Ford’s Le Mans Return Could Spawn New GT Supercar
Back in July 2014, a report claiming that Ford might return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a factory GT program got us all excited. The rumor said the Blue Oval is planning a comeback for 2016, just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first overall win in France. While the scenario makes some sense, we honestly thought Ford wouldn’t have enough time at its disposal unless it was already working on the project. Three months have passed since then, and now we have some fresh info on the matter; a key man from Ford Racing confirmed the manufacturer is considering a return to the world’s longest-running endurance race.
Speaking to Road and Track, which is convinced Ford will join the P2 class in 2016, Ford Racing boss Jamie Allison admitted the company’s future plans might include a Le Mans car. "I do look forward into a future of some of the classes in the sport, including the P2 we just talked about. We really have our near-term lenses on our participating in the sport and that’s really the scope that we are focused on," he said. Of course, Allison’s words are far from the official confirmation we are looking for, but at least he didn’t he didn’t say "No."
Quoting "multiple sources," the report goes on to say Ford’s factory GT program is moving fast towards a 2016 debut at Le Mans. What’s more, it appears recent meetings between GTE class constructors on 2016 rules at the Circuit of The Americas have included a representative affiliated with Ford. Again, this doesn’t mean the Blue Oval is necessarily joining the race, but it reveals the American constructor is at least interested in doing so.
Lastly, Road and Track also suggests the factory GT program also means there’s a brand-new, road-legal Ford GT underway. If this proves to be accurate, the GT nameplate could return for the first time since 2005, when Ford’s last supercar, and the spiritual successor of the Le Mans-winning GT40, was axed.
Click past the jump to read more about Ford GT.
Why It Matters
It’s been no less than 45 years since a U.S.-built race car triumphed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That car was a version of the mighty Ford GT40, the last to tackle the legendary track with success before Porsche and its 917 monster came into the picture. Someone needs to get the American flag back to the Le Mans podium, and Chevrolet isn’t likely to do it, mostly because the Corvette competes in a lower class. Ford, on the other hand, has a better shot at doing that with a P2 car.
And needless to say, a brand-new Ford GT is something to get excited about. Ford definitely needs a supercar in its lineup, even if it means building one with a turbocharged, V-6 EcoBoost engine under the hood.
Ford at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Ford’s venture into Le Mans racing began in 1963. After failing to acquire Ferrari, as Enzo refused to cease control of its racing division along with the brand, Henry Ford II directed the company’s competition arm to build a race car. The team was given a blank check and orders to beat the Prancing Horses in endurance racing, who had won four Le Mans events between 1958 and 1962.
Ford turned to British specialist Lola for the chassis design and hired ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer to overview the project. Carroll Shelby joined in to continue manufacturing as the UK-built chassis arrived Stateside. And thus the Ford GT40 would make its Le Mans debut as early as 1964.
Following two unsuccessful campaigns in 1964 and 1965, the GT40 went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 as a Shelby-American car. Ford scored a 1-2-3 finish that year and became the first U.S. automaker to win the iconic race. The GT40 returned to win the race in 1967 as well, this time in its Mark IV evolution, right before the Blue Oval decided to withdraw from sports car racing as FIA changed the rules of the race.
An updated version of the GT40 Mark I, this time created by John Wyer Automotive, scored two more wins at Le Mans in 1968 and 1969, bringing the GT40’s total overall wins at four. The GT40 became obsolete in 1970 when the updated Porsche 917 began dominating the sport and retired from the spotlight. Thanks to the GT40, Ford is one of only six manufacturers to win at least four Le Mans races in a row and ranks sixth, alongside Alfa Romeo, by number of overall wins. All these performances were achieved in only six years.
Inspired by Ford’s GT40 race cars of the 1960s, the GT supercar was introduced for the 2005 model year as a mid-engine two-seater powered by a big V-8. Built in Wixom, Michigan, the GT was fitted with an all-aluminum, 5.4-liter V-8 with a Lysholm twin-screw supercharger on top. The unit cranked out 550 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque, which translated into impressive performance numbers for the day. The GT needed only 3.5 seconds to sprint from 0 to 60 mph, and could reach 150 mph from a standing start in less than 17 seconds. On the drag strip, the GT could complete a quarter mile in 11.2 seconds at 131 mph, while it’s top speed is electronically limited at 205 mph.
Ford built the GT only for the 2005 and 2006 model year, with only 4,038 unit assembled. The limited production enabled some low-mileage cars to fetch big bucks at auctions the past couple of years.