Ford North America Executive Vice President and President Raj Nair said he’s glad to have “cleared up” allegations that the Ford GTs had been sandbagging in the build-up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the Detroit manufacturer unable to defend its GTE-Pro class win after struggling for outright race pace.
The No. 67 Ford of Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derani capitalized on a late-race issue for Jordan Taylor’s No. 63 Corvette C7.R to grab a runner-up finish, behind the class-winning No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, which appeared to have a slight advantage in the twice-around-the-clock enduro.
However, five different manufacturers finished in the top-five in class, and separated by only one lap, in a stark contrast to last year’s race, which was heavily dominated by Ford and Ferrari.
Nair, who was the mastermind behind the Ford GT project, said they didn’t have the outright pace to win this year, but was pleased to get all four cars to the finish after facing multiple delays.
“It’s a tough job and the only person who is happy with the BoP is the guy on the top podium so I imagine [Aston Martin is] pretty happy with it,” Nair told Sportscar365.
“But I’m glad that we cleared up some of the sandbagging stuff. Clearly we weren’t.
“I think today is a day where we had a lot of issues. But I think it was one where the tenacity of the team really showed through, and even we didn’t have the speed we had the tenacity.
“[I’m] really proud of the team. After a day like that, I’ll take second place.”
It was a far-from-perfect run for the Blue Oval in its return to Le Mans, one year after claiming a historic debut class win with the mid-engined supercar.
Rear suspension failure sent to the No. 66 Ford to the garage early, while the No. 69 car fought multiple issues with its tail lights and the defending class-winning No. 68 car losing time in the pits as well.
While the two IMSA-crewed entries finished 6th and 7th in class, the FIA World Endurance Championship-entered No. 67 car fought back from shifting issues to claim the podium finish.
“It’s easy to be a team when things are going well, but when you have three cars in the garage with three major repairs going on, for the team to stick with and keep plugging away…” Nair said.
“Credit to the 67 team. They started right away with more shift issues, which is if you remember last year what even hit them on the grid.
“They didn’t let it faze them and they did a great change of the shift actuator while they were doing a brake pad change at the exact same time and hardly lost any time.”
Priaulx, who along with season-long co-driver Tincknell retains their points lead in the GT World Championship, said it was one of the hardest races of his life.
“I didn’t know what to expect and I said that we should all talk about the BoP after the weekend,” Priaulx told Sportscar365. “I must say well done, it was close, but we were on the back foot.
“The top speed, the power, we just didn’t have the pull out of the corners and it was tough, but we got a podium here.
“We got gifted the second, but that was one of the hardest races of my life. From the moment we sat in the car, we gave 110 percent and there’s nothing left.”
Despite having faced a reduction in turbo boost and a 20kg weight increase year-to-year, a number of competitors questioned whether the Ford would show increased pace in the race.
Ford Performance Global Director Dave Pericak expressed his BoP concerns following the test day, which saw the Fords at the bottom of the time charts and some six seconds off the pace, which it managed to largely recover in qualifying and the race.
According to Ford Chip Ganassi Racing IMSA Team Principal Mike O’Gara, they were still on the back foot in the race.
The No. 67 Ford ended up with the fourth fastest race lap, behind two Aston Martins and Jan Magnussen’s Corvette, with Daniel Serra’s 3:50.950 lap in the No. 97 Aston quicker than Scott Dixon’s pace-setting time of the weekend from last year.
O’Gara, however, applauded the FIA and ACO for their efforts in creating a more diverse race this year among all manufacturers.
“I actually was thinking about it an hour or two before the end of the race, and just looking at the lineup there’s a Corvette, there’s an Aston, a Ferrari, a Ford. Everybody was up there in the mix,” O’Gara told Sportscar365.
“I’m not sure the ACO could have asked for anything more. I think the weather may have caught some people out with setup and tire selection and stuff like that.
“I think that some people thought we were just going to show up on race day and run away… but we’ve been pushing from the beginning.
“Hopefully this shows everybody that we just didn’t have the pace this year.”
James Newbold contributed to this report