Mustang MonthlyNews & Views
Chris Amon, 1966 Le Mans Winner in Ford’s GT40, Passes Away at 73
Famed co-driver with Bruce McLaren, Amon’s #2 GT40 Mark II made history crossing the finish line
The recent class win by the new Ford GT at the 2016 24 Hour of Le Mans brought many Ford enthusiasts to their feet as history was repeated fifty years later. Many of us watched the race or listened to it via live streams, the majority of those enthusiasts were either not around or were just children when the 1966 race occurred. Today, many of us know the great story of Carroll Shelby helping Ford with its GT40 program and bringing the first win for an American car company. It would also mark the trifecta of Carroll Shelby winning Le Mans as a driver (1959), manufacturer (1966), and team owner (1966).
While all the history we may read today mentions Carroll and his team’s work on the GT40 program, this history wouldn’t have happened without Shelby American’s drivers. Famous names like Bruce McLaren, Ken Miles, and Dan Gurney (and let’s not forget the other GT40 drivers in the 1966 race like Peter Revson, Jacky Ickx, Graham Hill, Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue and others that drove for Holman & Moody, Essex Wire, and more!) but these famed drivers had just as capable co-drivers like Denis Hulme, Chris Amon, Jerry Grant, and others. It was Bruce McLaren taking the win in his #2 Shelby American GT40 Mark II after Le Mans officials scrutinized the now famous GT40 one-two-three finish and placed #1 GT40, driven by Ken Miles, in Second place, conforming to Le Mans rules stating that the winner is who completed the greatest distance. This put Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon on the top of the podium.
After that win at Le Mans Chris Amon, known for Formula 1 racing, was invited to drive for Ferrari in Formula one through the end of the decade. In 1970 he’d move on to other teams and even own his own Formula 1 team in the mid-1970s, finally retiring from racing in 1977, having never won a Formula 1 race even though he was considered one of the best in the series at that time. Many say he was unlucky as a driver, but if you look at his career and his accolades, including 11 podium finishes, five pole positions, and more in Formula 1, plus wins in non-championship Grand Prix races, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and others, we’d say his only dose of bad luck was not winning a Formula 1 race.
McLaren’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, McLaren Technology Group, Ron Dennis had this to say about long-time friend of McLaren, Chris Amon in the follow statement posted to the McLaren Formula 1 website:
“It was with profound sadness that I heard the news this morning that Chris Amon had passed away,” Dennis said.
“Chris started 96 Grands Prix but won not one of them—and it is safe to say that he was the greatest racing driver never to have won a race at the very highest level. He nearly won a fair few, but always it seemed that his luck would run out before he saw the chequered flag. However, he won at Le Mans, in a mighty 7.0-litre Ford, exactly 50 years ago, his co-driver his friend and fellow Kiwi, Bruce McLaren, whose name still graces the team to which I have devoted my working life.”
“I have not met Chris for many years, but, even so, I have extremely fond memories of him, and indeed I would describe him as one of the most likeable men I have met in my long racing career.”
“For all those reasons I want to take this opportunity to extend the heartfelt sympathies of all 3,300 of us at McLaren to the family and friends of a great New Zealander, a true gentleman, and one of the fastest racing drivers there ever was: the one and only Christopher Arthur Amon.”
“May he rest in peace.”
Amon passed away at Rotorua Hospital in New Zealand on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016 at the age of 83 after a battle with cancer. His family said in a statement: “Chris battled cancer in recent years, but retained not only a close interest in Formula 1—and his very wide range of favorite topics—but also his wonderful sense of humor complete with infectious chuckle.”