24 Hours of Le Mans 1966 - Chris Amon (Ford) looks back at his win (1/2)

24 Hours of Le Mans 1966 - Chris Amon (Ford) looks back at his win (1/2)

Chris Amon, one of the drivers behind the first of Ford’s four straight wins fifty years ago, looks back at what turned out to be the biggest triumph of his career: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

New Zealanders Chris Amon, aged 22 at the time, and Bruce McLaren drove their Ford GT40 Mk II to victory. Here, he tells us about how they approached the 24 Hours from a technical viewpoint from 1965 to 1966.

Who were your biggest rivals – Ferrari or the other Ford GT cars?
Chris Amon: I was driving with Bruce McLaren in the #2 GT40 and we both knew our main competitors would be the other Fords. We ran at Le Mans in ’65 in the GT40 and we were so much faster than Ferrari until we had reliability issues. We knew Ferrari had improved, but so had we, especially on the reliability front, and that proved to be the case in the race.

Tell us about the start?
Bruce drove the first stints. I recall it was damp and we were running on intermediate Firestone tyres and at 210-220 mph on the Mulsanne Straight, the tyres were shedding tread. I took over from Bruce and he spoke to Firestone and they generously said we could switch to the Goodyears the other GT40s were running. Bruce said to me we had to drive the doors off the thing so we did.

Was that the moment that he shouted ‘Go like hell!’
Yes, and there was a bit of history to that.  We had both driven the first two 7-litre cars at Le Mans the previous year: Bruce with Ken Miles and myself with Phil Hill. We were warned to be careful with the gearbox as they were new and unproven and both cars retired with gearbox failures. The McLaren team was commissioned by Ford to build a lightweight version of the GT40 for possible use in 1966. I did the testing of this and drove it in some Can Am type events in the US in late '65. Around that time, I was also doing testing at Sebring and Daytona with the standard car and was experiencing a few mechanical issues.

As a result of the above when I went to Daytona for the 24 hours paired with Bruce. I was not fully confident on the reliability front if we were to drive hard the whole race so I suggested to Bruce that we set a fairly conservative pace for the race, and whilst we might be running out of the top three in the early stages, we might be the only one there at the end. We finished fifth.

Our attitude for Le Mans, because of the Daytona result was obviously different. We decided to set a pace for ourselves, which would keep us in touch with the lead and then go for it later in the race. This strategy fell apart when our tyres started losing treads early in the race and we lost considerable time.  Bruce and I were both contracted to Firestone so it was a difficult thing for Bruce to negotiate a switch to Goodyear.  When I was called in to change tyres I think Bruce's frustration had reached boiling point, he put his head through the car door and said  'Go like hell'.


Information from Ford press release

Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SUNDAY 19 JUNE 1966, FINISH. First victory and a 1-2-3 for Ford, with the GT40 Mk II driven by Chris Amon-Bruce McLaren (winners, #2), Ken Miles-Dennis Hulme (second, #1) and Ronnie Bucknum-Dick Hutcherson (third, #5).