LE MANS 24 HOURS 1968

28th - 29th September

54 starters 15 classified finishers

Exceptionally put back to September, the race started at 15h00. The circuit layout and regulations were changed with, in particular, a new chicane named after Henry Ford, installed just before tbe pits straight Ford scored their third successive win thanks to tbe John Wyer entered GT 40s prepared in England, in spite of initial stiff opposition from tbe new Porsche 908s still suffering from doubtful reliability. Return of the turbine installed in 2 Howmet chassis. The singleton works Matra got as high as second but retired just after midday on Sunday. Alfa Romeo shone with 3 Tipo 33/2s in fourth, fifth and sixth places. Only 6 somewhat aging Ferraris at the start given by Giovanni Agnelli, the FIAT President.
CIRCUIT :

New 13, 469 km layout.

REGULATIONS:

Terrified by the speed of tbe big Fords and Chaparrals, the C. S. I decided to fix the sports prototype's cubic capacity at 3000 ccs and that of sports cars (50 examples miminum) at 5000 ccs. Because of the date change due to the student riots of May, the A. C. O. allowed the battery to be changed to cope with the longer period of night driving.

STARTERS:

54 cars 5 nations 16 makes

France : 11 Alpines, 1 Matra, 1 Moynet. Germany : 13 Porsches.

Great Britain : 1 Austin Healey, 1 Chevron, 1 Deep Sanderson, 1 Healey, 2 Lolas.

ltaly : 6 Alfa Romeos, 6 Ferraris, 1 Fiat. United States of America : 2 Chevrolets, 5 Fords, 2 Howmets.

SUMMARY:

The line - up was a far cry from the quality of the previous year and tbe race looked like being a battle between the four works 908 Porsches, all with long - tailed bodywork, and the 3 Ford GT 40s in Gulf colours from the John Wyer stable . Also, in order to win tbe World Championship for Makes, Wyer had to finish first at Le Mans as although both Ford and Porsche had won 4 races each, the German team's next best placing was a second as opposed to the English one's third. An additional handicap for tbe Gulf team was the absence of their no. 1 driver, Jacky Ickx, who had crashed in the U. S. Grand Prix breaking his legs He was initially replaced by Derek Bell who was then asked to act as a stand - by at the Mexican Grand Prix by Ferrari with whom he had an F2 contract. Finally, it was little Pedro Rodriguez who took over the vacant seat.

The race started on a wet track and poor Willy Mairesse had a huge accident on lap 1 due to the door on his Ford GT 40 opening on Les Hunaudieres. Siffert and Stommelen diced for the lead in their Porsches for the first 3 hours before Siffert's transmission broke just after Brian Muir had marooned his GT 40 on the Mulsanne sandbank. Altemator trouble hit tbe German cars in the darkness, allowing the Gulf GT 40 into the lead after 4 hours. At tbe 5 hour mark the Hobbs - Hawkins Gulf GT 40 was in front but it was slowed by the centre hub of the clutch disintegrating. Repairs were carried out and tbe car got going again until a blown engine sent it into retirement around midnight. Porsche had lost the Mitter - Elford 908 and the Buchet - Unge 907/8 through disqualification as the Porsche team manager, von Hanstein, had ordered tbe altemators to be changed which was against the regs. It poured" at night, and the Matra got up to second in spite of broken windscreen wipers thanks to an inspired Pescarolo who drove multiple stints. Henri's fine effort came to an end at midday when the Matra punctured on debris from tbe crashed Alpine of Mauro Bianchi at Tertre Rouge. And so at 15H00, Lucien Bianchi took the chequered flag to give Ford their third successive Le Mans victory and the World Championship title. The Alpine Renaults scored class victories and the first 3 places in the Thermal Efficiency Index, while the 2 GT versions had to retire. Fifteenth and last place for the only British representative to finish, an Austin Healey Sprite driven by Englishman Roger Enever and lrishman Alec Poole.

RECORDS:

The circuit change and cubic capacity reduction did not allow tbe winners to get anywhere near the 1967 figures, Rodriguez and Bianchi covering some 780 kilometres fewer than Gurney and Foyt. However, their 4452.880 kms and 185.536 km/h average speed set new records for the slightly modified track. Fastest lap fell to Rolf Stommelen's Porsche in 3'38"1, a speed of 222.321 km/h.

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