The good news for Henry Mann is that, yes, he has driven a Ford GT40 on a circuit before. The less good news is that ‘I have never raced one – and I have certainly never raced one in the dark, in March. It could be exciting…’
Indeed it could – but then that’s what we expect of the Goodwood Members’ Meeting. The GT40-only race at 74MM (19-20 March 2016) is going to be celebrating many things – chiefly of course 50 years since Ford’s famous first Le Mans win. But for Henry behind the wheel, and brother Tom on the pitwall, the race will be more significant for being named in tribute to their late father.
The Alan Mann Trophy is for pre-1966 GT40s of the type that Alan Mann Racing developed for Ford in the 1960s. Half a century ago Alan would have been at Goodwood testing the car he firmly believed would beat Ferrari and deliver the 24 Heures du Mans win Ford so desperately sought.
As we all know Ford did win in ‘66, in one of those momentous motorsport moments that 74MM will be marking in grand style. But it wasn’t the Alan Mann GT40 that did the job for the blue oval…
‘Dad was convinced a lightweight car with an aluminium tub and small-block was the way to go; other people wanted the brute muscle and reliability of a big-block,’ Henry says. ‘Yes dad was disappointed, but he followed orders. Ford had to build cars that didn’t break, and you have to say that with first, second and third places it paid off. History vindicated him though because the later GT40s were lighter cars with small-blocks.’
If Henry – who was born two decades after the Blue Oval’s glorious three-year run at La Sarthe – sees any irony in all this he doesn’t show it. He and brother Tom dwell instead on the contribution Alan Mann Racing made to the development of one of the 20th century’s greatest sports cars. And indeed everything else Alan Mann Racing has achieved for Ford in Europe over the years.
Such as… the first race win for the Mustang and almost a win first time out in the Monte Carlo Rally. AMR’s first Ford contract, in 1964, was to run a Falcon in the rally but while it recorded a clean sweep of fastest stages, it was pipped, on handicap, by someone called Paddy Hopkirk in a Mini Cooper…
There was also, in ‘65, the World Sports Car Championship. As Ford’s contracted team, AMR ran the six Shelby Daytona Coupes in the European races, helping seal the title and making Shelby (and Ford) the first American manufacturer ever to win an FIA constructors’ title.
Not surprisingly it was a special moment for the Mann brothers at Revival in 2015 when all six original Daytona Coupes came together for the first time – see more on that here.
Obviously AMR had to mark its involvement in such an illustrious anniversary. Their answer? Like Shelby American, make your own continuation model! That’s the car, due to be finished and go racing in FIA approved events in 2016, in our pictures. With obvious pride, Henry shows us the new paint job: it is the first and only ‘Daytona Coupe’ ever to wear Alan Mann’s red and gold livery.
Those colours became well known in a period that lasted just five years. Between 1964-69 the amateur race driver and Ford salesman established Alan Mann Racing and, chosen by Ford to run its racing operations in Europe, took Ford cars to victory in a huge variety of events. AMR won British Saloon Car and European Touring Car championships as well as the World GT title.
The team wasn’t just synonymous with Ford and classics like the Falcon, Mustang, Lotus Cortina, Daytona Coupe, Escort and GT40. Alan Mann could also pick his drivers: Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Frank Gardner, Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren, John Whitmore and Jacky Ickx all drove for AMR in period.
When the team wasn’t so busy it built cars for movies, including the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
But then in 1969 Alan gave up motor racing for flying. The family story is that while at Daytona, the GT40 prototype was off the track waiting for parts to come from Detroit so often that Alan had plenty of time to learn to fly. Back in the UK he put that skill to use by running Fairoaks Airfield in Chobham for 35 years, with an offsider he poached from Goodwood (the circuit manager Robin Mackay, aka the man who tipped off Ken Tyrrell about how good a young Jackie Stewart was).
Alan rediscovered motor sport when he was invited to the Festival of Speed and, as Henry tells us, ‘was genuinely surprised how many people remembered Alan Mann Racing.
‘Tom and I were surprised too because we hardly knew anything about his motor racing. At home there were never any racing pictures up. I remember being with him at the festival when he was driving Rowan Atkinson’s Ford Falcon and people were asking for his autograph. I thought, how do these people know who you are?’
Alan bought a Mustang and went racing again ‘for fun’ in 2004. ‘He loved historic racing,’ says Henry. ‘He rarely thought about anything else until his health gave out.’
Since Alan died in 2012 Henry and Tom have been on a mission to rebuild Alan Mann Racing as a historic race team, and it is their proud boast they haven’t missed a season of racing since 2004. They are based in a unit at Fairoaks Airfield, crammed full of racing Falcons, a Mustang being built super-tough for endurance rallying, an early Corvette convertible imposter (!) in for some TLC, and the newly gleaming Alan Mann Racing tribute model to the Daytona Cobra Coupe, a joint project with Craig Davies and John Young.
‘I hope dad would approve of it,’ says Henry. ‘I have never driven one of these cars before and am looking forward to it. The appeal? Hairy handling, crossply tyres, no grip, slides everywhere, smoke from the tyres, brakes get red hot. It’s all a bit raw, but watching cars like this is a lot more engaging than watching modern cars.’
What, you mean a bit like the 2015 St Mary’s Trophy race at Revival when you shared the Alan Mann Racing Fairlane Thunderbolt with a chap called Tom Kristensen? Who, we may remember, came from almost-last to first place.
‘Tom did a blinding job that day,’ says Henry. ‘It all looked so gloomy on the Friday when the car broke so it was good to pull it round. With Shedden and Jordan in the Lotus Cortinas there was such a good battle up the front, then this big Yank tank emerged from nowhere…’
Plenty more of that sort of action through 2016 please Henry and Tom…first though Henry has to survive that GT40 night race…
Photography courtesy of Tom Shaxson and Alan Mann Racing