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The story behind Ford’s 1966 Le Mans victory

By Chris Thompson, 21 Jun 2018 Features

The story behind Ford’s 1966 Le Mans victory

The glorious photo finish was tarnished by a personal defeat brought on by team orders

This isn’t a secret story. If you’re into your motorsport history, you’ve almost certainly heard this story, or a variation of it. At the very least, you’ve heard rumours of it. But not everyone has and now seems like a good time to bring it back up.

After the 86th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans – actually a couple of months from now – one of the Ford GT40s which ran at the 1966 Le Mans in Ford’s historic 1-2-3 domination of the podium is up for auction.

It’s the car that came third, number 5, and is expected to fetch around USD$12m.

Read more: 1966-poduim Ford GT40 goes to auction

But there’s a sad story behind that amazing win, one which highlights the tension that can arise from team orders, and the differences between a race driver’s goals and those of the factory.

Ken Miles, a racer who at the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour had already won the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Daytona, was driving a Ford GT40 MkII alongside Denny Hulme.

Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon also shared a GT40, while another GT40 – the one which is set to auction – was driven by Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson.

Miles and Amon were driving the Shelby American-run cars towards the end of the race, when the order was passed down for the two cars to cross the line at the same time for a photo-finish.

Unbeknownst to Ford Jr and his team, two cars crossing the line at the same time would result in the one that had started further back on the grid being declared the winner, as it was the one that had covered the longest distance.

MOTOR feature: The most beautiful race cars

If Miles’s car had won, he would have been the winner of the ‘big three’ endurance races. Le Mans, Sebring, and Daytona.

The McLaren/Amon car was around 8 metres behind Miles and Hulme’s car on the grid. Miles died later that year testing the Ford J-car.

Ford J-Car wind tunnel model

So it makes sense, then, that a short documentary about the whole ordeal would be titled ‘8 Metres’.

Produced by the Petersen Automotive Museum and featuring several of the names mentioned above, it’s well worth a watch, even if you think you know the whole story.