Flying the Ford flag
Flying the Ford flag
EXCEEDING EXTRAORDINARY EXPECTATIONS
One of the keys to success in racing and in life is managing or exceeding expectations.
Heading into the 2016 racing season, Mark Rushbrook, global technical director motorsports, Ford Performance, was asked to deliver on an extraordinarily difficult goal.
The mission for the Ford GT motorsport’s program was to celebrate the 50th milestone of Ford’s historic win at Le Mans by winning the GTE Pro class at the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hour race.
“Our goal was to win Le Mans and that was our focus, but my expectations were a bit more modest,” said Rushbrook.
Rushbrook’s expectations were tempered by the reality of taking on the best from Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin with a brand new car and a team that had never competed at Le Mans.
As race day dawned for the Ford GT’s competition debut at the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona in January, Ford exec Raj Nair predicted that sometime in the next 24 hours an engineer would report, that they had never seen “that” happen before.
It took less than 20 minutes for him to be proven correct as Ryan Briscoe pitted with the car stuck in gear.
Briscoe and co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon returned to the race many laps down, but as RACER.com’s Marshall Pruett later revealed, rather than simply circulate, they experimented with a variety of fuel mileage settings and driving techniques.
Three races later they scored the Ford GT’s first victory at Monterey when Westbrook stretched his final stint.
Next, came Le Mans.
LE MANS STORYBOOK
It is difficult to overstate the anticipation for Ford’s return to Le Mans, 50 years after the original Ford GTs had swept the podium. The Ford GTs were the buzz in the lead up to the race and seemingly every major Ford exec and family member was on hand.
Ford rolled out four CGR entries, two from the North American based IMSA side and a pair of European based cars competing in the FIA World Endurance championship.
“My personal goal was to win a WeatherTech Championship race or two and be reasonably competitive at Le Mans,” said Mike O’Gara, sports car team manager for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing (pictured left).
“CGR goes to every race in every series with the goal to win, and we prepare accordingly.
“Still, racing a brand new car at this level of competition and never having raced at Le Mans, we knew that there would be a steep learning curve.”
Unlike another major manufacturer that arrived with great fanfare the previous year, Ford remembered to bring front running cars.
The Ford EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 engines were flawless and the stunning GT design and chassis provided the speed and handling to meet the demands of the 8.47 mile circuit.
After the Fords won the pole and posted strong times in every session, they were hit with a bit of performance balancing extra weight for the race.
Dave Pericak, the global director of Ford Performance, said, “We are ok with that. We would rather be the guys they are trying to slow down than the guys that need to be sped up.”
The Ford Performance group and CGR delivered a near flawless performance, setting fastest race lap and prevailing in an epic race long battle with the Risi Competizione Ferrari to claim 1-3-4 place finishes.
Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais took the top step with Briscoe, Westbrook and Dixon third.
Two weeks later it was a Ford 1-2 finish in the Sahlen’s Six Hours at Watkins Glen where Westbrook and Briscoe scored their second consecutive WeatherTech Championship win.
Prior to the race, Ford announced it was extending both programs through the 2019 IMSA and World Endurance Championship seasons.
Before the midway point of its inaugural season, the Ford CGR team had won poles at Le Mans and Watkins Glen, set fastest laps at Long Beach, Le Mans and Watkins Glen, and sandwiched the big win at Le Mans between wins at Monterey and Watkins Glen.
They then added a third consecutive WeatherTech Championship victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for good measure.
As a result, heading to Lime Rock Park, Rushbrook has quietly revised his 2016 targets.
“Our goal now is to win races and take a run at the WeatherTech Championship,” said Rushbrook.
Racing insiders have learned to pay close attention to a racer who exceeds expectations.