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5 de setembro de 2020

Ford at Le Mans: Part 1- The first victory


Rui Faria

GT 40 - The Ford that humiliated Ferrari


Two weeks from the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we remember one of the most remarkable stories of the charismatic endurance race. The day Ford humiliated Ferrari and Belgian Jacky Ickx achieved its first triumph.


The oil crisis dictated by the nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, deeply affected the economy and the automotive world. The status quo has changed dramatically. After years of glory, Enzo Ferrari experienced a difficult period, which the newspaper “il Giorno” called “Gli anni neri dell’invencibile” (the black years of the invincible). The financial difficulties of the man who had lost Dino, his beloved son, seemed to have bent him. It was essential to find a muscular partner, but it was not easy to negotiate with M. de Maranello. The USA has always been a reference for the Italian and Ford Motor Co. seemed to be a solution, especially since Ferrari maintained good relations with Henry Ford II, the grandson of the founder of the Detroit brand.


Ford was also not in an easy time after losing ground to rival GM, but Henry Ford II bet on a path that seemed outlawed by an American law of 1957, which prohibited advertising based on performances. Even so, he recruited young Lee Iacocca as vice president and engineer Donald Frey who designed a commercial strategy based on a new department, which still exists today - “Performance” - and took a gamble on a sport that had never happened before.


The bet on the domestic market, where GM has always scored points in the competition, was complemented by the partnership with Carroll Shelby, an American who won the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours with Aston Martin and was looking for a statement. He was close to Ferrari for a few years, but he found a new direction with the British sports car AC Ace and American "Performance" engines. This was how the Shelby Cobra “Powered by Ford” was born.


The purchase of Ferrari


In 1963, the Americans learned that Enzo Ferrari could sell their brand and attacked hard, but never realized Enzo Ferrari's stance. The Italian admitted selling the brand / production under his name, but he did not dispense with the management of Scuderia. It is said that during the negotiations, Enzo Ferrari would have asked - “If I want to go to Indianapolis and Ford does not want to, will I or will I not? ... ”The answer was clear:“ It will not ”. It was for these and others that Enzo Ferrari aborted the business. Years later (1969) the partnership with Fiat would appear, which was then managed by Giovanni Agnelli.


Failing a deal that was taken for granted was an affront to Henry Ford II and the American decided to take revenge where he could cause Enzo Ferrari more pain: competition. That was how a program was born in Detroit where "money was not talked about". The objective became evident - “to create a car capable of beating the Italians in 1964” and, from the beginning, it was determined that it should have a central rear engine, a wheelbase capable of maximizing stability, reduced ground clearance, and the possibility of reaching 310 km / h. Donald Frey managed the project that involved Roy Lunn, who designed the Aston Martin DB2, Eric Broadley, the creator of the Lola chassis, and Phil Remington, the engine engineer for Carrol Shelby. Sports management was handed over to John Wyer.


The debut was scheduled for the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours, but the task was not an easy one. Serious aerodynamic problems arose in the preliminary tests, but Ford appeared in June at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with pomp and circumstance. At first, Richie Ginther / Masten Gregory's 4.2-powered GT40 took over, but the Ferrari was never threatened in a race where neither GT40 reached the finish. The 275 P of Guichet / Vaccarella won, ahead of the 330 P of Bonnier / G. Hill and Surtees / Bandini. Despite all of Ford's millions of dollars, it didn't seem easy to beat Ferrari.


In 1965 the story turned out to be no different. Ferrari secured the ninth victory at Le Mans and the sixth successive after 1960. But the triumph was also an important warning for Scuderia. It monopolized the podium, but the two 250 LMs with 3.3 engines that secured the first places (Gregory / Rindt and Dumay / Gosselin) ahead of the 275 GTB from Mairesse / Beurlys were private cars, which saved the team's honor after the debacle of the new Ferrari P2. But Ford had no better luck. His fleet did not go beyond seven hours of racing.


The American invasion


In 1966 Ford could not lose and assemble an armada of eight MK II prototypes with 7.0-liter engines, supported by five 4.7-liter GT 40 Sport's, and not even Henry Ford II was missing from the start. 24 hours later, three MK IIs monopolized the podium of a race where the Ferrari never stood up to the competition. Five of Scuderia's six cars were betrayed by mechanics, a more than heavy defeat despite Ford losing five of its MK IIs. Towards the end, the Ford of Bruce McLaren / Chris Amon and Ken Miles / Denny Hulme were close, and Carroll Shelby, the sporting director, gave orders to hold positions and cut the goal side by side. But the race's direction declared Bruce McLaren / Chris Amon's victory 20 meters ahead of Ken Miles / Denny Hulme.

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