How Ford Beat Ferrari at Le Mans a Second Time
Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Leah Brown
Le Mans is fast approaching, so what better way to prepare for the race than with a story from the past. If you are a motorsports fan, you’ve probably heard the story of Ford vs. Ferrari that took place back in the 1960s. But did you know that they went against each other a whole 50 years later, at the same track where their first encounter took place?
For those who don’t know the original story, here’s a quick recap. In the early 1960s, Ford wanted to gain a more sporty image and, as luck would have it, Ferrari were in need of a buyer. So, Ford sent some executives to negotiate a deal with the great Enzo Ferrari himself. Things were going well, until Enzo found out he wouldn’t have full control of his racing team and refused to sell. Henry Ford II, then boss of Ford Motor Company, was furious at Enzo and demanded a car that could beat Ferrari at Le Mans, a race the Italians had dominated. It took a few years, but with the help of Carol Shelby, Ken Miles and the car they built, the GT40, Ford finally achieved their goal in 1966 and would go on to win the race again, in 1967, ‘68 and ‘69.
Back to the more-present day, which in this case is 2015. Ford announced they were going back to Le Mans, this time competing in the GTE Pro class, where, coincidentally, their old rivals were competing, with the same goal as before: Win. To do this, they enlisted the help of Chip Ganassi, a highly successful American racing team. The car, a track version of the third generation Ford GT, first turned a wheel on a race track in spring of 2015 at the Calabogie Motorsports Park in Ontario, Canada. The car also participated in IMSA, where the team ironed out all the issues. In addition to this, they found some noteworthy drivers, like 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand and former F1 driver Sébastien Bourdais.
After a year’s preparation, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing turned up for the 24 hours of Le Mans with four red, white and blue Ford GTs, eyeing the win. Their assault started well, taking first, second, fourth and fifth on the grid. Just before the start of the race, however, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. That, as it turns out, was the least of their problems. Even before the race started, the No. 67 Ford suffered gearbox issues and would have to start the race from pit lane. The other three cars wouldn’t have a much better start, dropping back as the others, including Ferrari, pulled away.
As the sun started to appear, so did the Fords on their rivals’ mirrors. Staying at striking distance, they eventually moved ahead. Approaching the final hours of the race, the battle for the lead became a two-horse race, between the No. 68 Ford and the No. 82 Ferrari. The two cars went wheel to wheel countless times in those final few hours until, finally, the GT prevailed to cross the line first in its class. The win was even more impressive when you consider the fact the car’s fuel gauge didn’t work and the drivers didn’t have any radio. Ford not only won, but it nearly got a one-two-three, like their 1966 attempt, with the Nos. 69 and 66 GTs finishing third and fourth, respectively. Still, Ford achieved their ambition of winning Le Mans exactly half a century after their first win. Not a bad way to celebrate a 50th anniversary!