In early 1963, Ford Motor Company very nearly acquired Ferrari. Fortunately for automotive enthusiasts the world over, Enzo Ferrari rebuffed the offer from Henry Ford II at the last possible moment. There is no way of knowing what would have happened if the Dearborn automaker had succeeded in subsuming the then tiny Italian sports car manufacturer and racing team. However, we do know that the rejection spawned one of the greatest rivalries and some of the greatest cars of the past half century. The day before the 2015 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, starting with “We’re Back!” Henry Ford II’s nephew Bill announced the next stage in that rivalry with a 2016 return to Circuit de la Sarthe powered by the all-new GT.
While the design of the third-generation Ford GT was perhaps the best kept secret leading up to this year’s North American International Auto Show, the least surprising aspect of the the new supercar program was confirmed today by company chairman Bill Ford. At a press conference in France today, Ford, CEO Mark Fields, global product development group vice-president Raj Nair and race team owner Chip Ganassi confirmed the competition version of the turbocharged, carbon-fiber sports car will run in the 2016 edition of the French enduro. Ford’s production partner for the road-going GT, Multimatic will also be responsible for constructing the race cars.
The timing of the reveal of the new GT in 2015 and its production launch in 2016 was not in any way coincidental. Following Enzo’s decision to go it alone (at least until he sold out to Fiat in 1969) Henry II decided to beat the Italians at their own game.
in racing, to finish first, first you must finish
It was not until 1966 that it all came together for Ford with a 1-2-3 finish, the first of four consecutive victories in France. The remarkable run of the Ford GT only came to an end when changes in the rules brought about the Porsche era that began with the 917, but I digress.
June 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of that first victory. While the new GT won’t be challenging the insanely expensive factory prototypes from Audi, Porsche, Toyota and Nissan for overall victory the way its progenitor did, it will again be taking on Ferrari along with Porsche, Corvette, Aston Martin and others in the LM-GTE class.
While the original GTs had a plethora of mechanical problems in the first two years, the new car is at least heading into the race with an established powerplant. The twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 was first announced as an LMP2 powerplant in 2010 and has worked well in the Riley Daytona Prototype chassis run by Ganassi Racing in the Tudor United Sports Car Series for the past two years including a victory in the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona.
Ganassi will field two teams of two GTs each in 2016, one running in the Tudor United Sports Car Series in North America and a second team running in the full World Endurance Championship including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The works-supported GT will make its competition debut next January in the 24 Hours of Daytona after spending the rest of this year testing. No drivers have been announced for the program and it seems unlikely that Ganassi will stretch his resources by continuing the prototype effort into 2016 so drivers including Scott Pruett and Joey Hand will likely find a home in the cockpit of the GT.
Roush Yates Racing will continue to build the engines for the GT race effort while Michelin will supply tires and Castrol will keep everything lubricated. The race car’s appearance hasn’t changed much from the road-going edition. The most substantial changes come at the back of the car where the active rear wing has been replaced by a high-mounted fixed wing that is supplemented by a massive diffuser under the rear bumper. A longer front splitter is augmented by some dive planes and the exotic looking headlights of the production car are replaced by three simple round lamps on each side. Finally, the exhausts now exit just ahead of the rear wheels, keeping the flow around the rear aero devices more consistent.
A day ahead of the Ford announcement, the ACO announced updated rules that go into effect for the GTE class in 2016. The revised rules will give the GTE machines an extra 20-horsepower while cutting the nominal weight by 22-pounds, helping to separate them from the lesser GT3 machines they also run with in other Le Mans series including the World Endurance Championship.
While the wildly exotic LMP1 machines are technically fascinating and as an engineer at heart I’m thrilled that they exist, the best racing has frequently occurred among the GT machines and it’s great to see a factory supported Ford getting back into the mix to take on the world’s best sports cars.