Ford Performance motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook has credited the staff and partners behind the factory Ford GT program for helping deliver “fantastic” success for the car in competition worldwide.
Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans will mark the 70th and final race for the works-run Ford Chip Ganassi Racing operation following a four-year stint in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship.
The program, which combined the strengths of Ford Performance, Chip Ganassi Racing, Multimatic and Roush-Yates Engines, claimed 19 class victories, 22 pole positions and completed nearly 280,000 miles between its four factory-run cars.
The highlight arguably came at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016, when Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais claimed GTE-Pro honors on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first win in the French endurance classic.
A 1-2 class finish in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018, has been touted as a special moment within group (pictured above).
Rushbrook, who served as the motorsports engineering manager during the program’s early days before replacing Dave Pericak as Ford’s global motorsports boss in 2017, admitted that expectations were high from the very start.
“It’s hard to know really what you imagine because as racers we want to go into projects like this with the intent to win and you never know if you’re actually going to win until you get out there and do it,” he told Sportscar365.
“In some sense you just focus on the fundamentals of what it takes to to deliver race wins, and that’s a great design, great engineering, great partners, great people, great execution and you put all those building blocks and in place then hopefully things go well and you get your wins.
“We’ve certainly had the big win that we were tasked to get with a 2016 win at Le Mans in GTE-Pro.
“Certainly I think our winning percentage is 27 percent and on pole for 32 percent [of the races]. Those are great statistics that you don’t necessarily set as goals but that is an expectation.
“And to be able to have that level of success has been fantastic.”
While the Le Mans class win served as the “pinnacle” as it was the clear “mission” from the start, Rushbrook said overcoming some of the challenges in the early days of the program came as some of the most rewarding moments on a personal level.
“I think it was the journey from the two years of design and development and testing to the heartbreak at Daytona to start the 2016 season, when we had failures so early in the race,” he said.
“What I think was trademarked by this program and a testament to the partners and people we had involved, is that we turned that 24-hour race into a 24-hour test as soon as we had our issues.
“We didn’t pack up and go home. We took advantage of the time on track to learn and prove out the cars and get stronger.
“We had Sebring and Long Beach and then getting the win at Laguna Seca, to give us the confidence before Le Mans, that, yep, we had done a good job with the car and had the right team, people and partners and ultimately leading to that success at Le Mans in 2016 and continued race wins since then.
“I really think it’s the combination of the success through the program and all attributed to the people and partners.”
Holt: Daytona Debut Made Team Stronger
Multimatic Chief Technical Officer Larry Holt echoed Rushbrook’s sentiments about Daytona 2016, which showed the “very strong” story of the team overcoming adversity.
“We ran 18,000 km of testing between May 2015 and Daytona at the end of January 2016,” Holt said. “There were a few small issues that we sorted but nothing that raised any flags on the cars’ robustness and/or durability.
“But, as the world knows, one car was out of contention in the first hour due to a gearbox shift valve issue that we had never, ever encountered.
“The other car suffered the same problem and so both were completely out of contention early on.
“It was an amazing, bad turn of events that I will never forget for how depressed it made me feel, but also how it motivated us all to dig deep and fix that issue and double down on looking at every other system on the car, ending in a trouble-free run for three out of four cars at Le Mans five months later.”