LE MANS 24 HOURS 1969 version 2

Le Mans Prospects and Long-Distance Racing

THE Le Mans 24-Hour Race has many shortcomings, as anyone will agree who has been there, but in spite of them all it still holds an attraction and lure that makes people go to it year after year, whether they be potential winners; hopeless also-rans, spectators or mere supporters. From the motor-racing enthusiast's point of view it has the attraction of being held on a real road circuit, and going on for 24 hours, as well as being the oldest and most historic 24-hour race. The Belgians tried to emulate Le Mans with a 24-hour event. on the magnificent Francorchamps circuit, but it was always lacking in spectator ambience, and Daytona is still trying but suffers from being too small and cramped as regards circuit, and too artificial. In these days of ever-increasing "slot-racing" on specially prepared circuits, the Circuit of the Sarthe becomes more and more alluring to driver and spectator alike. To drive round the 13.5 kilometre circuit on a non-race day is fascinating. As you cruise down the Mulsanne straight at 8o m.p.h., passing the Cafe de la Hippodrome and Les Hunaudieres restaurants, you cannot help thinking, "fabulous, the fast cars will be doing 180 m.p.h. at this point, and further on they will be close to 200 m.p.h.". Through the wiggles of Mulsanne, Indianapolis, Arnage and White House, the feeling is "all this and the average for a good lap is around 140 m.p.h.-this is what road-racing is all about". Even if you have a good belt round the Le Mans circuit, you still end up thinking "Crikey, that was in a 140-m.p.h. touring car, what must it be like in a 190-m.p.h. Sports/Prototype racing car?" You can spend a million pounds or many millions of dollars on a racing circuit, but you will never quite design and build a circuit like one that developed from public roads, that in the beginning were not designed, but just happened according to the lie of the land, natural obstacles, or personal property. ' If you have never explored beyond the confined spaces of Brands Hatch or Mallory Park, or the wastes of Snetterton or Silverstone, you will not know what I am talking about, but British drivers like Moss, Hawthorn, Collins, Brooks, Clark, Hill, or "foreign" drivers like Fangio, Behra, von Trips, Musso, Herrmann, Siffert, would know what I am going on about. Praise be, there are still some new young drivers who think the same way, and the likes of Jonathan Williams, Gaydon, Pescarolo, Derek Bell, and other up and-coming lads, appreciate the real value of "road-racing", and accept all it means and the calculated risks involved in becoming a road-racing driver rather than a slot-racing driver.

If you must participate in a long-distance event, and why not for goodness sake, then Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans cannot be beaten. For this reason the happenings on the Sarthe circuit are important and significant, though they may not be vital to the health and wealth of today's "social security" type of driver. No matter how much racing a team or factory does, the ultimate victory is to win the Le Mans 24-hour race. It may not be the best race, or the best circuit, but it is the longest on a very good circuit. To win the Targa Florio is great, or to win the 1,000 kilometres at Nurburgring, Spa, Monza, or Montlhery, or even the B.O.A.C. 500 is satisfactory, but they are all preliminaries to winning the "big one". Somehow the Sebring 12-hour race has never risen above an "airfield race" and a way of selling cars to the naive Americans, and the Daytona 24-hour race has merely perpetuated what Sebring started many years before. Talk to any retired racing driver or team that is no longer racing and nostalgia brings out "the good old days" of winning in Sicily or on the Nurburgring, or at Spa or Monza, it is seldom at Sebring, Daytona or even in Buenos Aires, for the Argentinians used to have a 1,000 kilometre race.

The Automobile Club de l'Ouest who run the Le Mans race are not held in the same esteem as their event, for no British enthusiast will ever forget the scurrilous way that the Lotus 23 was excluded from taking part some years ago, simply because it was going to make the little French cars look stupid, nor will anyone forget how they panicked after the 1955 accident and rebuilt the pit area so quickly that it only "looked" safer, nor how they brought about a 3-litre limit in 1957 and the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguars took the mickey out of the rules, or in present times how they influence the Group 6 limit of 3 litres that stopped Ford, Chapparal, Lola and others who were working with 7-litre engines, yet it secretly encouraged Alpine-Renault, Matra and Porsche who had 3-litre engines already under way.

As I said at the beginning, in spite of all the shortcomings no-one who really believes in long-distance motor racing on road circuits will miss supporting Le Mans. The event to be held this coming June, from 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 14th, until 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 15th, looks like being a good one. Porsche are still smarting at having goofed last year when victory for them seemed certain, Ferrari is back, having boycotted the race for one year as a protest after the 3-litre limit was "fiddled" in, Matra are putting all their efforts into the race, having achieved more than they dreamed of last year, Alfa Romeo are steadily progressing towards better things, Alpine must do better to justify the Renault support, Lola feel they OUg;1t to be able to make a long-distance winner, and the J.W. Ford-Gulf team just know that a properly organised attempt must succeed, especially if the opposition gets too smart, and stumbles.

At the end of March a week-end of testing was provided at Le Mans, and the roads were closed to the public all day Saturday and Sunday. Ferrari, Matra, Lola, Porsche, Alpine and Alfa Romeo, as well as numerous private teams, took the opportunity to tryout new cars, experiment with old ones or give drivers an opportunity to learn the very fast circuit. The works Porsche team had two of their new 4.5-litre flat-I2-cylinder-engined cars for testing, which Herrmann and Stommelen were driving, and a 90S model with 3-litre S-cylinder engine, which Ahrens and Buchet drove. The new 917 model was first introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in March, until which time it had been kept remarkably secret, although there were mutterings last December, but I for one did not take them seriously. The overall shape of the 917 follows that of the 907 and 90S factory cars, with tiny coupe cockpit and long tapering tail and very domed front wings. The driving position is very far forward, almost between the front wheels, and the car is reminiscent of the Ferdinand Porsche-designed Auto-Union of 1933. The chassis is a space-frame made of aluminium tubing of very small diameter, and the body structure is fibre-glass bonded on to the tubing. The engine is a horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder of 85 mm. bore and 66 mm. stroke, giving 40494 c.c. Each bank of cylinders has two camshafts operating two valves per cylinder, and there are two sparking plugs per cylinder fired from two distributors mounted one at each end of the crankcase in a vertical position. The drive to the camshafts is from the centre of the crankshaft and from the same train of gears a vertical shaft drives a horizontal cooling fan mounted above the crankcase and just below the very sloping rear window. The ducting is of fibre-glass, as are the inlet pipes on top of the engine. The exhaust pipes are underneath, the front three on each side having tail-pipes out of each side of the car, just in front of the rear wheels, and the rear three on each side having tail-pipes out the back. The engine is coupled directly to the five speed gearbox/differential unit, with massive drive shafts taking the power out to the wheels. Suspension follows the pattern of the eight- cylinder cars, being all-independent by wishbones, radius rods and coil-spring damper units, and very thick ventilated disc brakes are used. On the extremity of the long tapering tail are two horizontal stabilising flaps, coupled by links to the rear suspension so that they move up and down as the suspension functions.

The first 917 appeared at Geneva, the second and third at Le Mans, and an assembly line is well under way to build 25, and by the time this is being read there should be a full 25 of these exciting new Porsches in existence and it will be homologated as a Group 4 sports car. Only Porsche would dare to do this, in complete opposition to the intentions of the F.I.A. When the rules for Group 6 sports/prototypes and Group 4 sports cars were first thought up there were no capacity limits on engines, so it was reasonable to suppose that a manufacturer would build a Group 6 prototype, race it until it was proven, and then put it into production, and in those days 100 cars constituted "production", this figure being reduced first to 50 and now to 25. All this seemed logical, but when the Le Mans people influenced the F.I.A. into making engine capacity limits, the whole system became a nonsense. Group 6 prototypes were limited to 3-litres and Group 4 sports cars to 5-litres, so the idea of race-proving a 3-litre prototype and then putting it into production was made impossible, unless of course you wanted to make a 3-litre sports car, but this would be giving away 2 litres unnecessarily. What Porsche have done is to take the F.I.A. rules to their illogical conclusion and they have built 25 production 4.5-litre cars that can be homologated as Group 4 sports cars, and can be let loose on the circuits of the world completely untried and unproven, which is not what the F.I.A. meant, though no-one could see just what they did mean.

What Porsche have done in fact, and at a tremendous financial outlay, is to equip themselves with a brand new 4.5-litre prototype-type of car to race against the 3-litres of Ferrari, Matra, Alpine, etc., even

14th - 15th September

the RACE

45 starters 14 classified finishers


no changes


Nothing really new except that the minimum number of cars necessary for homologation in the sports category was reduced from 50 to 25. Porsche exploited this point and built the 917 for sale to private clients, ( in the process driving a coach and horses through the intentions of the C. S.I.) the first of whom was the unfortunate John Woolfe.


45 ears 5 nations 12 makes

Franee : 8 Alpines, 4 Matras.

Germany: 16 Porsehes.

Great Britain : 1 Chevron, 1 Healey, 1 Lola, 1 Nomad.

ltaly: 1 Abarth, 2 A1fa Romeos, 4 Ferraris. United States : 1 Chevrolet, 5 Fords.

the Race:

A Grey Race with a Remarkable Ending

NO MATTER what the situation in the annual Sports Car Manufacturers' Championship, everyone wants to win the Le Mans 24-hour race, not only because it was the one that started sports-car racing, but the very fast Le Mans circuit is a severe test of machinery, and 24 hours of such testing is very convincing to the outside world. Before Le Mans began Porsche had won the I969 Championship, with outright victories at Brands Hatch, Monza, Targa Florio, Spa and Nurburgring, lnd if the Championship had been their only interest they could justiably have stayed away from Le Mans, but unlike driver champions who are only interested in points winning, the Porsche Racing Department were out to win the 24-hour race, regardless of any Championship. They arrived in France with an enormous mass of men and material, with three long-tailed 908 coupes, the flat-8-cylinder 3-litres, one new open or Spyder 90S, with a new long-tailed body, and four of the incredible 9I7 coupes, with 4.5-litre flat-I2-cylinder engines. One of the 9I7 coupes was destined for the first customer, the Woolfe Racing Team, for Woolfe and Martland to drive, but the latter driver tried it in practice and decided it was more than he could cope with. In consequence the works driver Linge was loaned to the Woolfe team to co-drive with the owner. The Porsche works team of drivers shuffled around amongst the various cars during practice, and Siffert/Redman settled on the open 90S, Mitter/Schutz, Herrmann/Larrousse and Kauhsen/Lins settled on the long-tailed 90S coupes, and Stommelen/ Ahrens and Elford/Attwood on the 9I7 coupes, the factory spare not being used.

Since the ban on aerofoil assistance, Ferrari, Matra and Alpine had re-arranged their bodywork to comply with the rules, their aerodynamic assistance having been very much an afterthought addition to the cars. On the long-tailed 90S coupes and the 9I7 coupes Porsche claim to have designed and developed aerodynamic stabilisers as part of the bodywork, comprising a fixed aerofoil across the tail with small trim-tabs actuated by links from the rear suspension. The mechanism certainly works, but how effective it is is another matter, but Porsche were refusing to run without the trim-tabs. In practice Stommelen took out - a 9I7 with the trim-tabs fixed and demonstrated to gullible marshals and organisers that the car was virtually undrivable, giving the impression it was out of control. With a car having somewhere around 500 b.h.p. and an all-up weight of just over 2,000 lb. it was not difficult to make it look hair-raising! While none of the other competitors made any official protest, they made it clear that they thought Porsche were not complying with the new C.S.I. ruling and such C.S.I. members who were at Le Mans stuck rigidly to the letter of the law, and for once the A.C. de Ouest were on the side of Porsche. After much chatter from all sides it was agreed that the 9I7 coupes could use movable trim-tabs but the 90S coupes would have them fixed at the optimum angle. The open 90S did not have them anyway. Some of the idea of the performance available from the 9I7 was shown by Stommelen when he went round the circuit in practice in 3 min. 22.9 sec.-238.976 k.p.h. .(about I48.5 m.p.h.), the performance coming from the car's acceleration rather than its maximum speed, which was around I90 m.p.h.

As in the previous races this year the main opposition to the Stuttgart team came from Ferrari, who entered two 3I2P cars with coupe bodywork, and apart from the coupe tops the cars were as previously raced.

The drivers were Amon/Schetty and Rodriguez/Piper. Alongside the six factory Porsche cars the two Ferraris looked sadly in need of some support and though there were no other red cars capable of supporting them there was a strong team from Matra, who were out to upset the Porsche plans, and Ferrari's as well. In spite of two pre-race accidents which set them back in men and material, Matra-Sports had put everything they had into their Le Mans preparation and were ready with four cars, a I968 coupe-type 630, a brand new open Spyder-type 6so, with an unusual tail treatment ending in long points behind the wheels, the open Spyder that raced earlier this year, this being a 630 chassis fitted with a 650 body, and another open Spyder built from a I968 630 coupe that used to have a 4.7-litre Ford V8 in it. The last car was built up hurriedly after the accident to the new 640 coupe when Pescarolo was injured, and like the interim car was referred to as a 630j6so. All four cars were powered by the Matra VI2 Grand Prix engine and 8-speed ZF gearboxes were used. The assembly of drivers for the Matra team was most unusual and caused a few raised eyebrows, but Matra knew what they were doing, as results were to show. Leading the team were Beltoise/Courage with the new 650 Spyder, then came Servoz-Gavin/Muller with the 630/650 Spyder used already this season, Widdowsj "Nanni" Galli with the hastily built 630/650 Spyder, and Guichetj Vaccarella with the 630 coupe. Also in French blue like the Matra team were the works Alpines with Renault-Gordini V8 engines, there being three long-tailed coupes with the radiators mounted across the tail and one long-tail coupe with side radiators. Previous appearances had shown that the Alpine-Renault team are not as powerful as the Matra team, lacking horsepower from the V8 engine and drivers of the calibre of Beltoise and Servoz-Gavin. The three late-type cars were for Cortanze/Vinatier, Depailler/JabouiIIe and Grandsire/Andruet, the fourth car being for Nicolas/Therier. Aiming for the Index of Performance handicap there were also two 1,500-c.c. Alpines, one 1,300 c.c. and one 1,005 c.c.

On paper there were no other cars capable of challenging for the Grand Prix d'Endurance, or outright victory, but in fact there were the two Ford GT40 coupes, with 5-litre Weslake-head V8 engines, of the Gulf Oil Team, run by J.W. Automotive with the Gulf drivers Ickx/ Oliver and Hobbs/Hailwood. The two Gulf-Mirage cars that ran at Nurburgring had been left at home as it was felt that they were too new and unproven to tackle a 24-hour race, whereas the GT40 Fords knew their own way round Le Mans. Though they were not fast enough to challenge the best 3-litre prototypes, or the Group 4 Porsche 917, they could be relied upon to be running at the end of the 24 hours, and would probably not be too far behind. There were also three privately owned Ford GT 40 coupes, of Guthrie/Gardner, Sadler/Vestey and Kelleners/ Jost, any of which could be well placed at the end of 24 hours. After a brand new Ferrari "Daytona" GT coupe and an old Dino 206 had collided in practice and eliminated themselves, both being in the N.A.R.T. team, and the works Unipower and Piper-Ford twin-cam had both failed to qualify, the total entry list only came to 45 cars, instead of the usual 55 that start at Le Mans. In addition to the main contenders there was the Healey-Climax V8 coupe, the J.C.B. Ltd. Chevron-B.M.W., and the 2-litre Nomad-B.R.M. from England, numerous French-owned 9II Porsches, the Lola-Chevrolet coupe of the Filipinetti team; driven by Bonnier/Gregory, the two Alfa Romeo "33" cars of the Belgian V.D.S. team, and a Ferrari LM coupe from the N.A.R.T. of Chinetti.

The usual practice periods were held on Wednesday and Thursday, in the evenings, running from daylight into darkness, and the 917 Porsches had everyone completely demoralised by their performances. Stommelen was fastest at 3 min. 22.9 s.ec. and apart from the three 4~-litre 12-cylinder cars the only other car to record under 3 min. 30 sec. was the open 908 driven by Siffert, nobody else getting anywhere near 3 min. 30 sec., let alone 3 min. 22 sec. If the 917 Porsches had not been so new and untried most competitors would have felt like going home, but all hopes were put on the 917s not lasting, the only question being, how far in front would they be when they did blow up. There was also the uneasy feeling that if they got a big enough lead they could ease up and then they might prove reliable.

When the 45 cars lined up for the traditional LeMans start on Saturday there was very little confidence anywhere other than in the Porsche team. The Ferrari team had decided to go very steadily and hope to gain on fuel consumption, rather than try and fight the Porsches, the Matra team had little choice for they were nothing like fast enough and were also rather thirsty, the Alpine-Renault team could only hope to run their own race and see how they got on, and the Gulf Ford GT 40S had but one trump card, economy with reliability. Due to French politics the start was advanced to 2 p.m. on Saturday, the race to run until 2 p.m. on Sunday, whereas the traditional start is 4 p.m. The whole length of the Mulsanne straight had been lined with double-height guard rails, sensibly placed well back from the edge of the road, leaving a grass verge wide enough to accept a spinning car, and guard-rails had been erected at numerous other points on the circuit. The sandbank on the outside of the Mulsanne corner was gone and in its place a large area of tarmac on which cars could run in emergency; a corrugated concrete edge to the tarmac discouraged deliberate use of the run-off area. In view of the increased popularity of full seat-harness on many of the cars, drivers were to be allowed to stay in the cars during refuelling, instead of having to get up on the pit counter. Traditional things about the Le Mans race are gradually disappearing, for good or for bad, but two things that will surely stay for all time are the 24-hour duration and racing in the night behind blazing headlights.

By all normal reasoning the pattern of the race could be foreseen before the start, with fine warm weather but total cloud cover and a heavy grey haze over the whole area. At Le Mans there is little that is normal or reasonable and anyone of the 45 competitors could tell enough interesting stories to fill a book before the race starts. Entering, preparing, scrutineering, practice, race preparation, staff preparation, pit preparation, signalling, strategy, provision for emergencies, mechanical and personal, all take an enormous amount of time and energy and produce panics and headaches, so that the prospect of racing for 24 hours seems simple by comparison with all that goes before. The expected Porsche domination in the opening stages went according to plan, with Stommelen and Elford in 917 Porsches setting the pace.. What was not expected was a fatal accident to the third 917 which John Woolfe elected to start, in spite of minimal experience with such a fast car. On the opening lap he crashed at the exit of the Maison Blanche' ess-bend and was killed; the car broke in two and caught fire, and Amon, driving the first of the works Ferraris hit the blazing Porsche fuel tank, which set fire to the Ferrari. Amon baled out unhurt, but the wreckage and fire delayed a large proportion of the field so that the opening lap became a straggling affair and there was no question of anyone challenging the works Porsches, who had been ahead of the accident. Gardner (Ford GT 40) picked up some of the wreckage and ruined a tyre, and the Healey collected something through its radiator The whole tempo of the race was very deflated by the whole unhappy affair, and though the works Porsches set a cracking pace there was not a very enthusiastic atmosphere about the place.

Although the 917 Porsches were immensely fast they were consuming the petrol from their regulation size tanks very rapidly and they ran for only a few minutes over one hour before having to refuel. The Matras were equally thirsty, but nothing like as fast, whereas the 908 PorschesĀ ran for more than 1 hr. 15 min., and the Ford GT 40s ran for nearly 1.5hours. In a 24-hour race this sort of difference is very significant,. and the remaining works Ferrari driven by Rodriguez also lasted nearly 1.5 hours on a tankful of petrol. Recent races indicated that Porsche had regained their reliability and the race soon looked like being a Porsche benefit, but it was not to be and one by one they ran into trouble, with clutch defects and gearbox breakages. With a six-strong team at the start they always managed to keep one of the cars in the lead and for most of the time it was the 917 of Elford/Attwood, the lack of serious opposition allowing them to run lightly and not strain things too, much. The Siffert/Redman Spyder 908 was finally wheeled away with a broken gearbox just after four hours of racing; the Herrmannf. Larrousse 908 coupe lost a lot of time at the pits having a front hubassembly changed, parts being taken off the derelict Spyder car, and the 917 of Stommelen/Ahrens was beset by small problems and was losing. oil all the time. Altogether it was a very shaky Porsche team that was. just managing to keep the 917 of Elford/Attwood in the lead, and fortunately for them the opposition was not in a very healthy state. The lone Ferrari had spent a lot of time at the pits having a bent 5th gear selector in the gearbox rectified, and since the opening lap delay had never been in the picture. The leading Matra of Beltoise/Courage was running well, but not fast enough, though it moved up the leaderboard as Porsches fell by the wayside. By 9 p.m. it had reached second position, but then a long stop to rectify a fault in the rear lights wiring put it a long way back. The Matra of Servoz-Gavin/Muller had been in difficulties with the left-front suspension coming adrift, and repairs had been made but it was half-way down the field. The other two Matras were running all right, but not fast enough, while none of the Alpine Renault V8 cars were anywhere near the leaders, and anyway their engines were not proving reliable.

The Gulf Team Fords had appeared to be completely outclassed at the beginning of the race, but consistency, reliability and efficient pit work was paying off and as faster cars ran into trouble they gradually moved up the leader-board. By 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, with heavy mists everywhere but dry roads, the lone 917 Porsche was well in the lead and taking things comparatively easy four laps ahead of the 908 of Mitter/Schutz and five laps ahead of the 908 of Kauhsen/Lins; the Stommelen/Ahrens 917 Porsche had retired with transmission trouble.

The two blue and orange Ford GT 40 cars were fourth and fifth, but they were eight laps behind the leader so could hardly be considered a serious challenge. However, Le Mans is not known as the Grand Prix d'Endurance for nothing and reliability must go with speed. The Porsche position of first, second and third looked good on paper but not convincing in fact, for the leading car was too unproven to. believe that it would last 24 hours, and the sister cars of the two 908 Porsches had already been in trouble, so there was no feeling of overĀ­confidence. The lone Ferrari was not at all on form, trailing along. in ninth place, a long way behind the last of the works Porsches, which was the HerrmannjLarrousse car that had lost so much time having the front suspension changed. Having lost their number-one car on the opening lap the Ferrari team seemed to lose all their enthusiasm, and though the VI2 engine sounded its usual healthy self it was proving a great disappointment to Ferrari enthusiasts. Just before 5.30 a.m. the gearbox broke up completely and it was pushed sadly away having left little or no impression. Shortly before 4 a.m. Schutz had crashed badly at the end of the Mulsanne straight and the car had caught fire and was completely- burnt out. He escaped uninjured, but was very shaken up, and this left the German team with only two cars at the top of the list, for the Herrmann/Larrousse car was still a long way behind and not gaining very quickly on the two Fords and the Beltoise/Courage Matra ahead of it. For a long time the leading 917 Porsche had been trailing oil smoke and it was clear that Elford and Attwood were driving with very light feet and keeping their fingers crossed.

Just after ten o'clock on Sunday morning the 917 Porsche stopped at the pits with a failing clutch and signs of discontent in its gearbox. It had six laps lead over the 908 of Kauhsen/Lins and 10 over the Ford of Ickx/Oliver, and though it rejoined the race and cruised round slowly its days were numbered. The second-place Porsche was all set to take command as the 917 fell back, when with very little warning Kauhsen made a non-scheduled pit stop to have the gearbox looked at. He made a hesitant get-away and nasty noises came from the gearbox as he left the pits and that was the end, for he only covered another half a lap. The Ford of Ickx/Oliver was now heading for the lead as the 917 was very sick and even if it could keep going it could not go to fast enough to ward off the healthy GT 40. Porsche's only hope now was the Herrmann/Larrousse 908, which had slowly been recovering from its 29 minutes lost at the pits the previous evening. At 11a.m. the 917 Porsche staggered into the pits and that was the end, the gearbox had finally succumbed and the car was wheeled away. On distance covered it was still well in the lead, and at the 21st hour it was still four laps ahead of the Ickx/Oliver Ford GT40, even though its race was run, The last of the works Porsches was gaining slowly but surely on the Ford, but not quick enough to be a certain winner, and though it was on the same lap at midday, with two hours to run, the Porsche team had to beat Ickx, and had only Herrmann and Larrousse to do it. The Gulf Team wisely kept Ickx in the car and for more than two hours he drove the sort of race one expects to see at the start of a Le Mans event, not at the end. At 12.34 p.m. he made his last stop for petrol, the Gulf mechanics getting the car serviced in double-quick time, but not before Larrousse had gone by into the lead. At 12.42 p.m. the Porsche had to stop for petrol and the Porsche mechanics worked equally fast, for suddenly the whole outcome of the 1969 Le Mans race was in the hands of the mechanics. Herrmann set off in the Porsche and as he accelerated up the pit lane Ickx went by in the Ford. There was one-and-a-quarter hours left to run and it seemed that Porsche must win, for the remaining 908 was very healthy and faster than the Ford, but Ickx was driving brilliantly and the Ford was equally healthy. Relentlessly the Porsche wore down the gap and soon after 1.30 p.m., with less than 30 minutes go, Herrmann took the lead, but Ickx was not impressed and next time round he was back infront. The last few minutes of the race were unbelievable for Ickx was making up on corners and braking what the Ford lacked on speed, and the two cars passed and re-passed in the sort of wheel-to-wheel racing we would like to see in Formula One events. Using the slipstream of the Porsche down the long straight, Ickx kept up and then out-cornered the Porsche on the very fast right-hand bend leading to Mulsanne. As the clock ticked away the last minutes to 2 p.m. it was still anybody's race and normally at Le Mans the winning car is cruising round at the end, with the driver deliberately wasting time to try and approach the finishing line exactly on the hour. There was no cruising this time, both cars were fiat out, and a few seconds before 2 p.m. the two cars started their final lap. They passed and re-passed four or five times during that final lap and Ickx took the lead round the fast bend to Mulsanne. The excitement in the pit area was such that the organisers lost complete control and as the Ford led the Porsche across the line by about 100 yards the whole ending of the race went to pieces. The crowds invaded the track in spite of hundreds of gendarmes and the traditional parade of the cars, drivers and pit crews did not take place. It was a long time before Ickx and Oliver could be got together to receive the acclamation of the crowds, and a sad and unhappy Herrmann never did appear. He had been out-driven by the young Belgian and made no excuses, but it was a bitter blow to Porsche, who wanted to win Le Mans above all else. The Gulf Team found the whole thing unbelievable, having started with a feeling of hopelessness and settled for being outclassed. The traditional end-of-race ceremonies went by the board and the 1969 Le Mans 24-hour race ended in chaos and confusion.

Le Mans Afterthoughts

At the traditional Le Mans start Ickx let everyone else run to their cars while he walked across to the Ford, and then made a very leisurely start. It nearly cost him the race. It also meant that he got very boxed in at the traffic jam behind the first-lap accident.

After the farce of the attempted dead-heat by the Fords in 1966, when the starting position determined the outcome, the rules now say that it is assumed that all cars start from the same point, so that at the end the one in front on the road is the winner.

For their first big onslaught on Le Mans Matra did remarkably well, three out of the four cars finishing. They were fourth, fifth and seventh, and the single retirement was caused by an electrical failure to the car of Servoz-Gavin/Muller. The VI2 Matra engines gave no bother at all, and they only had trouble with a fuel pump on the Widdows/Galli car, and brake discs on the Beltoise/Courage car, apart from the wiring fault. Courage had a slight collision with a 911 Porsche in the night, which damaged the left-hand headlamp and lost them time. Matra pit could be improved.

The Ford GT 40 of the Deutsches Auto Zeitung team, driven by KellenersjJost, was not as fast as the Gulf Team Ford, but it was just as reliable. The winning Gulf car was the same one that won last year, when it was driven by Bianchi/Rodriguez.

The little I,005-c.c. Alpine-Renault of Serpaggi-Ethuin won the Index of Performance handicap, but the overall winning Ford GT 40 won the Index of Energy handicap, in which average speed, distance covered, the car weight and the fuel consumption are put into a Formula to find the winner. The performance of the GT 40 in winning this was almost as meritorious as its overall win.

The Gardner/Guthrie Ford GT 40 was withdrawn, as long delays at the pits to change the radiator and two drive-shaft universal rubber "doughnuts" had put it too far behind to qualify at the distance check at 8 p.m. on Saturday. The Sadler/Vestey GT40 went out with a defective alternator.

The old Ferrari LM of Zeccoli/Posey ran like a train, finishing eighth overall and staying remarkably clean throughout the 24 hours. The Filipinetti Lola-Chevrolet V8 retired with the usual Lola trouble; that of having a Chevrolet engine.


The new 917s shattered tbe previous year's lap record with Elford leaving it at 3'27"2, a speed of 234.017 km/h. lckx and Oliver covered almost 5000 kms at an average speed of 208, 250 km/h, some 545, 120 kms more than the same car in 1968, serving new records in the process. Stommelen's 3'22"9 in practice represented a speed of 238, 97 km/h.

























Sports Car Races

Targa Florio 1963

Sebring 1966

Stardust GP 1968

Le Mans 1930

Le Mans 1949

Le Mans 1950

Le Mans 1951

Le Mans 1952

Le Mans 1953

Le Mans 1954

Le Mans 1955

Le Mans 1956

Le Mans 1957

Le Mans 1958

Le Mans 1959

Le Mans 1960

Le Mans 1961

Le Mans 1962

Le Mans 1963

Le Mans 1964

Le Mans 1967

Le Mans 1968

Le Mans 1969