Bob Bondurant – Interview and Profile Page Four
SCD: Can you tell me who the other Cobra drivers you shared with were?
BB: Well the other two were mainly Neerpasch and Schlesser, and then Allen Grant drove with me at Monza. That was very interesting, because it was the last year they raced along the banking. The banking was so rough your vision would bounce all over.
SCD: Then in 1965, you came back to win again at Reims and sew up the Manufacturers title, you and Schlesser.
BB: Yes. On the 4th of July, with Jo Schlesser.
SCD: Was that Manufacturer’s title as big a deal as the F1 crown then?
BB: It was bigger.
SCD: Did they make a big deal about it?
BB: Over here they didn’t make such a big deal. I was in France, and Shelby was not in Europe at that time. Ford said, “You’re going to work on the Ford GT40 Mark IIs. We need more horsepower on those cars, and this is the last race that you do with the Daytona Coupe.” I didn’t know it at the time. We were all so excited that I did that in the Coupe, and then at the next race, which was the Coppa Citta di Enna, we won our class again and that was fantastic. We were all excited, and I am sure Shelby was excited. I was just glad that we won it, all of us competing together. It was fantastic. So I had a driving jacket, my Cobra jacket, and I had a patch made up that said “FIA World Manufacturers Championship,” and another that said “Winner” on it. Shelby never made one. I am the only one who made one. Maybe ten years ago, I saw it—I still fit in my jacket—and I thought, “Wow, that is good!” I thought that it was good, and he said, “Well, I’d like to make one.” I said “Go ahead,” but I have never heard whether he made one or not. To my knowledge I am the only one who has one. I’m sure Carroll and the guys at the shop were all excited, but that was never expressed much to me. Ford never said anything to me about it.
SCD: During 1965 and 1966, how many times did you race the Ford GT40?
BB: The GT40, I raced it twice, at the Daytona 2000 kilometers and at Le Mans. I have a hell of a story from Daytona, where we finished third. I wasn’t paying attention to the drivers well enough, I went around the oval for some reason twice. I don’t know what I had on my mind. I pulled away from John Surtees, he was in a Ferrari, coming out of Turn 2, and I was probably at least 10-12 lengths ahead. Coming out of Turn 4, he was going probably 200mph, and I was way ahead. Then I saw the cone set up to turn in, I saw that and I thought, “Shit, I am never going to make it,” and if you pass it you are disqualified. I was braking, downshifting, and then I turned in, but I didn’t come across the part where you come back in on the oval properly, and they wouldn’t let me back on the track until the last car had gone past. They didn’t like me or something. So we took off, and we ran real hard, and then it was time for another one of those little “Shelby said slow down, because Ford was there.” Ken Miles and I had both tested those cars, and they had a lot of miles on them. The car had a Colotti gearbox, and Ford was worried that I was going to break it, but I did not, you just drive a little slower and smoother. Ford wanted me to slow down. Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby were in the other GT40, and they ended up winning. Surtees and the Ferraris dropped out and didn’t finish. My co-driver was Richie Ginther. Richie was a fantastic mechanic. We had understeer with that car, so he took some aluminum and made two dive planes, one on either side in the front. It handled perfectly from that point on. We ended up finishing third overall and second in class. Once I came in to make a pit stop and let Richie take over and it wouldn’t restart—the condenser had failed. You never think of a condenser failing. They never even looked for it. They couldn’t find the problem and we lost a whole lot of laps just waiting for them to figure it out. I slowed down when Shelby was out there. He came out later with a knock-off hammer. Slow down! I would slow going by the pits and then I would go like hell. It was kind of a trademark after that. He had me come in and told me to get out of the car. I said I’m not getting out of the car. So we had a little tiff and after that I found out it wasn’t Carroll who wanted me to slow down it was the Ford guys. I told Shelby “We are losing a lot of time, we just lost two laps so let me go back out.” And he finally said go ahead. So we lost a couple of laps there and we started un-lapping ourselves from everyone and Richie, who was a fantastic driver himself, and I started catching up. Jo Schlesser in the Daytona Coupe was second and we were third. Jo was a fantastic driver. He was the better of my co-drivers, because he knew how to take care of the car. He was really quick, and when we qualified we were always within a few tenths of one another.
SCD: Did Ford ever say why they wanted you to slow down?
BB: Well they were worried that I would break the gearbox. Just because if you shift a little slower and smoother it doesn’t give you a whole lot of time. But they didn’t know that, they didn’t understand that.
SCD: You also drove the GT40 at Le Mans?
BB: We were third fastest qualifier. Ford had two of the seven-liter MkIIs. Phil Hill was in one big-block 427 with Chris Amon, while Bruce McLaren and Ken Miles had the other. Amon was quickest, the Ferrari was second, I was third and McLaren was fourth. I had a 351; and that thing worked perfectly. I was going 212mph down the Mulsanne Straight. We’re doing 212 into the Kink and I finally made it flat. It took me four or five laps to make it flat. Then you crest the hill and brake down to where you’re going 35mph. The quickest part of the track followed by the slowest. The car and brakes worked perfect. The night before the race they pulled all the engines in the GT40s with 351s and put another engine in. Somehow the heads did not match with the blocks and water started sputtering. So we were all out in just over two hours. Before the race I said don’t change it! It worked perfectly. Well, they said, “Orders from headquarters.” Then they send the wrong heads for the blocks. They (Ford) never wanted to admit it.