Foyt, Gurney reflect on 1967 Le Mans triumph with Ford (VIDEO)

Photo: A.J. Foyt Racing
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One of the most famous moments in motorsports history came at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, and not just because it birthed the spraying of champagne as a standard celebration. The celebration lives on 50 years later.

The second in a run of four consecutive Le Mans victories for the Ford GT40 marque, it is the only “All-American” triumph, one in which an American driver lineup won for an American team in an American car, in the history of the event.

The victory also came at the height of a rivalry between Ford and Ferrari after a failed attempt from Henry Ford II to purchase the Italian marque from Enzo Ferrari.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the victory, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt, the victorious drivers that year in the famous GT 40, sat down to reflect on the race. Foyt immediately deflected credit to Gurney, and admitted that it was Gurney’s influence that brought him into the team.

“All I can say is, I’m glad (Gurney) chose me for his co-driver,” Foyt quipped. “It doesn’t seem like 50 years ago, but our health is showing it. I always had a lot of respect for him, as a car builder and a race driver. We’ve been friends for a long time and he gave me a chance. He had the car running so damn fast, I didn’t know how to back it off.”

For Gurney, the desire to have Foyt as his co-driver that year came down to a simple reason.

“I chose him for only one reason and that was because he’s a winner,” he recalled. “I felt like we were going to win once A.J. was in the car. He hadn’t been a specialist in road racing like I was, but he did a great job. We had a lot of fun talking about it and gradually, the car turned out to be a really nice, smooth, fast car without any bad habits. It was just a great time.”

Photo courtesy Ford Performance

To further illustrate the point about Gurney’s influence, Foyt explained how influential he was in organizing the driving strategy, and Foyt happily followed his lead. “I think Dan was more involved in strategy than I was. He’d been there before and I was just glad to be over there, for Ford Motor Company to give me such an opportunity. I was listening to Dan quite a bit. He gave me some pointers and all that.”

Foyt also had to go to school of sorts and learn the track, for which he used Gurney and other drivers as a model. “I think before I got in the car, Dan run in the first shift and I got in the second shift, I think I had about 10 laps and, I’ll never forget it, when I came into the pits Denis Hulme, who was in another Ford, was leading, and I knew he’d been out of there for a lot of time, and I followed him for about four-five laps and got lucky enough to get by him. That’s kind of how I learned the course,” Foyt recalled.

Gurney, meanwhile, revealed that he and Foyt had to temper themselves, citing that when the team told them to push the car to its limits, they knew to only take things so far. “We just tried to use our experience,” Gurney asserted. “They expected us to be the rabbit and we were going to battle each other for fast time, and everything, and we could tell that the car wasn’t going to finish with that sort of attention. So we told the strategy guys that ‘yeah, you’re right,’ and of course, we didn’t pay any attention to it,” Gurney laughed.

Of course, no good effort would be complete without some unexpected surprises. For Foyt, one of those came when he pitted and expected Gurney to take over…only for the Californian to be nowhere in site. “I told them when I came into the pits that my arms hurt so bad and they said ‘We can’t find Dan.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, you can’t find him? Hell, he’s over there sleeping, somewhere!’ They said ‘You have to get back in.’ I said ‘Oh no, don’t do that to me.’ And still Dan laughs about it. I think he was hiding on purpose,” Foyt laughed.

And, perhaps most famously, the victory sparked the victory tradition of spraying champagne, with Gurney first spraying Ford president Henry Ford II. “(Henry Ford II) was there with a new bride, I think, on their honeymoon and when I started spraying him, I’m not sure he liked it or not, but he was a good sport about it and we had a wonderful time spraying champagne, A.J. and I both,” Gurney of the spontaneous celebration to quickly became a staple of Victory Lane across all racing disciplines.

The 1967 race was Foyt’s only appearance at Le Mans, while Gurney made ten appearances between 1958 and 1967.

Photo courtesy Ford Performance

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NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”