Bourdais waging his own Ford vs Ferrari battle at Le Mans

Risi Competizione/Regis Lefebure

Bourdais waging his own Ford vs Ferrari battle at Le Mans

Le Mans/WEC

Bourdais waging his own Ford vs Ferrari battle at Le Mans

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Of all the victories Sebastien Bourdais has earned in motor racing, standing atop his hometown podium in 2016 as the class winner with Ford’s No. 68 GT entry rates among his greatest achievements.

Along with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Muller, Bourdais capped a triumphant return for the Blue Oval at Le Mans by winning on the 50th anniversary of the brand’s 1966 win over Ferrari that was recently immortalized with a feature film.

Adding to the honor of bringing Ford back to victory lane at Circuit de la Sarthe, Bourdais has new marching orders — this time from the other side of the legendary battle lines — representing the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE EVO program this weekend at Le Mans.

Tasked with winning the GTE-Pro class in the No. 82 entry, Bourdais hopes to earn the distinction of delivering for Ford and Ferrari at the world’s greatest endurance race.

“Obviously, the thought has definitely crossed my mind,” he told RACER. “It’s some great honor, obviously, to be able to race for legacies in that grand race that we all love. So, I was fortunate enough to be with the lucky ones and in the lucky car that won the race in 2016 with Dirk and Joey. We all knew how much it meant to the Ford family to be there and get it done.

“I think we knew it going into the event, but when the Ford family arrived at the circuit, it was a 100,000,000% clearer why they came back and why they were there! And it was for one and one reason only — it was winning. So, pressure was definitely the highest I’d ever experienced at Le Mans and for many different reasons. Because obviously you’re going into the race and the car has never really completed a 24-hour simulation. It’s a brand-new car. Nobody really knows what he’s getting himself into other than the car is diabolically fast. And you’re going to have a fight on your hands with Ferrari, 50 years to the day, and that was quite awesome.”

It was mission accomplished for Bourdais and company in 2016, but now he’s seeing that day from the other side of the fence. Image by Marshall Pruett

Ford’s withdrawal from international GT racing at the end of the 2019 season left Bourdais to find a new team for the event, and with an all-French squad being assembled by Risi with co-drivers Olivier Pla and Jules Gounon, a chance to compete in the twin-turbo V8-powered 488 was offered by the Houston-based outfit.

“And so for me to be a bit on the other side this year, obviously Ford is not here anymore, it’s very interesting to now drive a Ferrari, the car that we were fighting in 2016,” he said. “To see how much different it drives — and that’s when you really realize how much of a prototype the Ford GT was. Because this Ferrari really feels like a GT; it’s much softer. It has a much more roll and much more body movement — like a real GT. I never had that feel with the Ford. So coming back now, and being on the other side, it would be fantastic to be able to snatch one for and with Ferrari. But there’s a lot of work that has to happen between now and then.”

The winning Ford trio from 2016 was shielded from an intense tug-of-war that took place behind the scenes between the leadership groups at Ganassi and Risi. As both lobbied for the race director to levy penalties in each other’s camp for various infractions, and private negotiations played out that led to the Risi Ferrari team holding station in second place as the No. 68 Ford captured the victory, one of the drivers who delivered heartbreak for Giuseppe Risi’s team finds himself in a position to heal the wounds.

“Oh yeah, you were on one side, and now you hear about how bitter obviously it is here, from you being on the outside and getting it done and stealing it from them,” he said. “So, it would be great to close the loop to correct that history and get the job done for Mr. Risi.”

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