Ford v Ferrari: Why there needs to be a Le Mans 1966 sequel

The Hollywood blockbuster that brought the story of Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby and Le Mans 1966 to the silver screen was so good that it’s crying out for a sequel, says Charles Bradley.

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I really enjoyed James Mangold’s retelling of the Ford v Ferrari story, in which Christian Bale utterly nails the grouchy-but-brilliant Ken Miles and Matt Damon uses his considerable acting talent to counter his physical deficiency playing larger-than-life Texan Carroll Shelby. The tale ends, of course, (spoiler alert!) with Miles’s sad demise testing the J-car at Riverside California.

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But endings are often just the beginning, especially in Hollywood. In his exclusive interview with our David Malsher, Bale thought Le Mans ’66 was “one of the best scripts I’ve ever read” when he first saw it in 2011. Well, Christian, although you’re out of the casting frame for the sequel for obvious reasons, how about this plotline…

Christian Bale

Christian Bale

Photo by: 20th Century Fox

Following Miles’s death, the J-Car project is scrapped in favor of a new GT40, the Mk IV. designed and built (unlike the ’66 winner) in the United States. The seven-litre V8 engined machine first goes head-to-head with Ferrari’s latest V12-powered 330 P4 at the Daytona 24 Hours. Humbled by the Le Mans ’66 defeat, Enzo Ferrari gives technical director Mauro Forghieri free rein – and key to the project is a new gearbox built in-house and Firestone tires. The message is clear: “Do what it takes to beat Ford!”

Ferrari tests at Daytona for a week, but Enzo – acutely aware that Ford would have spies present – gives strict instructions not to break Miles’s lap record set a year previously. However, the new P4 is such a dramatic improvement, it laps way faster, and upon the team’s return to Italy, Ferrari fires team boss Eugenio Dragoni!

Lorenzo Bandini, Chris Amon, Ferrari

Lorenzo Bandini, Chris Amon, Ferrari

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Despite entering six GT40 MkIIs, Ford’s race is a total disaster. Poor transmission reliability sees car after car drop out, until only one GT40 remains. Ferrari dominates, running the final 30 minutes in a nose-to-tail formation before fanning out at the finish line for a three-wide photograph. This was Enzo’s revenge for Le Mans ’66, to beat Ford on its home turf.

The demoralized Shelby American team then rents Daytona, toiling to work out just what had gone so badly wrong. Meantime, Ferrari driver Mike Parkes presents Enzo with a painting of the three-wide finish, that he hangs proudly on the office wall in Maranello.

Lloyd Ruby, Denny Hulme, Holman Moody Racing

Lloyd Ruby, Denny Hulme, Holman Moody Racing

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Fast forward to Le Mans. Four of the new, streamlined (GT40) Mk IVs are ready, two going to Shelby’s team (driven by Bruce McLaren/Mark Donohue and Dan Gurney/AJ Foyt) and the other pair going to Holman & Moody (driven by Mario Andretti/Lucien Bianchi and Denny Hulme/Lloyd Ruby).

A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney

A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Much like Shelby had to persuade Ford management about Miles in ’66, Gurney fights hard to have Foyt – who has never raced at Le Mans but had just scored his third Indy 500 victory – to partner him. And Foyt, determined to repay that faith and despite his lack of mileage at La Sarthe, allows Gurney to hog the majority of the pre-race running to refine the setup of the car.

Ferrari brings three of its new P4s, with Daytona winners Chris Amon and Lorenzo Bandini leading its line.  Although Ferrari sets the pace in testing, Ford takes pole thanks to McLaren – the GT40s aided by a superior straightline speed, but hindered by high-speed cornering instability. Another problem is cracked windscreens, which leads to Ford chartering a Boeing 707 with seven replacements placed in first-class seats!

Mike Salmon, Brian Redman, John Wyer Automotive

Mike Salmon, Brian Redman, John Wyer Automotive

Photo by: Motorsport Images

As the race kicks off, there’s early drama for Mike Salmon, whose JWA-run Ford bursts into flames on the Mulsanne straight. He manages to steer the car to the marshal post at Mulsanne Corner, but suffers severe burns in doing so. Another fire takes out the Amon Ferrari, although this is due to a puncture that he was unable to fix trackside – damage from which sparks a conflagration in the engine bay, that causes the car to burn out.

Ford is running 1-2-3 at 3am, but Andretti suffers a huge crash at the Esses – due to incorrectly installed brake pads – hitting barriers on both sides of the track and breaking his ribs. Two following Fords also crash as they attempt to avoid the wreckage, while McLaren’s car is delayed by a puncture from the debris. One of those drivers, Roger McCluskey, commandeers a marshal’s car to drive Andretti to the medical centre!

The damaged cars of Frank Gardner, Roger McCluskey, Holman Moody Racing, Ford GT40 Mk2B, and Mario Andretti, Lucien Bianchi, Holman Moody Racing, Ford GT40 Mk4, with a Willys Jeep of the fire service

The damaged cars of Frank Gardner, Roger McCluskey, Holman Moody Racing, Ford GT40 Mk2B, and Mario Andretti, Lucien Bianchi, Holman Moody Racing, Ford GT40 Mk4, with a Willys Jeep of the fire service

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Amid the drama, Gurney and Foyt have a relatively untroubled run, apart from a loose roof at one point, having agreed to a “fast but not too quick” strategy. Ferrari is adamant that their rapid pace can’t last, but Gurney has devised a lift-and-coast approach to the tighter corners, and this helps save the brakes – the Ford’s Achilles Heel compared to the Ferrari due to its extra weight.

Dan Gurney (Shelby American Ford) is chased by Mike Parkes (Scuderia Ferrari)

Dan Gurney (Shelby American Ford) is chased by Mike Parkes (Scuderia Ferrari)

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

But perhaps the biggest Hollywood moment of this sequel is the bizarre standoff that occurs between leader Gurney and the chasing Parkes. The latter is running four laps behind the Ford, but hounds Gurney incessantly, flashing his lights, to the point that Dan pulls his car to a halt on the grass verge at Arnage – and then Parkes does the very same thing! Then follows a battle of wills over who will drive away first…

Gurney believes that they were stationary for about a dozen seconds (imagine that for celluloid tension) until Parkes blinks first and finally drives away. Gurney and Foyt go on to win by those four laps, ahead of two humbled Ferraris. Not only is Ferrari defeated again, this time it’s by two Americans driving a US-built and -run car.

Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Shelby American

Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Shelby American

Photo by: Motorsport Images

After the race, Gurney spontaneously shakes and sprays the bottle of champagne handed to him, sparking a tradition that lasts until this day. He even manages to soak Henry Ford II and his new wife too!

As an epilogue, Gurney drives his American-built Eagle-Weslake to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix the following week, etching his name forever in motorsport folklore in a feat that will likely never be repeated.

Dan Gurney celebrates his victory

Dan Gurney celebrates his victory

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Hollywood loves an all-American hero, and there’s none greater than Gurney. Well, maybe Foyt who, having won the race as a rookie, decides never to return. So there’s the ‘buddy’ angle that Miles and Shelby had in the first film.

If there’s one criticism of Ford v Ferrari, it’s that the story plays a little fast and loose with the actual events of the day. In 1967, however, the truth of what actually transpired is stranger than most fiction!

And it’s a story that absolutely needs telling to a wider audience…

From the editor, also read:

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