True enough, the rivalry with Ferrari doesn’t have quite the same bite today that it did back in 1966 but Ford’s remarkable victory in motor racing’s toughest test of endurance in June still came after a race long battle with the Italian manufacturer. Fifty years ago it was an altogether more personal affair. After agreeing to sell his company to the American car giant, Enzo Ferrari backed out of the deal at the 11th hour, enraging Ford and prompting them to build a car with the sole purpose of beating Ferrari at Le Mans. That car was the original Ford GT, and the Americans pulled it off in style. In 1966, the team finished first, second and third at Le Mans, creating one of racing’s truly legendary stories in the process.
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Watch how the Ford GT won at Le Mans
Video: 50 years after beating Ferrari, Ford - with Castrol EDGE - returned to France. Here’s what happened
Fast forward half a century and Ford’s all-new GT came first, third and fourth in the GTE Pro class in what is widely acknoweldged to be the world’s most famous race. Echoes of past glories are too loud to ignore; the absorbing contest with Ferrari that Ford finally bested with only three hours to go; the almost perfect sweep of podium places; the fact that this was Ford’s first time at Le Mans in half a century, and with a car and a race project that was only announced in the second half of last year.
“The team had never even raced in Europe before,” added Jay Ward, Director of Product Communications for Ford of Europe, after the race. “In fact, it had never even competed in sportscar racing until this season.” In what Ward describes as “the achievement of a lifetime for everyone involved”, he also revealed that the decision to return to Le Mans with the GT was no nostalgic dash down memory lane.
“This race car is a showcase for Ford and for our engineering innovation. We’ve already had over 6,500 enquiries from customers wanting to buy the road version of GT and we’re only building 250 a year! It is, of course, an expensive – and niche – supercar but the turbocharged, direct injection EcoBoost technology in both road and race versions of the GT is the same technology that is under the bonnet of a one-litre Fiesta. Which is one big reason why Castrol works with companies like Ford to develop its own extreme performance products Whether it’s a Fiesta or a race-winning GT, engine technology advances at such a rate. The pressures that most modern engines operate under have at least doubled since Ford first won Le Mans.
“But the car that won this year’s race uses the same Titanium FST™ technology you find in Castrol EDGE,” explains Laura de Laguno, Castrol’s Global Motorsport Manager.
For Laura – and Castrol – race wins are the icing on the cake. Just like Ford, the real motivation to go racing is the unrivalled opportunity it presents to push the boundaries of development, quickly. “When Ford compete and win, it is a great demonstration of Castrol’s capabilities, too, but working so closely with their engineers and having to do it at pace is what makes a difference to us. What we achieved in six months to support Ford in sportscar racing this year would normally take twice that time. When that #68 car crossed the finish line, I had to pinch myself. It was really emotional, I was so proud for Castrol. It seemed unbelievable.”
Dirk Muller, the man behind the wheel when that #68 car crossed the line was justifiably more emotional still.
There was lots of crying on the radio,” he laughed, “and that in lap felt like it took a lifetime. I kept thinking ‘what just happened?’” But the experienced Müller is in no doubt about the secret of the whole team’s success. “It is exactly that,” he explained, “one team. From my first test through to putting the car on pole position at Le Mans, it has felt great. Everyone pulling in one direction.” And Müller reserves particular praise for his team mates and for Castrol. “When you go racing, it is crucial that you feel you can rely on the whole team. I knew I could count on my team mates (Joey Hand and Sébastien Bourdais), for example, but so much goes into a victory like this. For me to be able to do the best job possible, everything has to work together. Think about the oil. Even at the end of the race – after almost 24 hours of racing – we were still using full power. That was because the engine was still strong, and so was the oil. And if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to do that. Like I say: one team.”