If you’ve sat down to watch Ford v. Ferrari any time recently, you might be inclined to think that you are now a master of—at least—the basics of what went on during the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. But you definitely didn’t get the whole story—and Chris Amon, the winner of the race that year alongside Bruce McLaren, is here to tell you why.
If you let Ford v. Ferrari be your sole source of knowledge, you’ll probably be inclined to think that it was only Ken Miles who helped Carroll Shelby develop the Ford GT they took to the race that year. And you might also think that Miles led a significant portion of the race, thus being royally, maliciously screwed over as a result of the photo finish.
But Amon has a slightly different view of events—one that includes himself and McLaren playing a big part in both developing the car and leading the race. You can listen to the audio of his interview with Peter Windsor below:
I can understand why Hollywood made the choices it did. Ford’s adventures leading up to the ‘66 Le Mans event were massive. There were so many people involved, each of whom had their own struggles and victories. There’s no way you could put all of that into one two-hour movie.
And I’m glad we get a deeper look into the Ken Miles story, specifically—but that narrow focus meant viewers just weren’t privy to sympathizing with the other guys who were also having one hell of a time.
Bruce McLaren was the first guy that Ford, generally, turned to when it came time to develop a Le Mans car—all the way back in 1963. In ‘66, McLaren and teammate Amon were struggling with their Firestone tires. There was a whole scandal about the team switching to the longer-lasting Goodyears partially through the race. Here’s a passage from Go Like Hell by A.J. Baime that gets into some of Amon/McLaren’s difficulties:
Shelby approached [McLaren] with the idea of a dead heat, and the pilot was pleased. If it weren’t for the trouble McLaren had with those Firestones at the start, and seconds lost with tire executives arguing in the pit which rubber his car should be riding, he could’ve been in the lead anyway. Politics had slowed him down, and he had as much a right to the win as anyone.
But here’s where things get really dicey. Ford v. Ferrari makes the case that Miles was screwed over, that he was leading much of the race only to lose out to a technicality at the end. In the above interview, Amon posits that he and McLaren were leading the race at sunrise, then obeyed the Ford-wide order to slow down. Miles, Amon says, didn’t—and, as a result, Miles took the lead. Ford v. Ferrari argues that, had Ford not introduced that dead heat finish, Miles would have won. Amon, on the other hand, says that he and McLaren would have won.
Here’s what Go Like Hell has to say on the subject:
Neither Miles nor McLaren knew of the ruling, that McLaren would be declared the winner on a technicality. As they drove next to each other, moving perhaps at just 40 mph, both must have believed that they still had a chance at the lone victory... As a race official moved into the middle of the lane to wave the flag, McLaren suddenly moved forward, ahead of Miles. But it made no difference.
This is one of those situations where there really is no clear winner of the argument. Everyone involved in that dead heat holds a slightly different viewpoint of the event. That’s just the way memory works. As time passes, we start to layer an event with interpretation and meaning, until it becomes obscured. It’s likely that Miles’s death soon after Le Mans contributed to the belief that he deserved to win, since he’d never have another chance to do so. Had Miles lived, we might be telling a different story. Collectively, we might remember it differently.
So, who’s right, Amon or Hollywood? Both, and neither. All we can do is listen to both sides and make our own judgments.