here are some races you are supposed
to win, and some races that you aren’t
supposed to win.” Jacky Ickx leaves no
doubt about the category in which the
1969 Le Mans 24 Hours stands for him.
“The GT40 really didn’t have much
chance to win that year...”
The aging design, pressed into service
one last time by the British JW Automotive
squad, did what it wasn’t supposed to do.
Ickx and Jackie Oliver claimed a victory
that was as sensational as it was unlikely.
“Our chances were so limited that we
weren’t even thinking about it,” recalls Ickx
of the race in which he opted to walk to his
car in a protest against the dangers of the
traditional running, or “echelon,” start. “We
had to wait for the others to break down.”
Porsche looked set to scored a first
outright victory as the race drew to a
close. Even when the leading 917LH
driven by Vic Elford and Richard Attwood
slowed with an oil leak, the German
manufacturer still had a 908L, driven by
Rudi Lins and Willi Kauhsen, in second.
When both retired within minutes of each
other, the race came alive.
The JW GT40 — the same chassis that
had taken victory the previous year with
Lucien Bianchi and Pedro Rodriguez — now
led by less than a lap from the 908 driven
Ford’s 1966 Le Mans win set into motion a four-year streak
of dominance. Three of those victories reflected the
GT40’s qualities, but the fourth? That one was a surprise ...
SUMMER OF ’ 69
by Gerard Larrousse and Hans Hermann.
A brake change for the Ford evened things
up, creating a two-hour sprint to the flag.
Ickx and Hermann swapped places
multiple times through the final stint,
but the Belgian knew whoever was first
at Mulsanne Corner on the final lap would
win. He thought he’d achieved his goal
on lap 371, but the pace of their battle
meant they crossed the line seconds
before the 24 hours were up.
Ickx’s strategy also called for him to
be behind at the start of the Mulsanne
“Our chances of
winning were so limited
that we weren’t even
thinking about it”
A reduction from
five-liter to three-liter
engines was being
ushered in by the ACO,
but the GT40 was
grandfathered into the
field – and duly won
again in the hands of
Lucien Bianchi and
NO. 3 1968
Dan Gurney and A.J.
Foyt were dominant
in the new Mk IV,
leading for more than
22 hours. Today. the
enduring legacy of
that race is Gurney’s
spray on the winners’
NO. 2 1967
Straight, so that he would be ahead
after the slipstreaming battle down the
four-mile flat-out blast. That explains why
he “put the turn signals on” to encourage
his rival to pass out of Tertre Rouge for
what was definitely the final time.
The Ford was ahead at Mulsanne
Corner, and went on to complete the
victory by a scant 100 yards.
WORDS Gary Watkins IMAGES LAT archive