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17 de outubro de 2021

The Ford Adventure at Le Mans - Part I


Antonio Eiras

The Ford participation at Le Mans, which lasted almost the entirety of the 60s, begun with the desire of Henry Ford II, son of the brand's founder and its president, to lead a car of his make to victory in the mythical race of resistance, a feat never before achieved by an American car manufacturer.

After an unsuccessfull attempt to buy Ferrari, at the time the dominant constructor of the race, Ford decided, in 1963, to build its own car from scratch. To do this, it created a European hub in Slough, Bucks, UK, where it brought together its technical and logistical team.

The team was supervised by Harley Copp and the technical direction of Roy Lunn was assisted by Eric Broadley, owner and founder of Lola, and the technician responsible for the Lola GT, which, powered with a V8 4,2 liters Ford engine, would serve as the basis for the future model of the American brand. For sports management, was hired John Wyer, who, in 1959, had led Aston Martin to its first victory in the French classic race.

This team designed and started the sporting career of the GT40, so named because it was a Grand Turing car, and the windshield height was limited by technical regulations to 40 inches. The chassis was a semi-monocoque reinforced by square tubes. The suspensions were independent and used double inverted wishbones, coil springs over dampers and anti-roll bar at the front, and at the rear single top links, inverted lower wishbones, twin trailing arms, coil springs over dampers and anti-roll bar. The bodywork was made of fiberglass composite. The V8 at 900 engines, with 4.2 liters of capacity, were designed and built by Ford in the USA. A Colotti 4-speed gearbox was used for the transmission. Disc brakes were hydraulic and wheels with spoke rims were fitted with Firestone tires.

After an initial 1964 troubled season, in which the Ford GT40 even proved to be competitive, but which was disturbed by multiple youth problems, as happened in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the withdrawal of the 3 cars entered, the project management was handed over to Carrol Shelby, head of another Ford hub, based in the USA.

For 1965 and under his guidance, the GT40 was developed, the engine was replaced by the 4.7-liter engine that delivered 385hp at 7,000rpm, the transmission was made with the ZF 5-speed gearbox, and the wheels were in light alloy. With this evolution and increased competitiveness, the GT40 won its first great race, the 2,000km of Daytona. A new evolution of the model gave rise to the Mk II, that was powered by the 7-liter Ford Galaxie engine, which debited 485hp at 6,200rpm, but which did not prevent a new defeat at Le Mans, with the withdrawal of all the 6 entered cars (2 Mk II and 4 GT40).

For 1966 the Mk II kept its mechanics, having been improved in multiple points, from aerodynamics to chassis. The year began with two victories and the three first places at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring, with Ford then taking the most coveted victory, and again the top three places also at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Parallel to the development of the MK II, the Shelby’s team put forward an independent project, which begun with the innovative J-car and that would be at the origin of the Mk IV prototype.

The Ford Mk IV had an innovative and very stiff monocoque chassis made of expanded aluminum honeycomb sandwich, reinforced with a safety roll. Its wraparound and slender bodywork was made of fiberglass composite and had a very refined aerodynamics. Equipped with the 7-liter displacement Galaxie engine, which now produced 530bhp at 6,200rpm, the Mk IV reached a near 330km/h top speed.

With this car, which was probably the most sophisticated vehicle that had ever raced at Le Mans, Ford defeated Ferrari, in 1967 and for the second time in a row, winning the French race, in the so-called "race of the century".

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