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