1965 Le Mans 24 Hours report

19th June 2013

Taken from the July 1965 issue of Motor Sport

By Denis Jenkinson

There were 51 starters in the Le Mans race, but to all intents and purposes it was a straight fight between Ferrari and Ford, with an equal number of cars on each side, for the Americans really put in a lot of material this year. Ferrari relied on his works team, his agents and private owners, while Ford shared out their entries between Shelby, Ford-France, Ford Advanced Vehicles of Slough and Alan Mann, and loaned cars to people who had entries but no car, such as Rob Walker, whose Serenissima V8 prototypes did not turn up. After scrutineering, the score stood at 11 a side, made up as follows:

For the first time in history the first evening of practice had to be abandoned, because of a young tornado that swept across the Sarthe, but the next evening was fine and dry, and the works Ferraris set the pace, with Surtees putting in a lap at 3min 38.1sec. However, the Ford coupés were not far behind, though the 7-litres were not handling too well. The abandoned practice session was replaced by an additional one on Friday evening, but being the night before the race a lot of people did not bother to practise, being content with Thursday’s times, and these included Surtees, so that Ford were able to take the honours and, having got the 7-litre mid-engine coupés to handle properly, Phil Hill shattered everyone with a lap in 3min 33sec – 227.509kph (141.5mph).

The weather for the race was perfect and in the opening hour the two 7-litre Ford GT prototype coupés, driven by McLaren and Amon, ran away from everyone, the two 4-litre Ferraris of Surtees and Guichet being unable to keep them in sight, though they could cope with the 4.7-litre Fords quite easily. The lone Ferrari GTB was no match for the Cobra Daytona coupés, especially that of Dan Gurney, who was up among the prototypes.

The speed of the 7-litre Ford V8 prototypes had to be paid for by fuel consumption and they both stopped to refuel after a little over an hour. Although they regained their lead when the Ferraris stopped to refuel, from this point onwards the Ford Prototype challenge fell apart and by the third hour Ferraris were going strongly in the first five places, followed by the Ford 7-litre of Miles/McLaren that was in trouble with its Dearborn-built gearbox. By this time numbers six, seven and 15 had retired with mechanical troubles, in engines and gearboxes, and the second 7-litre had been delayed by a deranged gear selector mechanism.

As the Fords fell by the wayside the Cobras moved up and Gurney was in fifth position as darkness began to fall, behind the two 4-litre works Ferraris, Surtees/Scarfiotti leading, then the Bonnier/Piper 4.4-litre, followed by the works 3.3-litre P2. By quarter-distance, 10.00pm Saturday, there was only one Ford left, the 7-litre of Hill/Amon, and it was a long way down the list, but going fast, and Hill set a whole row of record laps, ending with a 3min 37.5sec – 223.803kph. Ferraris were now in the first six places, as Gurney’s Cobra lost a lot of time when its oil pressure dropped dangerously low. By 11.00pm it was all over and the last Ford Prototype had gone out with clutch trouble, but all the Cobras were still running, and the score was Ferrari 11, Cobra 5.

Before midnight the Ferrari confidence was shattered when Surtees had a long pitstop to replace a broken front coil-spring, the English 4.4-litre was delayed by a broken exhaust manifold, and their 275LM had its gearbox burst asunder. As the works Ferraris ran into trouble, the agents’ cars moved up, and as they went out the private owners took over. By 1.00am there was panic in the Ferrari pits for the P1 and P2 models were running into trouble with cracked brake discs, as they were using a new type of disc with radial ventilation slots. One by one they ran into trouble, until Dumay/Gosselin in the private 275LM found themselves in the lead.

Meanwhile the Cobras were falling apart, and score at 2.00am on Sunday morning was Ferrari 9, Cobra 3, but both sides had sick cars. Ronnie Hoare had now lost both of his cars, the P1 exhaust manifold breaking up completely, while the three works P2 cars and the Chinetti P1 were all in brake disc trouble and the pits were trying to sort out enough non-perforated discs to get at least one car going. Number 12 Cobra went out with a broken crankshaft damper, and 29 with a loss of oil pressure, while the Gurney/Grant car was still running with low oil pressure and Sears had an accident with number 11, which smashed the radiator. A new one was fitted at the pits and he rejoined the race.

As the Ferraris and Cobras ran into trouble, the Porsches moved up into the picture, and at 4.00am, just before dawn broke, the order was Ferraris in the first four places and then two Porsches, the 906 of Klass/Glemser and the 908 of Linge/Nocker. This was half-distance and the yellow 275LM of Dumay/Gosselin was two laps ahead of the red 275LM of Gregory/Rindt, with the yellow GTB of Mairesse/’Beurlys’ in third place and leading the GT category.

All three works Ferraris were back in the race, but a long way behind, and running of a miscellaneous collection of solid and perforated discs, and there were 26 of the original 51 still running, but not all of them 100 per cent healthy. The Rover-BRM of G Hill/Stewart had shown signs of running too hot and its performance had been cut down to that of an Alpine-Renault, on order to try and finish. Slotemaker crashed one of the Triumphs, another went out with engine trouble, and Zeccoli put an Alfa Romeo GTZ in the sand at Mulsanne, where it was abandoned; Baghetti drove the Dino 166 hardly any time at all before the engine broke, and Siffert hit the bank at Tertre Rouge and broke the radiator on the V8 Maserati. The score for the giants was Ferrari 8, Cobra 2.

With clear skies and a warm sun rising, the situation was that Ferrari drivers who would not normally be in the running were in the first three places, with the three factory cars charging along in pursuit trying to make up the time lost due to the brake trouble, and hoping that no further troubles would appear. Their hopes were in vain, for the 3.3-litre went out with engine trouble and the 4-litre of Surtees/Scarfiotti had a gearbox bearing break up and leak oil onto the external clutch at the back of the box. A very long pitstop saw the bearing replaced and the clutch renewed, and Surtees joined the race again, to do hardly any laps at all before a gearbox shaft broke, and that was that.

The tired and weary mechanics had barely finished the Surtees car, when the NART 4.4-litre came in with the same trouble and they had to start all over again. While all this was going on the Parkes/Guichet 4-litre was in trouble with its gearbox breaking up and they were driving without some of the lower gears, and the engine had an internal water leak. The Belgian car driven by Dumay/Gosselin was still leading, chased by Gregory/Rindt, both in 275LM Ferraris, while the GTB Ferrari was still third, but overheating a bit.

By 8.00am Ferrari were reduced to a very dodgy eight cars and Cobra one, as the Gurney/Grant car had gone out with engine trouble caused by the crankshaft damper breaking up, as on Cobra number 12, for when these big V8 engines run unbalanced they shake themselves to bits. By mid-morning the score was down to seven to one, with some sick cars amongst the seven and the lone Cobra in a pretty dilapidated state. The lone works Ferrari was limping along in third place, behind the two LM Ferraris, so that Maranello were still in a position to win, through their private owners. The Porsche ranks were also diminishing as cars went out with engine breakages and oil leaks, so that by midday on Sunday there were only 17 cars left running and four hours still to go, with the giants’ score at six to one.

At lunchtime the battle between the private LM Ferraris was getting close and held more than passing interest for it was the focal point of the great tyre battle that has been raging all season. The Belgian Ferrari was on Dunlop and American one on Goodyear, so there was quite a stir when the yellow car struck a hard object and burst its right rear Dunlop while going down the straight. By the time it had limped round on the rim, had a new wheel and tyre fitted and straightened out the bodywork damage, the Goodyear shod car was well in the lead, having changed tyres to play safe.

With two hours to go to 4.00pm on Sunday afternoon, and the end of another Grand Prix d’Endurance, Ferrari cars were still in the first three places, thanks to the American and Belgian teams, and the sick works car had dropped back another place. The little British cars had outlived their French rivals, all the Alpine-Renaults having retired, but now one of the Austin Healeys went out, 3.00pm came and still they fell, the heat of the afternoon being great, and the last works Ferrari succumbed. Score five to one. Slowly the last hour passed and the LM Ferrari of Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt headed towards victory, followed by the 13 other survivors, all of whom can be proud of the achievement to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Click here to read more about Le Mans.

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