The Mystery Behind Ford’s 1966 Le Mans Win
Exactly 50 years ago, Henry Ford II put a special man in charge of a very special mission—to win the world’s most famous endurance races in Le Mans, Daytona and Indianapolis. If you know your motorsports history, then you already know the ending.
Leo Beebe was the man in charge. An intelligent, methodical, and also cool-headed American named director of Ford’s special vehicles. From the day Beebe assumed charge until he passed away, he carried a handwritten note from Henry Ford II in his wallet simply stating, “You better win.”
For three years engineering and mechanical geniuses worked on the Ford GT40 to do the one thing Mr. Ford wanted most—to beat Ferrari on the world stage, and not just beat them but humiliate ‘il Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari and his pompous attitude.
Ford brought a fleet of eight GT40s to Le Mans, with three of them being factory cars and five of them “independent” cars, or what we could call “customer cars” in today’s racing lingo. All eight of them started, but with just over three hours left of the 1966 race only the three factory cars remained in the running; curiously in first, second and third place, which brought a big dilemma to Leo Beebe’s hands.
Team orders are relative common in today’s pinnacle of motorsport whether it be Formula One or World Endurance, but back then, most drivers fought for victory as if their life depended on it, with little to no regard for team orders, interests, or sponsorships. Beebe had to consciously orchestrate who and why should cross the finish line first, second and third, as well as avoid a multi-million dollar and global embarrassment if things went sour.
To this day, Leo Beebe takes full responsibility for having to make the call that gave the duo of Chris Amon and none other than Bruce McLaren the all-elusive 1966 all-American manufacturer Le Mans win. Beebe says that had the GT40s crossed the line together as Ford wanted, the win would’ve still gone to McLaren due to “distance and time traveled” rules from the FIA at the time.
In the end, all three factory Ford GT40s crossed the line at Le Mans in 1966, taking all steps of the podium and making Henry Ford II very happy. As for Leo Beebe, it was mission accomplished.
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Story via: [Hemmings]
Photos via: [Ford Racing]