In the Field

NZ Autocar - - Contents -

The roar of the crowd jammed along the Le Mans pit lane as Earl Bam­ber and his fel­low driv­ers in the Porsche 918 emerged win­ners of the 24-hour race was some­thing I will never for­get – but it wasn’t my favourite mem­ory from that race.

In­stead it was a much qui­eter mo­ment, 25 hours ear­lier, that I will for­ever cher­ish. While crews were busy check­ing the cars on the grid - which in the case of LMP1 me­chan­ics was a nigh-on im­pos­si­ble task as fans flocked around the fastest pro­to­types – I was wan­der­ing along the nearly de­serted GT-E sec­tion of the grid when I heard the New Zealand Na­tional An­them be­ing played over the P.A. Of course the an­thems of ev­ery other coun­try rep­re­sented were also played be­fore the race, but in that mo­ment I found my­self frozen, and think­ing about our coun­try’s place at this world fa­mous event.

That place in Le Mans his­tory will mean even more this year, on the 50th an­niver­sary of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon’s vic­tory in the Ford GT40. The win, which started Ford’s four-year dom­i­na­tion of the world’s great­est sports car race, was in a car painted in Kiwi colours; black with two sil­ver stripes and on the right-hand door, a sil­ver fern. The GT40 is a beau­ti­ful car, and for me Chas­sis P/1046, the num­ber 2 en­try, is the most beau­ti­ful.

Of course, my views are en­tirely ro­man­tic, re­mem­ber­ing that love is also blind; I refuse to dwell on the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the for­ma­tion fin­ish which en­sured the McLaren/ Amon car fin­ished ahead of the Denny Hulme/Ken Miles en­try. I’ve talked many times to Amon about how Ford’s photo fin­ish back­fired, and he re­mains adamant that had he and McLaren not fol­lowed team or­ders to ‘ease’ hours ear­lier, they would have fin­ished a minute ahead.

Re­gard­less, the all-black car is the one in the record books, and the one which af­ter be­ing pur­chased for a ru­moured $US20mil­lion, is be­ing re­stored to 1966 con­di­tion in time to at­tend the race this June.

Ford is mark­ing the an­niver­sary of the vic­tory in another way; by try­ing to win again. It has en­tered four GTs, num­bered 66,67, 68 and 69, the years the blue oval topped the Le Mans podium. Over­all hon­ours aren’t the goal this time how­ever. In­stead it is to win the GT-E class, and in another tilt to the past, it will be Ford against Fer­rari – that bit­ter ri­valry which led to Dear­born want­ing to beat Mod­ena in the six­ties.

Even bet­ter, a Kiwi will be part of the driver line-up, with Scott Dixon set to make his Le Man’s de­but along­side Eng­land’s Richard West­brook and Aus­tralian Ryan Briscoe in the #69 car at Le Mans. Con­ve­niently Dixon’s Chip Ganassi team is pre­par­ing the cars, and the Indy Car Cham­pion has had previous long dis­tance suc­cess, in­clud­ing vic­tory at the Day­tona 24 Hour race. It re­ally is a per­fect fit - but at the same time it is a sched­ul­ing night­mare: Dixon has spo­ken about the Le Mans prac­tice clash­ing with the Detroit round of IndyCar, and to make it to the com­pul­sory pre-race tech in­spec­tion in time will re­quire him to fly di­rectly from the fin­ish of the Texas race on the Satur­day night in a pri­vate jet.

Still, the Le Mans run­way is ready and Dixon is too, and not just to race along­side com­pa­tri­ots Bren­don Hart­ley, Earl Bam­ber and Richie Stan­away but in hon­our of the New Zealan­ders who scored that first win in the all black GT40.

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