Ford win a great battle
Le Mans, France, June 10th/11th.
After the usual problems arising from scrutineering, such as insufficient rear vision in the mirrors on the Fords, too much petrol in the tanks of the Lolas, bodywork too narrow about the wheels on the Mirage, windscreen too shallow on the Marcos, all the competitors tackled practice on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, practice times deciding the order of lining up for the classic start. Phil Hill set the ball rolling in a big way with the Chaparral on both evenings, recording 3 min. 27.4 sec. the first night and 3 min. 24.7 sec. the second night, with no bother at all and it was not until after dark on Thursday that McLaren beat the Chaparral with 3 min 24.4 sec. – 147 m.p.h. average (in the dark!). The other Fords could not match this and the Ferraris were a long way away. Practice was not without trouble as the Mark IV Fords were suffering broken windscreens and there was a lot of high pressure panic between Corning Glass in Detriot and Le Mans. Ferrari had a lot of work to do when a slow car moved out in front of Klass and he crashed number 19 Ferrari, but it was all repaired in time for the race. Conditions were very good when 54 cars lined up for the start, the 55th being ruled out at the last moment as it was found that it had not done sufficient laps to qualify, this being a GTB Ferrari in the G.T. class.
4 p.m. — At the head of the line was McLaren with 3 min. 24.4 sec. and at the end was Nathan with 4 min. 55.4 sec., and though Rodriguez was the first to move, Bucknum shot off into the lead in a Mark II Ford. Gardner pursued him until he lost a balance weight and stopped for a wheel change, leaving Gurney and McLaren in pursuit. Hulme has been delayed at the pits with a sticking throttle. Surtees retired the Lola-Aston Martin after three laps! The second Lola is in trouble soon after.
5 p.m. — Bucknum still leads. Spence had carved his way through from 13th to fourth in the Chaparral. The first Ferrari was sixth and then the Fords needed fuel, which let the Chaparral into the lead. Bianchi had collected a stone through the windscreen of his Ford and the leaders were lapping at well under 3 min, 30 sec. Salmon’s GT40 caught fire after refuelling, when braking for Mulsanne. Big Fords doing 212 m.p.h. on Mulsanne, lapping at over 146 m.p.h. Bucknum has a water joint split, stops for welding. Gurney is leading. Hulme has lap record at 3 min. 23.6 sec. and is to go even faster. Bucknum has to creep round without water, after repair job, until requisite refuelling laps have been covered. Hawkins takes over. Hulme has lost time in the pits after an excursion into the sand.
6 p.m. — Both Mirage cars have been in the pits with engine trouble. The Fords are only running for a little over an hour on a tankful. They are thirsty. The Gurney/Foyt Ford leads from the Hill/Spence Chaparral, Bianchi/Andretti Ford is third and McLaren/Donohue Ford fourth, then come three P4 Ferraris, Parkes/Scarfiotti, Mairesse/”Beurlys” and Amon/Vaccarella. The first Porsche is 15th.
7 p.m. — I go to Mulsanne corner. Foyt is in the leading car and cornering well. Rindt and Siffert in the 907 Porsches look as if they are in a G.P. race and are having fun. Hope Hasntein cannot see this. The leaders are still lapping at 3 min. 30 sec. and the Chaparral is pressing hard. The second Matra-B.R.M. is out of the running as Jaussaud did not close the door properly at the start and it bent in the wind and will not stay shut.
8 p.m. — The Andretti Ford is second and pressing the leader. This is a Holman versus Shelby match and the pace is very fast. Andretti told to slow, so he drops one second a lap, to 3 min. 28 sec. The Ruby/Hulme Ford is having trouble stopping and twice goes up escape road. Muller goes by in the P3/P4 with smoke pouring from engine. He does not return. Hawking spun to avoid a Porsche.
9 p.m. — The Fords are really racing amongst themselves and are leaving everyone behind, the order being Foyt/Gurney, McLaren/Donohue, Andretti/Bianchi with the Chaparral of Hill/Spence following. The leaders are averaging over 140 m.p.h. including all stops. Ferraris are fifth, sixth and eighth, Porsche are up to 12th. Lights are on and the Sylvania glowing phosphorous number’s are excellent.
10 p.m. — The Andretti Ford has been delayed by gearchange troubles, which drops it behind the Ferraris and the Chaparral is third. Back at the pits everyone is groping about in the dark or trying to see by 25 watt bulbs! McLusky (No. 5) and Ruby (No. 4) have both had their Fords into the sandbanks. Foyt doesn’t make mistakes. Amon tries to limp to pits on a flat tyre and it cuts fuel lines and sets car in flames. Amon is O.K.
11 p.m. — Due to pit stops Parkes/Scarfiotti Ferrari is briefly in second place. The second Chaparral has gone out with starter and battery trouble. The first Chaparral has lost control of its “wing,” it is staying in the braking position, losing 12-15 m.p.h. off top speed. General pandemonium is settling down, but race average is still just under 140 m.p.h. Ruby has No. 4 Ford in sand for good.
12 p.m. — A fine clear night but awfully cold. Hot coffee on every occasion. Gurney/Foyt lead by just on a lap from McLaren/Donohue, with Parkes/Scarfiotti just half a lap ahead of Andretti/Bianchi. Ford, Ford, Ferrari, Ford. The leading Porsche is now 10th, driven be Herrmann/Siffert, as Rindt blew his engine up. There are officially 19 retirements, but there are others at the pits that will not run again.
1 a.m. — What a lot of important people have gone to bed! I always think about it but never get round to it, there is too much going on. Gurney/Foyt now have a healthy lead, but McLaren/Donohue, Andretti/Bianchi and Parkes/Scarfiotti are all on same lap and not far apart. The pressure is still on.
2 a.m. — There is no mist but it is cold. The race seems to have settled down, if you can call an average of 137 m.p.h. in the dark “settled.” Now is the time to get some sleep, but something exciting is sure to happen. More coffee and hear from the Shelby drivers how the Holman drivers are still pushing. The N.A.R.T. Ferrari P3/P4 has gone out, covered in oil from the breathers, piston rings probably. The Bucknum/Hawkins Ford is having clutch slip.
3 a.m. — All seems well. Fords are 1st, 2nd and, 3rd. Ferrari 4th, Chaparral 5th, Ford 6th, Ferrari 7th, 8th, Ford 9th, Ferrari 10th. Now for five minutes sleep in the Ferodo pits. Oh no! Yellow danger lights are flashing. Schlesser walks by explaining how there was nothing to do but to ram the bank with the Ford France Mark IV. Seems Andretti had a brake lock on going into the Esses and crashed into the bank. McLuskey in Ford No. 5 tried to avoid him and crashed into the opposite bank. Schlesser avoided them both but crashed No. 6. Fords all over the place. Everyone else tip-toes through the wreckage. No one hurt. McLaren in trouble at pits with clutch.
4 a.m. — Gurney/Foyt are five laps ahead. Parkes/Scarfiotti second, the Chaparral third in spite of its fixed air brake. Dawn is breaking, and its still cold, but dry. Seem to be only 37 cars left running. The McLaren/Donohue Ford is having more clutch adjustment taken up.
5 a.m. — Fried eggs and coffee made me feel better. Go to pits to see how things are going. Spence arrives in Chaparral with smoke pouring from everywhere and a foul smell. Jim Hall and mechanic get underneath, oil is running out of transmission. A seal has broken. They start work to replace it. It means dismantling the whole of the back of the car and removing the gearbox and torque converter. Only two mechanics allowed to do the job. Hall reckons two hours at least. Ronnie Hare’s P3/P4 expires in a cloud of oil smoke, piston rings, like the other P3 Ferraris. The P4 Ferraris are still running well.
6 a.m. — Ferraris are 2nd, 3rd and 4th but the leading Ford is still five laps ahead. There is a Porsche up to sixth place now. The Chaparral is spread all over the pit area. Hope they remember where all the bits and pieces go.
7 a.m. — The crowds are enormous. It is a fine day, but the cold wind is still blowing. Ford may be leading, but there are three healthy sounding Ferraris following and the remaining Fords are sick. Only nine hours of racing to run and the average is still around 137 m.p.h.
8 a.m. — The little Austin Healey driven by Baker which has been running regularly, after some drama with its electrics has a little accident just like Andretti. A brake pad change and next time at the Esses a front brake locks and it crumpled its tail. It can still go on racing. Coffee with Goodyear this time.
9 a.m. — After nearly three hours work the Chaparral is back in the race, to great applause from everyone. It immediately laps at 3 min. 33 sec. and seems like new. It is now 17th ahead of the Austin Healey, an Alpine and an Abarth, after all that time at the pits. There are 20 cars still running.
10 a.m. — The leading Ford is easing off slightly and holding the pace of the Ferraris, who are virtually flat out. McLaren has the tail fly off his Ford and stops next time round to pick up the wreckage. The leading Ford has its joints taped up as a precaution at next fuel stop. The Chaparral retires. The transmission has broken, and after all that work. Ford mechanics are doing a marvellous repair job on the McLaren car’s tail, using leather belts and yards of masking tape to stick all the bits together. Klass walks in! His Ferrari which he shares with Sutcliffe and was in third place has stopped. The injection pump drive has sheared.
11 a.m. — There are only 16 cars running now. The Mk. II of Hawkins/Bucknum has broken its engine. This is the worst time at Le Mans. Those people who have been to bed all night are just too cheerful.
12 a.m. — The big red Ford sounds strong and Gurney and Foyt have made no mistakes. The average is still over 135 m.p.h. but even if the Ferraris could push harder the Ford could easily match the speed. Porsches are now 5th, 6th and 7th, one of these days they are going to win at Le Mans.
1 p.m. — It is now just a question of survival, and usually by this time the leading cars are cruising round in well over 4 minute laps, but this lot are still hammering on at 3 min. 40 sec. to 3 min. 45 sec. All speed and distance records are being broken in a big way.
2 p.m. — There are now merely routine stops for fuel and driver changes, but Scarfiotti is feeling sick so Parkes goes on and on in the second place Ferrari. The McLaren/Donohue yellow Ford looks very odd with its patchwork quilt bodywork.
3 p.m. — No one else has dropped out but the locally-owned Abarth 1300 has burnt an exhaust valve and they are going to try and stagger round for the two final laps in order to qualify. The red Ford rumbles relentlessly on, with the two Ferraris screaming defiance behind it. There is a group of Alpine-Renaults that are as impressive as the Porsches for speed with reliability, and the battered Austin Healey is still running.
4 p.m. — Gurney and Foyt give Mr. Ford a 100% American victory at an all time record speed and record distance. Ferraris finished second and third sounding as healthy as ever, but they just did not have the speed to challenge the Fords. For the French crowds it was not a popular win, they made it quite clear that they would have liked to have seen a Ferrari victory. – D. S. J.
Le Mans Murmurs
When both Lola-Aston Martins were in the pits within 45 minutes of racing, with mechanical troubles, we quietly folded up our Union Jack and hoped no one would notice.
Ford made themselves very unpopular with the local French people when they kept the Press out of their pits. Chaparral were very popular with everyone because of their sporting spirit of, “let’s have a go.”
Apart from Mike Salmon’s burns, nobody was injured during the 24 hours of racing. Amongst the public a small boy was killed on the Go-Kart track, a man was badly knifed in a brawl, and two people bitten by a savage dog! We did not hear the “do-good-ers” saying that the public must be stopped.
Are there still people who think A. J. Foyt is just “a wild U.S.A.C. track driver”? Who else has won Indianapolis and Le Mans, and in the same year? We did not see Foyt in the sand, or spinning round, or breaking the Ford and he did more than his share of driving because someone forgot to wake up Gurney at one pit stop so A. J. went out again.
After the race Ford went home. Ferrari moved on to the next important race, the Belgian G.P. with the same drivers, mechanics, engineers, team-manager and personnel. Ferrari races because he has a passion for racing.