The end of Ford’s four-year factory GT Le Mans and GTE-Pro programs with Chip Ganassi Racing has arrived. Among the litany of farewells in store for IMSA this weekend, saying goodbye to the Blue Oval’s sleek cars, and all who are associated with its WeatherTech SportsCar Championship effort, will result in a few tears being shed under the CGR tent on Saturday night.
Fans could see Ford return in a few years when IMSA’s next-generation DPis break cover in 2022, but until its next sports car program is confirmed, memories of the outgoing Ford GT program will need to suffice.
“Yeah, there are so many highlights or special moments along the way and a lot of it is just because of the great partners and the great people and sharing that entire journey together,” Ford Performance boss Mark Rushbrook told RACER. “It’s Multimatic and Chip Ganassi and his team and Roush Yates and Michelin and everybody that’s come in as companies together, but also the individuals and the long journey that we’ve been on — some very high of highs and certainly some lows of lows along the way.
“The main focus of the program was to go and win the GTE-Pro class at Le Mans in 2016 and that will forever stand as the pinnacle of the program and it’s fantastic that we achieved that. But so many other wins along the way and experiences and accomplishments and overcoming adversity from the first one at Laguna Seca in May of 2016, just a month before going to Le Mans to get the first win for the car and obviously the win at Le Mans and all those wins along the way. I think it’s a 27-percent win rate so far and 32-percent pole rate.”
With the size and compartmentalization of giant auto manufacturers like Ford, factory racing programs are often detached from the men and women in the company’s workforce. Rushbrook was heartened by the connection Ford’s employees felt with the GT program after returning from France in 2016.
“It’s exceeded more than the original goals for the program, both on the track and off in terms of what it’s meant to the company, to the employee pride and satisfaction and in what we do and what it says about our company,” he added. “I remember after the win in 2016 at Le Mans, we came back two or three weeks after that win and had a celebration in the Dearborn campus for all of our Ford employees. Seeing so many people come out and how happy they were and how proud they were to be Ford employees because of what the team was able to accomplish — and we had the drivers there and the team and the cars — that was a fantastic day. Not as good as the day at Le Mans just a couple of weeks before that, but so great to see the employees so much behind what we had been doing as a team.”
Prior to Le Mans in June, the program took its maiden win in Monterey. Designed as a hypercar among supercars, Ford’s GT was not well-received by its rivals as the purebred road and race car was capable of speed and performance some believed fell outside the spirit of the GTLM category. It made the GT’s debut win at Laguna Seca, where extreme fuel mileage achieved by Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, rather than brute force, made the difference.