Full-season commitment goes with the 24 Hours.
Ford confirmed the rumors today in a press conference almost exactly 24 hours before the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes the green flag: Next year, on the 50th anniversary of the brand’s one-two-three finish in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford will return with a four-car, factory-backed effort featuring the new GT, racing in the LM GTE Pro class, with teams fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
But that news was just the tip of the iceberg. Ford will race two GTs in a full-season campaign in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The first global look at the new GT race car will come at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 30-31, 2016.
The Daytona debut of the Ford GT also will be the debut of the completion of the DAYTONA Rising project, the $400 million comprehensive makeover of Daytona International Speedway.
Ed Bennett, chief executive officer of the International Motor Sports Association, which sanctions the TUDOR Championship, was present at Ford’s announcement at Le Mans, and said that it’s a feather in the cap of the series that Ford and Ganassi chose to develop the GT’s powertrain in their Rolex 24- and Sebring-winning Daytona Prototype.
“It’s the ultimate validation of what a sports car racing program can do,” Bennett said, regarding the “tech transfer” that used racing to not only develop the competition version of the EcoBoost 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine, but to improve the road-going versions of Ford’s EcoBoost engine lineup.
“We believe the Ford GT’s advances in aerodynamics, light-weighting and EcoBoost power will make for a compelling race car that can once again compete on a global stage,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president and chief technical officer.
“We know from our rich history in motorsports that world-class competition is a great incubator for even further product innovation,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO.
Stuff of legends
The story of Ford’s venture into sports car racing 50 years ago is the stuff of legends – how Henry Ford II wanted to upstage Ferrari on its own stage, and approved the development of the GT40, sending eight of them to Le Mans in 1966 under the guidance of iconic car builder Carroll Shelby. The winner was the No. 2 Ford of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, followed by the No. 1 of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme, both on the lead lap. Third was the No. 5 GT40 of Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson, 12 laps back. The highest-finishing Ferrari was eighth.
It was at that race that a then nine-year-old William Clay Ford III, now executive chairman of his family business, had a revelation: “I knew at that moment I would spend the rest of my life at Ford Motor Company,” he said at today’s press conference.
Bennett said that while the Ford-Ferrari battle will again be fought on the track, “Now we have an opportunity to rekindle that not only with Ferrari but with Corvette, BMW, Porsche and others – it’s a fantastic move for them at a time when interest in sports car racing around the world is very strong.”
Ford had no word yet on who the drivers will be for the TUDOR Championship 2016 season – nor for the FIA World Endurance Championship, which Ford pledged to compete in also next year. But today’s announcement was another big step in a project that has seen considerable fanfare from the outset.
“It shows a clear commitment from Ford for sports car racing, and it’s obviously a fantastic, significant development for the TUDOR Championship,” Bennett said. “We couldn’t be more proud that the first place this car will race is as the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona, which will also be the first chance to show off the new Daytona Rising upgrades to the facility.
“A brand-new facility and a brand-new Ford GT racing program – for all that to happen together in a 24-hour environment – will be very exciting, and very special.”