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REKIN­DLING A GT LOVE AF­FAIR Ford is back in sportscar rac­ing and Bri­ton Andy Pri­aulx is part of the at­tack. By Matt James

Motor Sport News - - Wec Preview: Gte - Kevin Turner FORD’S GT WINS World sportscar vic­to­ries

here is a spring in Andy Pri­aulx’s step again. The three-time World Tour­ing Car cham­pion has joined the Ganassi-led Ford GT cam­paign and, af­ter only three months with the pro­gramme, he knows big things are on the hori­zon.

“From the moment you walk in to the garage, you get a se­ri­ous mes­sage of in­tent about this whole project,” says the Guernsey man, who had pre­vi­ously spent 15 years as a fac­tory BMW driver. “I wouldn’t say it is a money-no-ob­ject pro­gramme, but you know there is a com­mit­ment and a de­ter­mi­na­tion. That is hugely ex­cit­ing.”

Pri­aulx will make his race de­but with the Ford Chip Ganassi op­er­a­tion at Sil­ver­stone, team­ing up with Marino Fran­chitti and Harry Tinck­nell in one of the 3.5-litre tur­bocharged ma­chines,

FORD GT:THE FIRST TIME ROUND

Borne out of Henry Ford II’S frus­tra­tion at fail­ing to buy Fer­rari, Ford’s 1960s GT pro­gramme was not ini­tially a suc­cess.

Although known widely as the GT40, there were myr­iad vari­a­tions of the car, start­ing with the British-based Ford Ad­vanced Ve­hi­cles-built 4.2-litre GT of 1964. Aero­dy­nam­i­cally un­sta­ble at first, the Ford led on its Le Mans de­but but all three en­tries re­tired.

While FAV and John Wyer worked to cure the prob­lems, Ford started look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing a seven-litre en­gine in a new ver­sion, which would be­come known as the MKII.

Wyer soon lost the works project to Us-based Car­roll Shelby, though con­tin­ued to de­velop and build the small­erengined cars. Against a lim­ited field and with a re­vamped 4.7-litre ma­chine, the Shelby squad won the Day­tona Con­ti­nen­tal, but there­after things did not go well.

Shortly be­fore Le Mans in 1965, the de­ci­sion was thus made to run the rel­a­tively un­tried MKII. Once again, Ford set the pace. And broke, leav­ing Fer­rari to win.

An in­censed Henry Ford II upped the ante and the pro­gramme be­came a money-noob­ject ex­er­cise, the MKII be­ing de­vel­oped fur­ther. Fi­nally Ford started win­ning, tak­ing the Day­tona 24 Hours and Se­bring 12 Hours in 1966.

The death of Walt Hans­gen at the pre-le Mans test was a blow, but Ford still ar­rived at the 24 Hours as favourite, with eight MKIIS – run by Shelby, Hol­man Moody and Alan Mann Rac­ing – ranged against just two four-litre works Fer­raris. It was no con­test and Ford fin­ished 1-2-3.

Devel­op­ment of the MKII con­tin­ued along­side that of the new J-car. This would be­come the MKIV, a more so­phis­ti­cated and lighter car than the pre­vi­ous mod­els.

Miles was killed in a J-car test­ing ac­ci­dent, but a new car nev­er­the­less looked needed when Fer­rari un­leashed the 330 P4 and filled the podium at Day­tona. The MKIV ar­rived for Se­bring and eas­ily won on its de­but, so four – plus three MKIIBS – trav­elled to Le Mans.

Although Ford again made the run­ning, a se­ries of mishaps, in­clud­ing a crash that elim­i­nated three cars, meant Fer­rari re­mained in con­tention. But Dan Gur­ney and AJ Foyt kept their Shelby MKIV to­gether to take vic­tory.

The big bangers were banned for 1968 and Ford with­drew, but that was not the end. The MKI re­mained el­i­gi­ble as a ‘pro­duc­tion’ sportscar.

With the crack JWA Gulf squad run­ning 4.9-litre cars, Ford bat­tled Porsche for the 1968 ti­tle. And snatched suc­cess thanks to Le Mans vic­tory by Pe­dro Ro­driguez/ Lu­cien Bianchi.

Porsche’s 908 out­classed the age­ing GT40S in 1969, but there was still time for two more en­duro suc­cesses. Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won at Se­bring af­ter the Porsches broke, while Ickx de­feated Hans Her­rmann’s 908 in one of the clos­est Le Mans fin­ishes of all time to end the Ford GT’S first era on a high.

Pub­lic­ity stunts are noth­ing new. Sports events have thrived on them for decades. A big name do­ing some­thing un­usual drives pub­lic in­ter­est, cre­ates so­cial me­dia storms and also has the po­ten­tial to in­tro­duce an event or an ac­tiv­ity to a new au­di­ence.

Nis­san is no stranger to PR stunts. Nei­ther is Sir Chris Hoy. How­ever, af­ter just a few min­utes in the com­pany of Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful Olympian, you re­alise his deal to con­test this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours with the Al­garve Pro Rac­ing LMP2 team is far from a soul­less PR gig. Hoy will start his sea­son in the Euro­pean Le Mans Se­ries opener at Sil­ver­stone this week­end, han­dling the team’s Ligier JS P2 along­side Bri­ton Michael Mune­mann and An­drea Pizzi­tola.

The six-time Olympic Gold medal­list, and 11-time world cham­pion, is now a fully fledged rac­ing driver. Hoy knows this sport. But more im­por­tantly, he loves it.

Had it not been for his ul­tra suc­cess­ful cy­cling ca­reer, Hoy would have strapped him­self into a com­pe­ti­tion car years ago. The 40-year-old is keenly aware of the cyn­i­cism that has sur­rounded his motorsport ca­reer, and knows some will look upon his Le Mans de­but as a sheer mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise. But it is far more im­por­tant to him than that.

“I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am to be given these chances,” says Hoy. “The gen­eral me­dia can see it as a PR stunt and say ‘yeah we’ll make a big thing of it now, but there will prob­a­bly be an ex­cuse some­where down the line and he’ll never ac­tu­ally do it’. In my mind there has never been a chance that I wouldn’t do this be­cause I want it so badly.

“I’ve al­ways loved mo­tor­sports. When I was six I got a Scalex­tric kit and I re­mem­ber ask­ing my dad why one of the cars had lights on it. He said it was be­cause it was a Le Mans car and it had to race through the night. From that moment on I’ve been aware of and fol­lowed Le Mans. It’s the great­est race in the world and it feels sur­real that I’ll be on the grid with the best driv­ers and teams in the world in just a few weeks.”

Hoy took his first steps to­wards motorsport by in­dulging in track days in 2008. His cy­cling ca­reer was wind­ing down and, af­ter his re­tire­ment from com­pe­ti­tion in 2013, Hoy found him­self with spare time and a hunger to try some­thing new.

He signed up to the Rad­i­cal SR1 Cup that year as a to­tal novice. At the time he was keen to point out his move wasn’t a re­place­ment for his cy­cling ca­reer. It was done be­cause Hoy wanted to keep rac­ing in some ca­pac­ity in some­thing he en­joyed.

Since then there have been cam­paigns in British GT with a Nis­san GT-R GT3 in 2014, and last year yielded the in­au­gu­ral LMP3 driv­ers’ ti­tle along­side Char­lie Robert­son in the ELMS.

Hoy’s out­look on his rac­ing has changed as the lev­els have be­come in­creas­ingly pro­fes­sional. It’s be­come a big­ger and big­ger part of his life, but he says it will never to­tally re­place cy­cling. Hoy still ac­tively men­tors the next gen­er­a­tion of Team GB track cy­cling ath­letes.

“Motorsport isn’t a re­place­ment for cy­cling be­cause I can’t do it seven days a week,” he says. “Cy­cling used to be all I did, all day ev­ery day; motorsport can’t be that. It is a big part of my life, but it’s not ev­ery­thing in my life. When I put my hel­met on it is ev­ery­thing for those mo­ments, but when I’m not in the car I have other con­cerns and com­mit­ments too [Hoy also has a range of chil­drens’ books and his own bi­cy­cle range].

“One of the joys of motorsport is the fact that I got to be­come a rookie again. I went from be­ing at the very top of a sport, and when you’re there the scope for im­prove­ment is so mar­ginal – we’re talk­ing find­ing 0.050 sec­onds over a four-year gap be­tween Olympics. But when you go into some­thing to­tally new the im­prove­ments are much eas­ier to find and you see gen­uine progress with ev­ery ses­sion. That’s been one of the most grat­i­fy­ing as­pects for me.”

Hoy says his ex­pe­ri­ence of com­pet­ing at the high­est level in cy­cling has given him trans­fer­able skills for motorsport: “There are ad­van­tages from my cy­cling that some driv­ers may not ben­e­fit from. Sim­ple things, like men­tal prepa­ra­tion. The big­gest thing is be­ing able to fo­cus on the things you can con­trol and block out the stuff you can’t.

“For ex­am­ple, you can’t bar­rel into a cor­ner at Le Mans, find your ref­er­ence point and then think ‘hang on there’s a bloody great wall over there, what if I get this wrong, what if a wheel falls off right now?’ You have to sim­plify things and worry only about what you con­trol. We all get ner­vous and have doubts. I had the ex­act same feel­ings be­fore I raced bikes, that mix­ture of nerves, adrenaline, an­tic­i­pa­tion and of­ten doubt. But you learn not to dwell on them or en­gage with them and not let them af­fect your per­for­mance. In a way that feel­ing is nice, be­cause I never thought I’d ex­pe­ri­ence it again af­ter I re­tired from cy­cling.”

Hoy’s ELMS cam­paign last year was the per­fect learn­ing ground for his Le Mans at­tack. The time in the Ginetta-nis­san LMP3 helped him adapt to pro­to­types af­ter the GT-R.

“I find the pro­to­type much more in­tu­itive to drive,” Hoy ex­plains. “The GT cars were quite un­pre­dictable for me, purely as it’s a dif­fer­ent style of driv­ing. I’d gone from this lit­tle 500kg Rad­i­cal to a 1300kg GT-R. I was smash­ing the brakes and wait­ing for the ABS to do its thing be­fore get­ting go­ing again and I found it quite dif­fi­cult to read what the car was do­ing.

“With the pro­to­types it’s real fin­ger­tip stuff. It’s very phys­i­cal but the car com­mu­ni­cates what’s go­ing on to you bet­ter. Maybe it’s be­cause I started in Rad­i­cals, which have lit­tle down­force and move about a lot, like a go-kart. But when you drive the LMP2, cor­rectly, it does what you want it to and you feel more con­nected to it on the limit.

“Le Mans will be a huge chal­lenge. I got a taste of it when I drove the test day in the LMP3 last year. The car wasn’t much faster than the GT cars and a lot slower than the LMP2S, so you drove in the mir­rors a lot and it was quite daunt­ing as the sheer speed and grip of the LMP1S com­ing past you is in­sane. They’re on a dif­fer­ent plant. With the LMP2 you’re more in the mix and can look for­wards more.”

Hoy has also picked out some of the key things to work on for June: “Han­dling traf­fic will be cru­cial. It’s about un­der­stand­ing the prin­ci­ples and be­ing very clear what you’re do­ing. If there’s a P1 car be­hind you, you stick to your line un­til it’s past you. Or if you’re go­ing for a cor­ner you have to com­mit and go for it and be very clear with your in­ten­tions on-track. There’s un­doubt­edly a lot of work to do be­tween now and Le Mans, but I wouldn’t be do­ing it if I didn’t feel ready for it.” ■

Pri­aulx rel­ishes new chal­lenge

1964: Fast but frag­ile First LM win came in 1966

Last hur­rah: LM 1969

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