Roughly 260,000 fans will descend on Le Mans, France, this weekend, to witness the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the world’s most glamorous and fiercely battled car races. For many, the biggest news of the weekend will have nothing to do with the checkered flag.
Ford Motor Company unveiled today at Le Mans a new racing car destined to capture the imagination of millions, even if it never wins a nickel in purse money. Dressed up in all-American red, white, and blue livery, the car will debut next year to mark the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 Le Mans victory—the first for an American carmaker, and the only to this day.
The angular machine looks like a Mars expedition vehicle, but it’s also a trip back in time. Ford’s battles with Ferrari at Le Mans in the 1960s represent one of the greatest grudge matches in all of sporting history, during a shockingly violent period of racing, when Car and Driver called Le Mans “probably the most dangerous sporting event in the world.” Back then, it was Henry Ford II (the grandson of the founder) versus the imperious Enzo Ferrari of Italy. Ford won Le Mans four years in a row at the end of the 1960s, then pulled out of Europe for good.
That is, until now.
“When the GT40 competed at Le Mans in the 1960s, Henry Ford II sought to prove Ford could beat endurance racing’s most legendary manufacturers,” said the company’s executive chairman Bill Ford, who is at Le Mans this weekend. “We are still extremely proud of having won this iconic race four times in a row, and that same spirit that drove the innovation behind the first Ford GT still drives us today.”
The new Ford GT will pack a 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6; many of the other details are still under wraps. The car will run a full schedule next year in the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. Which means it’s probably coming close to your town. The car is unlikely to compete at Le Mans for all out victory over the purpose-built racecars from Porsche and Audi (called LMP1 class cars). The Ford will compete against GT class cars, which are racing versions ofcars customers can buy, such as Corvettes, Porsche 911s, and Ferrari 458s. A customer version of the new Ford GT will hit streets next year.