This summer marks an important anniversary for fans of motorsport and the Blue Oval. It is the 40 th anniversary of Ford’s historic 1-2-3 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the famous Ford GT40. This anniversary will be celebrated in style at the 2006 Le Mans Classic event on July 8 and 9.

On Sunday, June 19, 1966, a trio of sleek Ford GT Mark II endurance racers crossed a rain-soaked finish line at the famous La Sarthe circuit in Le Mans , convincingly achieving Ford’s goal of beating Ferrari to the crown jewel of international racing success. The accomplishment not only established Ford’s international motorsport credentials but has left an amazing legacy that has refused to diminish over the years since.

Today that legacy rests in the hands of enthusiasts that include the proud European owners of a new Ford GT supercar inspired by the original Ford GT40, owners of highly valuable original GT40 road and race cars, many of which still compete in historic racing events around the world, many owners of GT40 replicas, and fans of one of the most exciting periods of motorsport history.

Marking the 40th Anniversary at Le Mans

A special observance to mark the anniversary of the historic Ford victory is planned at this year’s Le Mans Classic, scheduled for July 7-9 at the famous circuit. Ford will present the 1966-1971 grid at this year’s running of the bi-annual event, which has quickly become one of the leading vintage-racing occasions in Europe .

Six grids divided into decades from 1923 to 1979 will participate in the 2006 Classic. The 1966-71 grid, sponsored by Ford, appropriately embraces the GT40 – winner of the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 – and its contemporary competitors.

“This is a very special anniversary because the Ford GT has given us such a legacy,” said John Fleming, President and CEO, Ford of Europe. “Our support of this year’s Le Mans Classic is a fitting way to add our voice to the outpouring of enthusiasm and admiration for the car and for those who made that famous 1-2-3 finish possible.”

A strong collection of historic GT40 race cars is expected to be at Le Mans for the Classic, and many will compete in the race, including the original second- and third-place cars from the 1966 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans . The race is also expected to attract a strong contingent of GT40 competitors from its historic nemeses, Ferrari, Porsche and other important marques, plus examples of the Ford Mustang, itself a formidable competitor in the late 1960s.

To ensure the 2006 event is particularly memorable, John Fleming will present a special one-time trophy to the winning car in the 1966-71 grid, regardless of whether a GT40 is the ultimate winner.

International Victory for the Blue Oval

Seen as the American challenge to Ferrari, the Ford GT40 was a truly international project which underscored the determination and global ambitions of Ford Motor Company and its Chairman, Henry Ford II. Its name was derived from a simple fact – the sculpted and purposeful endurance racing car stood just 40 inches tall.

Mr. Ford, grandson of Henry Ford, was at Le Mans that fateful day in 1966 to see his cars make history.

The powerful, seven-litre V8-powered Ford racers were not guaranteed victory that day. GT40s had competed in 1964 and 1964, showing incredible potential but being dogged by mechanical issues that knocked them out of contention. Yet Ford and legendary names of motorsport – including the creator of the Shelby Cobra, Carroll Shelby – teamed to come back in 1966 with a vengeance. A new version of the GT40 – the Mark II – was entered for the 1966 race.

Having already won the 1966 Daytona and Sebring endurance races in America , Ford was confident of breaking its Le Mans jinx. More than a dozen Ford GTs were entered, driven by such famous pilots as Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Guy Ligier, Peter Revson and Jacky Ickx.

After the trials of 24 hours, including mechanical breakdowns and inevitable crashes, three Ford GTs were leading the field. The victory went to Shelby American’s black No. 2 car, driven by McLaren and Chris Amon. It edged another Shelby entry, the light blue No. 1 car of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme. Third place went to Holman Moody’s gold No. 5 car, driven by Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson.

Ford GTs would go on to win Le Mans the next three seasons and score victories at other important international races. Today, 40 years later, the GT40 is still going strong. It still evokes excitement at motorsport events. It remains a vivid reminder of those heady days of Ford racing.

Bringing the Winners Back Together

Given the significance of the anniversary, Ford of Europe is bringing the privately-owned winning Ford GT Mark II from 1966 all the way from the USA to attend the 2006 Le Mans Classic. It is set to be the first time in 10 years that all three of the Ford 1966 1-2-3 finishers will be seen together at Le Mans .

The black No. 2 Ford GT Mark II is now owned by an American collector. It will be reunited with the second- and third-place cars from 1966 – both of which are expected to be competing in the Le Mans Classic – at the event.

The presence of the winning car makes it possible for Ford and the Le Mans Classic 2006 organisers to recreate the famous 1966 finish for a special photo opportunity for race fans. It is a way for Ford to support the lasting outpouring of enthusiasm for the Ford GT40 long after its involvement in frontline motorsport came to an end.

The photo opportunity will take place prior to the start of the race on Saturday, 8 July.

A Loyal Following

Ford’s activities at the Le Mans Classic are intended to complement a massive wave of enthusiasm for the anniversary among loyal Ford GT40 and classic motorsport aficionados.

"At the forefront are the efforts of the owners of historic GT40 owners themselves," Fleming said. "To them, owning a genuine GT40 is a privilege, an obligation to history and a not insignificant financial burden in maintaining a 40-year-old racing car in competitive condition."

Joining the celebration will be many owners of the new Ford GT, the rare 21st century supercar inspired by the original Ford GT40. Sold by Ford to just 101 customers in Europe , and developed as a result of Ford’s global centennial celebrations in 2003, the new Ford GT carries the key strands of the DNA of the Ford GT40 forward for new generations. A convoy of Ford GT owners from Britain , Germany , Switzerland and France is expected to attend the event, along with owners who have independently imported Ford GTs to Europe .

Off the circuit, the Le Mans Classic 2006 is expected to draw the owners of scores of GT40 replicas as well. Thanks to the efforts of specialist manufacturers, even today enthusiasts can get a taste of the GT40 zeitgeist through building and owning a replica, some of which are astonishingly true to the design and construction of the original cars.

Ford of Europe will also participate with its own roadgoing GT40 Mk III, chassis number M3/1107, which has been in Ford’s hands as a press demonstrator since new in 1969. It is one of only seven GT40 road cars ever built.

John Fleming said: "The legacy of the GT40 lives on. It’s not in Ford’s hands any more but we’re still proud of what the GT40 achieved, and how it lives on. For us, looking back, it’s significant on so many levels, not least of which is today’s owner body of its spiritual successor, the Ford GT. But even more important is what the GT40 originally demonstrated – when Ford sets its mind to something, don’t count us out.

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