LMGTE PRO Ford cel­e­brates its an­niver­sary with a one-three-four fin­ish with new GT

Motor Sport News - - Report: Le Mans 24 Hours -

Ford claimed vic­tory in the GTE class on its re­turn to the Le Mans 24 Hours, after a fierce fight with old ri­val Fer­rari.

On the half-cen­te­nary of the GT40’S first of four con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries in the 24 Hours, the new Chip Ganassi Rac­ing-run ef­fort cel­e­brated the win with Joey Hand/dirk Muller/se­bastien Bour­dais tak­ing the glory. The cars also locked out the front row of the grid in qual­i­fy­ing.

Ford strug­gled when rac­ing fi­nally be­gan in the wet, and the pole-claim­ing #69 GT slipped back with Richard West­brook. Muller as­sumed the lead in the #68 Ford, but came un­der pres­sure from the #92 fac­tory Porsche im­me­di­ately.

A stel­lar open­ing stint from Fred­eric Makowiecki took the 911 RSR into the lead, with the #51 AF Corse Fer­rari 488 GTE and cus­tomer Risi Com­pe­tizione ex­am­ple in pur­suit.

West­brook led the Ford fight­back in the third hour, but sev­eral pro­tag­o­nists im­ploded.

James Cal­ado dam­aged his works Fer­rari’s sump on a kerb after re­spond­ing to a late call to pit and the #51 was dumped out of con­tention with lengthy re­pairs.

A dam­aged ra­di­a­tor neutered the #91 Porsche and a bro­ken rear up­right did the same for the #92, be­fore an en­gine and sus­pen­sion fail­ure re­spec­tively ended their races al­to­gether later on.

AF Corse’s sec­ond en­try suf­fered turbo-boost pres­sure prob­lems and a slow punc­ture, be­fore an ex­plod­ing rim overnight pitched Da­vide Rigon into the gravel and brought the #71’s race to an end.

But in the works Fer­rari team’s ab­sence, Risi came to the fore – led by ex-for­mula 1 driver Gian­carlo Fisichella.

What emerged after a chaotic open­ing two or three hours was a clear three-way fight for the lead be­tween the #68 and #69 Fords and the #82 488 GTE.

Hav­ing failed to match the pace of the works cars or the Fords in prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing, Risi proved a stub­born ob­sta­cle.

After gain­ing back some time stop­ping be­fore a safety car in the 10th hour, it led overnight once the two Fords had their brakes changed, and then stayed in front with a quicker ser­vice.

The #69 grad­u­ally slipped back, but after a cat-and-mouse game – which in­cluded a drive-through penalty for the #68 Ford – the Fer­rari even­tu­ally suc­cumbed to the #68’s pres­sure in the 20th hour when Joey Hand caught and passed Mat­teo Malu­celli.

A spin from Toni Vi­lan­der in the fol­low­ing hour al­lowed the #68 to es­cape and ul­ti­mately en­joy a com­fort­able fin­ish, while the Fer­rari’s fo­cus switched to keep­ing the #69 Ford at bay – which it did by half a minute.

The #66 Ford re­cov­ered from an early electrical is­sue to fin­ish fourth, helped by a right-rear punc­ture for the re­silient #95 AMR Van­tage that had oc­cu­pied the po­si­tion for most of the race.

As the IMSA Fords and Fer­rari are in­el­i­gi­ble for WEC points, the #66 also claimed a max­i­mum cham­pi­onship score.

The #67 Ford, was wheeled off the grid be­fore the start with a gear­box prob­lem and run to ninth.

Only one of the works Chevro­lets fin­ished after Tommy Mil­ner crashed the #64 Corvette C7.R heav­ily on the ap­proach to the Dunlop chi­cane in hour 16.

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