An American constructor has never won the prestigious 24 hours Le Mans race, let alone Ford until the year 1966. The Italian racing team were the winners for six consecutive races at the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe. They were the team to beat. Henry Ford felt insulted by Enzo Ferrari who called the former’s cars ugly and small. This was the start of the historic rivalry between Ford and Ferrari.
It was Ford’s third attempt in 1966 when the GT40 won the race ahead of the Scuderia Ferrari. The historic win settled the score for Henry Ford who felt insulted by remarks made by Enzo Ferrari during a buyout. The American automaker went on to win the renowned 24 hours race for four consecutive years in 1966, 67, 68 and 69. The Ford vs Ferrari movie is about the lead up to the victorious 1966 Le Mans race and portrays the stories of the famous car designer Caroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles.
World Sportscar Championship (WSC):
Currently named as the World Endurance Championship (WEC), the WSC was the pinnacle of sports car racing on the motor racing calendar. The endurance race calendar consisted of famous circuits such as Sebring, Monza, Daytona, Nuerburgring, Spa, Mugello and Hockenheim. But the legendary 24 hours race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans has garnered attraction from motor racing enthusiasts considering its history and its ability to test the drivers and cars under immense pressure.
The Italian dominance at Le Mans:
Ford did not have a racing car to compete with the mighty Ferrari’s. Henry Ford II wanted to have a car that can win at the historic 24 hours of Le Mans. And the best idea was to buy a winning race team and what’s better than Scuderia Ferrari. The Italian team had won six times consecutively from 1960 to 1965.
“These two guys were larger than life,” says A.J. Baime, author of Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans. “Here you have arguably the most famous and powerful CEO in America, Henry Ford II, up against Enzo Ferrari—the most narcissistic man to walk the earth, but deservedly so, because he was a genius. You couldn’t write it better.”
Ford vs Ferrari: Where the Historic Rivalry all started?
In 1963, news broke out that Ferrari was bankrupt and was interested in selling his company to Ford. Henry Ford ll approached Enzo Ferrari for a possible buyout and this deal included a full control of the Ferrari Racing activities. Also, the deal included terms that Ferrari would not would be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500. This would allow Ford to win without any competition from Ferrari. This irked the passionate Enzo Ferrari and this idea annoyed him to the extent that he put off the deal.
”Ford makes ugly little cars in ugly factories” said Enzo Ferrari to the Ford representatives.
Henry Ford hired a few engineers to build its own race car as he wanted to win against the mighty Ferrari’s at Le Mans. It was based on the Lola Mk6 platform (Lola GT). The Ford GT40’s first attempt was at the 1964 Nurburgring 1000 kms race and went on to record some dismal results along the season. This prompted Ford to handover the reigns of his team to Caroll Shelby, the famous car designer and former Le Mans winner to come up with a reliable and high performance version of the GT40.
1965 WSC Season:
The factory Ford GT Racing Program was now headed by Caroll Shelby. Shelby had earlier worked with Ken Miles during the development of the Shelby Cobra in the early 60s. This reason prompted him to hire Ken as one of their drivers along with Lloyd Ruby. Miles/Ruby won their first race at the Daytona 2000 in 1965. Bruce Mclaren/Chris Amon won the next race at the Sebring 12-hour race in the Ford.
1966 WSC Season:
The Ford GT40 (Mkll) dominated the 1966 season with consecutive victories. The Mk ll’s occupied all the three positions in the podium at the Daytona 24 hour race. In the next race at Sebring, the GT40’s finished again in the top three positions. This happened again at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where athe GT40’s secured another top three podium result.
1966 Le Mans:
The Le Mans victory was not straight-forward as Ken Miles of Ford and Lorenzo Bandini of Ferrari battled for the lead several times. The ferrari engine blew up leaving the Ford GT cars in the top three positions.
But the Le Mans victory was questionable due to the orchestrated finish. Ken Miles lead the final stint when Ford officials made a manipulation. They wanted to have a photo finish of all the three Ford cars crossing the line together. Shelby ordered Miles to slow down. Miles set faster laps one after the other but finally yielded to the team’s decision. As a result, the Ford of Mclaren/Amon was declared as the winner of the race due to their starting position of Mclaren/Amon which was 18m behind the Ford of Miles/Hulme.
Success of Ford:
Ford also won the following years’ Le Mans in 1967, 68′, 69′ and this resulted in four consecutive Le Mans victories. Also, Ford won the World Sportscar Championships during the four years. In conclusion, the victories served as a perfect revenge for Ford against the Italian team.