On Saturday, October 12th, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta will host the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans closing out the annual American Le Mans racing series and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). It also marks another very important end - the Ford backed GT racing effort headed by Chip Ganassi Racing.
Chip Ganassi is well known in the racing world as a former driver and team owner. His teams have won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Rolex 24 at Daytona, Brickyard 400, 12 Hours of Sebring, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He is the ONLY person to do so.
So when Ford decided to get back into racing with the GT they tagged him to spearhead the effort. With a stable of drivers from NASCAR, road racing and the European circuit, Ford was determined to duplicate the success of their 60's racing effort. It also didn't hurt to burnish the image of the road-going Ford GT - their current halo car.
The passing of Ford's racing GT program, however, is not to be lamented but recognized as a roaring success. And while you can still buy a Ford GT at your local dealer - yea, good luck with that! - it might help to review the racing GT's incredible 4-year run. Participating in both the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship and World Endurance Championship (WEC) series, the Ford GT has won 19 races and taken an astounding 22 pole positions.
As a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of the 1-2-3 win at the 1966 running of Le Mans, the Ford GT kicked off its return in 2016 with a 1-3 win at Le Mans. Guess who was number 2? Ferrari, that's right! Additional wins piled up at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, 6 Hours of Fuji, Shanghai, Silverstone, and the list goes on and on.
What's more remarkable is how much of the race car remains in the street version. Engineers and designers weren't constrained by first making a road-going version of the car. It was born and bred to be a race car first and road car second. This fact alone helps explain the poise and ferocity of the consumer version, not to mention its rather spartan interior.
Powered by a twin-turbo Ecoboost 3.5 liter V-6 and generating 647 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque with a curb weight of 3.354 lbs. the car does not lack acceleration or top-end speed. With a trick suspension, carbon-ceramic brakes and more aero than you can shake a stick at, it carves up corners with ease. Add to that a beautiful silhouette with flying buttresses, butterfly doors, and sculpted face and sills and they've shown the likes of McLaren, Koenigsegg, and all to many (fugly!) supercars that you don't have to sacrifice looks for performance.
Back to the race. None of this means that we won't still see the Ford GT next year at the IMSA and WEC. Given the winning design, Canadian firm Multimatic's efforts in racing development and Ford's continued production of the road-going car, expect to see the GT in the hands of privateers.
I'd encourage all of you to tune into your favorite channel on Saturday and cheer on the factory-backed Ford GT. Let's hope they take the checkered flag to close out a winning chapter in Ford's storied history.