This weekend, one of the most iconic auto races in the world is taking place. No, it’s not Indy. Nor is it Daytona. This weekend marks the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And you probably didn’t even know it was happening.
If you plan on tuning in–good for you. For those who didn’t know it was going on, don’t blame yourself. Le Mans is woefully under-covered in the US market, in favor of NASCAR, and to a lesser degree, Indy Car racing. But that doesn’t mean American carmakers have given up on arguably the pinnacle of international racing.
For years, Chevrolet and Dodge/SRT have raced heavily modified versions of the Corvette and Viper, respectively. They race in the GT (or LMGTE) sportscar racing class among the likes of Porsche, Audi, BMW, Aston Martin and more. By and large, Ford has been absent from these races on a corporate level, but that is expected to change.
This Friday, Ford is expected to announce that it is once again participating in the 24-hour endurance race. This is big.
Most car-lovers know the story of Ford at Le Mans, but here are the Cliff’s Notes: In 1963, Enzo Ferrari was considering selling his company. Ford was interested, and negotiations had moved quite far along, but Ferrari pulled out at the 11th hour (possibly because Ford wouldn’t let Enzo retain full control of the racing program). This last minute back-out enraged Henry Ford II, who gave Carroll Shelby and others a nearly blank check to build a car that could beat Ferrari at “Their Race”: Le Mans.
After some teething problems, Shelby put a gigantic engine under the hood and went on to win at Le Mans in 1966, -67, -68, and -69. Ford would never see that kind of dominance in international racing again.
Ford debuted a new GT in 2005, and private teams would eventually taking it racing, but not nearly with the same success as its predecessor. The 2005-2006 Ford GT was a brutish road car, with an engine out of Ford’s pickup truck plant.
But, the new 2016 Ford GT is an entirely different beast. It features a cutting-edge turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that makes more than 600 horsepower in stock form. It features a race-inspired 7-speed dual clutch transmission, and is all wrapped in a lightweight carbon fiber tub. This it not your father’s GT. Nor is it your grandfather’s GT40. And the want to take it racing at the same place where Ford dominated so many years ago.
This is important, because it can really raise awareness for international racing in America. Sure the Corvette races all over the world, but the Vette is pretty commonplace among high-end sportscars. Imagine Ford taking on the best race cars in the world in a car that you might be lucky to see at a car show. Then consider that the engine is in the same family at a Ford Taurus, Lincoln Navigator or Ford F-150, and you can see how the Ford GT has the ability to generate interest in a big way.