Since the construction of the second automobile, people have been racing their powered four-wheelers to prove engineering supremacy as much as to satisfy ego and personal, if not always professional, pride. Hollywood’s rendition of A.J. Baime’s book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed & Glory at Le Mans” depicts how the Americans at Ford battled Italian-based Ferrari for bragging rights at LeMans in the hit movie, “Ford vs. Ferrari.”

A mostly accurate portrayal of the characters—of which there are many—in this competitive story, is complimented by the excellent driving and racing action depicted in this two-plus hour saga. Its Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Film Editing are well-deserved for a film filled with revving engines and racing pulses. I’m a car critic, not a film critic, so of course I also think it should win Best Picture.

Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) won LeMans in 1959 in an Aston Martin. However, a heart condition ended his racing career just as he was reaching the pinnacles of success. Shelby would go on to create a racing/car construction company called Shelby America that developed his signature Cobra racing and street car using components built by others, yet assembled in California during the early stages of SCCA racing’s country-wide success.

During this period, 1963, Ford recognized that it needed a new image to attract the early ‘baby-boomers’ born to parents that came home from World War II, hopefully due to the success of the numerous aircraft built at Ford’s massive Michigan assembly plant. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) persuaded Henry Ford II, known as ‘Hank the Deuce’ (Tracy Letts) to buy the then cash-poor Ferrari, the Italian automaker that was winning all of Europe’s most-prestigious races—plus earning the admiration of younger drivers everywhere.

Ford executives met several times with Enzo Ferrari, but ultimately the senior Ferrari rebuffed Ford’s advances with several vulgar and derogatory comments directed at The Deuce, leading to Ford’s emphasis to race Ferrari and “kick his ass”.

Carroll Shelby was tapped to be the man to create and race the car to beat Ferrari—the Ford GT40. While these efforts failed in 1964 and 1965, the movie successfully highlights the development and refinement of the GT40 that did go on to win LeMans in 1966 (the Ford finished first, second, and third) as well as in ’67, ‘68’ and ’69.

Key to the story in real life and on film, is Shelby’s relationship with ornery British driver Ken Miles. Miles served in WWII as a tank driver—an irony perhaps lost on some viewers as he became one of the fastest drivers ever at LeMans. Trained to be an engineer, Miles had moved to California in the early 1950s. He quickly became immersed in the California hot rod scene and peeled off numerous SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) wins in an MG-based racer that he built himself.

The interaction between the poised Texan Shelby and the sarcastic Miles, with his heavy British accent, is perfectly represented by Damon and Bale, a Jason Bourne vs. Batman competitiveness that persists in the goal of creating the perfect race car for Ford and ultimately turning the perfect laps to win LeMans.

With these types of heroes, of course there has to be a villain. Former Ford Senior Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) earns the scorn of both Miles and Shelby for his ham-fisted partisanship after Miles indiscreetly belittles him at the debut of Ford’s first Mustang.

A central, surprisingly good component, are the key roles that Miles’s son Peter and his wife Mollie play in the movie. Yes, this is a movie for serious motorheads, but everyone can relate to how a family supports each other and better appreciate the human spirit attached to these very capable athletes.

Spoiler alert in the next sentence: It is particularly emotional to see Miles, a legendary racer inducted into the Motor Sports Hall of Fame, get widespread attention after dying in a 1966 test drive accident just two months after his record-setting performance for Ford at LeMans.

With incredibly accurate racing scenes and terrific character portrayals, Ford vs. Ferrari is great entertainment and an even better racing movie.

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