Le Mans 66 – Mario Andretti: "Ford left nothing to chance"

Just as it did for Jacky Ickx and Henri Pescarolo, the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans marked Mario Andretti's rookie participation. The American driver took the wheel of a Ford GT 40 MKII and recalls how the marque pulled out all the stops to win the race and beat Ferrari. The 24 Hours Museum has installed an exhibition through 23 February dedicated to the 1966 24 Hours and the James Mangold film "Le Mans 66" ("Ford v Ferrari") in theatres mid-November.

Mario Andretti on his first participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1966 sharing a Ford GT40 MKII with Lucien Bianchi: "What I mainly remember of 1966 is simply participating for the first time in something as big as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fortunately for me, I had had the opportunity to get to know the car well, the Ford Mk II, as a member of the team, and had tested and helped develop it, so I knew the car very well before getting to Le Mans. Also, we were very well-prepared. To win Le Mans and especially to beat Ferrari further motivated Ford. I think Ford had everything it needed to triumph and complete its mission. And the result in the end proves that."

"The plan for the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, as for every race, was to rely on an extremely strong team, with experienced drivers, but Ford established an additional strategy. Some cars would be about the speed, others would be treated more carefully since the race was so long. I teamed up with Lucien Bianchi who had experience in long races whereas I was more familiar with sprints. He taught me a tremendous amount. We were forced to retire with engine problems."

"Within the team, even though obviously each line-up and each driver wanted to win Le Mans, once out of the cars, we shared a great deal. There was a real camaraderie. Naturally there are always team directives to follow. So sometimes you're happy and other times less so, but the strategists have a broader view of the situation than we do."

"For a driver from Italy like me it's all about Ferrari. But as a driver, you look to join the team with the best chance to win, and Ford was that team at the time. I learned a lot back then from the experience that I was able to use thereafter, with Ferrari no less."

"With Ford, it was a joint effort. There were two outfits, Holman Moody and Shelby American. Some cars were equipped with Firestone tyres, others with Goodyears. Ford left nothing to chance. Everything was taken care of to get the job done."

"The Mk II car was an update of the GT40, proof that Ford had long-term plans. They weren't looking to do Le Mans as a one-off. I knew the car very well, I developed it, covered thousands of kilometers and drove it at the 24 Hours of Daytona. It was a great car, with everything it needed to win. I remember, I knew certain Ferrari drivers quite well, like Bandini, and they came to see me, worried. They wanted to ask me about that Ford."

"That first experience at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1966, made me so proud. The race is legendary, it fascinated me, and there I was about to take the start, as had drivers I considered heroes. I immediately wanted to return. The circuit was unlike any other. You approached such high speeds in the Mulsanne Straight before the chicanes. For a driver it was exhilarating."

In conjunction with the release of "Le Mans 66" ("Ford v Ferrari"), the Automobile Club de l’Ouest is making available to the public its new Le Mans 66 exhibition through 23 February 2020 at the 24 Hours Museum.


PHOTO: The #6 Ford GT40 MKII fielded by the American team Holman & Moody driven by Mario Andretti an Lucien Bianchi at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.