hugus/Rosinski car bursting its rear axle casing, and the Tavano/Grossman car suffering from a failing engine towards the end of the race.
Among the smaller cars there was an equal amount of mechanical disaster, for one works 8-cylinder Porsche went out with engine trouble and the Davis/Mitter car having clutch failure, the offending disc being replaced early Sunday morning, which meant removing the gearbox and rear suspension, but after getting back into the race and regaining some positions it finally expired with a broken engine. One of the three Giulia TZ Alfa Romeos went off the road, but the other two went round like high-speed trains until the finish. The lone Lotus Elite of Hunt/Wagstalf lost a great deal of time with dynamo bothers but was still running at the end, and the little coupé works Austin Healey Sprite went consistently well until an hour from the end, when the engine went sick. Of the team of Triumph Spitfire coupés from the factory, Rothschild crashed one quite early on and the Frenchman Marnat damaged the tail of his car, which let exhaust fumes into the cockpit. Overcome by the fumes, he zig-zagged drunkenly all the way from Arnage to the nits area, without hitting anything, or being hit, and then ricochetted from bank to bank across the track, and finally crashed at the end of the pits, by sheer good fortune not hitting any passing cars or people in the pit area. Alpine and Rene-Bonnet both fielded teams of prototype coupés powered by Gordini-Renault twin-cam engines, the Alpines being particularIy efficient looking as regards shape, and they not only won their private French battle but also the handicap based on fuel consumption. The M.G.-B coupé from B.M.C. driven by Hopkirk/Hedges, ran well even though it looked. most odd on some of the corners, and the five 904 Porsches that started all finished, in spite of some clutch slip on the works car driven by Koch/Schiller.
Throughout the 24 hours the weather had been remarkably good, but during the early hours of the morning there was a heavy frost, and the Ireland/Maggs GTO Ferrari, which had an external cold-air intake to the carburetters, had to stop to have ice removed from the throttles! In the closing hours the Guichet/Vaccarella 3.3-litre Ferrari was still healthy, six laps ahead of the 4-litre Ferraris of Hill/Bonnier and Surtees/Bandini, both of which were sick due tohaving overheated in the night and warped something which had caused a loss of compression. While this was not serious for the cars while they were running it meant that each stop for petrol was fraught with anxiety. With no compression the engines would not pull well until they got revving, which meant that the cars staggered away up the hill from the pits. Fortunately for the lone Shelby-Cobra coupé the afternoon heat did not become too great, as they had to run for a long time with the oil cooler by-passed in order to repair the broken oil pipe from which they had suffered. At the end twenty-five cars were still running, among them the Belgian 275LM Ferrari, looking a bit the worse For wear after Dumay had had two accidents, and the Chevrolet-powered Iso Rivolta competition coupé, which had lost a lot of time just after midnight when trouble under the rear end required a lot of work at the pits to put right. The Aston Martin was very unfortunately the subject of a dispute over an infringement of the rule concerning taking on oil, and the pit marshals insisted they were right and caused the car to be disqualified. Some idea of the progress made by fast cars compared to those in the small categories can be judged by the fact that the winners also won the Index of Performance Handicap, which usually favours fast small cars.