The Ford GT raced its final race this past weekend, with the two Chip Ganassi Racing Team US cars finishing a rather unceremonious second and eighth in class in the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta.
While the Ford GT’s final race wasn’t anything to write home about, the program was a major success for the Dearborn-based automaker, racking up 19 wins in four years across both IMSA and FIA World Endurance Championship competition. By far the most significant of those victories was at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, when the No. 68 Ford GT won the GTE Pro Class in the legendary endurance race, with the No. 69 sister car also nabbing a podium, finishing third behind the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GTE of Risi Competizione.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans win came on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Making the moment even more special was the fact that the Ferrari 488 GTE entry of AF Corse finished third – echoing the 1966 victory, when Ford set out to beat Ferrari after company founder Enzo Ferrari backed out of a deal to sell the company to the American automotive giant just a few years prior. In that race, however, the three Ford entries finished 1-2-3 overall, while the Ferrari 275 GTB entries were eighth and tenth overall.
Ford Performance director Mark Rushbrook provided some background on the start of the modern Ford GT racing program in a recent interview with Automotive News. He recalls how the program got off to a rocky start, with the two American IMSA entries breaking down due to transmission issues at the season-opening 24 Hours of Daytona. “It was so emotional, that this can’t be happening,” Rushbrook said. “But nobody blinked an eye, and that really cemented how strong the team was.”
But just a couple of races later at Laguna Seca, the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook took GTLM class victory, narrowly beating the Ferrari 488 GTE entry of Daniel Serra and Alessandro Pier Guidi in only its third race “It really made a statement to win that early in the program with a brand new car,” Rushbrook said. “What the team really needed was something to pick up their spirits and keep everybody fighting to go to Le Mans after that.”
It’s not clear what Ford plans to race next, but the automaker doesn’t seem to be rushing into anything. With the dawn of electric cars upon us, Ford wants whatever it races to be relevant to the real-world – an internal combustion engine race cars can only provide so much track-to-street transfer in this emissions-conscious day and age. It also doesn’t want to be on the grid just for the sake of it. If it’s going to show up – it wants to win.
“Our focus is not to be in racing just to be in racing,” Rushbrook said. “Our focus has been to be on the track in the series and championships that matter and are important, and to win those.”