I could not believe my luck.
I was being handed the opportunity to realize one of my fondest childhood fantasies. How many people get to do that? Herve Guyomard, soon to retire as track director, had granted us access to this hallowed place. While the circuit has been modernized many times since my first 25-inch cathode-ray encounter 40 years earlier, in reality, nothing had changed. Walking through the pits, I felt the weight of history on my shoulders.
I was at Le Mans, site of many of motorsport's most historic, memorable, and sometimes tragic events. Approaching the Ford GT, one image possessed my thoughts, the sight of three Ford GT40 MK IIs crossing the finish line together in 1966, ending Ferrari's six-year domination of Le Mans and the start of an uninterrupted four-year run of success for Ford at Le Mans.
From the cockpit, everything felt right with the exception of the steering wheel; GT40 race cars had their steering wheels on the right-hand side, British-style. Pulling into the pits and thinking my day was finished, Herve Guyomard greeted me, saying, "Go out and do a hot lap. You deserve it." With tears in my eyes, and with Schwartz sitting in the passenger seat videotaping the lap for posterity, I pulled back onto the legendary track.
Afterwards, I tried to collect my thoughts. At 50, I felt as if I was again 11, watching Le Mans for the very first time with my Dad, who passed away since this trip. I vividly remember calling him on the phone, from a McDonald's just outside the track, to tell him what I had just done.
I've spent a good deal of time in a variety of Vipers over the past five years, including on a similar domestic adventure in an ACR Coupe. And I've often said that if I won the lottery, a Viper would have to be my first purchase. I always imagined I could live with the beast on a daily basis, and nothing on this trip changed that belief. As raw as it is, the Viper remains a singular driving experience all its own. My hat is tipped to Dan Knott and his dedicated team at Chrysler's SRT group. The journey from London to Maranello and back simply whet my appetite for more time behind the wheel of SRT's Viper Coupe.
The Ford GT, quite frankly, is in another class altogether, as befits its almost $70,000 price premium over Dodge's road rocket. While all the refinement it possesses has given it a somewhat subdued personality, initially at least, it is a tiger clothed in one of the most seductive shapes ever to grace a contemporary car. It does so many things outstandingly well that, with the exception of a complete lack of storage space (even the original MK III road cars provided space for luggage for two for a weekend in Monaco), it's difficult to find any fault with it. Ford has built a car that feels every dollar worth its $150,000 price tag.
Back in England we had one final rendezvous at Roush Engineering in Brentwood northeast of London. It was with a GT40 MK III road car. It turned out to be the perfect way to end our weeklong adventure, in an honest-to-goodness GT40, one that for more than 40 years has remained in the custody of the company that built it. That's exactly the way it should be.
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