Ford to return to Le Mans?

posted in: Le Mans, LMGTE-Pro | 0

Ford launch brand-new GT supercar at the North American International Auto Show. Rumours surround Ford’s return to Le Mans in a GTE version of the new GT, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the marque’s last victory at La Sarthe.

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Yesterday marked the unveiling of the next iteration of the Ford GT supercar at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Last year, rumours circled around a possible simultaneous announcement of a factory GTE program to compete at Le Mans and another major sportscar series in 2016. Sources suggest that this reveal has been put back so as to not take the edge off the road car’s impact, with an announcement at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours believed to be likely.

The 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours just so happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Ford’s last overall victory at La Sarthe, the Ford GT40 Mk. II driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. The return of a Ford factory team to Le Mans would be a fitting way to honour the part the Blue Oval has played in the history of the endurance classic. The last Ford GT to appear at Le Mans was the Robertson Racing GT-R Mk. VII, which took home third place in the GTE Am class in 2011.

A return to Le Mans may appear to be almost set in stone, but could we see a full-season Ford GT factory GTE Pro effort in the WEC, too? The only other viable option when it comes to GTE racing would be the Tudor United Sportscar Championship in North America, but given that rumours suggest Ford will launch its racing programme at Le Mans, a round of the World Endurance Championship, the ACO’s international championship would appear to be the most likely destination. A full-season WEC entry would, of course, guarantee a Ford factory team a Le Mans entry, although it must be said that the ACO would almost certainly offer it an invitation to the 24 Hours if Ford decided to race in America – much like it does with Corvette Racing.

If Ford were to choose the WEC over TUSC, could we also see some of the US-only GTE programmes follow suit? The GTLM class in TUSC features the likes of the Corvette C7.R and BMW Z4, cars that are not raced anywhere else in the world in GTE spec – bar Le Mans. Corvette Racing have so far resisted committing to the WEC, largely due to the fact that the markets the WEC visits on its calendar lack relevance for the American muscle car marque. But the opportunity to measure up against, and beat, another member of America’s “Big Three” auto manufacturers in an international racing series may prove too tempting to pass up.

Incidentally, long-time BMW factory driver Joey Hand recently joined TUSC team Chip Ganassi Racing, which runs Riley DP (Daytona Prototype) powered by a Ford Ecoboost V6 engine; a similar type of power unit is set to power the new Ford GT road car. Could this signing be in preparation for Hand to spearhead Ford’s GTE assault in 2016? We will have to wait and see.

Image source: Ford Media