Defending winner Ford headed to the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with even more GT40 firepower. As many favorites self-destructed, cool, consistent Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt brought home a famous all-American victory.
Pre-dawn, June 11, 1967: Two tall men in red cars, engines running, parked on the grass. Millions of dollars, many tens of thousands of man-hours, had boiled down to this, a screwball standoff at the Circuit de la Sarthe’s slowest corner. Dan Gurney, Bell crash helmet swiveling in the “socket” of the eponymous bump in his Ford GT40 MkIV’s roof, scoping the mirrors; and Mike Parkes, even taller at 6ft 5in, yet somehow folded into a sports-prototype coupe, flashing his headlights. Fifteen long seconds would pass before the Englishman blinked first and roared off into the French countryside.
About four laps later the American V8, now bellowing, blew by Parkes’ screaming Italian V12, further consolidating its multi-lap lead, and powered on to take Ford’s second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans win. A year earlier, the first had halted Ferrari’s streak of six consecutive wins in the famous enduro. Now, victory number two sealed the end of an era.
Gurney had been seven laps – more than 50 miles – ahead when these cutting edge, 200 mph machines trimmed the lawn at Arnage. Yet rivals within and without Ford had reckoned he and co driver A.J. Foyt, hard chargers both, to be a nailed-on DNF. The latter was a rookie with little experience of Continental road racing, while Europhile Gurney had in recent times cornered the bad luck market at Le Mans. Neither had been central to the Blue Oval’s scorched earth bid to beat Ferrari, and Gurney’s practice best was good enough only for ninth in the run-and-jump lineup, sixth fastest of seven big-banger – as in, 7-liter – Ford MkIVs and MkIIBs in the 54-car starting field.
Yet they were in the running from the start, took the lead during the second hour and held it to the end, avoiding the bad luck – at 8pm, Foyt coasted into the pits out of fuel – and demonstrating the patience, as well as speed, concentration and accuracy required to win this 24-hour classic.
“It was fascinating to be part of such a huge effort,” says Gurney. “But there were fierce rivalries within it. There was the Holman-Moody side of the operation, the East Coast boys, and then there was us Westerners under the auspices of Carroll Shelby. Plus, we were on Goodyears and the others were on Firestones. That race was good to win on a number of levels.”
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