The 36th 24-Hours of Le Mans took place on the 28th and 29th of September, 1968 at the Circuit des 24 Heures.
Surprised by the record distance of the victorious Ford GT40 MK IV at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1967 and the average 24 hour speed of 218.038 km/h, the CSI made a drastic change to the rules in 1968. The most decisive element was the reduction of the engine capacity that led to the withdrawal of teams from Ford and Ferrari at the racecar world championships
This change meant that the seven-liter racecar from Ford, as well as the Ferrari 330P4 were no longer eligible and Ferrari was not even close to building the needed 40 units of the P4 and all of its fast prototypes all found their way into a museum. Even the Chaparral 2F, with its mighty rear fenders and 7 liter Chevrolet engine disappeared from the racetrack.
Even the party responsible for the change, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, was faced with the challenge of fighting for the record as it had done in the previous year. Above all, the quick stretch from Maison Blanche up to Esses was cause for criticism. Out of Maison Blanche the fastest racecars passed the pits at almost 300 km/h and the track was only divided form the pits by a thin white strip.
In order to slow down cars, a small a chicane was installed to reduce speed dramatically. In recognition of the previous year’s winner and while Ford had assumed part of the chicane’s costs, it took on the name of the American car manufacturer.
After the exclusion of the great prototypes, there was no clear-cut favorite at Le Mans in 1968. John Wyer further developed the Ford GT40 and came with a three-car team to Le Mans. There was the experienced team of Pedro Rodríguez and Lucien Bianchi, both of whom had collected several starts at Le Mans. The second GT40 was driven by Paul Hawkins and David Hobbs, the third by the Australian Brian Muir and the Brit Jackie Oliver.
For lack of having an adequate racecar, the Ferrari team – led by the North American Racing Team –relied on their three-year-old 250LM.
At Porsche, there was hope of grabbing its first victory in the overall results. The team brought four new Porsche 908s to Le Mans, this pack of three liter cars were driven by Jochen Neerpasch, Rolf Stommelen, Gerhard Mitter, Vic Elford, Joe Buzzetta, Scooter Patrick, Joseph Siffert and Hans Herrmann.
The Porsche 908 was the fastest car on the track and after one hour of racing all four cars were in the lead. In training, Joseph Siffert, with a time of 3:35.4 minutes (avg. 225 km/h) had achieved the best lap times. However, after about three hours the first problems set in. Stommelen/Neerpasch’s car had to have the fan belt changed and an hour later Siffert was hit with a defective driveshaft. One of the other remaining Porsches suffered problems with the alternator, the insulation was too large and due to the centrifugal force on the wires, it became loose and led to short-circuiting. After nine hours, Miter/Elford were disqualified because they had replaced their alternator, as exchanging a whole system was not allowed. Ultimately, the Rodríguez/Bianchi Ford took the lead after three Porsche cars had fallen out and the Neerpasch/Stommelen car had fallen way back out of contention, but it did stage a comeback and ultimately took third place with 4366.220 kilometers.
Rodríguez and Bianchi were all alone in the lead and won with a lead of five laps over the Porsche 907 of Dieter Spoerry and Rico Steinemann and tallied 4452.880 kilometers (185,536 km/h) for Ford’s third victory in a row. As it was its first victory driving under Gulf colors, it became a small piece of motor sport history.