Pre-race tension for the Le Mans 24-hour event started to build up last February when Ferrari had a sweeping victory at Daytona and the Ford team were plagued by gearbox troubles. Ford went charging off to Sebring, hot for revenge, but Ferrari did not enter and he did not tackle various European races very seriously as be was concentrating all his efforts on the Le Mans race, as was Ford. In April there was a mild scuffle during the Le Mans practice weekend, in which Ferrari came out on top, but the real show-down was the Wednesday before the Le Mans race when the two teams revealed their arms at the scrutineering. While this Ford versus Ferrari conflict was waging there was a small niggling factor that was frequently upsetting both of them, this was Jim Hall’s Chaparral team, for they had put up a serious challenge to both teams in the American races, and to Ferrari in various European races, and in addition there was the new Lola-Aston Martin team lurking in the background.
Ford came with four Mark IV cars and three Mark II cars and for backing had two Ford “Mirage” cars and numerous GT40 Group 4 cars. The Shelby team prepared two Mark IV Fords and a Mark II, all with 7-litre, 107.5 x 96.1 mm. pushrod V8 engines, with alloy heads, dry sump lubrication, twin four-choke Holley carburetters and over 500 b.h.p. at 6,800 r.p.m. and this was coupled to a four-speed gearbox/axle unit, all in the back of the car. Holman prepared two Mark IV cars and two Mark II cars, all to the same specification, his second Mark II being delivered to the Ford-France team for Schlesser and Ligier to drive. The Mark IV cars were constructed of a bonded honeycomb and aluminium sheet material with fibreglass nose and tail sections and the Mark II cars were of similar chassis construction to the Ford GT40, fabricated from steel and aluminium sheet. The Shelby cars were number 1, a red Mark IV for Gurney/Foyt, number 2, a yellow Mark IV for McLaren/Donohue and number 57, a light blue Mark II for Hawkins/Bucknum. The Holman cars were number 3, a bronze Mark IV for Bianchi/Andretti; number 4, a dark blue Mark IV for Hulme/Ruby, number 5, a gold Mark II for Gardner/McClusky and number 6, the white Mark IV of Ford France. Both types of Ford had the spare wheel mounted on the left of the gearbox in a vertical position, the Mark II being removed through the rear of the tail and the Mark IV through the hatch in the top of the tail, the wheel now just sitting in a cradle and not fixed on a bracket as before. All the cars were fitted with an automatic fire-fighting apparatus in the cockpit that was sensitive to infra-red rays from flames, and when triggered off filled the cockpit with a fire suppressing gas. All were running on Shell oil and the Shelby cars were on Goodyear tyres and the Holman cars were on Firestone. Although the preparation of the cars was in the hands of the rival teams, the whole affair was controlled by the personnel and technical staff of the Ford Motor Company of Detroit.
The Ferrari team comprised three factory cars and the four cars of the Ferrari agents, all having been prepared at Maranello. The works team consisted of three P4 cars, two coupés, number 21 for Parkes/Scarfiotti and number 19 for Klass/Sutcliffe, and an open cockpit one, number 20, for Amon/Vaccarella. They also brought along a new P4 for the Equipe National Belge, which was number 24, to he driven by Mairesse/”Beurlys” and mechanically these four cars were identical, with 4-litre V12-cylinder engines with three valves per cylinder, four overhead camshafts, inlet ports down between the camshafts on each bank of cylinders, Lucas fuel injection and twin ignition, the power unit being coupled to a Ferrari 5-Speed gearbox. These cars being the latest and best from the Maranello factory, were all painted red, the Belgian car having a yellow stripe down the centre, and running on Firestone tyres. The P3/P4 cars of Maranello Concessionaires of Great Britain, the Scuderia Filipinetti and the N.A.R.T. of Chinetti, were the cars raced at Spa, Monza, etc., except that they all had their 5-speed ZF gearboxes replaced by the latest P4 Ferrari 5-speed gearboxes, but retained the 2-valve per cylinder, carburetter-fed four overhead camshaft, 4-litre V12 engines. The Filipinetti car was number 22, for Muller/Guichet, the Maranello car was number 23, for Attwood/Courage and the N.A.R.T. car was number 25, for Rodriguez/Baghetti; the first two cars were red and the third was white. Filipinetti also entered a 275GTB, with single camshaft per bank of cylinders engine in the GT category for Steinemann/Spoerry, and Chinetti entered his old blue and white P2 Ferrari, but these could not be considered as support for the main Ferrari force.
A thorn in the side of both Ford and Ferrari were the two Chaparrals, number 7 for Phil Hill/Spence and number 8 for Johnson/Jennings, two American S.C.C.A. drivers. Hall’s tactic was that Hill/Spence in 2F002 would probably challenge the leaders, but not stand the pace and Johnson/Jennings in 2F001 would not break it, and if it was well placed towards the end of the 24 hours he could put his pair of fast drivers in it for a last-minute challenge. These were the two cars campaigned throughout Europe this season, and 2F002 had a brand-new Chevrolet V8 engine that was quite a lot lighter than those used previously, and more powerful. Both were of 7 litres capacity, 107.9 x 95.5 mm., with alloy heads and alloy cylinder block, fed by four double-choke carburetters, modelled on the Weber carburetter, made by Chaparral (or General Motors). The engines drive through a hydraulic torque-converter to an automatic transmission, and both cars were using the hydraulically operated stabiliser wing. Whereas the challenge by the Chaparrals was a known quantity, the two Lola-Aston Martins were unknown, but full of promise. Number 12 was the car used in April, but now running on Lucas fuel-injection, driven by Irwin/de Klerk, and number 11 was a new one with completely covered-in tail and a full width adjustable spoiler across the end of the body; it was driven by Surtees/Hobbs, and both Aston Martin engines were the four overhead camshaft V8 cylinder, 5,009 c.c., fuel injection units with ignition by Scintilla magnetos. They drove through 5-speed Hewland gearboxes, were painted dark green and ran on Firestone tyres. Another pair of cars from Britain, but sponsored by Ford and the American Gulf Oil Company, were two Mirage coupés, number 14 for Piper/Thompson and number 15 for Ickx/Muir, both cars using 5.7-litre Holman and Moody Ford V8 engines.
Other cars in the large-engined category were a Chevrolet 7-litre “Stingray,” number 9, driven by Bondurant/Guldstrand, a Shelby-Mustang 350GT, number 17, driven by Dubois/Tuerlinx, a red Ford GT40, number 18, Maglioli/Casoni, a white GT40, number 16, Greder/Dumay and the pale green GT40, of John Dawnay, driven by Salmon/Redman, which was number 62.
In the 2-litre category the entry was greatly depleted by the withdrawal of all the Dino Ferraris and the Autodelta Alfa Romeo 33 team, so it left a row of Porsches to he challenged by two Matra-B.R.M. entries. Porsche number 37 was a Group 4 Carrera Six 906 model driven by Elford/Pon, and number 66 was also a Carrera Six, for Poirot/Koch, both being part of the factory entourage, while the Prototype cars consisted of two 910 coupes as used in the Targa Florio, and two long-tailed 907 cars, as experimented with in April. All the Prototype cars had fuel-injection, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engines, and the exhaust fume problems of the 907 cars had been cured by putting the exhaust pipes underneath the long tail, instead of inside. The drivers were Stommelen/Neerpasch in 910 number 38, Schutz/Buzzetta in 910 number 39, Rindt/Mitter in 907 number 40, and Herrmann/Siffert in 907 number 41. All were on Dunlop types, the Prototypes using the latest Porsche magnesium wheels with centre-lock hexagon nut. Whereas the 906 and 910 cars are left-hand drive, with central gear-change, the 907 cars are right-hand drive with right-hand gear-change, the linkage crossing to the centre of the car behind the driver’s seat. Naturally all the cars were painted white, with recognition colours on the nose cowlings. In the GT category were four 911S Porsches, privately entered and driven, number 42 by Buchet/Linge, number 43 by Dewez/Fischhaber, number 60 by Wicky/Farjon and number 67 by Boutin/Sanson.
The two Matra-B.R.M.s were identical, having 2-litre V8 B.R.M. fuel injection engines, with centre exhausts and ZF gearboxes, as illustrated in the May Motor Sport. The coupé bodies had the choice of two tail sections, one with a short angular tail and the other with a long tapering tail, and in practice they settled for the short angular tails. Matra had been doing a lot of pre-race testing, including some endurance runs, and were very confident of challenging the Porsches. The detail work on the car was most interesting and worthy of study, for like the Mark IV Fords and the Chaparrals there were engine cooling radiators on each side of the car just behind the cockpit, fed by air ducts at the rear of the doors. The Matra nose was completely devoid of any opening, presenting the best possible form to the air, but under the nose were two sunken ducts that fed air to the brakes. Instead of letting the hot air find its own way from the brakes, as most people do, there were extractor ducts just behind the front wheels in the side of the body. In the side scoops for the water and oil radiators were air ducts that took cold air to the rear brakes and to the exhaust system. The exhaust pipes in the centre of the V of the engine were completely enclosed in a metal duct that runs to the tail of the car, and the side air inlets feed cold air into the front of the exhaust ducts, encouraging exhaust pipe cooling and heat flow. The two cars were painted typical French blue, number 29 being driven by Beltoise/Servoz-Gavin and number 30 by Jaussaud/Pescarolo. These cars are still a joint project, with Matra concerned with the body/chassis unit and B.R.M. with the engine/gearbox unit, staff from both firms being in attendance.
The remainder of the entry was made up by small cars, the Renault Alpine team entering five of their very efficient long-tailed Le Mans A210 coupés, all with 4-cylinder Renault-Gordini twin-cam engines, and the Ecurie Sevin Calberson entered two similar cars. All seven now utilise a 5-speed Porsche gearbox in place of the Hewland boxes used previously. Number 45 was a 1,470 c.c. driven by Mauro Bianchi/Vinatier; number 46 a 1,296 c.c., Grandsire/Rosinsky; number 47 a 1,296 c.c., Andruet/ Bouharde; number 58 a 1,296 c.c., Vidal/Offenstadt; number 56 a 1,005 c.c,, Larrousse/Depailler, all being entered by Alpine. The Calberson cars were both of 1,296 c.c. and were number 48, de Lageneste/Cheinisse and number 49, Cortanze/Le Guellec. There was another 1,005 c.c. model entered by N.A.R.T., this being number 55, an earlier short coupé on the M64 chassis, using a Renault gearbox.
A lone Lotus 47 was entered by Team Elite for Wagstaff/Preston, number 44, a lone works Mini Marcos for Lawrence/Marsh, number 50, a works Austin Healey Sprite coupé, painted red for Hedges/Baker, number 51 and a mid-engined Hillman Imp powered special by Nathan Racing Ltd. for Nathan/Beckwith, number 54. Finally there were two long aerodynamic C.D. coupés with twin tail fins, powered by modified Peugeot 204 engine/gearbox units mounted transversely behind the cockpit, these cars being number 52 for Ballot-Lena/Dayan and 53 for Bertaut/Guilhaudin, and an Abarth OT 1300 coupé driven by two local lads.
There were a number of detail changes in the overall scene this year, notably on identification of cars, for the I.B.M. electronic lap scorer was abandoned, a colour system was used to identify bodywork construction and the American Sylvania firm introduced luminous racing numbers. In previous years each competing car has been fitted with a battery operated “bleep” signal that was picked up by an enormous electronic “black-box” which proceeded to produce lap times and speeds and race positions. After numerous troubles in the past the system was abandoned this year and the reliable human hand was used. In order to assist course marshals in case of an accident a system of coloured discs were fixed on the side of the body to identify the material used. Yellow was for aluminium, Red for fibre-glass or similar substances, Blue for steel and Green for magnesium. These discs were about three inches in diameter and were luminous so that marshals could see at a glance what methods were required in dealing with an accident. The Fords, Ferraris and Porsches were using a number disc coated with phosphor in which was an electrical circuit coupled directly to the alternator and in the dark the disc glowed green, the black numbers standing out very clearly. In daylight or when the A.C. was switched off, the disc was white, the numbers remaining black all the time. The brightness of the green background was also an indication of the alternator output and it was fascinating to sec the green background light up as an engine was started and the alternator cut in. At tick-over when the charge was just balancing or giving a small positive charge the background would flicker on and off and was in effect a luminous ammeter. This was of enormous help to timekeepers and an electrical development that will no doubt become universal in night racing.– D. S. J.