Ford GT wins at Le Mans, first since 1980

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

History repeated itself for Ford Motor Co. on the 50th anniversary of its podium sweep at Le Mans.

The Blue Oval’s No. 68 GT won the GTE Pro class, beating long-time rival Ferrari in Ford’s first victory at the French endurance race since 1980. The No. 69 Ford GT rounded out the podium in third place, and the No. 66 GT finished fourth.

Porsche finished first overall in the P1 class.

“This is an historic moment for the Ford Motor Company,” Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford, said in a statement. “We dared to dream that we could return to Le Mans, 50 years after the incredible 1966 win, and take on the toughest competition in the world. The pride we all felt when the Ford GT crossed the line at Le Mans is indescribable.”

Dirk Muller, Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais piloted the No. 68 GT to victory. The group started the race in the pole position after posting the best qualifying time earlier in the week, and spent much of the 24-hour race at or near the top of the leaderboard.

Hand was in the driver’s seat when the GT took first place in the 20th hour and never gave it up.

“We put it all on the line as drivers today…and the car just kept on trucking,” Hand said after the race.

Chip Ganassi, owner of the Chip Ganassi Racing program that runs the GTs, called the victory “a crowning jewel” in the history of his program. This is his 175th victory as a team owner.

The race wasn’t without controversy: with under a half-hour to go, the No. 82 Ferrari was given a black-and-orange flag, a signal to pit for a penalty for having a faulty leader light. The Ferrari team chose not to pit, which could have resulted in a disqualification, but the race officials did not enforce it. If they had, the Ferrari would have fallen out of second place and Ford would have swept the podium.

The victory is especially sweet for Bourdais, a Frenchman who has competed in Le Mans 10 times without a win — until Sunday.

“There was so much effort, so much emotion, and to be the one that wins the trophy to give to the Ford family and everyone involved is very special,” Bourdais said. “Everything aligned for us today -- the history, the Ferrari/Ford battle, 50 years on and the Ford family being here. To come out on top of all that is an amazing feeling.”

Ford executives invested heavily to create the new GT and resurrect its racing program in time for teh 50th anniversary, when Henry Ford II and Carroll Shelby created a team that beat vaunted rival Ferrari and finished 1-2-3. The Blue Oval also won in 1967, 1968 and 1969 before leaving the race.

The only blemish for Ford was the No. 67 GT, which started the race with gearbox problems and at one point crashed into a wall. It finished ninth out of 14 cars in the GTE Pro class.

Chevrolet’s Corvettes finished seventh and 10th in the GTE Pro class.

Both of the podium-placing GTs had previously raced in the U.S. IMSA series. They will next compete at Watkins Glen on July 3.

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