Monday, June 8, 2015

RETRO: Ferraris last Victory at Le Mans...

The 1965 Le Mans winning NART Ferrari 250LM on display at the IMS Hall of Fame museum 'Wayback in 2010. (The Tomaso Collection)
Although Audi has  more victories overall with thirteen and is honing in on Porsche's record sixteen overall wins, it's still Ferrari (with nine wins) which along with Porsche, excites Mwah over this epic Sports Car classic event. Not to mention those iconic Ford GT40's which won four times at Le Mans...

Racing at Le Mans began in 1923 and lasted thru the 1939 event, when war broke out in Europe with the invasion of Poland in the fall of 1939. As France and the "Low Countries" were invaded on May 10, 1940, with Germany arriving in Paris on June 14th - before occupying France through the duration of World War II.

. Naturally all racing ceased during the second great war, (WWII) being a further decade before racing resumed at le Circuit de la Sarthe after France's reconstruction.

In 1949, Luigi Chinetti, who convinced Il Commendatore, nee Enzo Ferrari   to engage him  as his American importer drove an unbelievable 23.5hrs solo, with the virtually unheard of Peter Mitchell-Thomson relieving the exhausted Chinetti for some 40mins plus, as the pair are credited with winning Ferrari's first Le Mans race in the iconic 166MM. As the rosso 166 Mille Miglia Barchetta is the vehicle inspiring the 'Kuhnaidiun Power Trio RUSh's epic hit song Red Barchetta...

In 1954, Argentina's José Froilán González, aka "The Pampas Bull," who'd earlier won Scuderia Ferrari's maiden Formula 1 victory in 1951 at Silverstone, partnered with another Formula 1 driver of the day, Maurice Trintignant. As the pair drove their brutish five liter V-12 375+  to victory ahead of the more aerodynamic Jaguar D-Types which would win the next three years in-a-row.

Ferrari claimed its third Le Mans victory in '58 with the chassis that arguably made it a legend in Sports Car racing the world over, the iconic  250 Testa Rossa series, which would win one-third (plus) proper of la Scuderia's total victories at Le Mans.

For 1958, the 250 TR58 was chauffeured to victory by a pair of drivers who'd be quite successful at the Sarthe, when Belgium's Olivier Gendebien and future American Formula 1 world champion Phil Hill were victorious ahead of the Aston Martin driven by the Brothers Whitehead, with a miniscule 1600cc Porsche RSK taking third overall.

And while Aston Martin with America's Carol Shelby and Great Britain's Roy Salvadori not only winning the following 24 Heurs du Mans, but the 1959 World Sports Car championship as well, Enzo would need to wait until 1960 to begin his  company's final dynasty at Le Mans, as 'Ol Shel (Shelby) would become a future thorn in Enzo's side less than a decade later.

Yet with a refined 250 TR variant, a pair of Belgian's were triumphant for la Scuderia in 1960, when Olivier Gendebien was partnered by fellow countryman Paul Frère, who subsequently became Road & Track's European editor after his racing career. As the 1960 win would become the start of Ferrari's final dominance in Sports Car racing, and the 250 Testa Rossa's finest hour, when it would score a Hat-trick of victories at Le Mans.

For 1961-62, Phil Hill returned as Gendebien 's co-driver, with the pair winning back-to-back victories in the tried and true 250TR, which had been upgraded over the years, as although the '62 chassis is denoted as a 330TRi LM, it had started life as a 250TR which the factory had revived for competition in Le Mans experimental E-class which utilized four-liter engine displacement.

Presumably the pair of Formula 1 racing drivers also made history with Gendebien becoming the first four-time winner with Hill becoming America's first triple victor. As Gendebien retired from racing after his 1962 victory while Hill left la Scuderia at the end of the same year as part of the great Ferrari Walkout and defected to rival Formula 1 Constructor ATS...

After the '62 success, Ferrari retired its 250 TR racing cars, and promptly won Le Mans for a fourth year in-a-row with the first ever mid-engine chassis to do so! As the 250P, an open top racecar was piloted to victory by Italy's  Lorenzo Bandini and Ludovico Scarfiotti, both of whom would later perish in motor racing accidents.

The #21 NART Ferrari 250LM serves as a backdrop during another Hall of Fame museum visit, circa 2012. (The Tomaso Collection)
For 1964, a "New Kid in Town" arrived on the scene, when Ford's GT 40 made its debut at Circuit de la Sarthe, although not expected to win due to its initial instability at high speed on the Mulsanne straight, Ford sent a trio of its newest weapons to France.

Ironically it was Phil Hill behind the wheel of the highest  finishing GT 40, partnered with 'Kiwi Bruce McLaren retiring on Lap-192., with Ford's highest finisher being Shelby American's Cobra Daytona coupe fourth overall with Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant at the controls.

Nonetheless, Ferrari took this new threat seriously and defended its Le Mans winning stature with four Factory Prototypes and six customer GT racecars contesting the 32nd Grand Prix of Endurance event.

The winning 275P was a derivative of the 250P and was piloted by two virtual unknown drivers to Mwah, France's Jean Guichet and Italy's Nino Vaccarella, the latter who raced briefly for Ferrari in Formula 1.

For 1965, Ferrari would see Luigi Chinetti's North America Racing Team's (NART) customer 250LM take the chequered flag first for Scuderia Ferrari's last overall victory at Le Mans.

The 250LM was a somewhat controversial chassis, as Enzo in his typical fashion, had tried "Hoodwinking" the CSI organizing body into homologating this racecar as a GT car, contending it was a new variant of the legendary 250 TR's and GTO's, which the CSI officials were not impressed, especially since only some 30-plus examples had been built to meet the 100-minimum homologation standards and thus, Ferrari was forced to race it as a Prototype instead.

Chinetti's NART was driven to victory by future Austrian Formula 1 world champion Jochen Rindt and American F1 racer Masten Gregory, with a third relief driver never credited with victory, while the Factory Ferrari's suffered from brake wear and the "gentler" 250LM was victorious...

Interestingly, albeit in true
Il Commendatore fashion, all of Ferrari's 24 Heurs du Mans winners were propelled by V-12 powerplants, with tenF1 Drivers at the wheel. With multiple Grand Prix victories, along with two of these becoming F1 world champions; America's first world champion Phil Hill for Ferrari in 1961 and future Lotus Grand Prix world champion Jochen Rindt, the only posthumous F1 world champion, (1970) who sadly lost his life at Scuderia Ferrari's home track Monza...

Chassis:  166MM
Engine: 2.0-liter V-12
Drivers:  Luigi Chinetti; USA, Peter Mitchell-Thomson; United Kingdom

Chassis: 375+
Engine: 4.9-liter V-12
Drivers: José Froilán González; Argentina, Maurice Trintignant; France

Chassis: 250 TR58
Engine: 3.0-liter V-12
Drivers: Olivier Gendebien; Belgium, Phil Hill; USA.

Chassis: 250 TR59/60
Engine: 3.0-liter V-12
Drivers: Olivier Gendebien; Belgium, Paul Frere; Belgium

Chassis: 250 TRi/61
Engine: 3.0-liter V-12
Drivers: Olivier Gendebien; Belgium, Phil Hill; USA.

Chassis: 330 TRi LM
Engine: 4.0-liter V-12
Drivers: Olivier Gendebien; Belgium, Phil Hill; USA.

Chassis: 250P
Engine: 3.0-liter V-12
Drivers: Lorenzo Bandini; Italy, Ludovico Scarfiotti; Italy

Chassis: 275P
Engine: 3.3-liter V-12
Drivers: Jean Guichet; France, Nino Vaccarella; Italy

Chassis: 250LM
Engine: 3.3-liter V-12
Drivers: Jochen Rindt; Austria, Masten Gregory; USA

(Photos Courtesy of No Fenders ‘Offical Photographer ‘CARPETS)