1965 saw an escalation of hostilities between Ford and Ferrari. Carroll Shelby had been asked to take over racing and development of the Ford GT40 program. Seeking greater reliability and fuel efficiency, Shelby fitted the all the MkI cars with the same 4.7 liter engines used in the Cobras, and replaced the fragile Colotti gearboxes with ZF’s. Meanwhile, Ford and Kar Kraft developed the new MkII GT40, with a NASCAR spec 7 liter V8 and an in-house developed 4 speed gearbox. As the new car was completed very quickly, no time had been alloted to do fuel consumption tests prior to Le Mans. In addition to the GT40 program, no less than 5 Cobra Daytona coupes were entered by Shelby American or European privateers.
Scuderia Ferrari countered with 2 of their new 330 P2’s, fitted with a 4 liter, quad-cam V12, and a 275 P2 with a 3.3 liter unit. In addition, Ferrari entered it’s new 166 Dino coupe in the 1600 cc prototype class. Two semi-works 365 P2’s, which were updated versions of the previous season’s prototype with a 4.4 liter, SOHC V12, were entered by Marinello Concessionaires and N.A.R.T. Five 275LM’s were entered by various privateer and semi-works teams
Down the grid, Porsche’s 904 GTS, with a 2 liter, flat eight derived from it’s F1 engine, wase set to contest the 2 liter prototype class against the turbine-powered Rover-BRM. In the 2.0 GT class, the four cylinder Porsche 904’s faced stiff opposition from Alfa Romeo’s new TZ1. The MG and Triumph works entries were set to do battle against the French Alpines.
The Mark II’s jumped out to a quick early lead, buttook the lead at the start, but quickly began to forfeit that advantage due to their frequent refuelling. Later it was learned that the Mark II’s had refuelled more often than necessary, due to uncertainty over their fuel consumption. The weather was hot at La Sarthe, and overheating began to hit the GT40s. Bondurant and Maglioli’s MkI suffered head gasket failure in the 19th minute, and, on the same lap, Müller and Bucknum’s Mk1 overheated terminally.
As the Fords began to fail, four Ferrari’s stormed into the lead leaving only Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant’s Cobra Daytona coupe to defend Ford’s honor. By midnight, Gurney and Grant had risen to third overall. At which point, the Cobra’s motor mounts began to crack, and Gurney had to park the blue coupe after 204 laps.
This left the Ferraris unopposed at the top. However, the works P2’s began to suffer from excessive brake wear, probably due to the heat. One by one, the Scuderia’s leading prototypes had to pit to change brake discs, an operation that required between 20 and 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the slower 275LM’s put less stress on their brakes, and two of them were leading at 4am; the yellow Ecurie Francorchamps entry, driven by Pierre Dumay and Gustave Gosselin, led the N.A.R.T. 275LM of Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory. Early in the night, the NART Ferrari had lost time struggling with ignition problem. Once the engine was sorted, Rindt and Gregory’s car began to slice into the Belgian entry’s lead, gaining several seconds with each successive lap. By 5 am, Dumay’s Ferrari held a 60 second leads over Rindt; but Rindt was lapping the circuit 12 seconds per lap faster. As the leader needed only one refueling stop to to the NART entry’s two stops, a tight finish was expected.
Then, a tire began to deflate on Dumay’s car, which soon disintegrated, destroying a large part of the thin aluminum rear bodywork. It took the Ecurie Francorchamps’ pit crew five laps to get their car back into the fray. This provided more than enough time to give the victory to Rindt and Gregory. Despite the collapse of the Ferrari works’ entries, this was the ninth overall victory for Ferrari, and their sixth win in a row. As Rindt and Gregory celebrated, no one at Ferrari could have guessed that it would be the Scuderia’s last overall victory at Le Mans.
As usual, we have excellent period footage of the race in the form of this Standard-Triumph documentary, narrated by the BBC’s long time motor sport commentator, Raymond Baxter.
Leave a Reply