A year on from revealing its intention to return to the Le Mans 24 Hours 50 years on from its iconic victory in the endurance classic, Ford completed a successful comeback with a convincing victory in the GTE Pro class despite a controversial post-race spat with Ferrari.
Having succeeded over Ferrari back then with the GT40, the latest generation GT once again embarked on a tussle with the Italian manufacturer for this year's GTE Pro title, with Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais and Dirk Muller in the #68 machine succeeding to notch up the category win.
Even so, it was not an event without controversy, with Ford accused of not showing its genuine form during warm-up events so as to avoid being pegged back before Le Mans, but while a Balance of Performance element was applied just before the race, the GT was still the class of the field.
“This is an historic moment for the Ford Motor Company,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company. “We dared to dream that we could return to Le Mans, 50 years after the incredible 1966 win, and take on the toughest competition in the world. The pride we all felt when the Ford GT crossed the line at Le Mans is indescribable.
“The team that designed, built and raced the Ford GT has worked tirelessly to bring us to this result and I am proud of each and every one of them. The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team demonstrated the spirit of Ford, that of innovation, determination and true teamwork. We cherish our history and heritage, but today we made history again and I couldn't be more proud.”
Nevertheless, there was more post-race controversy when the winning car – following a protest from the second place Risi Ferrari - was given a 50secs post-race penalty for speeding in a slow zone and another 20secs penalty for incorrect wheel sensors.
In isolation this would have been enough to promote the Risi car – driven by Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Mateo Malucelli – to victory, only for it to also receive a 20secs penalty for having a broken leader light panel on its car. The team had been given a black/orange flag to rectify it, prompting Ford to launch its counter protest, successfully succeeding to ensure its win.
It meant the GTE Pro class would see just 14secs cover the top three in the final classification, with the #69 Ford completing the podium.