Ford’s historic GTE-Pro class victory, on its return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will live on for years to come, according to top executives from the American manufacturer.
Fifty years — to the day — from its first overall win at Circuit de La Sarthe in 1966, Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais took their No. 68 Ford GT to top class honors, in a dramatic race that saw Ford embattled with Ferrari once again.
Renewing a past rivalry, three of the Fords fought the lone-remaining Ferrari 488 GTE from Risi Competizione until the bitter end, and even in the stewards room post-race, until the final results were issued after podium ceremonies.
Ford lodged a protest in the final hour due the Ferrari’s non-functional leader lights system, after a number panel failure cost the No. 66 Ford a handful of laps overnight.
Risi, in turn, protested the class-winning No. 68 Ford post-race due to evidence the car was speeding in a Slow Zone during the race. Both penalties were assed post-race but did not affect the results, with the Risi squad having to settle for second.
Protests and pre-race Balance of Performance controversy aside, it was a banner day for the Blue Oval, which had three cars inside the top-four, and nearly replicated its 1-2-3 sweep achieved by the GT40s in 1966.
It was a special moment for Edsel Ford II, who was in attendance at that race as a then 18-year-old.
Ford joined cousin Bill Ford Jr., the Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman and also the great-grandson of Henry Ford, on the podium alongside its winning lineup, as well as third place finishers Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.
“To do this 50 years later, exactly the way we did it in 1966, is a remarkable achievement,” Edsel Ford II told Sportscar365 post-race.
“It is teamwork, it is hard work, it is dedicated people and it means a lot our family and our greater family. I hope that every office all around our Ford world is celebrating as much as we are today.”
Bill Ford Jr., meanwhile, had tears in his eyes as he celebrated the victory in the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing pits.
“The 1966 race was so iconic for us,” Bill Ford told Sportscar365. “It proved we can come to Europe and be with the best. When we approved this car, we wanted to prove the same thing again, and we did that today.”
The win came just over 395 days after the Multimatic-built Ford GT turned its first-ever laps at Calabogie Motorsports Park in Canada.
It made its competition debut in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, stricken by gearbox and electrical issues, but made steady progress in reliability and pace over recent months.
A breakthrough maiden win, on fuel mileage, in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was backed up by a podium run in the FIA WEC Six Hours of Spa one week later.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” said Ford Performance Director Dave Pericak. “What a team this is, everybody worked really hard, sacrificed a lot to make this happen.
“[This is] the best group of people I have ever worked with, and to be able to return this to the Ford family, words can’t even describe it.
“Over 250,000 employees will be celebrating. We know because they are sending us emails of congratulations and wishing us good luck. This will live on for years to come.”
Chip Ganassi, meanwhile, added a Le Mans win to his massive list of accomplishments in the motorsports world.
Ganassi is now the only team owner in history to win the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Rolex 24 At Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans. And it came in Ganassi’s Le Mans debut as a team owner.
“This business takes a team,” Ganassi told Sportscar365. “We are lucky we have a good group of people at all levels of the program.
“That’s very, very important. Starting with Ford, starting with Multimatic, the race car manufacturer, to the guys that screw in the nuts and bolts on race weekends, everybody involved is a huge asset to the team.”
Even with the accomplished winning record, Ganassi and his team still had a little bit to learn about racing at Le Mans.
“All week long we were learning rules, and regulations, and procedures and such,” he said. “It was like drinking water from a fire hose. That was the biggest challenge.”
Bringing the Ford GT home a winner at Le Mans after such a lengthy absence was another challenge, but according to Raj Nair, Ford’s executive vice president, Global Product Development and chief technical officer, the win will live on in the history books for years to come.
“Fifty years ago I think we put a print on the world with winning here 1-2-3 with the GT40 and really establish ourselves as a global player, at least in the eyes of the public,” Nair told Sportscar365.
“It was great to celebrate that anniversary the right way by winning here again.”
Adam Saal and John Dagys contributed to this report