At the 1965 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford rivaled Ferrari in terms of pure performance. But, the Italian marque triumphed in the end thanks to the NART, the team of one of its preferred partners, Luigi Chinetti based in the U.S.! As Henry Ford II arrived in Le Mans to give the start of the 1966 24 Hours, Ford Racing Director Leo Beebe sent out a memo to the headquarters staff in Dearborn, Michigan outside of Detroit: "Henry expects you to win!"
Eight cars for three teams - An update of the GT40, a total of eight Mk IIs were fielded in 1966 by three official teams: Shelby American with Ken Miles-Dennis Hulme (#1), Chris Amon-Bruce McLaren (#2) and Dan Gurney-Jerry Grant (#3); Holman & Moody with Mark Donohue-Paul Hawkins (#4), Ronnie Bucknum-Dick Hutcherson (#5) and Mario Andretti-Lucien Bianchi (#6); Alan Mann Racing with Graham Hill-Brian Muir (#7) and John Whitmore-Frank Gardner (#8). Three cars made it to the chequered flag, in the top 3 no less: in order, the #2, the #1 and the #5.
Graham Hill, first leader - After a stunning start from the pole, Graham Hill led the race after the first lap, before relinquishing the spot to Dan Gurney in the third lap.
Two records for Dan Gurney - At the wheel of the last chassis built in the Ford Mk II line (#3), the American driver established new records for pole position and fastest in-race lap, with the exact same time (3:30.6 at an average 230.103 kph). During the race, the car figured frequently in the lead and in the top 3 for quite some time before being forced to retire on Sunday morning with a water main problem affecting the head gasket. But Gurney wasn't about to give up.
A bold tyre strategy - The Ford Mk II shared by winners Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren actually switched tyre manufacturers during the race. They began with wet Firestones in the wake of a downpour just before the start, but quickly changed to Goodyears better suited to unpredictable weather conditions. After 10 hours, they climbed to the top 3 and took the lead after Gurney-Grant's retirement and brake troubles for Miles-Hulme, still on their heels to the finish line.
Ken Miles and Dennis Hulme on the hunt - Hindered by a poorly closed door, Ken Miles had to pit at the end of the first lap, but after a remarkable three-hour effort, he took the lead. However, at mid-race, the #1 Mk II suffered two extended pit stops with brake problems. Still, the duo managed to give future winners Amon-McLaren a run for their money.
Ronnie Bucknum, a new teammate and a podium finish - Third under the chequered flag, Ronnie Bucknum was set to participate in the 1966 24 Hours with A.J., Foyt but the latter had to withdraw due to an injury incurred at the circuit in Milwaukee. He was replaced by Dick Hutcherson, a Ford driver in NASCAR. The #5 race was disrupted by brake troubles, but rose in the classification as a result of retirements and rounded out the American marque's hat trick at the wheel of the only Mk II fielded by Holman & Moody to make it to the finish line.
PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 18 & SUNDAY 19 JUNE 1966. Four of the eight factory Ford Mk IIs at the start of the 34th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, from top to bottom: Chris Amon-Bruce McLaren (#2, winners), John Whitmore-Frank Gardner (#8, retirement), Dan Gurney-Jerry Grant (#3, pole position, retirement) and Ronnie Bucknum-Dick Hutcherson (#5, third).