In the 1960s it was motorsport’s David versus Goliath battle: Ford beat Ferrari in Europe’s most prestigious race. Five decades later, Ford is coming back.
Ford has announced it is returning to the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 2016, exactly 50 years after its maiden victory at the famous French circuit.
Bill Ford, the great-grandson of the company’s founder Henry Ford, jetted to Le Mans for the historic announcement on the eve of this year’s race which starts Saturday afternoon local time.
But there is just one catch. Although Ford will return with a modern version of the GT supercar that defeated Ferrari with a 1-2-3 finish on home turf in 1966 (and went on to win the following three years in a row), it is not competing for outright honours next year.
The front-runners in the modern Le Mans era are mega-dollar teams with budgets bigger than Formula One.
Ford says it is making the historic return because motorsport is still important to the brand’s image.
At this weekend’s race, Audi is aiming for its 14th win since 1999 (all of them with hi-tech diesel power since 2006) and the sixth year in a row, while Toyota and Porsche are racing hybrid supercars.
Nissan, in an unusual move, is experimenting with a front-wheel-drive car (as in, all the power of the engine drives the front wheels, just like a Nissan Pulsar; the exact opposite of the world’s fastest race cars which send power to the rear wheels or, in the case of Le Mans, all four).
Instead, Ford will race in the Le Mans 24 Hour category for modified road cars, in which Porsche 911s and Corvettes compete.
But Ford says it is making the historic return because motorsport is still important to the brand’s image.
“When the GT40 competed at Le Mans in the 1960s, 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.”
Ford plans to introduce 12 new performance vehicles between now and 2020.
Although the road-going version of the Ford GT was designed by an Australian, the car will not be sold locally as it is not being built in right-hand-drive.
The road-going version of the new Ford GT is not due on sale until next year but the company has revealed it has more computer power than a fighter jet.
Instead, once the locally-made supercharged Ford Falcon XR8 goes out of production in October 2016, local Ford performance fans will have only the Mustang to choose from if they want a V8 with a Ford badge.