Is Ford building a new GT40 to race at Le Mans?

There's evidence that the company is. And evidence that it isn't.

Ford is announcing a brand-new GT40 at the Detroit auto show in January!

Or not.

Ford will race the brand-new Shelby GT350 Mustang at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016!

Or not.

But these two possibilities have the conspiracy theorists working overtime. Here’s why: The FIA’s World Endurance Championship has scheduled a press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit for Tuesday, January 13, at 1:25 p.m. And there’s buzz aplenty that Ford would like to go back to Le Mans in 2016, the 50th anniversary of its undeniably historic win there.

Ford, in 1966, had won the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring with the GT40, built in at least some small part because Enzo Ferrari not only rebuffed Ford’s interest in buying the company, he did it rather dismissively. Back then, Ford was rich enough to spend money just to make a statement, and they did, with the GT40. Which is why they sent eight of them to Le Mans.

The GT40 not only won, it swept the podium, and the best Ferrari could do was an eighth with a customer team, 50 laps down. So 2016 makes 50 years since that happened, and no company loves happy anniversaries more than Ford.

So the rumor is we will see a brand-new GT40 at Detroit. And that it will be introduced in conjunction with the WEC at its press conference. There is a problem with that, which I will get to in a moment.

The last GT40 was called just the Ford GT, due in part to problems in acquiring the GT40 name, owned by a British company. It was introduced in 2003 at Ford’s 100th anniversary (see what I mean about Ford and anniversaries?), and they started selling them a year later. They built about 4,000 in two years, retailed them for about $150,000. They were wonderful cars, but were only, at best, a mild sales success – Ford actually intended to build more than they did – and while some were raced, and still are, Ford didn’t back a major program.

Why now?

So why would they want to build another supercar right now? Good question. It isn’t just to go to Le Mans – no company has that kind of discretionary in-your-face income right now. Well, maybe BMW, but few others.

They could, of course, go to Le Mans with a less-ambitious GT program – Chevrolet and Dodge made competitive GT cars out of Corvettes and Vipers, so it would be possible to make one out of the Shelby GT350, which goes on sale next year. It will have more than 500 naturally-aspirated horsepower, which -- like the Corvette and Viper production engines -- would be strangled down anyway to meet "balance of performance" levels. Don't forget, too, that you must be invited to Le Mans, though there are ways to make that happen. (Money? Did we say money? We did not actually say money.)

And who would field a Le Mans entry? Chip Ganassi remains the central Ford proponent in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with Michael Shank bailing for Honda, but Ganassi races a Daytona Prototype, though one could certainly end up at Le Mans sooner rather than later if Jim France and the TUSC insist. But it could also be Roger Penske, who has done a stunningly good job for Ford in NASCAR, and it’s no secret Penske and second-in-command Tim Cindric would like to race sports cars again.

It could also be Jack Roush, but it seems like he has his hands full trying to make his Sprint Cup cars go as fast as Penske’s. It would have to be an American effort, if the anniversary is to mean anything. Ford could even be working on some sort of hybrid racer, expecting to get the Garage 56 slot at Le Mans reserved for experimental cars, which gave the Deltawing its massive launch.

For whatever reason, then, the WEC has a press conference at the NAIAS, but as mentioned, it’s on Tuesday afternoon, when nothing of major importance, such as the debut of a new GT40, is likely to happen -- many journalists are long gone by noon on Tuesday. Ford’s own press conference is on Monday morning, where, as usual, they have rented out the entire Joe Louis Arena. That conference is attended by everybody, and if there is a new GT40, that’s the likely debut.

Or not.

We’ll know in a month. And will be in Detroit either way.

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers Chip Ganassi , Jack Roush , Roger Penske , Michael Shank
Article type Rumor
Tags 24 hours of le mans, chevrolet corvette, dodge viper, ferrari, ford gt, ford gt40