LE MANS 24 HOURS 1964
In song and fable, the 24-hour endurance classic at Le Mans should be a well-paced contest between giants, with the weak falling by the wayside and with a sprint to the finish by the front runners as the race draws to a close. In point of fact, it is a 4:-hour sprint race followed by a 20-hour death-watch during which the bored spectator has the doubtful entertainment of observing the progressively weaker staggering of the walking wounded.
The finish, when it comes, is greeted with more sighs of relief than shouts of excitement, and except for the French farmers, who
don't watch the race anyway, all concerned are desperately glad it's over and only wish it was a centennial instead of annual affair. The only saving features are the large numbers of exciting machines entered; and the all-day, all-night carnivals sprinkled about the circuit. Actually, the real test of endurance is for the canny strippers, who are doing their acts well before the start of the automobile race and are still bumping and grinding away after it ends.
Before the race, there is talk of strategy, and many plans are laid and schemes made. Unfortunately, it all comes to nothing. It has become common practice to take lap times from points out on the circuit, to prevent the enemy from learning how fast one's cars can circulate_ Whenever you see a car come sizzling past the pits, really going, you can bet that it will have slowed on the next tour. Secret agent X-5, stationed out at Arnage, knows what kind of laps the car can turn; everyone else has to guess. Of course, as we have said, all the planning is for naught because come what may, the drivers go like hammers for the first four hours anyway. It might seem that they should hang back and let the improvident break their cars, but it doesn't work that way. After all, it just might be that the man in front is running within his limits, and if you don't keep him in sight, he will soon be so far ahead that there will be no hope of catching him.
This year, everyone expected Ferrari to win at a walk. The Ford GT "prototype" had made a dismal showing in pre-race trials and there was nothing to suggest that Ford had been able to work any miracles in the limited time available. Ferrari, on the other hand, has been working with the basic components in their cars for a long time.
They were also favored to win the Grand Touring category, as they had a flock of cars entered in this class, and again the main opposition was Ford-although this time it was Ford engines in the special-bodied Cobra coupes. An outside (very outside) possibility in this class was the Iso-Rivolta "Grifo" (Chevy V-8 powered) and then there were the pair of special E- Type Jaguars, of which not much was expected-and that was all right because they didn't do much. Ford engines were also used in the Sunbeam Tigers, and this. combination proved to be something less than a happy one. The Tigers were not particularly fast down the straights and they appeared to be more than slightly twitchy around the corners. The only thing they had going for them was that the opposition had to be careful about passing.
And then there were the French cars. It has been a long time since any French car had a prayer of winning this most important of French races outright, or even in class, which causes much anguish among the organizers. To help the situation, they created the Index of Performance, which is based on displacement and distance traveled. This scheme worked for a while, but the faster small-displacement foreigners put a crimp in things. The. latest dodge is the Index of Efficiency, which is awarded on the basis of distance traveled, weight, frontal area, displacement, fuel consumption, the color of the driver's eyes, the price of vin rouge in Sarthe and the current size of Le Grand Charles' undershorts. It goes without saying that the small-displacement, relatively heavy, streamlined and above all, French cars win this prize. The only real question is, which one is it to be? For 1964, the index of efficiency was contested by the Alpine Renault, the Rene Bonnet-Renault, and a creation called the CD which is based on Panhard components. This last vehicle featured the front-drive Panhard power package, with a supercharger, but it was not most noteworthy for that. Rather, it was the CD's bodywork that caught everyone's eye. A coupe, with the general form of a slightly flattened teardrop, the CD sported a pair of very prominent tailfins for stability at high speeds-assuming that it reached high speeds. In all, it looked as though its designer might have seen too many old "Green Hornet" movies. ("Don't just stand there Kato: change the damned spark plugs!")
On the day before the big doings, we circulated around to see what sort of last-minute frenzy was in progress at the various garages. Vast calm held sway in the Ferrari camp. There seemed to be a change of overall gearing all around, but apart from that most of the mechanics were occupied in wiping down the cars and smiling for the photographers. Stirling Moss was there with a camera crew from Wide World of Sport to interview John Surtees, and there was some working time lost while the Italian mechanics leered at the script girl. We did notice that the private entry of Maranello Concessionaires had a great lot of asbestos pasted to the firewall behind the seats, and that the Ferrari team cars had air ducts aimed at the driver's face. This may tell us something about cockpit conditions in these deep, high-wind shield cars. The Ferraris also had air vents for such things as their fuel pumps, so they have. apparently learned that anything not protected from engine heat will malfunction.
Carroll Shelby's merry men are learning the same lesson, for they were busily hacking holes and adding air scoops when we dropped in for a visit. While peering up under the cars we also discovered that the Le Mans Cobra coupes were fitted with oil radiators for the final drive gears. The lubricant is circulated by a pair of Bendix electric fuel pumps, which seems rather odd, but one of the mechanics assured us that after the oil gets warm, it thins enough so the pumps will push it through very nicely. Speaking of Bendix fuel pumps, we might mention that everyone was using them Ferrari, Cobra, Porsche-all the famous names.
A look-in at Ford's garage was not very reassuring. They were changing engines and things like that. The engines were of the 1963 Indianapolis variety, with the aluminum cylinder blocks and pushrod heads, and dry sump lubrication not the 4-camshaft engines many people had been expecting. We must say, though, that the cars were very nicely done, and looked both neater and lighter than the Ferraris.
The race starts at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, so there is plenty of time for everyone to get keyed up before the action starts-and there were some people who were more than a little edgy about the whole affair. Le Mans is, after all, a place where a fellow can get bashed very properly. The tiddler drivers have to worry about getting shunted by the big cars and the drivers in the big cars have to worry about gathering up the tiddlers in their grill work.
All Le Mans races start with a foot race, and this year it must have been the nearest thing to a deadheat, for all the cars came spilling out of their parking spots in a great roaring clump. All, that is, except Phil Hill's Ford GT and a special bodied Sprite. And, after some delay, Hill's Ford departed too, disappearing under the Dunlop bridge with a lot of popping and banging from the engine. Eventually, even the Sprite was able to get started and it charged away in a moving show of determination and embarrassment. '
Approximately, four minutes passed (time filled in by the hysterical babble of a French announcer) before the pack swept into view again. It was Ferrari, Ferrari, Ferrari and then, what-ho, Ginther's Ford GT nipping at their heels. It was all very exciting to see the Ford right in there with the Ferraris and it became even more so on the next lap, and those immediately following, for Ginther carved his way past and began to pull out a very convincing lead. This demonstration of Ford strength would have been more impressive had it not been for the fact that the other two team cars were making repeated calls at the pits trying to correct serious misfires. This they eventually did do, and it then became fairly obvious that if the Fords lasted, they were going to give Ferrari a ghastly drubbing. The Fords were faster down the straight, and were at least the equal of the Ferraris in all other respects.
Now then, a lot of people are going to say that the Ferraris were just biding their time and waiting for the Fords to blow. It just isn't so Surtees, who quickly became the lead Ferrari pilot, was pushing just as hard as the car would permit, and it wasn't doing him nearly as much good as he would have liked-or as was necessary to keep Ginther in sight. Ginther continued to move away and the other Fords, which had by this time been cured of their misfiring troubles, were thundering along at a great rate.
This kind of action continued through the early hours, while further back the Cobra coupes were doing awful things to the GT Ferraris. Some of the crowd had its interest renewed when Mike Rothschild, in one of the Triumph Spitfires, spun under the Dunlop bridge and crashed with some force into the banking. The car slid back into the middle of the track and those arriving immediately thereafter were forced to make some phenomenal avoidances to keep from compounding the damage. Rothschild was carted away unconscious from a car that was absolutely destroyed, but his injuries were, happily, confined to bruises and a mild concussion.
As darkness fell, most of the crowds drifted away to take in the sights at the carnival, and Ginther's Ford suffered a transmission failure, which did little to make the night ahead look any more appealing. Besides, at night all one can see is a blaze of headlights as somethingGod knows what-whistles by and into the distance. And then it got cold; oh boy, how it got cold. So for the next several hours we stood and shivered as lone, headlighted phantoms crashed by in the darkness. For being one of the famous, Big Deal events in motor racing, it sure was dull. Most of the French farmers who make up the crowd went home and into warm beds, and we hated them with a passion reserved by the homeless for the sheltered and comfortable. Most of those who did not go home, went to tents sheltered in the groves of trees around the course and the rest clustered around the multitude of refreshment stands. We tried some brandy, trying to get warm, of course, but it proved virtually unfit for human consumption.
The food was somewhat better, but nothing like what the average American would expect. We rather sadly concluded that race-track food is the same the world over.
Through the long night, the cars continued to buzz around and there were further retirements. The Attwood/Schlesser Ford GT was eliminated by an engine compartment fire; Peter Bolton's Cobra coupe which had been going very well pipped, or was pipped by, a Ferrari and did several handsprings off the course, rumpling it considerably but not injuring its driver.
Sadly, three French youths had crept over a fence and were killed by the spinning cars. Another of the Cobra coupes was disqualified when the battery went a bit flat and the crew used another battery, turned upside down and jammed against the terminal posts, as a booster. This ploy would have gone unnoticed but for the alarm sounded by a gentleman from the Ferrari pit, who was commendably public-spirited in pointing out the infraction to the stewards. Following this incident, the Cobra crew, kept a sharp eye on Ferrari, and were able to remind the stewards that it really wasn't cricket for so many people to be working on the Italian cars when they came in for fuel and/or repairs. Would that someone had been down the line a bit farther to observe the swarm of Frenchmen who descended on the Alpine-Renaults. Unless the marshals were helping (which is not too far-fetched at that) the Alpines were getting more help than is permitted by regulation.
With the dawn came a really sobering incident. One of the two remaining Triumph team cars, driven by Jean-Louis Marnat, struck the bank opposite the pits, then angled over and hit the pit wall just beyond a group of cars and people and continued on, down the track to smash head-on into the bank at the entrance to the Dunlop bridge turn. All this occurred on a straight, and it would have been a rather mysterious affair but for the fact that Marnat was observed slumped down behind the wheel before the initial contact with the bank, apparently the victim of carbon-monoxide poisoning. At last report, Marnat was in serious condition (and that is to be regretted) but had he not hit the pit wall at a point clear of cars and people, the whole affair would really have been tragic. It is, unfortunately, only a question of time until someone does what he narrowly missed doing. The track is quite narrow at the pits, even after the 1956 reconstruction, and there is no wall between the track and the, pit apron, so it is inevitable that a very bad accident will occur unless the organizers do something to improve the situation.
At this point, Ferrari, too, was feeling the effects of the opening laps Grand Prix. Surtees' car, and others were running raggedly.
Worse, for Ferrari, was that Phil Hill's Ford GT was still going strong and, although some distance behind, gaining uncomfortably fast. It was during this period that Hill and the Ford GT posted a new absolute lap record of 3 minutes, 49 seconds. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter the Ford's transmission packed up, and Hill retired.
Any joy that Ferrari might have felt over this development must have been considerably dampened by the fact that the Gurney /Bondurant Cobra coupe was still beating back everyone in the Grand Touring class. If anyone thought the Cobra couldn't last, they were badly mistaken. The car ran like a train for the entire 24 hours, and its drivers did real justice to whatever they were being paid for the job. Gurney was slightly faster than Bondurant when the pressure was on (about three seconds per lap, at most) but both were exceedingly smooth, and a joy to watch. They were rewarded for their fine efforts by a win in the GT class (and fourth overall) which ended a long, long string of Ferrari victories.
Then, at long last; came the end. Those still running crossed the finish line: the Ferrari of Guichet/ Vaccarella; then Graham Hill/Bonnier (also Ferrari); and followed at some distance by the less-than-crisp-running Surtees/Bandini Ferrari. The Cobra came after this and then the rest.
With that, people began drifting away. Some started home; others returned to the carnival, which seems to be the only real attraction of Le Mans after the opening sprint. As soon as the track is cleared of racing cars, it returns to being a public road, which means that conditions there become even, more dangerous than they were during the race. Through most of the year, the circuit is just another road for the French farmers, who are just as witless behind the wheel as their fellows the world over. All things considered, we think it might work out just as well if the track was left open to the French farmers instead of filling it with racing cars for the 24 Heures du Mans. The organizers could still lay on the carnival, and all that trackside jazz, and the farmers would probably put on as good a show as we get from the racing cars. The spectators would probably like it just as well, too; and anyway, then there wouldn't be so much to distract them from the charms of the girlie show.
Sports Car Races
The three team Ferraris of Rodriguez, Surtees and Graham Hill had assumed an early second lap lead and were running in a neat, smug formation when Richie Ginther and the Ford GT caught them on the Mulsanne straight. Using their draft, stock car fashion, the Ford leapfrogged past with a terrible burst of speed and drew away down the tree lined road.
As the seven kilometer marker flicked by and Richie lifted his foot from the throttle, he glanced at the tachometer and found the needle wavering at 7200 rpm. Those revs in fifth gear meant awesome speed. Two hundred and five miles per hour, to be exact.
The Ferraris dropped meekly behind and Ginther went on to take command of the race. Not only was the Ford out speeding the best of the 330/Ps, ruthlessly driven by Surtees, but it was obviously superior in braking, acceleration and cornering. Phil Hill summed up the feeling of all the drivers when he said, - "I've never been so fast, so comfortably in my life."
The Fords were supposed to run the race at planned lap speeds, though the drivers began
to complain that they were getting awfully bored just puttering around the circuit and were given permission to run faster. Slow or fast, it is improbable whether the difficulties that overcame the three cars could have been avoided. The transmission selector fork snapped on the Ginther car while Hill's car retired when the selector ring failed. In both cases, third and fourth gears were put out of commission. The fire in the Attwood/Schlesser car was caused by a ruptured fuel line.
Considering the fact that this was the second time the cars appeared in competition, their performance was magnificent. The gearbox weaknesses will no doubt be corrected by Colotti, but there is little that can be done to eliminate the silly bad luck that plagued Phil Hill in the opening stages of the race. It has been rumored that the misfiring was caused by a cherry pip lodged in one of the carburetor venturis, but the trouble, which cost five pit stops and 22 minutes, was traced to a piece of gasket material in a carburetor jet.
Misfiring and gearbox troubles to the winds, the Fords at Le Mans were amazing, especially when it is recalled that their debut during May practice was an utter disaster. The poor handling at high speeds sent the Dearborn people reeling and few felt they could bounce back in time for the race. But changes in the body shape and the addition of a spoiler at the back seemed to cure the difficulties.
. While ,the Fords were dazzling everyone with their speed, the Cobras were winning the GT class. Using the new coupe, Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant were decisively faster than any other GT car in the race and won the class easily despite oil pressure problems early Sunday morning.
Gurney arrived at the pits after five very slow laps (to eat up the necessary 25 lap interval between oil additions) and reported falling pressure. The oil cooler was by-passed as an emergency correction and the car was returned to the race with strict orders to keep the revs down. Sensing trouble, the Ferrari pits ordered their nearest GT cars, which had been cruising at about 4: 15, to up the pace in an effort to break the Cobra. Ferrari times fell to 4: 05 and Shelby knew the heat was on. Gambling that the engine would hold together, he told Dan to run a few laps at four minutes flat to bluff the opposition. It worked and the Ferraris dropped back to their former pace.
This ruse and the ensuing victory was especially sweet for the Cobra crew following the protest lodged against the cars by the Ferraristas prior to the race. They claimed the coupes were not GT cars because the homologation papers listed the Cobra as a roadster with detachable hardtop. This protest was filed on Thursday and the Shelby operation sweated out a decision until just six hours before the start.
As it was, the Ferrari team managed to get the original Cobra coupe driven by Neerpasch and Amon disqualified, so their niggling efforts to keep the Americans honest did not go entirely for naught. However, there is little question that the day is not far off when it will take more than rules infractions and gearbox bothers to keep the Fords and Cobras out of the winner's circle.
Ferrari winner Le Mans 1964