I set aside this weekend almost every year. I first started racing bikes when I was about 13 years old. When I first started driving racecars, it was to fulfill a dream I started when I was 10 years old standing along the back strait at Watkins Glen watching F1 cars go by at near 200mph. When Speedvision started up, which became Speed Channel which became Fox Sports 1, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was live for the first time. I was hooked.
I planned it out, to be available to sit on my sofa and watch this race most summers. The only pre-empting that took place usually was when I was racing myself. Even then, the track would make announcements of the race over the PA system. “Hourly update from Circuit de la Sarthe as follows …”
There are many racing legends from this race. Weather has beat the race into submission some years. Some finishes have been as close as seconds, after 24 hours. One year it is still unconfirmed officially and likely never will, had a movie star racing under an assumed name and uniform since Lloyds of London would not permit him to race.
That same year, cars carrying cameras filming the movie Le Mans were running in the top 10 and had to make a decision to drop the cameras and try to win the race, or keep filming the movie. They kept filming.
One year, 1980, a man piloted his own car, designed and built by him, to a win. Jean Rondeau. Not just winning the hardest race in the world to win, they held off Porsche and two of the most successful endurance drivers in the sport. Oh, the second Rondeau car finished 3rd.
This is a special year for Le Mans and Ford. It was 50 years ago that Henry Ford Jr fulfilled his mandate to win the “Twice Around the Clock Classic”. This came after Ford’s attempt to buy the bankrupt Ferrari car company which turned out to be a ruse by Ferrari to get Italian Fiat to buy them. It worked.
Ford as a result mandated they would beat Ferrari and Le Mans where they were undefeated. Ford tried in 64, failed miserably. In 65 Carroll Shelby took over the program and things got better, but no win. In preparation for 1966, Henry Ford Jr sent a memo to every manager of every Ford subsidiary in the world, “Ford will win Le Mans in 1966 and you will do anything needed to help”. In other words, if you don’t, you will be fired.
Ford finished 1,2,3. The top finishing Ferrari was 8th, 50 laps down. The best part of the story to me is that the lead Ford was supposed to “rabbit” meaning run faster than logical to push the Ferraris to chase him and break in the effort. The Ford drivers knew they too would likely break. They didn’t. The factory Ferraris all did. The top finishing Ferrari was a private entry.
Ford was 1st and 4th in 1967.
Ford was 1st in 1968
Ford was 1st, 3rd and 6th in 1969
Ferrari never won again…
Ford returns this year with a purpose designed Ford GT for Le Mans. This time it is in the GT category for street based cars. They likely wont win the over all, but can win the GT class. They have entered 4 cars. The design of these cars didn’t exist 2 years ago. No car existed one year ago.
I’m a big fan of Davids and Ford is hardly a David. But I will be pulling for Ford and Sebastien Bourdais. [we had a lively discussion once at the Denver Grand Prix]