In the Field
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.