The time Ford beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, was one of the most iconic endurance races in the world. This victory marked a significant moment in automotive history because of the pre-race rivalry between the Italian manufacturer Ferrari and the American manufacturer Ford.
What Year Did Ford Beat Ferrari in Le Mans? Ford beat Ferrari in Le Mans in 1966 with the iconic GT40 racing car. For the next 3 years, 1967-1969, the American manufacturer won this endurance race of 24 hours. Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon were the victorious drivers for the Ford racing team.
This article will cover details about the background of this racing rivalry, racing day incidents, the impact of this race on the future development of racing cars by American manufacturers, and its importance in popular culture.
The background of Ford and Ferrari Rivalry
The intense rivalry between Ford and Ferrari dates back to 1963, when a deal did not materialize between the owners of the two companies. Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the Italian racing team Scuderia Ferrari, dominated the Le Mans circuit for years.
On the other hand, Ford planned to establish itself as a new player in motorsports. The mutual ambition and a desire for supremacy on the racetrack fueled the rivalry.
The rejection of the deal intensified the determination of Henry Ford II to defeat Ferrari at its own game, particularly at Le Mans.
Victory years of Ford vs Ferrari
Ford gained victory over Ferrari for 4 consecutive years, proving its worth as the major player in the world of racing cars. The first time was in 1966 when the Ford GT40 Mark II became the first American car in motorsports history to win a race against a competitor like Ferrari.
Next year, it became victorious at Le Mans with a newly designed Ford Mark IV car. In 1968, it once again defeated Ferrari at this endurance racing event. In 1969, Ford GT40 Mark 1 was victorious on the track for consecutive years.
After that, Ford did not participate in the Le Mans racing event because of several rule changes by the committee to reduce risks for drivers.
Specifications of Ford racing cars used in Le Mans
The Ford GT40 Mark II was the car used by the racing team of the American automobile manufacturer at Le Mans in 1966.
The manufacturer engineered this sleek and powerful machine to compete with Ferrari’s dominant 330 P3 vehicle, having a 410 hp engine. The GT40 featured a lightweight chassis, advanced aerodynamics, and a formidable 7.0-liter V8 engine that delivered exceptional performance on the track.
It has a top speed of about 125 miles per hour, a torque rating of 350 lb-ft, and 485 bhp. These specifications showcased the company’s ability to produce a world-class racing car capable of challenging the best in the business, Ferrari.
In 1966, it was Mark IV with a 7.0-liter V8, while in 1968-1969, the GT40 Mark I with a 4.9-liter V8 engine was victorious in Le Mans.
The drivers responsible for the victory of Ford
Behind the wheel of the GT40 were some of the finest drivers of the era. Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon, Ken Miles, and Denis Hulme formed a formidable lineup that demonstrated skill, precision, and unwavering determination during the grueling 24-hour race.
Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon were a team, while Ken Miles and Denis Hulme were in 2nd team in the race by Ford. The 3rd team that also finished the race along with these two was Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson.
Ken Miles, in particular, played a crucial role in the success of Ford at Le Mans. His exceptional driving skills and mechanical intuition were pivotal in fine-tuning the GT40 for maximum performance. Carroll Shelby of Shelby American Inc. was the Director of the program to develop and test these racing cars.
Finishing line incident of Le Mans 1966
The 1966 Le Mans race is memorable in history not only for Ford’s victory but also for the controversial finish. Ford had planned a photo finish with all three GT40s crossing the line simultaneously, but the execution didn’t go as smoothly as planned.
As the checkered flag dropped, the GT40, driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme, was leading the pack. However, their officials asked them to slow down so that the other two teams could catch up to finish simultaneously.
According to Le Mans rules, the car covering extra distance due to its starting position will be victorious in case of a tie. The McLaren-Amon car was declared the winner, with Ken Miles and Denis Hulme taking the second spot.
This incident, while creating a moment of drama, did not diminish the significance of Ford’s triumph.
Impact of Ford’s victory on future racing of American vehicles
Ford’s victory at Le Mans had far-reaching consequences for the American automotive industry. The win confirmed that European manufacturers, especially Ferrari, were unbeatable in endurance racing.
It showcased the capabilities of American engineering and innovation on a global stage. The success at Le Mans also helped to build their reputation as a performance-oriented brand, influencing the company’s future endeavors in both racing and road cars.
The lessons learned from the GT40 program paved the way for developing high-performance vehicles competing at other racing programs.
Ford victory against Ferrari at Le Mans in popular culture
The historic win at Le Mans in 1966 has been widely discussed in popular culture. James Mangold directed and brought the story of Ford’s development of GT40 for the Le Mans to the big screen in the 2019 film Ford v Ferrari.
It showed Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles; the movie captured the intensity of the rivalry and the solid determination of the Ford team.
The film resonated with automotive enthusiasts and introduced this captivating chapter of motorsport history to a broader audience with an IMDb rating of 8.1/10 from about half a million viewers.