Early tire troubles plagued the Firestoned-treaded GT40 of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon.
Photo: Roger Dixon
One week after the 1966 12 Hours of Sebring, the racing world experienced another tragic weekend, this time in France, at the Le Mans test. Probably due to the proximity of the Sebring event, both Chaparral and Ferrari chose not to attend, leaving Ford with little to compare their performance against. Alan Mann took two of his lightweight 289-engined GT40s, Shelby two GT Mark IIAs and the experimental J-car. Ford had instructed Kar-Kraft of Dearborn to construct the J toward the end of 1965 using an expanded aluminum honeycomb monocoque clothed in an advanced aerodynamic body shape. All this design and development was overseen by Ford’s Advanced Concepts Department, with Shelby responsible for track testing and race preparation. Yet another project for these two development shops to deal with. Ford’s money was plentiful, but time and expertise must have been stretched within the various companies.
A rain-soaked Circuit de la Sarthe greeted the teams on that Saturday morning and most drivers circulated at reduced speed, the exception being Walt Hansgen in his Shelby Mark IIA, who was going faster with each lap. Twice Walt was shown the slow sign, but still he pressed on, “Going like hell,” Amon was quoted as saying. On lap 21, just past the pits at the Dunlop Bridge curve, Hansgen’s Mark IIA started to fishtail and lose adhesion, sliding the car across the track, Walt headed for the escape road. A few yards down this road he collided with a sand bank and the car flipped end over end. Hansgen died from his injuries five days later.
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