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06/15 2015

UPDATED: Ford returning to Le Mans with GT FORD ‘MAJOR PERFORMANCE NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT’ HAS THE COMPANY HEADED BACK TO LE MANS

JUNE 11, 2015 – Wes Raynal

The headline a few days ago definitely caught our eye: “Ford to Announce Significant Performance News this Week.” The Ford of Europe release went on to say no less than Bill Ford, president and CEO Mark Fields and product development group VP Raj Nair would host an event at 9 a.m. Eastern Friday, June 12 “regarding Ford Performance.”

The long-awaited announcement? The blue oval is returning to Le Mans.

We’ve been following the Ford-back-to-Le Mans rumors since mid-December 2014, a month before the Detroit auto show, where Ford showed its GT successor as a production car.

At that time, sources close to the program told Autoweek an announcement was coming — in addition to the street car, Ford is working the GT into a full factory-backed racing effort in 2016, including two cars in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship and, significantly, next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and the full 2016 World Endurance Championship series. Making the announcement on the eve of this weekend’s Le Mans race made perfect sense.

IndyCar, NASCAR and Tudor Series Chip Ganassi Racing (of secret testing tunnel fame) is anchoring the two-car assault, starting with the ‘16 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Since Ganassi is Ford’s lone Prototype-class rep in U.S. sports-car racing, campaigning a Riley-Ford EcoBoost Daytona Prototype, this too makes perfect sense. Ganassi was on hand at Le Mans for the announcement and is also the team on the WEC effort.

Word is that Multimatic Motorsports is building the racers. Ford’s worked with Multimatic for more than 20 years. Ganassi said “we’re not prepared to announce a driver lineup yet,” but word has it that veteran Californian driver Scott Pruett is leading the car’s on-track development. Pruett and Ganassi have won five championships in Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototype class and Pruett is also a former Le Mans winner — in 2001 he drove a Chevrolet Corvette with Johnny O’Connell and Ron Fellows. We wouldn’t be surprised if Joey Hand was in the mix with Pruett, so Ford has a top-notch all-American lineup in at least one car in France next year. Other GT drivers remain to be determined. “There’s quite a line outside the door,” Ganassi said.

Running Le Mans in ’16 is no coincidence, coming as it does 50 years after Ford’s GT40 Mk. II won the world’s biggest sports-car race with Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon piloting the winning car. They lead a GT40 sweep of the top-three finishing positions and capped Henry Ford II’s well-documented feud with Enzo Ferrari. Ford’s first Le Mans try was 1923.

So as the new Ford GT supercar program gears up to battle the GTLM class’ (LM GTE Pro in WEC) Porsches, Chevys, Ferraris, Astons and BMWs globally, there’s arguably no better way for Ford to re-establish itself as a serious performance-car player.

It’s certainly a great way to celebrate 2016’s 50th anniversary of the company’s first Le Mans overall win.