Monday, December 16, 2019

RETRO: When Ford Bested another legendary Le Mans Competitor



The iconic Ford GT-40 Mk I chassis P1075 that won the coveted 24 Heurs du Mans twice. Also saw JW Automotive Engineering win the 1969 12 Hours of Sebring in one of its sister cars. (Image source: gt40.net)
As a Belgian Driver who'd become known later as Monsieur Le Mans notched the First of his then record Six 24hrs of Le Mans victories a half century ago...

Yeah, know All of us Diehard Racing Aficionados are still Salivating over the recently released Ford v Ferrari movie, which have Yuhs Done Seen It Yet?

Especially if your Jonesin' for Somme-thun other than that Uber Nauseating Football; Hut-Hut, Omaha! Although N-O Idea if It's still playing in Movie Theaters?


Alas, as another year comes to a Screeching Halt, and your Humble No Fenders Scribe Tomaso simply cannot type fast enough! I'm trying to poond' out one more little story that has Somme-thun' to do with the Numeral 9. Number 9, Number Nein?

Thus, perhaps Thars some sort of poetic symmetry over FoMoCo's disappointing decision to pull the plug upon its Factory Ford GT effort ironically 50 years after notching it's fourth and final Overall victory at Circuit de la Sarthe, Righto?

As we'll skip any Debate over the 1975 winning Gulf Mirage GR8, even though it was powered by a (Ford) Cosworth DFV three litre V-8 lump'

Whilst thou iconic sponsor of the John Wyer led JW Automotive Engineering (JWA) winning Ford GT 40's, followed by its arch nemesis, the Porsche 917's. For which the legendous' Steve McQueen Le Mans Movie made famous Gulf Oil has already celebrated it's Golden Anniversary and continues racing on, which I scribbled previously 'bout briefly in another of my many meandering No Fenders tomes...


Yet lost in All of the Hubbub surrounding the iconic Ford GT40's is the fact that fifty years ago, another iconic racecar made its public debut, when Porsche AG audaciously unleashed it's Fearsome 917 Panzerwagon upon Sports Car racing Ja Volt!


As we All Know, the 917 would go onto crush the competition between 1970-71 before the ACO changed its Rules once again to primarily Outlaw the Uber Dominant Porsche's, when it cancelled the Five-litre racing categories for a new 3.0 litre maximum engine displacement for 1972. Making the 917, and it's nemesis the Ferrari 512M ineligible.


But this story's supposed to be about my All-time Numero Uno 24 Heurs du Mans race, for which came down to the mightiest Mano e Mano Hammer 'N Tongs Donnybrook between two older Sports Car variants, i.e.; Ford's now somewhat long in thou tooth GT40 vs. Porsche's 908.

As I tend to recall that 1969 was the year that eventual winner Jacky Ickx famously waited until everybody else had raced off before walking pedestrally across thou tarmac to his lone Ford GT40. Slowly got in, cautiously secured his racing belts and then set off in pursuit of the field, in protest of what he considered to be the dangerous practice of Le Mans traditional Drivers running start...

As Porsche in Quest of its first Overall victory took to its rivals previous tactics of coming "Loaded for Bear," with a plethora 'O entries. As the Stuttgart concern showed up at Le Mans with three Works 917's and three works 908's, along with a further two 910 2.0 litre racecars in the Prototype ranks.

While Ford had just five Privateer efforts on-hand, with two of John Wyer's year-old GT40 Mark I's in thoust iconic Gulf Oil "Powder Blue" livery for Ickx and Jacky Oliver, along with 'Ol Hobbo', aka HobbsCap', nee David Hobbs and Mike "The Bike" Hailwood in its Seester car.

Plus FoMoCo' English stalwart enterant Alan Mann Racing had two GT40's on the grid, presumably in the 4.9 liter 302cid Small Block V-8 fitted with Gurney Weslake Heads variants.

While a further Ford GT40, albeit an early Mk I since it sported a 4.7 litre Small Block V-8, presumably one of the original 289cid V-8 variants - was entered by a German Privateer featuring Helmut Kelleners and somebody named Reinhold Joest at its controls! Which finished a very respectable sixth overall.

Ferrari returned after a year's absence with a pair of 312P chassis fitted with three liter screaming F1 derived V-12's for Chris Amon and Peter Schetti, and Defending Race Winner Pedro Rodriguez and David Piper. Along with a few privateer efforts for the likes of its North American entity, N.A.R.T.

The Ford GT40 predecessor from Eric Brodley was his latest spec Lola T70 Mk IIIb, powered by the ubiquitous Chevy Small Block V-8, for which El Capitano', nee Roger Penske used to win his lone 24 Hours of Daytona race at the beginning of the season.

Yet sadly, due to Paul Hawkins, an ex-Ford GT40 Driver who'd previously raced with David Hobbs - Death in a Fiery Crash prior to Le Mans, Lola withdrew its two Works entries, leaving a lone T70 to be campaigned by Scuderia Filipinetti.


As Ickx's protest over the fame Le Mans Drivers (Running) Standing Start was sadly proven to be correct once again, when Gentleman Driver John Woolfe in his "customer" Porsche 917, against Porsche's "suggestions" that one of their Factory Drivers start the race instead. Lost control of his vehicle on the very first lap!

Spinning off and somersaulting and being thrown from racecar due to not having secured his Safety Belts when being overcome by the well known "Red Mist!"

Woolfe's upside-down 917 then erupted into flames and it's fuel tank became separated from thou carnage! Before an unlucky and hapless Chris Amon in the Works Ferrari unfortunately ran over the aforementioned fuel tank, causing his 312P's own fuel tank to rupture, but escaped injury after electing to engage his Onboard Fire Extinguisher! While Woolfe would subsequently be pronounced Dead upon arrival at Hospital.

Was Unawares' that the Ickx/Oliver Ford GT40's nickname was 'Ol Ladie!
Which slowly worked its way in lockstep towards the pointy end of the grid. Seeing the two JWA Gulf Oil Ford GT40's lying 3rd-4th overall as morning came, with nearly two-thirds of the entrants no longer running.

Then, with three hours remaining, the two leading Porsche's with Vic Elford/Richard Atwood's 917 on point suddenly came into the Pits with both cars ultimately retiring.

This saw the No. 6 John Wyre Ford GT40 of Ickx/Oliver move into the lead with Thar Seester' #7 Hobbs/Hailwood entry running second ahead of the No. 64 Hans Herrmann/Gerard Larrousse Porsche 908LH, before the Hobbs/Hailwood GT40 Dropped to third overall due to needing to change it's rear brakes.

As Folklore has it, the Ford GT40 was suffering exhaust issues with the Porsche 908 having fading Brakes and also being slightly down upon RPMS, when both squads put their Ace Pilotes' behind the wheel in quest of victory.

As Ickx and Herrmann would play leapfrog over the remaining laps, with Ickx knowing he was a Sitting Duck on the Mulsanne Straight if he let Herrmann get too close behind. And being forced to run one extra lap, after they'd crossed the finish line with one minute remaining...

The Belgian Ace pretended to have fuel starvation issues occurring, forcing the German into the lead - before Ickx Slipstreamed Herrmann into the lead and won the race by a scant 120 meters, or for us Yanks', just a Football field and a third! (394 feet)

Whilst funny, I've always believed that the Ford GT40 chassis P/1075 was the first ever racecar to win Le Mans twice. but apparently the Bentley Speed Six that won the 1929-30 races was the first chassis to do so. While I believe that the Porsche 956 that won the 1985-86 races was the third car to win consecutively.

As Herr Herrmann would get his revenge the following year aboard a 917, but that's another story for next year's 24 Heurs du Mans time capsule...

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