Panic in Dearborn. Vice-presidential memos and phone calls clogged the out-boxes and the switchboard at the Ford division. Decision: bring the entire racing program back to the U.S., where it could be kept under tighter surveillance. Concentrate on a more powerful engine (up from 4.2 liters to 4.7). Start thinking about a far more powerful car (the seven-liter Mark II).
Wyer's role was reduced to building enough GT40s (50 of them) to qualify the car under the FIA's rules of homologation.
The next year was slightly better for Ford. First at Daytona, second at Se-bring, third at Monza. But then there was disaster at Le Mans. Six Fords entered the 24 Hours and not one finished. Ferrari once again took the top three places. Now there was puzzled outrage in Dearborn. Ford's decision was to intensify the effort, spend more money, concentrate on the more powerful Mark II. The result was victories at Daytona and Sebring and a one-two-three finish at Le Mans (with Henry Ford II on hand to pour the champagne). Ford won the manufacturers' championship. There was victory at Le Mans again in '67, then retirement from sports car racing, the objective attained.
Meanwhile, back in the machine shop in Slough, Berkshire, that advocate of the compact striking force, John Wyer, was satisfied to be out of the Ford mainstream, the massive ebb and flow of Ford money, Ford cars, Ford vice-presidents. He was quietly feeding and grooming his pets and preparing to write the second part of the saga. In January 1967 Wyer purchased the assets of Ford Advanced Vehicles and severed his official connections with the company. With John Willment, a freewheeling entrepreneur, as a relatively silent financial partner, Wyer set up JW Automotive Engineering Ltd.
That year Wyer raced with some success a Ford prototype, the Mirage. In 1968, under the same special licensing arrangement with Ford, the firm prepared and raced three of the poor, neglected GT40s. Gulf Oil took over ownership of the cars, as it had the Mirage, and financed the racing program. Horsman was installed as second in command, and David Yorke was put in direct charge of the racing team. The results were fantastic. With the retirement of Ferrari from the sports car scene in 1967, Porsches had become the preeminent racers, but the three orphaned GT40s took them on, grille to grille, beating them at Le Mans and elsewhere and winning the manufacturers' title. More obsolete by the week, the GT40, of course, defeated Porsche again at Le Mans in 1969.
"Ford never gave the GT40 or the idea of a compact striking force a fair chance or enough time," Wyer insists. "I believe we could have won with the car in 1965. The feeling seemed to be that a 4.2-liter car was not powerful enough, but in fact a less powerful Ferrari did eventually win. The effort failed in 1965 because too many people had become involved, it had become too diversified. Ford finally won at Le Mans, but once the company began spending so much money and so much effort doing it the result was inevitable. As the saying goes, they didn't solve the problem, they trampled it to death. They proved that if you spend $7 million—about seven times what anyone else had ever spent—you can win at Le Mans."
But Porsche has not been reluctant to splatter the Deutsche Marks about, either. To be able to utilize up to a five-liter engine, it has had to build 25 carbon copies of the 917. The cost of each of the 917s is $70,000. Porsche will sell a few (at a loss) but even so will have invested $1 million before the cars have even gone racing. Fortunately Gulf Oil plans to continue its association with Wyer, and its contribution probably amounts to $350,000.
With Wyer, Horsman and Yorke at the controls, Porsche can expect to eliminate the errors that have plagued it the last two years: badly planned engineering, poor driver discipline. Already they seem to have eradicated the last major bug in the 917, one that Porsche engineers had been puzzling over for most of last year. The drivers found that the car handled erratically. When Horsman and Yorke took their first hard look at the 917 last November in tests at Zeltweg, Austria, they quickly found the reason why. "We noticed that there were no flyspecks on the tail of the car," says Horsman. "This meant that the tail was sloping down too sharply, that currents of air were not hitting it, not forcing the wheels into a firm position on the road. So we just raised up the tail. Suddenly the drivers enjoyed the car. Our lap times on the track immediately dropped from 1:48 to 1:43."
A month later at Daytona, in the midst of a 30-hour test, two of the 917s were hurtling around the track at lap times of 1:47 and change, almost five seconds under the official track record. Porsche, Wyer and his staff are obviously on the verge of an extremely successful year. Even so, as he looks ahead to the Daytona race and the season beyond, Wyer nurses his customary doubts about the whole business.
"It sometimes all seems so senseless," he said, recalling the way it was in the rain at Le Mans in 1968. At about 5 a.m. Wyer left the pits and went to the Welcome Inn, the race organization's tavern in the infield near the first turn, to shave and wash. He came out and walked over to the edge of the track to watch his Ford go by.