1967 24 Hours of Daytona – Page Two
In anticipation of something like this happening, Ford had already reserved the Speedway for its own testing session and moved in their cars and mechanics once the Italians departed for Italy.
During their week at Daytona the Ferrari team had completed over 580 laps and they were pleased with the results. Ford’s time at the Daytona facility didn’t produce the same kind of pleasure. Their testing time had to be cut short because of major problems with the new third-generation GT40 known as the “J” car. They experienced oversteering problems, cracking wheels, and a catastrophic chassis failure that forced them to pack their bags and head home early. The “J” car was unraceworthy and couldn’t be used for the Daytona 24 and the newer model Mark IIs would be their only hope against Ferrari and Chaparral.
To explain publicly why the new “J” car wouldn’t be at Daytona in 1967 Jacque Passino, Ford’s Special Vehicle (racing) manager, said, “There just wasn’t enough time to get the Formula “J” worked out.”
When word that the Ferrari P4s had broken the Daytona track record reached Maranello, Enzo Ferrari fired competition manager Dragoni. It was assumed that Dragoni was fired for allowing this to happen despite explicit orders not to do so. He was immediately replaced by autosport journalist, Franco Lini.
Later a conspiracy theory developed about the firing of Dragoni. In the 1960’s there was a lot of political turmoil within the Ferrari organization with big-name drivers coming and going and a lot of acrimony and animosity resulting. By 1966 the team was hopelessly split by these battles and after the loss at Le Mans their top driver, John Surtees, left after a bitter argument with Dragoni. Enzo Ferrari knew that something had to change.
According to the conspiracy theory Ferrari set up Dragoni for a fall. He gave him strict orders not to break the track record at Daytona while secretly passing word to some drivers to do just that and it was done in the testing sessions that were open to the public. This gave Ferrari the excuse he needed to fire the wealthy and influential Dragoni.
The news that the new Ferrari P4 had easily broken the Daytona track record hit a raw nerve at the Ford Motor company for several reasons. First it let Ford know that both their new “J” car and Mk. II prototype cars may already have been obsolete and there was not enough time to do anything about it. Secondly that particular speed record was established by much liked Ken Miles the previous year when he won in a Ford GT40 Mk. II in the very first 24 Hours of Daytona.
Unfortunately Miles would not be at Daytona in 1967 because he was killed in testing the new Ford “J” car prototype at Riverside Raceway during the summer of 1966.
Rumors that aerodynamic flaws in the new “J” car may have been the cause of the accident which took Miles life were met with denials by Ford and the PR folks began to hint that Miles might have been too old, at 48 years, to drive such a high-speed race car.
A similar “blame the driver” campaign was also apparent when Bob McLean crashed and burned in a GT40 at Sebring in March of 1966 and again when Walt Hansgen crashed and died in a Ford Mark II prototype during testing for Le Mans in April of 1966. The three deaths of Ford GT40 drivers in such a short time worried Ford executives. They feared that it would have an impact on their domestic sales. Safety issues related to the car’s design would be dealt with later.
There was a joke making the rounds in the garages at the speedway, before the 1967 24-hour race, that the new Ford “J” car was to racing what the Ford Edsel was to the passenger auto industry, and that is, “a big mistake.”
At Daytona in 1967 Ford’s strategy was familiar; it was the “numbers game.” Enter as many cars as you can and some will come home winners.
Six GT40 Mk. II prototypes were flown over to the states from Ford’s Advanced Vehicles Division in England. Three of them were reengineered 1966 models and the other three were on 1967 chassis. Three of those Mk. II prototypes were assigned by Ford to Shelby American (#1, #2, #3) while the other three went to Holman Moody (#4, #5, #6). In that mix of six prototype cars were several that actually had the name Mercury on the side (see photo) instead of Ford. Confidence on both Ford teams was very high. Each team felt they could not only beat Ferrari and Chaparral but they could also beat the other Ford team.
In their effort to get the Mk. IIs ready for Daytona several modifications and upgrades were made. Among those modifications were all new 427 engines that increased horsepower from 485 to 530. Mated to those engines was a new T-44 gearbox. To address the safety issues that came from the death of Ken Miles in the “J” car, a sturdier roll-cage was installed. The end result of all this tweaking was when the 7-liter Mk. IIs showed up at Daytona they weighed in at 3,100 pounds (car, driver, fuel, oil). This was an incredible 1000 pounds more that the 4-liter Ferrari P4s.
To add to the Ford “numbers game” were three private entry GT40’s entered in the sports category, a Cobra, six Mustang GT-350’s, several Cortinas and two Ford Falcons.