Thursday, August 11, 2016

AUTOS: Ford GT's Now and Then

This fine example of the All conquering NASTY Ford GT 40 MK II, the ex-Holman & Moody No. 4 driven by Mark Donohue and Paul Hawkins at Le Mans in 1966 was on display at the IMS Museum circa 2012. (The Tomaso Collection)
FoMoCo' celebrates its Golden Anniversary of Overall Victory at Le Mans in fine style with the just announced Heritage edition Ford GT...

The following list is just a partial sampling of the various drivers who raced the GT 40 for 'Ol Shel', nee Carroll Shelby circa 1964-67...
Chris Amon, Richard Atwood, Bob Bondurant, Ronnie buckham, Mark Donohue, A.J. Foyt, Richie Ginther, Jerry Grant, Masten Gregory, Dan Gurney, Walt Hansgen, Phil Hill, Dennis Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Ken Miles and Jo Schlesser.

Obviously Ford's still reveling in the splendor of having won at Le Mans 50yrs after it's debutant victory at Circuit de la Sarthe, wishing us to focus upon these accolades instead of the unsavory behaviour of Edsel Ford II regarding his Domestic Violence arrest...

thus, Y'all certainly know by now, that upon that summer's day in France, Chris amon and co-driver Bruce McLaren were declared the winners of the 1966 24 Heurs du Mans  ahead of Ken Miles  and Denny "The Bear" Hulme in  FoMoCo's botched Photo-finish.

Interestingly, Chris Amon who notes it's probably his racing career's defining moment, the Kiwi actually first drove one of 'Ol Shel's "Second Tier" Cobra Daytona Coupes with Jochen Neerpasch, ironically entered by Briggs Cunningham in 1964, when the Ford GT 40 first burst on the scene.

the following year, Amon graduated to the P Category, nee Prototype, in what inevitably would become Ford's BADDEST ARSE Prototype mount, the fire belching seven litre Big Block Ford GT 40 Mk II! With Amon's co-driver being America's first ever Formula 1 world champion Phil Hill.

And then the rest is history, as the Kiwi duo of Amon and Bruce McLaren in that Oh, So BITCHIN' black No. 2 GT 40 were victorious at Le Mans, as I've had the privilege of seeing this car in the flesh at Mother Speedway's Hall of Fame; Err Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, 'Wayback in Twenty-oh-One Me Thinks...

Amon jumped ship to rival Scuderia Ferrari the following year, whilst Carroll Shelby's Factory backed Ford GT 40 Squad returned to Le Mans with the totally new Mk IV variant, internally dubbed the "J-Car." Also being victorious with A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney at its keyboard, before the governing body made the seven litre big block V-8's illegal, and with this Ford effectively pulled its factory backing from Shelby American, Inc regarding Sports Car racing.

Racer magazine posted the following interviews with selected past GT 40 drivers in the build-up to this year's running of the endurance classic.

Dan Gurney
Team: Shelby American
Years: 1964-67

It's hard to believe that Dan Gurney has just celebrated his 85th birthday this past April 13th... As although for Mwah, Gurney's name is synonymous with Formula 1. Gurney also was quite prolific at some 'lil Oval track at 16th & Georgetown - ultimately winning the Indy 500 three times overall as a Constructor, including once as team owner.

Gurney was also a quick hand in Sports Cars, including endurance racing, having begun his association with Carroll Shelby in the Cobra Daytona Coupes, which were the highest finishing Ford in 1964. Then returning again to Le Mans in the Daytona one final time with soon to be long-term co-driver Jerry Grant.

In '66 the pair graduated to the NASTY GT 40 Mk II as part of Shelby's three car team entry, being the only car to not finish from the Shelby American trio. Then Y'all know 'bout Dan's success with a "Soft Spoken" Texan named A.J. the following year, arguably Gurney's biggest international racing victory!

Mario Andretti
Team: Holman & Moody
Years: 1966-67

"SuperMario" presumably drove for Holman & Moody due to his Stock Car endeavours? Making his debut at Circuit de la Sarthe in 1966 alongside Lucien Bianchi. As interestingly, America's only two F1 world champions raced against each other at Le Mans between 1966-67. With Phil Hill running the always innovative Chaparral's, albeit Mario wouldn't become world champion until 1978 for another innovator named Colin Chapman.

And if you're wondering about his co-driver's last name being Bianchi, as the pair 'O Italian Aces contested Le Mans together twice. Yeah, he was related to the deceased Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi. As Lucien was Jule's Great Uncle, brother of Jules Grandfather Mauro, whom also raced at Le Mans, while both also contested Grands Prix.

As Lucien would win at Circuit de la Sarthe the following year (1968) with the late Pedro Rodriguez aboard the John Wyer Automotive Engineering Ford GT 40 before dying at Le Mans during testing a year later.  

David Hobbs
Team: John Wyer Automotive
Years: 1968-69

'Ol Hobbo, nee Messer Hobbs is currently best known for his long running colour commentating role for F1 Stateside, having worn many Hats in his long media career, since I can still recall him as a Pit Reporter for the Daytona 500.

Hobbs is another of the cadre of "All Rounders,' racing anything he could get behind the wheel in. And if memory serves me correctly? He contested le 24 Heurs du Mans 20-times, where he finished third overall behind the team's winning entry in '69.

and while David's known for falling asleep on the grid at Mother Speedway before the Indy 500 began, most probably don't remember that he won the SCCA Pro Racing's Trans Am championship in '83.

And now on the heels of their class victory in the GTE Pro category at Le Mans with Chip Ganassi Racing's Stateside entry, the No. 68 piloted by Joey Hand, le 'Hamburgular, nee Sebastain Bourdais and Dirk Mueller winning fifty years later, Ford's just announced they'll continue racing the Ford GT both Stateside and Abroad thru the 2019 season.

FoMoCo's also just released a limited edition Street version of the 1966 Shelby American No. 2 GT 40 Mk II commemorating said victories - for purchase by those with chequebooks large enough to acquire said version, provided they're deemed worthy!

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