Ford Poised to Return to Le Mans
The name “Ford” is synonymous with racing. It’s a flame that was ignited when Henry Ford built his first race car, Sweepstakes, in 1901, long before he went into the business of production automobiles. No place has the Ford name burned brighter than on the world’s most famous road course of Le Mans.
In June 2016, Ford returns to those hollowed grounds to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous triumph of the GT40 over the then unbeatable Ferrari team. However, the return is not just one of the nostalgic variety, Ford is once again competing for a championship in the GTE Pro class with its new GT production sports car.
The GT race car is further proof of Ford’s commitment to innovation through competition. It’s based on the new Ford GT supercar unveiled in January 2015. Both the production car and race car were scheduled to debut to mark the 50th anniversary of Ford GT race cars placing 1-2-3 at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford went on to repeat its victory at Le Mans in 1967, 1968 and 1969 in route to obtaining legendary status for both the cars and drivers.
“When the GT40 competed at Le Mans in the ’60s, Henry Ford II sought to prove Ford could beat endurance racing’s most legendary manufacturers,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company. “We are still extremely proud of having won this iconic race four times in a row, and that same spirit that drove the innovation behind the first Ford GT still drives us today.”
Prior to Le Mans, the Ford GT race car will run the full 2016 schedules of the FIA World Endurance Championship and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, making its competition debut in January 2016 in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Florida. Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (CGRFS) will operate the two Ford teams. Both series teams intend to compete with a four-car effort at Le Mans. Drivers will be announced in the near future.
The new Ford GT production car is the halo of the new Ford Performance group, a division dedicated to providing innovation through performance.
Like the new Ford GT supercar, the race version is powered by the same Ford 3.5L EcoBoost engine and engineered using advanced lightweight composites featuring carbon fiber for an exceptionally rigid but light chassis.
The group is scheduled to deliver a dozen new performance vehicles by 2020. Ford Performance will leverage its racing efforts and expertise in an effort to bring innovations dedicated to performance models and performance parts. The knowledge gained via competition will provide quicker iterations of the latest technologies that will ultimately be applied to the full Ford vehicle lineup.
The Ford Performance lineup includes Ford GT, Focus RS, F-150 Raptor, Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT350R, Focus ST and Fiesta ST. Ford views this performance segment as a growing business for the American automotive icon because it recognizes an enthusiast’s desire for vehicles that offer high performance, cutting-edge technology and a superior driving experience.
“Ford remains focused on three priorities globally: accelerating our One Ford plan, delivering product excellence with passion and driving innovation in every part of our business,” said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company president and CEO. “All three came together to create the new Ford GT. We also know from our rich history in motorsports that world-class competition is a great incubator for even further product innovation.”
The GT race car features a number of innovations Ford believes will not only make it competitive in LM GTE Pro, but ultimately position it to provide benefits to each vehicle in the Ford lineup. These include state-of-the-art aerodynamics to deliver outstanding levels of downforce for improved stability with minimal drag, advanced lightweight composites featuring carbon fiber for an exceptionally rigid but light chassis, and the power and efficiency of EcoBoost technology.
By the time the summer of 2016 gives way to fall, the world of racing will have a good idea if Ford’s new GT race effort is an ego boost or an eco bust.
Raj Nair, Ford Motor Company group vice president, Global Product Development and chief technical officer, expanded on Fields’ comment. “As we developed the Ford GT, from the outset, we wanted to ensure we had a car that has what it takes to return Ford to the world of GT racing. “We believe the Ford GT’s advances in aerodynamics, ‘light-weighting’ and EcoBoost power will make for a compelling race car that can once again compete on a global stage. The same spirit that drove the innovation behind the first Ford GT still drives us as a company today. Let the racing begin!”
Joining Ford in this project were Multimatic Motorsports, Roush Yates Engines, Castrol, Michelin, Forza Motorsport, Sparco, Brembo and CGRFS. The race car underwent extensive design and testing within Ford and Multimatic, as CGRFS provided input into the development. Roush Yates supported development of the 3.5L EcoBoost V-6, the most powerful EcoBoost production engine ever.
The 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 engine debuted in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014. Since then, Ford, with CGRFS, has captured significant overall wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Rolex 24 at Daytona. Besides great success in sports cars, Ganassi race teams achieved major victories in the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis 500.
“We’ve won races and championships, but we’ve never run Le Mans,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “When presented the opportunity to compete with the new Ford GT on the world’s biggest sports car stage, and on the 50th anniversary of one of the most storied victories in racing history, how could any race team not want to be part of that? Will it be a challenge? Absolutely, but we couldn’t be with a better partner than Ford.”
There is little doubt the new Ford GT race cars will steal a great deal of television air time as well as become a fan favorite at each event. With many of the world’s most talented drivers already in the Ford camp, success is likely to come quickly. It is also part of the plan to expose the prowess of the EcoBoost V-6 in terms of power and endurance. This is a desire to change the mindset that anything less than an American V-8 engine is not capable of competing at the upper echelon of racing.
As the old adage goes, the proof is in the pudding. By the time the summer of 2016 gives way to fall, the world of racing will have a good idea if Ford’s new GT race effort is an ego boost or an eco bust.
Where to See Them Race
2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Schedule
Jan. 30/31: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL*
Mar. 19: Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, FL*
Apr. 16: Long Beach Street Circuit, Long Beach, CA (WeatherTech Championship Prototype (P), Prototype Challenge (PC) and GT Le Mans (GTLM) only)
May 1: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, CA
June 4: Belle Isle Park, Detroit, MI (P, PC and GT Daytona (GTD) only)
July 3: Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, NY*
July 10: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada
July 23: Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, CT (PC, GTLM and GTD only)
Aug. 7: Road America, Elkhart Lake, WI
Aug. 21: Virginia International Raceway, Alton, VA (GTLM and GTD only)
Sept. 17: Circuit of The Americas, Austin, TX
Oct. 1: Road Atlanta, Braselton, GA*
* Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events
2016 FIA World Endurance Championship Provisional Calendar*
Mar. 25/6: The Prologue, Circuit Paul Ricard, France
Apr. 17: 6 Hours of Silverstone, Great Britain
May 7: WEC 6 Hours of Spa, Belgium
June 5: 24 Hours of Le Mans Test Day
June 18/19: 24 Hours of Le Mans, France
July 24: 6 Hours of Nürburgring, Germany
Sept. 4: 6 Hours of Mexico City, Mexico (TBC)
Sept. 17: 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas (Lone Star Le Mans), U.S.
Oct. 16: 6 Hours of Fuji, Japan
Nov. 6: 6 Hours of Shanghai, China
Nov. 19: 6 Hours of Bahrain, Bahrain
An additional race will take place in Mexico, to be confirmed.