It is Europe's foremost automobile race but, because of its myriad parts and exhausting length, it is more a happening than a neat sports competition. The 200,000 spectators who attend the 34th running this weekend will carry away visual memories much like the images on the following pages—right, disconnected, a little blurred around the edges. It may start down a suicidal highway from Paris, and then the images crowd the corridors of the mind. A lighted Gothic cathedral with shining racers adjacent. Black asphalt and white stripes. People. Restless, milling people. A rush of cars, engines screaming sensually. Neoned midway rides spinning to harsh, insistent music. Take a nap. Drink wine. Embrace a girl. Eat some oysters. Smell the sausage. See the cars, now large, now tiny against the sky and woods. Nightfall. Daybreak. Wash your face in the windshield washer. Observe the finish. And motor slowly back to normality.
'HERE TO SHOW THE WORLD'
Henry Ford II, whose cars are favored to win the first U.S. victory in the 24-hour Le Mans race, answers some questions about Ford's ambitions and motives
Q. What is the significance of Le Mans to Ford Motor Company? Why is success at Le Mans important to you?
A. Ford is an international company with branches all over the free world. The Le Mans event is one of the most important automobile races in the world. We feel that a good showing by our products at Le Mans will reflect favorably on us in the countries where we do business. We also consider Le Mans important because of its toughness—the test to which it puts cars as far as durability and all-round performance are concerned.
Q. Would you care to predict the outcome of the confrontation of Ford and Ferrari racing cars at Le Mans?
A. I think our chances this year are better than in the previous two years we've competed. We've learned something more each time we've been at Le Mans. Our people have put a lot of work into this year's effort, and we're on program with our testing and developmental work. Our cars are well prepared, and our drivers are among the best in the world. However, we'd be foolish to sell Ferrari—or any other serious competitor—short in an event of this duration and character.
Q. Enzo Ferrari has been quoted as saying he is being "steamrollered" in Le Mans-style racing by the wealth of Ford Motor Company. What is your reaction?
A. We're still newcomers to this type of racing. Taking on the highly established racing teams of Europe involves considerable expense. Also, we're trying to do in a very short period of time what these established teams have devoted many years to. We're simply doing what we think is necessary to try to establish the superiority of our products in a specific area of competition.
Q. It is often said that racing improves the performance and safety of passenger cars. How has it contributed to the Fords on the streets?