24 Hours of Le Mans 1967 (1)  - Ford and Ferrari, the final duel

24 Hours of Le Mans 1967 (1) - Ford and Ferrari, the final duel

The 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans marked the climax of the Ford-Ferrari duel that had began three years earlier. Both manufacturers were at the top of their game in a race now considered one of the best editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in history. Even half a century later, it still stands out in the memories of motorsports historians and fans all over the world.

The smell of revenge was in the air at the 35th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans...after Ferrari refused Henry Ford II's buyout offer in 1963, the American automobile industry magnate never let up on his vendetta against the Italian marque. He accomplished his mission in 1966 with bravado: Ford achieved a one-two-three whereas no Ferrari prototype made it to the finish line.

So in 1967, the Italian manufacturer was definitely looking to claim the top step on the podium, and Ford was looking to repeat the feat that put an end to six editions of invincibility for Ferrari. The 24 Hours was the playing field for the titanic battle, drawing a crowd of nearly 300,000 captivated spectators. In the collective memory of motorsports enthusiasts, the edition is still deemed the "race of the century."

The outcome of the duel was considered all the more up for grabs since the new version of the Ford GT40 (called the Mk IV) and the Ferrari P4 were going head-to-head for the very first time. Ford dominated as early as qualifying, with a pole position record (3:24:4, at an average of 237 km/h) for Bruce McLaren, one of the winners in 1966...but Ferrari stood its ground, hoping during the race to count on experience to reverse the momentum.

This cautious attitude paid off early in the race. After the first refueling pit stops, the #1 Ford Mk IV driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt took the lead for the first time and maintained a pace in the race which Ferrari thought would prove to be a fatal mistake for the American marque.

Nighttime seemed to prove the Italian camp's prediction when a chain collision at the Tertre Rouge took out the Fords driven by Bianchi-Andretti, Ruby-Hulme and McCluskey-Gardner. As a result, the Ferrari P4 of Ludovico Scarfiotti-Michael Parkes climbed to second position and Gurney and Foyt suddenly had three Ferraris on their tail. But when Franco Lini, Ferrari's sporting director, gave Scarfiotti-Parkes the long-awaited signal to attack, it was too little, too late. The two Americans already had a five lap advance on the Italian-British duo.

Without ever really having to push their car as a final effort after keeping such a sustained pace, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt not only gave Ford its second consecutive victory after the previous year's win for New Zealander duo Amon-McLaren, but also a new distance record surpassing 5,000 km for the first time. Ferrari managed to save face with the other two steps on the podium for Scarfiotti-Parkes and Belgian duo Mairesse-Beurlys. Fourth place went to the other surviving Ford Mk IV driven by Mark Donohue and Bruce McLaren.

Henry Ford was overjoyed with the victory for the two American drivers, both already living legends back in the U.S. And Dan Gurney started the celebratory champagne shower at the podium, today a tradition at circuits across the globe!

Photo: The bump on the roof above the winning Ford Mk IV's driving position was due to Dan Gurney's considerable height, and his teammate A.J. Foyt had to drive with his arms extended...back then customized seats were not yet used.

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