“Lucien was a great guy, but so conservative. After a few laps he’s in, complaining about vibration in the front brakes, so I dragged him out of the car — we were losing time….
“Anyway, this mechanic changes the pads — and puts them in backwards! Plus the discs are cracked. I went out of the pits, over the rise, started braking for the Esses — and it took the wheel right out of my hands! The car just turned sharp right, straight into the bank. Big accident — I remember feeling my ribs pop…”
It was indeed. I happened to be at the Esses at the time and, before Le Mans’s slow and eerie yellow ‘accident’ lights could begin flashing, another Ford was crashing, for McCluskey had made out the remains of Andretti’s car, surmised that Mario might still be inside and deliberately spun into the barrier. Then Jo Schlesser, in the Ford France entry, next to arrive, aimed for the gap between the two wrecks and found it narrower than his car. Within a few seconds, Ford’s armada had been trimmed by three.
Gurney and Foyt Ford leads the Ferrari of Amon and Vaccarella
Emmanuel Zurini / DPPI
On and on went the Gurney/Foyt car, however, and the opposition was taking care of itself. Amon’s Ferrari suffered a puncture at around midnight: “I was going to change the wheel, but as I raised Ferrari’s wonderful hammer the head flew off! There was nothing for it but to set off very slowly down Mulsanne, but I didn’t realise that the magnesium upright was scraping on the road. There were sparks — and the whole lot went up. At that point I abandoned ship…”
Out of contention, too, was the Hill/ Spence Chaparral: from the stand above the pits I watched the mechanics toil fruitlessly for more than an hour on its (automatic) transmission problems.
As dawn broke it was clear that only Parkes and Scarfiotti, in the surviving works P4, constituted any real threat to Gurney and Foyt, but although Mike drove his heart out, Lodovico, feeling unwell, couldn’t keep pace, and by the end the Ferrari was four laps back, with Mairesse’s sister car third.
The champagne flows as Gurney and Foyt celebrate
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Late on Sunday morning McLaren had a bad moment when his car’s rear bodywork flew off on Mulsanne. Foyt saw it on the track: “I thought, ‘Jeez, where’s the rest of that car?” Bruce was given some straps in the pits, and sent out to bring the bodywork back. This he duly did, whereupon it was taped back on and the car continued to fourth place..
“The Fords were definitely quicker than we were,” said Amon, “but they used more fuel and made more pit stops. Whereas we could drive flat out all the time, their cars were coming apart. Given a trouble-free run, I think we’d have had a chance — and the Ford that won was, in my opinion, the one least likely to finish! You wouldn’t have put money on either Dan or AJ in a 24-hour race…”.
They delivered, though, and Ford’s post-race elation was unforgettable, Gurney showering everyone with champagne on the podium, thus beginning a tradition that will last through the ages. “Just a spur of the moment thing,” Dan said. “I wanted to win that race so much — I guess in many ways it was the greatest Le Mans…”