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New Book Examines Henry II vs. Enzo At Le Mans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 14 2016
Pedro Rodriguez bursts into the lead in his Ferrari 275 P at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964. Five minutes from now, Richie Ginther, on the far left in No. 11, will be in the lead.

Pedro Rodriguez bursts into the lead in his Ferrari 275 P at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964. Five minutes later, Richie Ginther, on the far left in the No. 11 Ford, would be in the lead. (Photo by Dave Friedman)

Victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans gave team-owner Chip Ganassi a taste of the nationalism permeating the world’s premier sports car endurance race, and it had nothing to do with the bouillabaisse served in Ford hospitality.

Le Mans logoFord Chip Ganassi Racing reprised a wonderful chapter of American motor racing history by taking the new Ford GT to victory in the GTE Pro Class during the 84th edition of the twice-around-the-clock classic on June 18-19. The class victory shared by Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais punctuated Ford Motor Company’s return to Le Mans 50 years to-the-day after its first overall win at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

“It was just a great, great experience to go over there and represent the U.S. and represent IMSA, and obviously Ford,” Ganassi said during a recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend interview.  “They had a lot of visibility over there and you don’t realize that a lot of these companies are worldwide companies.” 

For Ganassi _whose NASCAR, Indy car and sports car teams have won every major motorsports event in North America _ this truly was a wave-the-flag podium moment.  

“When we come to a Cup race here we have Chevy, Ford and Toyota and that’s pretty good,” Ganassi said. ”When you come to an Indy car race they have Chevy and Honda.  When you go to an IMSA race they have four or five manufacturers.  I tell you, when you go to Le Mans you have about 17 manufacturers.  Everybody that’s in the automotive racing world is represented there, and a lot of these people make a huge effort in that event in the different categories.

“It starts to dawn on you a little bit and even on the off-day there, which was Friday, no one on-track, they had well over 100,000 people there just milling about.  The fans, they’re so engaged.  I didn’t realize what I was up for when they said, ‘Are you ready to race at Le Mans?  Are you ready to take this on?’  I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’  I didn’t realize what a big thing that was.  It’s a big thing, to be quite honest. 

“Arguably, if you take the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, Monaco (Formula One Grand Prix) and Le Mans _ those four races are probably what I would consider to be the soul of motorsports.  Those

The engine bay of the Ford GT is exposed in the pit lane during practice at Le Mans.

The engine bay of the Ford GT40 is exposed in the pit lane during practice at Le Mans. (Photo by Dave Friedman)

are the four races that on a worldwide basis are the roots of everything that we’re about in motorsports.”

The symbolism surrounding Ford’s victory on Father’s Day could not have been more striking, as Edsel Ford II reprised the experience of his father, Henry Ford II _ architect of the factory-backed program that locked horns with Enzo Ferrari’s empire in the mid-1960s. Despite pre-race balance of power adjustments (BoP) designed to bring the Ford GT and Ferrari 488 GTE back to the pack speed-wise, Hand, Muller and Bourdais finished 1 minute, 0.2-seconds in front of the Risi Competizione Ferrari shared by Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Malucelli.

“I feel like we did what we came here to do,” said Raj Nair, vice president, product development, and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Co. “We did it for our employees and our families and everybody who loves Ford. I hope they’re proud of us.”

Among the curious American journalists roaming the grounds at Le Mans last month was Preston Lerner, author of Ford GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans. Released last fall, the coffee table book details Henry Ford II’s determination to personally stick-it-to Enzo Ferrari after a proposed corporate marriage between the two automakers failed to materialize all those years ago.

“If that’s the way he (Ferrari) wants it, we’ll go out and whip his ass,” said “Hank the Deuce,” quite famously.

Lerner was a pre-teen when Ford launched its original Le Mans program. “I don’t remember it (Le Mans 1966) happening,” said Lerner, a former colleague of this writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  “But I was already fascinated by racing by 1966. My parents still remember me forcing them to take me to see Grand Prix in 1967.

“I started reading racing books around 1968, and I still own the ones I got that year _ Jim Clark at the Wheel (a pretty good as-told-to memoir); Daredevils of the Speedway (a hoary Indy 500 history) and Ford: The Dust and the Glory (spectacular).Also, I borrowed a copy of Phil Hill:

Ford GTs took Le Mans by storm last month. (Ford photo by Drew Gibson)

Ford GTs took Le Mans by storm last month.
(Ford photo by Drew Gibson)

Yankee Champion from a friend and ‘forgot’ to return it. (I still have that one, too.) In those days, as I’m sure you remember, there was no racing on TV except for Indy and occasional stuff on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. So it was books and magazines that got me hooked on racing.

“I started getting AutoWeek when Mario Andretti won the South African Grand Prix in 1971. To be honest, I was more interested in Indy car and F1 and Can-Am racing. Like anybody who’s a racing fan, I knew what had happened at Le Mans but it wasn’t something I was especially interested in growing up or as I got older.”

A regular contributor to Automobile magazine, Lerner previously co-authored a pair of books _ Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman and History’s Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths and Rumors Revealed with Matt Stone for Motorbooks.

“This project was the publisher’s idea (Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA, Inc.),” Lerner said. “Zack Miller (Acquisitions Editor) came up with the idea…he figured Ford would do it up for the 50th anniversary at Le Mans. At the time, no one knew they were doing the new (GT) thing. He also got in touch with Dave Friedman, who has rights to all the photos; Friedman providing the photos was one of the appealing things about the project. I came on board, did my due diligence. The story was already really well-covered in two excellent books _ Leo Levine’s Ford: The Dust and the Glory; a Racing History (1968) and Karl Ludvigsen’s The Inside Story of the Fastest Fords: The Design and Development of the Ford GT Racing Cars (1971).

“I thought there was an opportunity to do a little fresh reporting and give a perspective 50 years later on the enormity of what Ford accomplished. No American manufacturer has done it again and I don’t think any American car company would be willing to throw the resources at it again. I thought this could be a cool project. It ended up being a little more complicated than I thought but it was a pretty finite subject because I made the decision to focus on the Ford program at Le Mans.”

Recall that Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon co-drove the winning black No. 2 Ford GT and its thundering, 7.0-liter V8 to a controversial “staged finish” in 1966 over Shelby American teammates Ken Miles and Denny Hulme. “I was at Le Mans doing this feature story on the restoration of the 1966-winning No. 2 car,” Lerner said. “The car looked pretty spectacular. It ran like two parade laps. Ford kept the ’67 winner but incredibly the ’66 car was tested and raced again and went through a bunch of patchwork stuff over the years.”

In the background, Du Mans 2016 roared on. Lerner acknowledged this year’s BoP rules changes left “a little bit of a bad taste” in the camps of the rival Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, Porsche RSR and Aston Martin paddocks.

“The (Ford GT) cars were solid but not especially fast,” Lerner said. “Ganassi running four of them was definitely an advantage.  But more power to ‘em. Makes for a better story. I wasn’t invested

The Ford GTs, many believe, benefited from BoP changes at Le Mans this year.

The Ford GTs, many believe, benefited from BoP changes at Le Mans this year.

personally as a fan because in 1966-67 they won overall. I think it’s been good for Corvette and Viper to get all those class wins, but when you talk about winning Le Mans you talk about winning overall.

“But even if Ford got some home cooking (last month) from the ACO (Automobile Club d’Ouest), beating Porsche, Ferrari and GM the first time out at Le Mans was an impressive feat. My point is that what Ford accomplished 50 years ago was an order of magnitude more memorable. Not necessarily because they beat Ferrari to win overall. I guess you could make the case that racing was so much less competitive, or at least less expensive, back then.”

To that point, Lerner said internal Ford memos he reviewed in the files of collector Mike Teske indicate the company spent $25-million to win Le Mans from 1964-67. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was twice that much,” Lerner said. “I don’t think anybody really knows but by the standards of the day they (the costs) were ginormous. And the resources Ford had were spectacular. It was a pretty serious project.

“We have to remember that Ford was a company with no modern racing heritage. It was starting from ground zero. Yes, it farmed-out construction and some of the design to the Brits. But in so doing, Ford established the template that the OEMs use to this day when they go racing _ in-house funding and R&D coupled with a professional race team, whether it’s Shelby American or Chip Ganassi Racing.

“And let’s not forget that the Mark IV that won in 1967 was an entirely all-American effort. The car was designed, built and developed in the States. It was run by Carroll Shelby and driven by A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney. The car was so good that it compelled the CSI to change the rules

At Le Mans in 1964, Ford planned to run three cars for the first time—the two cars tested there in April and a new one completed just in time for the race. (Mike Teske Archives/Ford Motor Company)

At Le Mans in 1964, Ford planned to run three cars for the first time—the two cars tested there in April and a new one completed just in time for the race. (Mike Teske Archives/Ford Motor Company)

governing sports car racing. Ironically, a theoretically obsolete small-block GT40 would go on to win the race in ’68 and ’69 (with privateer teams), but that’s only because nobody built a 3.0-liter engine for endurance racing.”

Lerner said the book project took approximately nine months, in-between the freelance assignments that help defray his mortgage in Los Angeles. “The text is 50,000 words and each chapter reads like a long magazine feature,” Lerner said. “Every chapter feels like a self-contained article.”

All quotes are attributed, with Friedman _Shelby American’s official photographer during the 1960s _ having conducted a series of interviews years ago when Lerner noted “memories were much fresher.”

“Of the guys I talked to, Roy Lunn (the original program’s chief engineer) was eager to chat because he really hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves,” Lerner said. “Most of the drivers were cooperative, with the exception of A.J. Foyt, who refused to talk on the subject (that 1967 victory). He’s got some bug in the ass about the Ford program…maybe it ended badly for him.

“I did talk to Dan Gurney and he’s a great guy. To me, ’67 was the more important race because it was the capstone of the program and really a race between Ford and Ferrari. A lot of people say Dan didn’t go all-out because he didn’t want to embarrass Foyt. Dan denies that, but I wonder if Foyt feels like he gets a backhanded compliment.

“My favorite person to talk to was Chris Amon, a sweetheart of a guy who had good stuff to say.”

Lerner also enjoyed a friendship with Shelby, the native Texan who wore a pair of bib overalls

Don Frey gives Dan Gurney instructions before a high-speed racetrack demonstration of the Mustang I at Watkins Glen prior to the US Grand Prix in 1962. Roy Lunn’s work on the prototype earned him the job of chief engineer on the Ford GT program.

Ford engineer Don Frey gives Dan Gurney instructions before a high-speed racetrack demonstration of the Mustang I at Watkins Glen prior to the US Grand Prix in 1962. Roy Lunn’s work on the prototype earned him the job of chief engineer on the Ford GT program. (Photo by Dave Friedman)

while winning Le Mans in 1959 in an Aston Martin co-driven by Roy Salvadori. Shelby took control of Ford’s fledgling Le Mans program in December 1964. “I had interviewed Carroll many times before,” said Lerner, recalling that Shelby served as grand marshal for the one-and-done Dallas Grand Prix Formula One race at Fair Park in July 1984.

“I met Shelby at a Malibu Grand Prix for a media challenge race before the Dallas Grand Prix,” Lerner said. “I won the media race and every time I saw Carroll after that he said, ‘Preston, you should have been a race car driver.’ Ah, I don’t think so.”

Ganassi noted that Ford executives originally considered returning to Le Mans in 2014 with a Mustang, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Pony Car.

“That’s what I thought the deal was originally,” Ganassi said, “and they finally dragged us up to Detroit one day and said, ‘Hey, we want you to see this new car.’  By this time I had been running that engine (Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6) in our Daytona Prototype car.  We switched from BMW to Ford and the idea was running that engine that was going to be in GT racing through the help of Doug Yates and the people at Roush Yates (Engines).

“So they dragged me up to Detroit one day.  It was a typical big car company thing.  You go into the Design Center and there are all these young guys with clay models and they’re working on the 2018 Ford something-or-other, and I’m watching them do wheel designs and this and that.  And they said, ‘OK, come with us.’^”

From here, Ganassi’s journey fittingly enough begins to take on the appearance of the opening to the Get Smart comedy series from the mid-1960s.

“It’s a big, 100,000-square-foot building and you walk down a big, long hall and then you go through a door and you go down some steps,” Ganassi said. “You can tell you’re in the basement and it’s dark.  Then they turn the lights on and you go down the hall again.  There’s another door and you go down again.  It’s just like in the books you read about Detroit, and you go down to the second basement and you go back and you walk around some boxes, and then you come around to an electronic door, hit that and you go in and, all of a sudden, it’s this bright place in the bowels of this building.

“There are these guys and they say, ‘Come on, I want to show you this,’ and they pull the cover back and instantly you could see it was the grandson of the GT40.  It was the Ford GT and you could tell it was an updated GT40, updated to 2016 standards, if you will, whether it’s aerodynamics or whatever.  You could see it and I was like, ‘That’s a great-looking car!’  Right away you could just see it.  Thank God we didn’t go back with the Mustang.

“The car itself, you can see it, it’s a direct descendant, the third generation GT, I guess you could call it.  That middle 2005-2006 car was sort of a 100th Anniversary car that they did.  It was the 100th Anniversary of Ford…but it’s not really a race car. That model was an intermediate model _ a retro design.  It was a nice car but it certainly wasn’t a racing car, whereas this car _ the new GT _ is hands-down, absolutely a racing car.  It was designed around the rules of racing it at Le Mans. It’s a little tight when you get in and out of it.  It’s not the most comfortable thing to get in and out of that I’ve ever seen, but it’s a striking car live and in color.”

And now the new Ford GT is a Le Mans winner. In addition to Nair, the list of Blue Oval brass celebrating the victory included Dave Pericak, Ford Performance director; Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman; Mark Fields, president/CEO and Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Motorsports engineering manager.

They were joined by “The Chipster,” who estimated he slept for about three hours Saturday night at Le Mans. “You wake up on those Sunday mornings of 24-hour races and it’s kind of like being

Many Ford people don't like Mr. Ferrari.

Many Ford people still don’t like Mr. Ferrari.

back in college,” Ganassi joked. “You’re just in a stupor and you weren’t even drinking the night before, but you’re in a stupor from getting no sleep and you’re going through the motions and you don’t really remember much.  It wasn’t until Tuesday when I woke up in my own bed in Pittsburgh that I was pinching myself saying, ‘Did that really just happen?’^”

For Lerner, the experience was similar albeit on a different level. A second edition of Ford GT featuring an additional 12-page chapter on the modern car was printed specifically for the folks at Ford, who agreed to buy a certain amount of copies. “They were giving my book away (at Le Mans) and I still couldn’t get into Ford hospitality,” said Lerner, neatly summarizing the life of an accomplished freelance journalist. 

###

FORD GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans

Author: Preston Lerner

Illustrations: All photos appear courtesy of Dave Friedman unless otherwise noted

Acquisitions Editor: Zack Miller

Format: Hardbound, 224 pages/ISBN: 978-0-7603-4787-4

Published: 2015 by Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.

Size: 10 ¼” x 12 1/4”

Price: $60.00

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 14 2016
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