As far as racing legends go, the titanic Ford-vs-Ferrari battles that took place at Le Mans in the 1960s are among the most revered, but another iconic brand – from Ford’s home state – is looking forward to writing a new narrative in 2016. With Ford set to announce its return to international sports car racing on Friday with the Ford GT, Michigan neighbors GM Racing and its Corvette C7.R team are excited about resuming the old rivalry.
“I don’t think we could be happier,” Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan told RACER. “Number one, first and foremost, that Ford has recognized the viability of using professional sports car racing to market technologies, and they’ve come to the realization that motorsports is a lot more than just a checkered flag and a trophy. There’s a lot of ways to internalize what you do with those programs and I think Corvette has served as a learning example to every manufacturer on how you do that.
“And, second, obviously, it’s going to add some wind to the sail in trying to move the TUDOR Championship forward. Adding another manufacturer would’ve been great, and another American manufacturer makes it even better. It brings back a very hallowed name in racing. There’s a huge amount of history connected with the Ford name plate, here at Le Mans and at home. I think to have it back adds credibility globally, not just in the U.S., and for us, we go into every event with beating our opposition as the only objective, and having Ford there will only intensify our resolve. I’m excited about it.”
Veteran Corvette Racing driver Oliver Gavin shared Fehan’s enthusiasm for Ford’s return, and the chance to leave the Blue Oval’s new supercar in his wake.
“I think that would be fantastic for everybody in our category and our class,” said the Briton, a four-time Le Mans winner. “Having our neighbors racing I think is only going to really generate great attention, great competition. And I think it’s something that we embrace, and we want that competition. It will make us all better and even more focused on our jobs. I think it’s a great thing and we welcome their challenge.”
Gavin’s American teammate Tommy Milner can’t wait for Ford to bring its twin-turbo V6-powered GT to IMSA’s GTLM category, and the GTE-Pro class where it will race in the World Endurance Championship.
“I’ve always said that our GT class always has great racing, and part of that is from having multiple auto manufacturers racing against us,” said the ALMS GT championship winner. “We had Porsche, Ferrari, and Viper at one point. It’s been many, many different manufactures that have raced through GT.
“Corvette’s been a staple for a long time in GT racing across the world, and it would be great to have somebody else join us. It would be even better with another American car manufacturer…we’d have somebody else to beat up on a little bit.”
At present, international GT racing run under ACO/FIA/IMSA sanctioning features the exclusive use of naturally aspirated 6- and 8-cylinder engines, making Ford’s Roush Yates-built twin-turbo mill a first for the TUDOR Championship and the WEC. Corvette Racing’s rumbling V8s have been a signature in every series they’ve contested, and with the prospect of turbos entering the conversation, the GM factory team has mixed feelings about the technical management process that will be required on both sides of the Atlantic.
“It certainly opens up the Balance of Performance can,” said Fehan. “I can tell you, in my career I have never seen naturally aspirated engines compete successfully with turbocharged engines. However, my career spans decades. The technologies that exist today, from what I have been able to glean and understand, I think will allow us to bring that chasm to an absolute minimum.
“Currently, I have no concerns about the ability to get that balance here at Le Mans. Now, in the U.S., I think that the technical guys have reached out and have talked to the Europeans, those Europeans have a lot of turbocharging experience, a lot more than the Americans do. I think if they could both get on that same page, it opens the door to having some great racing.”
“It seems like it’s been the case now that NA motors are the preferred motor,” Milner added. “I think enough people now have been looking at that and that’s sort of where the road-going cars for a lot of people have gone. It is only natural to have some of that show up in our class. And I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m sure it adds an extra element to the BoP process and something else for someone else to talk about and complain about a little bit. It’ll be good. It brings more sounds, that’s what’s great about our racing and our series is we have multiple sounds and looks and colors and things like that. It’s just another sound to get excited about.”