Special to the Highlands News-Sun
The latest chapter in the history of Ford Racing – a gripping true story of triumph more than a century in the making – will be completed at Motul Petit Le Mans on Saturday.
That’s when the iconic and inspiring Ford GT will make its final appearance as a factory-backed entrant in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The current iteration of the Ford GT has left its imprint in this four-year run, competing in both the WeatherTech Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with two-car operations in each series operated by Chip Ganassi Racing.
With the IMSA season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta ahead, the Ford GT program has been deemed a success. Combining the efforts in IMSA and WEC, the car has compiled 19 race wins, 22 pole positions and driven nearly 280,000 miles (equivalent to almost 11 trips around the world).
Fourteen of those victories have come in WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) events, but it was the highly coveted 2016 class triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans by IMSA drivers Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais – coming 50 years after the historic win by a Ford GT in the world-famous endurance race – that remains a beacon of the present-day program.
Mark Rushbrook, the global director at Ford Performance Motorsports, said it was clear from when the program was announced in late 2013, that capturing Le Mans on the golden anniversary of the first win was the top priority. Mission accomplished … and then some.
“As one single event, it is because that was the goal, to win Le Mans in 2016,” Rushbrook said. “The fact that we did is a very significant piece of the program. But it wasn’t just that one race and that one win, as significant as that was. The fact that the car and the teams were so competitive throughout the four years … I think that shows that it was a very effective and significant program in total, not just in one race.”
Hand, Mueller and Bourdais followed the epic 2016 Le Mans win by taking home GTLM honors the following year at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. It was the first of five WeatherTech Championship victories for the No. 66 Ford GT, including the most recent race on Sept. 15 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“It’s been a great four years and I’m sad that it’s ending,” Mueller said. “Joey and I are super close and are mates, which is probably not really unique in this level of racing, but I remember my very first test in 2015. As soon as I touched ground and got out of the rental car, I felt like I’d been with the team forever. That’s a unique feeling, what you normally probably don’t get.
“There are no big egos. Everyone is as important as the next person. Everyone is working hand in hand for that one goal, winning races.”