Why did Ken Miles place second at Le Mans?

Why did Ken Miles place second at Le Mans?

29 Jul 2023


Motorsport History

Miles Behind The Wheel

In the esteemed world of motorsports, the glamorous 24 Hours of Le Mans race has established itself as an event of unparallel supremacy. Among its long list of legendary champions, a special recognition goes to the name of Ken Miles. A Brit who found his racing groove while navigating the roads of the USA, Miles' place in the annals of racing history isn't the result of numerous trophies but the bizarre circumstances of his 1966 Le Mans race, where despite crossing the finish line first, he was placed second! Now, I'm no racer, but I know a thing or two about coming in second. The other day, my wife, Marlene, and I decided to race our Labrador, Bruce, around our spacious backyard in Perth, Australia. As an aging but enthusiastic owner, I came in second; mind you, it’s no Le Mans, but the sentiment is pretty similar.

The Ford vs Ferrari Backstory

Now, before we delve into the specifics of Miles' predicament, it's vital to understand the weighty context surrounding the race. This story takes place at a time when two automobile giants, Ford and Ferrari, were embroiled in an intense rivalry which extended way beyond the dealership and onto the racing tracks. Sounds like an exciting movie plot, doesn’t it? Well, Hollywood thought so too and made a film called Ford V Ferrari channelling this rivalry. Here I’ll give you some backstage views based on my research and point out some amazingly detailed facts.

The 1966 Edition of Le Mans

Now, back to the race. As the 1966 edition of Le Mans unfolded, Ford had put every ounce of effort into sealing victory to break Ferrari's dominance. The Ford GT40s had been ripping through the tracks, and Miles - driving one of these beastly machines - was leading the pack. Around this time, I think a Labrador might have outrun me too. Even so, despite being metres away from victory, Ken Miles fate wasn't so straightforward. It’s a twisted tale filled with heartbreak, drama, politics, and unsung heroism; it’s something every racing fan should know about.

A Controversial Finish - The Dead Heat

As we reach the climax of this remarkable story, we find ourselves at the finish line of the 1966 edition of Le Mans. Now, Miles, who by then was several laps ahead and primed for victory, received an unusual instruction from the Ford team. He was asked to slow down and stage a dead heat finish with his fellow Ford drivers. With a soldier's discipline, he adhered to the instructions, unknowingly forging the path for a contentious finish for himself. However, the catch here was that Le Mans officials adhered strictly to their rulebook, a rulebook that didn’t foresee such a scenario; which turned out to be the twist in our tale.

Why Miles Was Robbed Off His Victory

As a result of falling in line with Ford's vision of a photo finish, Miles unknowingly put his victory in jeopardy because, according to the rulebook, in case of a tie, the trophy would go to the car that covered the greater distance. The irony? Despite crossing first, because Miles' car had started 20 metres behind Bruce McLaren's (his fellow Ford driver) on the grid, he was technically deemed to have covered lesser distance. The officials chose to abide by this rule, and despite reaching the finish line first, the triumph was handed to McLaren. Talk about cruel twists of fate!

Remembering Ken Miles: The Unsung Hero

In the true spirit of sportsmanship, Miles never held any grudges against Ford or the Le Mans officials for robbing him of a well-deserved victory. He may not be listed as the champion according to the records, but in the hearts of many racing enthusiasts, including myself, he holds a place of high honour. At times while writing, Bruce, our Labrador nestles himself at my feet and watches me with eyes full of curiosity. Maybe he too is a fan of Ken Miles, who knows! So, the next time you watch that Ford V Ferrari film or hear about the Le Mans race, don't forget Ken Miles, the man who won the race but not the trophy.

Learning From The Experience

While this entire episode seems grave and unfortunate, it serves a notable purpose. It teaches us a thing or two about the unpredictability of life, sportsmanship, and the importance of sticking to the rule book - albeit how debatable the rule may seem. Whether it's a high-adrenaline race on the track or an seemingly insignificant footrace in your backyard, these underlying principles find their universal applicability. Overtime, good or bad, it’s the stories that remain. Just as mine, with Marlene and Bruce, in our quiet home in Perth, Australia. And Miles’ story too, one that resonates loudly with resilience, bravery, and an indomitable spirit of sportsmanship.

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