The Ford GT will be aiming for its first 12 Hours of Sebring victory this weekend in the GTLM class – looking to follow in the footsteps of the Ford GT40 Mk IV which won here with Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren in 1967.
Now 50 years later, the racing icon – who starred in everything he drove from Formula 1 to IndyCar, Sportscars to NASCAR – looks back on that historic Sebring win.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE WIN AT SEBRING?
ANDRETTI: “We tested only briefly and it was the first race for the Mk IV. The car was competitive right from the start because we had very good mechanical knowledge and they had used much of the chassis of the Mk II, with some mods, but with a new aerodynamic shape it proved to be quite good. With Bruce McLaren, we just pulled it off. It was a hard-fought race. The Chaparral was the favorite, but we were competitive. That yellow No. 1 Mk IV is now on display at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Sebring was actually very important from the standpoint of Ford’s effort for the Le Mans 24. At Daytona earlier that year, we had some issues and Ford felt they needed to come up with a different model car, a little slicker and quicker in a straight line, especially for Le Mans, and Phil Remington was given the task of designing that car quickly. He did it and that car won Sebring and LeMans.”
WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE Mk IV?
ANDRETTI: “No. When you win, you fall in love with a car. It was a very, very good car. And I was part of almost all the testing and development of the Mk II and Mk IV. The cars proved to be winners and that’s what it’s all about. We did a lot of work and we were well-prepared and those cars were the envy of Ferrari, Porsche and all the other manufacturers. I honestly think they were all slightly intimidated. We had one issue, which was not the fault of the car. It was a windy day and somehow some paper debris got caught in the air intake of the cockpit. It was a closed cockpit so Bruce and I both suffered the excessive heat. We were really beat up, but looking back at it now, it probably makes for a better story.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CO-DRIVER, BRUCE MCLAREN.
ANDRETTI: “Our relationship was really, really good. On the personal side, he was great to be around and I enjoyed spending time with him. It was easy to be friends with him. On the racing side, I had a real interest in developing my skills in road racing because I was eyeballing F1 at that time, and Bruce was a very technical driver and he taught me a lot and I observed him a lot. It was real peachy for me to be his teammate. It was a very enjoyable experience all the way around.”
WHAT WAS THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS LIKE FOR THE GT40s?
ANDRETTI: “Development was intense. Ford left no stone unturned. Once they committed, they were all in. They did a great deal of testing, including some 24-hour-consecutive running in Daytona. That’s really fun, when a company makes that kind of commitment. And that’s why they won. And that’s what I loved about it.”
HAVE YOU BEEN FOLLOWING FORD CHIP GANASSI RACING’S PROGRESS WITH THE ALL-NEW FORD GT?
ANDRETTI: “Absolutely. And Chip Ganassi is a good friend of mine. Ford made an excellent choice to have Chip lead this new effort and so far he is making everybody proud. That’s no surprise since Chip has been successful so many times before in everything he’s championed. That’s true-blue Chip.”
WOULD YOU WANT TO DRIVE THIS NEW FORD GT?
ANDRETTI: “Yes, I accept the invitation. When and where?”
WHEN YOU SAW THE ALL-NEW FORD GT FOR THE FIRST TIME, DID YOU SEE THE CONNECTION TO THE GT40s?
ANDRETTI: “Yes, I did see the connection in some of the design. It looked to me like they tried to maintain some of the nostalgia of something that was successful. And even with the naked eye, aerodynamically, it looks very vicious. I loved it 50 years ago and I love it now. Ford has done a helluva job.”