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Bob Bondurant Recalls Le Mans Racing With Carroll Shelby

Former champion driver and founder of renowned performance-driving school was part of Shelby’s 1965 championship team.

SPEED StaffPosted May 12, 2012 – Phoenix, AZ



Bondurant racing the Shelby Cobra Daytona in 1965, when he helped win the manufacturers GT championship and set a lap record at Nurburgring. (Photo: Courtesy of Bob Bondurant) 

Bob Bondurant, veteran race driver and founder of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving near Phoenix, Arizona, offers his thoughts and recollections on the death of legendary champion driver, team owner and car designer Carroll Shelby. 

Bondurant and Shelby initially competed against each other as drivers. After Shelby formed the Shelby American team, he convinced Bondurant to drive for him. The team won the 1965 International Manufacturer’s Championship, with seven victories in 10 races and beating Ferrari on its home turf.


Cobra Daytona designer Peter Brock chats with Bob Bondurant as he starts up the restored Le Mans racer in 2009 at his driving school near Phoenix. (Photo: Bob Golfen)

“Carroll Shelby’s passing is tougher than I thought it would be,” Bondurant said. “I guess I thought he was immortal and would always be there to give me advice whether I wanted it or not… which was often!”

“1963 was a pinnacle year for me, my first season driving for Carroll. What a thrill ride! I won every race I entered with the Cobra. In1964, Carroll and Ford sent a team over to Europe to beat Ferrari in the World Manufacturer’s Championship, never won by an American car. Ford had no budget to send me, so I paid my own way to Europe.”

“Along with the true masters – Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Masten Gregory and others –our mission was to beat Ferrari. Carroll was hell bent on winning; he coached us like a fellow driver, he led us with the voice of a winning driver and he exercised his will on us to win.”

“That year was full of wins and early on I won the most prestigious race in the world with Dan Gurney, the Le Mans 24-Hour. Our car number was 5, the same number Carroll had won Le Mans in several years earlier. To have Carroll so proud, so happy and so pleased with us was huge.”

“We came up five debatable points short in ’64 to win the trophy. That was the year the famous words, ‘Ferrari’s ass is mine,’ were spoken. Those initials were on the back of one of my Cobras, just a little reminder from the pit crew. We learned a lot that year, and I learned the tracks very, very well.


Carroll Shelby at an event at Shelby American headquarters in 1964. (Photo: courtesy Richard George)

“In 1965, Carroll told me the Cobras were unfortunately old news for Ford, with the GT40 having all of Carroll’s focus to be THE car to finally beat Ferrari in the world championship. Carroll told me the cars were sent to a British racing-team manager and all the race drivers were British, so there was no way for me to drive.”

“One day, catching Carroll in a good mood, I asked if he would send me back to Europe to try again, as the American on the team. I went on to win seven of the 10 races, four as a solo driver, the other three with fantastic co-drivers. And we won the championship.”

“Carroll Shelby had a lot of faith in me. He understood my desire to beat the world’s best. We will never know whether he just gave me another chance that year or if he had a hunch I could win it, but it’s in the history books.”

“When once asked what his proudest moment was in his racing life, he said it was winning the 1965 World Manufacturer’s Championship – and that was the proudest day of my life to hear him say that.”

“The race records tell you that I was at the right place, at the right time, with the right talent… and with the right man. Goodbye, Carroll. Thank you for the ride!”


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