- Photo from Amalgam models. All others credited in captions.

Let's Remember The Last Time Ferrari Won It All At Le Mans

In celebratory anticipation of their return to the top class of endurance racing, let's look back to 1965.

7w ago
14.2K

Andrew Frankel, writing for the Goodwood website, called it the weirdest Le Mans race ever held. The 33rd Grand Prix of Endurance was the second year Ford and Ferrari fought in anger, with both factories pulling out all the stops to prove who truly is the king of La Sarthe.

One of those efforts fell apart in tatters. The other was lucky it even had a car that could win.

It's a story full of heartbreak and weird moves, but it's a story that has now become relevant thanks to a shock development in the current landscape of racing.

WARNING: Photo (from Motor Authority) not representative of anything Ferrari will actually enter.

WARNING: Photo (from Motor Authority) not representative of anything Ferrari will actually enter.

See, Ferrari is heading back to Le Mans, aiming to field a machine in the WEC LM-Hypercar category by 2023. That's still two years away, but the announcement has already set the racing world alight. The last time they competed in a top-level prototype class at the Circuit des 24 Heures was in 1973, fighting Porsche and a burgeoning Matra team in a closely-contested race. Their last win, however, was eight years further than that.

Photo from Collector Studio, showing a poster from Andre Delourmel

Photo from Collector Studio, showing a poster from Andre Delourmel

In France, a war continues. Ford's debut in 1964 didn't end too well, with their two GT40 entries failing after six and fourteen hours, respectively, allowing the 275P and the new 330P to take all three steps on the podium and leaving Carrol Shelby's Windsor-powered Daytona Cobra to settle for fourth.

Photo from Motor Sport Magazine, upscaled using Waifu2X.

Photo from Motor Sport Magazine, upscaled using Waifu2X.

A year later, Ford have fielded an 11-car cavalry to meet Ferrari's own horses in a show of force that was supposed to represent Henry II's fully-armed attack on Enzo and his hubris. Both factories are on a mission: Ferrari to defend, and Ford to attack.

Photo from HomemadeTools.net

Photo from HomemadeTools.net

Part of the practice session got rained out and was marked by tragedy: Lloyd Casner was thrown out of his Maserati Tipo 151 as it rolled during testing and died shortly after in hospital. But as the smoke cleared, it was Phil Hill and his 7-litre GT40 that ruled the roost, setting a blistering 3:33 lap. John Surtees, in the 330 P2, was two seconds behind. Bob Bondurant and Ken Miles follow, and the stage was soon set.

And straight away, the race had already gone to a weird start.

As retold by John Ficarra on VINwiki (with corroboration from an archived race report on Motor Sport Magazine), the first car out the door was Jo Siffert's Maserati 151, but it couldn't have lasted too long in the face of the sheer might of the Fords and the consistency of the Ferraris, and eventually retired after crashing on the fourth lap.

Photo from Robb Report.

Photo from Robb Report.

From the beginning, the GT40s displayed prodigious power and was soon pushing the pace, with McLaren (Ford-1) and Amon (Ford-2) widening the gap between them and the Ferraris. But the GT40 thirsted for fuel, and was pitting more times than their Italian counterparts. Soon, Ford's campaign began to crumble, with cars retiring one by one over time. Between the unfit Goodyear tyres, blown head gaskets and gearbox failures, Ford were falling away, leaving four prancing horses an open berth to run away with it.

Seven hours later, no GT40s remained. Bloody shame, really, considering Wide World of Sports were airing the first hour of the race to US audiences and had Phil Hill on the broadcast (though weirdly, it cut out when he was talking).

Ferrari's woes came in later in the race, partly down to subpar ventilated disc brakes, a first at the time. There came a point where the team had to scour the carpark for solid discs, but repairs on the 330 prototypes only costed time in the pits that let the Daytona Cobras claw back into contention. Meanwhile, the older-generation 250LM cars ran much more steadily, and so Ecurie Francorchamps (ENB) and the North American Racing Team (NART) found themselves getting more attention from the mothership as the race wore on.

Photo from Ferrari Ecurie Francorchamps on Facebook. Shown above is Pierre Dumay's car, which finished in second.

Photo from Ferrari Ecurie Francorchamps on Facebook. Shown above is Pierre Dumay's car, which finished in second.

The yellow ENB car had a two-lap lead over the NART car, which had Masten Gregory and F1 driver Jochen Rindt bearing them down at immense speed. The NART squad was motivated by the desire to not get too bored with driving the car, so they had every reason to go hard, even in the face of pleas from the main Ferrari team to back off.

At one point, Rindt nearly left the race, but couldn't get out fast enough to be roped back in. In response, he closed the gap with a charge that worried both team management and Dunlop, who wanted ENB to win because they'll be damned if the American tyre won this race for an American team (that seems prescient). Ferrari, for their part, only cared for the overall win, regardless of who took it -- they've already shown Ford the door at this point and the Cobras were no-hopers.

The problem was that the 330 runners were still haunted by brake issues, which has spilled over to the suspension. This meant that the drivers were advised to use engine braking, which took a toll on the cars' gearboxes. Surtees' 330 P2 (Ferrari-19) gave up after 18 hours; Ferrari-20, composed of Mike Markes and Jean Guichet, died with an hour left, 33 laps behind the winner. Leaving Ferrari with two B-tier privateer entries, the factory banner was soon moved to the 250LM runners to at least legitimize them, and banked on Ecurie and NART to bring it home.

As the sun rose, the NART-21 car was making a break for itself when Gregory pitted because he's tired and his thick glasses had fogged up. Unable to find Rindt anywhere, they enlisted reserve driver Ed Hugus, a Le Mans veteran and Shelby dealer, to cover the stint. He was good, very good, and did just enough to hand over the reins back to Rindt for the next push.

Photo from Chromjuwelen.com

Photo from Chromjuwelen.com

That setup should have disqualified the NART team. But both Hugus and the team played it on the down-low and somehow got away with having three drivers doing stints -- remember, Hugus wasn't in the official entry list, and so his stint wasn't recorded in any way. No one knew about this until Hugus himself told János Wimpffen, writer of Time and Two Seats, and even today the story is disputed and scrutinised.

There's no denying, however, that the relief drive worked enough wonders to allow Rindt to continue his relentless push en route to a win for the NART squad and Ferrari. For the Scuderia, it is their sixth straight win, proving who truly is the king of Le Mans, even if the car that took the honour can be equated to an LMP2 car winning overall today. For Luigi Chinetti and NART, who resisted placations from Ferrari in exchange for reining in Rindt, the victory is their greatest achievement as an organisation.

Little did they know that it'd be the last time Ferrari will be seen as titans of endurance sports car racing. Ford slayed the beast a year later, and ruled for three more years until Porsche turned winning Le Mans from a vendetta into a business. But it wasn't like Ferrari completely abandoned Le Mans altogether.

Between 1967 and 1973, Ferrari was still chasing glory and fighting hard against Porsche and Matra in an era that saw incredible machinery from all three brands. Ferrari wouldn't find success at Le Mans, but they were still competitive enough elsewhere, including the Targa Florio, arguably the harder and more dangerous event.

And then there's the Ferrari 333SP, which isn't too much of a factory effort but was still good enough to win the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1995. While one of the casualties of the GT1 boom in the late '90s, its engine impressed Tony Southgate, and was a darling both in the US and Europe.

Artwork from Daniele Pelligra.

Artwork from Daniele Pelligra.

Thanks to their recent announcement, it's fun to do some conjecture. Ferrari's XX Programme seems like a good place to start scouring data, and (to me, at least) the FXX-K is a fairly solid base upon which a new racer can be built. Given LM-Hypercar's low horsepower requiirements, however, a V12 is too much of a gas-guzzler. The F1 power unit has better fuel economy and is a fresh known quantity to part of the F1 team that will surely be sent off to make the hypercar, but is too complicated and doesn't have much cachet.

Fortunately, they do have a V8 plug-in hybrid in the SF90 Stradale, which should fit...mostly. They will probably have to detune the 4-litre V8 combustion engine immensely, but otherwise it seems like the best possible off-the-shelf unit to use, unless Ferrari create a new powertrain from scratch.

At first glance, it's hard to imagine that Ferrari were once revered as gods of sports car racing before becoming the nigh-unassailable authoritarian monster it has become in F1. It comes with age, and a real drubbing from Ford that ensured Ferrari will never win again. But Ferrari still has more Le Mans wins overall, and now they have a renewed shot at greatness two years from now, against an eager field of teams from underdog James Glickenhaus to incumbent champions Toyota, and even easy-going spec-runners from Audi and Porsche.

Photo from Sutton Images c/o ROSSOautomobili.

Photo from Sutton Images c/o ROSSOautomobili.

The only thing we can do now, then, is to wait and see.

Additional information from SnapLap and Petrolicious.

Join In

Comments (7)

  • They built good looking racecars in 1965.

      1 month ago
  • The 250LM, one of the most beautiful cars of all-time. Gunnar Jeannette was racing one at the Monterey Laguna Seca historics the other year. Such a glorious sound, too.

      1 month ago
  • Well, Ford should get out there and again show who the boss is. It is overdue for Ford to field another challenger in LeMans. 5 years is a long time.

      1 month ago
    • Eh, won't rush it yet. Ferrari should look like the big cheese again first so that Ford can cut it down to size. And even then, the vendetta narrative doesn't have the impact it used to.

        1 month ago
    • Not saying anything about rivalries, just saying that Ford should again prepare for the new hypercar class in LeMans and go back and win.

        1 month ago
  • Oh snap!! So happy that LMDh/Hypercar won't be dead from the few like Aston who pulled out. So we have what, Toyota, Glickenhaus, Peugeot, Audi, and Ferrari all confirmed? Did Porsche possibly mention it? This is shaping up to be a good top level series!

      1 month ago
    • Porsche is going LMDh, which is basically a souped-up DPi. Same with Audi and Acura but the latter is only contesting in IMSA for now.

        1 month ago
7