The Why & How of Ford’s (NYSE:F) Return to Endurance Racing
Several years ago Ford (NYSE:F) decided to secretly build the Ford GT Supercar to celebrate the 50th Anni of the Blue Oval’s victory at the 24 hrs of LeMans race over Ferrari (NYSE:RACE), but 1st company considered developing a Mustang to compete in the iconic French endurance race.
Recently, Ford’s CTO, said the Mustang racer was rejected by company because of aerodynamics and concerns Le Mans was a departure Mustang’s heritage and consumer base, of course they were right Mustang is not the “right fit” for LeMans type racing.
What the Ford senior executives did understand was the importance of the 50th Anni of when Henry Ford II and Carroll Shelby created a team that beat rival Ferrari and finished 1-2-3.
My long time friend was the Crew Chief for Carroll Shelby for the LeMans wins, Ford did a super job of embarrassing Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia on the track in response to Enzo’s rejecting Henry’s offer to buy his iconic Maranello, Italy outfit.
The idea was to embark on a “low-investment, full vehicle program” using advancements in tooling that “could really keep investment costs low and the quality … exceptional.”
The secret GT assignment was code named “Project Phoenix” because the vehicle was “rising from the ashes.”
Notably Ford had been out of the racing business for many years and others had tried several times to resurrect the GT without any success, but the 5oth Anni for the crushing LeMans victory over Ferrari must be memorialized.
The new Ford GT was developed simultaneously as a racer and street-legal Supercar, was most importantly “singularly focused on becoming an endurance racer.”
“Our plan was clear: This was going to be a test bed for our technologies for engine development that had to push the boundaries of material usage such as the lightweight carbon fiber that eventually ended up in the car, and we had to stretch our understanding of what was possible with aerodynamics,” Ford’s CTO said.
When Project Phoenix was well along each of the senior Ford executives who rejected the Mustang project were taken to see the results at Ford’s product development center, and were convinced that the company could build a new GT car and create a racer that could win LeMans.
Ford unveiled the GT during the 2015 Detroit Auto Show
The GT, following some early problems during its trials and return to racing at Daytona, finished 1st, 3rd and 4th at its 1st return to Le Mans in June 2016 beating private Ferrari racing team, amid a myriad of technical violations, protests, and claims of poor motor-sportsmanship, plus a reported cost of about $1-B.
Ferrari’s factory Team Scuderia’s racing program is focused on Formula 1 only.