Friday, June 24, 2016

2016 24 Hours of Le Mans - The Ballad of Ford GT

The Incredible Ford GT, in its LM GTE/GTLM form (Image: Road and Track)
The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans marked a return for Ford with its new Ford GT car, competing in GTE Pro class of FIA World Endurance Championship and WeatherTech Sports Car Championship under the GTLM class as well. Throughout their venture in the two mentioned championships, Ford GT has experienced a lot prior to Le Mans, and this year they even tackled the big race by sending out FOUR, yes, FOUR cars in the GTE Pro category, all in the name of celebrating their 50 years of Ford in Le Mans.

For this year's recap, I decided to focus on one car which I already stated in the blog title, instead of the whole grid like last year. Consider that this is the "punishment" for having a tl;dr-ish recap of last year's race, but don't worry, I will also highlight the other categories from the likes of LMP1, LMP2 and GTE Am. LMP1 is of course a hot affair between the trinity of Audi, Porsche, and Toyota as they are now competitive against each other while Rebellion and ByKolles tried to take down the trinity, while LMP2 and GTE Am also delivered a good chunk of battles.

Before I begin, I would like to have a Le Mans-themed blog post before this one as an act of "countdown" to the race itself, but realizing it's too late for that, I would announce this good news: for the entirety of June starting this post, posts on here will be revolving around the Le Mans theme. Be it a game based on the coveted race, or just a random spotlight, Le Mans means business!


The Ford GT heritage goes on as the new-for-2016 supercar is the more cutthroat-tech baby of the original Ford GT, packed with revolutionary stuffs like carbon fiber wheels, racing-inspired interior, et cetera. (Image: Car and Driver)
Unveiled at both 2015 North American International Auto Show and Forza Motorsport 6, the new, second-generation Ford GT is set to be produced and released in late 2016. The model also celebrates 50 years since Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon took the GT40 to victory in 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is also the same reasoning for their Le Mans return.

Built with the help of Canada's Multimatic Inc., a company that has worked with Ford since 1984, the car sports a mid-engined, rear wheel drive layout and is powered by 3.5L EcoBoost V6 twin turbo producing around 630 hp (470 kW) as Horsepower Kings site pointed out. In addition, the car is also packed with a next-generation carbon fiber wheel just like in the Shelby GT350R, the industry-first gorilla glass hybrid windshield, and a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle (no manual transmission unfortunately). With a curb weight of around 2890 lbs thanks to all the mentioned revolutionary stuffs, the new supercar has undoubtedly the best power-to-weight ratio of any production car ever built.

Via Dave Guilford's Tweet on May 2015, Dave Pericak said that the Ford GT's price is near Lamborghini Aventador's price tag, precisely $397,500, but Wikipedia stated the sticker price of $485,000. This is considering the car isn't a higher-production, four thousand-unit car like the first-gen Ford GT does, and not to mention the use of all the evolutionary technologies and the price inflation of the car itself. In addition, Ford projects only 1000 Ford GTs to be sold, with only 250 units per year.


Ford itself announced in last year's Le Mans race that it would tackle the presitigious 24-hour race this year, and they even teased how the Ford GT, in its GTE trim, would perform. The GTE-spec Ford GT finally made its debut in Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona earlier this year, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, the same team running the Riley-Ford DP competing in the Prototype class of the same championship, carrying the operations throughout its WeatherTech Sports Car Championship stint this year classified under the GTLM category (IMSA's equivalent to GTE), with the two cars bear numbers #66 and #67. Their debut didn't seem to go well with both cars finishing seventh (30th overall) and ninth (39th overall) in class respectively, but the #67 finished the succeeding two races in fifth and fourth in class, showing progress although the #66 car consistently finished 8. In Laguna Seca however, the #67 took the race win with a bizarre yet super-effective fuel saving strategy, which Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe did it well. The #67 finished the same race fifth in class.

Meanwhile the UK team of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing operated the FIA WEC venture. Same livery, but with a different set of drivers, which includes touring car champion Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell, and also bear the numbers #66 and #67. In Silverstone, the cars placed a respectable fourth and fifth respectively, with the former only missing out one lap from the #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim, Marco Sørensen, and Darren Turner, and the latter is just behind. The Spa Francorchamps race meanwhile saw the #67 on podium in second place, again missing out one lap from, this time, #71 AF Corse. The #66 however didn't have the luck for this round, as they retired on lap 100 due to the crash in the infamous Eau Rouge.

At this stage, the Ford GT's journey has been a good one, but they now have only one target in mind: Le Mans.


Four Ford GTs, one goal: domination (Image: Torque News)
In the 24-hour race, Ford GT fielded four cars for the race: #66 and #67 ran under the UK team of Chip Ganassi Racing, and the last two cars, #68 and #69, ran by the original Chip Ganassi Racing Team USA. At this rate, "Domination" is in Ford's bucket list for Le Mans.

The first time the Fords stepped their foot into the mythical, 13 kilometer-length Circuit de la Sarthe, the cars seemed to pose a threat to other cars in the Free Practice session, especially the Ferraris. The best Ford GT, in this case the #68 driven by Dirk Muller at that time, posted a time of 3:54.893, lurking the two leading Ferrari 488 GTEs of AF Corse (#51) and Risi Competizione (#82). The rest of the Ford GTs finished the session within the 3:55 mark, with another AF Corse Ferrari, this time #71, snuck in between #67 and #69. All Ford GT entries did an average of 30 laps throughout the session, with #68 doing 32 and #67 doing 31.

Come Qualifying, the Ford GTs showed its true power, with the American entries taking top two positions in class and Dirk Muller taking the #68 leading with a time of 3:51.185 and Richard Westbrook's #69 following after 0.312 seconds behind. The other Ford GTs finished the session sandwiched by the AF Corses, while other entries didn't seem to catch Ford's waves. The session ended with a red flag due to Risi's Ferrari being stuck in Porsche Curves's gravel trap. Looking at the gap to other manufacturers, it was no question that Ford GTs were subject to what can be touted as "The Failed BoP" whose notoriety was on par with Taylor Swift/Tom Hiddleston affair, and that was where all the clusterchuck began.

The second and third sessions didn't see any improvement from the majority of the entries as the rain progressively drenched the track, yet it did call for a light-hearted Safety Car attraction presented by Yannick Dalmas somewhere in the third session. The GTE Pro starting grid stood as it was in the first qualifying session.

A Ford GT chasing victory in Le Mans. (Image: Business Insider)
As the race started, after almost an hour of Safety Car due to the heavy rain condition, one of the Ford GTs, the #67 one to be exact, didn't seem to have the kick it needed even before the race start due to the fact that it suffered a faulty gearbox, resulting in the car rejoining far, far away. The #51 became a threat for the #66 car and soon enough the Ferrari took control of the GTE Pro lead after the leading #68 was powerless, yet Porsche Motorsport's 911 RSRs toppled both of them in the damp conditions.

One sunset later, #28 Pegasus triggered a slow zone at the Mulsanne after hitting the tire barriers, and minutes later Team AAI triggered another slow zone, this time at the Porsche Curves. The #67 Ford apparently had another bad luck after hitting the barrier 15 minutes before the eight hour mark, and at that time the #68 still maintained its lead. The Maranello Camp meanwhile had a much bitter news: both AF Corses dropped out in a different time frame, with the #71 in 143 lap mark and #51 in 179 due to engine failure. As a result, the #82 Risi Competizione was the last Ferrari standing. They were leading in class until the race went past 4:30 hours of duration where the #68 Ford GT blazed past Risi.

The tenth hour mark the battle between Ford and Ferrari intensified as the now-leading #66 and #68 soldiered on to deny Risi's chance of getting the second place, but as the #66 had an electrical issue and took a garage repair, the #68 replaced #66's duty to fend off the Risi, with #69 lurking behind. Consecutive yellows happened starting with Paul Dalla Lana of Aston Martin #98's get together at Arnage, although he was able to restart it (though he would took a trip again to the gravel hours later), and then #1 Porsche's halt ten minutes later, followed by #47 LMP2 KCMG's crash in the Porsche Curves and finally a dropped oil yet again in the Porsche Curves by the #91 Porsche just near the end of Hour 10. Past Hour 10, AF Corse's Davide Rigon (#71) hit the wall in the Dunlop Curves, prompting a clean-up, but in a more positive note for Ferraris, Risi Competizione led the GTE Pro after the race midpoint, and stayed so after 16 hours of the race. #68 and Risi would exchange the category lead up till the 18th hour as Risi took an advantage of #68's penalty for refuelling infringement.

#68 strolling around in Tertre Rouge (Image: Alexander Trienitz/
But even then, America's Joey Hand, driving the #68 at that time, finally took again the lead Risi Competizione had maintained as the #68 has had its pace up again and added with the fact that Risi spun off at one time. At this time, the stage was set for the final showdown for the last four hours to the race, which in turn delivered quite a drama, with #68 in a run for the victory while the #82 Risi Competizione playing pursuit as another set of Fords were hunting the sole prancing horse, with former F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella taking the final stint. Eventually, minutes before the finish, as the lead stayed as it was since the twentieth hour, the Ferrari was given the meatball flag for a broken display panel on the car, but as the car insisted to go away in a bid of preventing the Ford 1-2-3, the car ignored the meatball flag's call to pit and instead sacrificed self much to the spectator's fear; the worst case scenario here would be either a massive penalty post-race or, worse, disqualification that would allow the second and third Ford go through. But one thing was for sure: the #68 Chip Ganassi Team USA's Ford GT has won the GTE Pro arms race, exactly making history after fifty years, with Risi ended second and the another of Team USA's #69 winning third.

However, even the class tension still escalated post-race, as all GTE-Pro podium finishers were asked to return the trophies during the podium ceremony. Risi was hit hard with a 20 minute post-race penalty and a fine of 5000 Euro for ignoring the meatball flag for its non-working lights, which caused the internet to explode and pointed out that it was a conspiracy to make it a Ford 1-2-3 even after the BoP gate, except it wasn't; the winning Ford were also given a 50 minute penalty for speeding in the slow zone plus another 20 minutes for faulty wheel sensors post-race, and apparently the finishing position didn't seem to change even with all the penalties.

In the end, Ford still wins. On one side, they earned what they wanted exactly fifty years after the manufacturer's debut with GT40, and one part of the motorsport fandom respected the historical moment. But on another, they earned it in a controversial manner, continuously accused for sandbagging and being the fuel of conspiracy. Alas, is Ford GT a hero, an anti-hero, or a villain for you? The morality has become a shade of grey even after fifty years of its comeback.


A last-minute victory for #2 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb was called after the #5 Toyota lost power and stopped right at the start/finish line in one of the most recent motorsport upsets. This also marked Porsche's second victory in a row after winning last year's race from Audi. (Image: Autosport/XPB Images)
LMP1 was all about Porsche defending their Le Mans victory while using their last year's batteries from Audi and the now more competitive Toyota although with a lack of color diversity livery-wise, and at the same time was also about Rebellion and ByKolles fighting those three dragons throughout day and night. Porsche started on pole with Toyota continuously fighting the German marque throughout day and night, with Audi occasionally tailgating both manufacturers as the early hours passed by. Unfortunately, all the Audi entries were no longer in the mix as technical gremlins struck them, and eventually had a 10 lap-ish gap between them and the Top 3 which were the two Toyotas and the #2 Porsche. The #1 Porsche had an earlier problem and rejoined in the bottom while progressing through time, while LMP1-L entries tried to keep up with the Hybrid pace except that ByKolles had the most unfortunate share of bad luck which led to an eventual retirement and the #13 Rebellion getting far, far away from its teammate. Take note that Toyota entries had the most fuel efficiency in contrast to their rivals.

The race almost ended with the #5 Toyota winning the race until the car lost its power starting in the Mulsanne section and eventually came to a stop right at the start/finish line, effectively tarnishing Toyota's bid to be the second Japanese manufacturer after Mazda to win Le Mans since 1991 as the #2 Porsche blazed past and finally took the chequered flag. The added pain for the #5 came with the car finally restarted though took a very long time to finish its final lap, resulting in the #5 kicked out of the classification but instead moving up its sister car #6 and apparently the #2 Audi, whose result this year would be the worst ever since its participation since 1999 had the drama didn't happen, and not to mention that this year is the last for the Ms. Audi herself Leena Gade, who will move to the sister manufacturer Bentley in a new customer sport managerial role. Later on it was revealed that the #5 suffered "a technical defect on a connector on the air line between the turbo charger and the intercooler, causing a loss of turbo charger control", as the the team's spokesman told to

The LMP2 winner: #36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi, and Gustavo Menezes. This victory marks the first and the last time Alpine wins Le Mans as an LMP2 constructor as Alpine will not appear next year in Le Mans due to the 2017 regulations. (Image: Alexander Trienitz/
The LMP2 ended with Nissan-powered Signatech Alpine finally succeeded in taking the class honors from G-Drive Racing, after the reigning champion KCMG's retirement. The class was also one of the sought-after classes after a very close gap against each other in the qualifying, starting up with ... on pole as the green waved. The #36, packed with the Alpine A450 shell and driven by the likes of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi, and Gustavo Menezes, fought against #26 G-Drive's Rene Rast, Will Stevens and Roman Rusinov, and SMP Racing's all-Russian trio of Vitaly Petrov, Viktor Shaytar, and Kirill Ladygin for the entirety of the race. The #44 Manor entry led the early hours with #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing and last year's category winner #47 KCMG following, but the Alpine become a threat to KCMG following Manor's spin at Dunlop Chicane at the fifth hour. Things weren't looking good for KCMG as it limped along the Mulsanne straight and eventually stopping at Porsche Curves, ruling out their this year's race, while at the same time the Alpine finally leading the race after taking advantage to Thiriet's control unit replacement. Alpine was able to maintain its lead during the midnight hours for the race win, and SMP Racing was able to take third after a jostle against #42 Gibson of Strakka Racing. The early hour leader #44 Manor retired after crashed into a barrier with its own auto-ejecting front aero.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime win for Alpine, considering that both Alpine and the Nissan engine will be outlawed later this year following the new 2017 LMP2 regulations which will only sanction four chassis manufacturers (Oreca, Riley/Multimatic, Dallara and Onroak Automotive) and a single engine of Gibson Technologies' own 4.2 L V8 GK428. This engine will be seen on every FIA WEC competitor, as well as Le Mans, European Le Mans Series, and Asian Le Mans Series (from 2019 onwards) from 2017 to 2020. This race marks the last Le Mans for a very big degree of diversity in terms of chassis and engine constructors.

#62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia GTE (Image: DailySportsCar)
GTE-Am meanwhile saw Scuderia Corsa winning the race, with #83 AF Corse completing the Ferrari 1-2 and the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing of Patrick Long, Khaled Al-Qubaisi, and David Heinemeier-Hansson completing the podium. The early hours saw #88, along with the #78 Porsche, dominating the class with the #99 Aston Martin following behind until the night hours where #98 Aston Martin now took the lead and the #62 Scuderia Corsa taking third in class, which climbed slowly with two Ferraris of #55 AF Corse and #61 Clearwater Racing following behind until the thirteenth hour where they finally managed to lead the class, not without the contest of the #88 Porsche. AF Corse, this time the #83 one driven by François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, and Rui Aguas, would finally knock out Clearwater Racing out of the podium, and later #88 at the penultimate hour. Ultimately, the squad of Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal sealed a class victory by a one-lap margin from the tailing AF Corse car. Despite losing in the GTE Pro ground, the Ferrari 1-2 is no doubt Ferrari's consolation prize.

Frédéric Sausset showed the world how it's done. (Image: De L'Essence Dans Mes Veines/
Last but not least though is this year's Garage 56 entrant: SRT41 by Morand Racing, who has earned the amount of respect it deserved after finishing the race because of one: Frédéric Sausset, the quadruple amputee. The SRT41 car itself is equipped with a special set of technology that allowed Sausset to control the car even with his physical condition, and that didn't seem to bother him much, soldiering on in his every stint from the start to finish, and showed everyone that everything is possible. Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet also helped bringing home the SRT41 car to the finish, surviving through day, night, and back. A special podium ceremony was also held for Le Mans's first ever Garage 56 finisher.

Once again, another Le Mans has gone by the books. This year's race had delivered so much drama throughout the weekend, from the GTE Pro BoP craziness, raining conditions that called for the first ever start under the Safety Car, position exchanges throughout all classes, and the last-minute heartbreak and victory. In a lighter note, this year's race also brought together a healthy pack of celebrities attending the race (with Brad Pitt as the Grand Marshal for the race) and a vindication of SRT41's successful effort which not only marked the first time a Garage 56 entry finished the race but also a showcase that a one man's disability is not a barrier to succeed.

However, looking at the circumstances, it seems that there is going to be more to come.


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