James Mangold’s film ‘Le Mans 1966’ starring Matt Damon et Christian Bale relates how Ford succeeded in thwarting mighty Ferrari at Le Mans. Earlier the same year, Citroën and Michelin finished on top after a thrilling duel on another legendary event – the Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Michelin wasn’t involved in the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours. Having won the race’s inaugural edition in 1923, it only returned in 1967 when it equipped a factory Alpine A210 prototype with radial slicks.
In January 1966, however, its tyres took a surprise win in the battle that opposed Ford and Mini on that year’s Monte Carlo Rally… when the eventual victor in the wintry French Alps was Citroën!
Prior to the start, the car to beat was clearly the Mini Cooper S, the agility and reliability of which had enabled BMC to claim the 1964 and 1965 wins with Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Mäkinen respectively. Mäkinen, Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen were consequently favourites to triumph again in 1966, despite opposition from Ford Lotus Cortina rivals Vic Elford, Roger Clark and Bo Ljungfeldt.
The fight between the two teams was merciless, but the Minis emerged from the final night and the Col de Turini to monopolise the top three places, with Mäkinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk finishing clear of fourth-placed Clark. However, all these drivers were disqualified after the finish when the iodine-vapour headlamp bulbs of their cars were deemed to contravene French traffic regulations.
The Citroën DS 21s competed on Michelin 165 R 400 X radial tyres for dry and wet ground, switching to studded Michelin Xs when the conditions turned snowy. Both types were freely available for sale over the counter, since Michelin’s competitions department was only founded in 1973.