Ford v Ferrari (titled Le Mans ’66 in the UK and other territories) is a 2019 American sports drama film directed by James Mangold and written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller. It stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale, with Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, and Ray McKinnon in supporting roles.
The plot follows a determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby and his British driver, Ken Miles, who are dispatched by Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca with the mission of building the Ford GT40, a new racing car with the potential to finally defeat the perennially dominant Ferrari racing team at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. In early stages of the film’s production, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were cast in the starring roles, but those plans fell through. Mangold was then hired in February 2018, and Damon, Bale, and the rest of the cast joined that summer. Filming began in July 2018 in California and lasted a little over two months.
Ford v Ferrari had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on November 15 by 20th Century Fox. The film has grossed $171.4 million worldwide and received positive reviews from critics, who lauded the performances and racing sequences. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the ten best films of the year, while Bale was nominated for Best Actor – Drama at the 77th Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.
In 1963, Ford Motor Company Vice President Lee Iacocca proposes to Henry Ford II to purchase the cash-strapped Ferrari as a means to boost their car sales by participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Enzo Ferrari, however, walks out of the deal, as Fiat offers him a more lucrative deal that allows him to retain his ownership of Scuderia Ferrari. In rejecting the proposed deal with Ford, Ferrari insults the company and its CEO. A furious Henry II orders his racing division to build a car to defeat Ferrari at Le Mans. For this task, Iacocca hires Shelby American owner Carroll Shelby, a racing driver who won Le Mans in 1959, but was forced to retire due to his heart condition. In turn, Shelby enlists the help of Ken Miles, a hot-tempered British racer and struggling mechanic.
Shelby and Miles test the Ford GT40 Mk I prototype at Los Angeles International Airport, working out all of its design flaws until it is race ready. Seeing that Miles is not their ideal driver, Ford opts to send Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren to the 1964 Le Mans instead. As predicted by Miles, none of the Fords finish the race. While Henry II sees this as a humiliating defeat, Shelby explains to him that the GT40 instilled fear in Enzo Ferrari, as it reached 218 mph on the Mulsanne Straight before it broke down. Shelby and Miles continue development on the GT40 Mk II, but Miles is nearly killed when the car’s brakes fail during testing. In 1966, Ford Senior Vice President Leo Beebe takes over the racing division, with the intent to continue the program without Miles, but Shelby gives Henry II a ride in the car and wagers his own company on the line to convince him that if Miles wins the 24 Hours of Daytona, he will be allowed to race at Le Mans.
Shelby American enters Daytona, but Beebe has a second Ford entered with NASCAR team Holman-Moody supporting it. While the Holman-Moody team has quicker pit stops, Shelby has Miles push his car’s limit to 7,000 RPM, resulting in him winning the race.
At the 1966 Le Mans, Miles struggles with a faulty door during the first lap, but after team engineer Phil Remington fixes the door with a mallet, Miles begins to set lap records while catching up with the Ferraris. While racing with Ferrari driver Lorenzo Bandini – piloting Ferrari’s new prototype 330 P3 – Miles experiences brake failure and has his brake system replaced during his pit stop. Enzo Ferrari protests the move, but Shelby convinces the race officials that the brake change is legal. Miles and Bandini once again duel on the Mulsanne Straight until Bandini blows his engine, completely eliminating Ferrari in the race. With three Ford teams in the top-three positions, Beebe orders Shelby to have Miles slow down for the other two Fords to catch up with him and provide the press with a three-car photo finish. Miles is initially against this decision, continuing to set new lap records near the end of the race, but decides to let Ford have their way on the final lap. Ultimately, McLaren is declared the winner on a technicality, but Miles is grateful to Shelby for giving him the opportunity to race at Le Mans.
Two months after Le Mans, while testing the J-car at Riverside International Raceway, Miles once again experiences brake failure and is killed in the resulting crash. Six months later, Shelby pays Miles’ widow Mollie and son Peter a visit and gives Peter a wrench that Miles threw at him before winning an SCCA race at Willow Springs in 1963. Ford would continue its winning streak at Le Mans in 1967 (using the GT40 Mk IV, developed from the J-car), 1968, and 1969, becoming the only American manufacturer to win the prestigious race. Miles would be posthumously inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2001.