This had to be Ford's year. No expense was spared. The MkII that had shaken tarmac the previous year had re-appeared, better developed, to sweep the early season home races at Daytona and Sebring. No attempt was made to contest the subsequent European six-hour and 1000km World Championship events. All effort was saved for Le Mans. The company applied for no less than 15 starting places to be filled by 7.0 litre prototypes, to be granted an awesome eight. The cars were to be run by Shelby (three), NASCAR team Holman Moody (three) and the British outfit Alan Mann Racing. With stronger monocoque to cope with the power, lightened body panels and modified nose, they were MkIIAs. The model had undergone a successful 24-hour trial at Ford's Kingman, Arizona, test track and the 7.0 litre V8 had lasted a 48-hour dyno run. Power output was now in the region of 470-480 b.h.p. and the cars weighed around l225kgs.
Ferrari, by contrast, was having a difficult time coping with a wave of strikes that was disrupting Italian industrial life. A refashioned P2, the P3, had been developed to counter the MkII menace but hadn't been sent to Daytona and only one example had been mustered for the subsequent World Championship events, in contrast to the usual expansive campaign. Two examples were rustled up for the French classic, while another was lent to NART.The P3 was lower and wider than the P2, with wider track and wider wheels. The car was also lighter, and for Le Mans sported sleek, fully enclosed bodywork. Its engine benefited from high compression heads and was fuel injected to produce a healthy 420 b.h.p., while the transmission was re-designed around a conventional ZF gearbox. It added up to a thoroughbred package that had proved capable of leading the Sebing race.
Sadly, Maranello's Le Mans challenge was weakened during practice when star driver Surtees fell out with Team Manager Dragoni and quit the camp. That left works cars in the hands of Scarfiotti/Parkes and Bandini/Guichet. Although these pairings were able to keep the Ford armada in sight, they were hard pushed to do so. An official one-two classification for Ferrari after eight hours racing flattered to deceive.
Soon after midnight Scarfiotti became a victim of a multiple pile-up and although the second works car lasted almost twice as long before succumbing to transmission failure, it had not looked like upsetting Ford in the long run.
Not that Ford enjoyed good reliability. Of the eight MkIIs, only three saw, the finish. Those three finished together in a mighty impressive demonstration, but the company's attempt to stage a dead-heat between McLaren/Amon and Hulme/Miles was foiled as McLaren out fumbled Miles to promote his own name, that of a growing sports-racing constructor in his own right. It was appropriate that Henry Ford should have started the race and appropriate, too, that two of the three MkIIs which hadn't succumbed to engine failure had (by a whisker) become the first cars ever to exceed 3,000 miles at Le Mans. The big corporation's sledgehammer was of commendable design.
Ferrari's back-up runners, outpaced by the leaders, showed no more stamina than the works P3s. NART's P3 failed, so did a modified P2 from the same stable. And for three customer P2/3s (the P3 chassis with the 4.4 litre s.o.h.c. engine) survival wasn't the order of the day, either. Nor was it for the Ford and Ferrari runners contesting the new 'Sports Car' class.
This 50-off homologated sports-racing class was the new home for the GT40 and at last gave a purpose in life to the 275LM. It saw five GT40s oppose three 275LMs and not one escaped unscathed. Thus, of the 20 Ford and Ferrari one-off and homologated prototypes that started the race, only three finished. . .
Four other big capacity prototypes took the start, of which the most interesting was a converted American Can-Am car supported (discreetly) by General Motors. This was the Chaparral, powered by 425 b.h.p. 5.4 litre Chevrolet 'stock block' V8. Developed by Texan driver/engineer Jim Hall with the financial support of fellow driver 'Hap' Sharp, the '65 US Road Racing Championship winning machine featured a g.r.p. monocoque, an advanced appreciation of aerodynamics (in particular, the role of downforce) and a GM-developed, clutchless transmission. It made its European debut in the 'Ring 1000kms, which it won. Not surprisingly, it was overshadowed by the bigger displacement Fords at Le Mans, and not surprisingly it failed to last its Le Mans debut, retiring Saturday evening with electrical problems. But Chaparral would be back, strengthened. The three other interlopers in the big prototype battle were less credible efforts: two Bizzarinis and one Serenissima. All from Italy, all slow and fragile.
Behind the Ford/Ferrari wars was a 2.0 litre struggle between Ferrari and Porsche, and again Ferrari lost. Indeed, after only 100 minutes Porsche had seen the last of the Ferrari 'Dino'. Stuttgart's 2.0 litre prototype Carrera 6 models ran home first, second and third in class, then first in homologated 2.0 litre cars, filling fourth to seventh places overall.
The team only lost one car, a second homologated Carrera (these without the benefit of long tails) which broke a con rod in the final hour. Porsche had speed and reliability.
Eighth overall was a rare Ferrari survivor, a 275 GTB which won the new GT class for 500-off models. It overcame a spate of broken wheels and a Porsche 911 (reliable, of course).
After the event Ford did not, as anticipated, pull out of prototype racing. However, it did wind up its FAV operation. Wyer later revealed that at this stage it was discovered that parts he had requested to make the 4.7 GT40 reliable were found to be in existence. He suggests they had been deliberately held back until such time as the MkII had won. Corporation man will play fanatical political games! But at the end of the day the big corporation has the power to get him what he wants. And enough of Ford's corporation men wanted more. . .
Sports Car Races