Ford GT race program confirmed, with Ganassi’s dual FIA WEC and TUDOR efforts

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LE MANS, France – Ford has, at long last, officially confirmed its racing program for the new Ford GT.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will run a four-car program with the new GTE specification challenger, split two apiece between the FIA World Endurance Championship and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

No drivers were announced Friday but Ganassi said, “there’s a long line forming outside the door.”

Of the challenge, Ganassi said, “We believe in innovation and new challenges.

“We’ve never run at Le Mans. I can tell you we want to win this race. When Ford presented us that opporunity, a chance to compete here, well what race team wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

“Our plan is to debut a new WEC team and TUDOR team and will see its debut for the first time at the 24 Hours of Daytona.”

The full release from Ford is below:

Ford announced today it is returning to one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world with its new Ford GT race car, based on the all-new ultra-high-performance supercar that goes on sale next year.

The Ford GT race car will compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – referred to by many as the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency – starting next year. Revealed today at the famous circuit in Le Mans, France, Ford GT will compete in the Le Mans GT Endurance class for professional teams and drivers (LM GTE Pro).

The new race car – a further proof point of Ford innovation – is based on the all-new Ford GT supercar unveiled in January. Both the production car and race car will arrive in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of Ford GT race cars placing 1-2-3 at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford went on to repeat its victory at Le Mans in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

“When the GT40 competed at Le Mans in the 1960s, Henry Ford II sought to prove Ford could beat endurance racing’s most legendary manufacturers,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company. “We are still extremely proud of having won this iconic race four times in a row, and that same spirit that drove the innovation behind the first Ford GT still drives us today.

The new Ford GT race car will run the full 2016 schedules of the FIA World Endurance Championship and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, making its competition debut in January 2016 in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Florida. The two Ford teams will be operated by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (CGRFS). Both series teams intend to compete with a four-car effort at Le Mans. Drivers will be announced later.

The all-new Ford GT serves as the pinnacle product of the new Ford Performance group, a division dedicated to providing innovation through performance.

Set to deliver more than 12 new performance vehicles by 2020, Ford Performance will leverage its racing efforts and expertise to speed innovations on dedicated performance models and performance parts in order to more quickly iterate the latest technologies that can ultimately be applied to the full Ford vehicle lineup.

The performance segment is a growing business for Ford, as the company recognizes its customers’ desire for vehicles that offer excellent fuel economy, leading technology and a great driving experience. The Ford Performance lineup includes Ford GT, Focus RS, F-150 Raptor, Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT350R, Focus ST and Fiesta ST.

“Ford remains focused on three priorities globally – accelerating our One Ford plan, delivering product excellence with passion and driving innovation in every part of our business,” said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company president and CEO. “All three came together to create the new Ford GT. We also know from our rich history in motorsports that world-class competition is a great incubator for even further product innovation.”

The Ford GT race car features a number of innovations Ford believes will not only make it competitive in LM GTE Pro, but ultimately positioned to provide benefits to each vehicle in the Ford lineup. These include state-of-the-art aerodynamics to deliver outstanding levels of downforce for improved stability with minimal drag, advanced lightweight composites featuring carbon fiber for an exceptionally rigid but light chassis, and the power and efficiency of EcoBoost technology.

“As we developed the Ford GT, from the outset we wanted to ensure we had a car that has what it takes to return Ford to the world of GT racing,” said Raj Nair, Ford Motor Company group vice president, Global Product Development and chief technical officer. “We believe the Ford GT’s advances in aerodynamics, light-weighting and EcoBoost power will make for a compelling race car that can once again compete on a global stage.”

Joining Ford in this project are Multimatic Motorsports, Roush Yates Engines, Castrol, Michelin, Forza Motorsport, Sparco, Brembo and CGRFS. The race car has undergone extensive design and testing within Ford and Multimatic, with CGRFS providing input into the development. Roush Yates is supporting development of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 – the most powerful EcoBoost production engine ever.

The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine debuted in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014. Since then, Ford, with CGRFS, has captured significant overall wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Rolex 24 At Daytona. Besides great success in sports cars, Ganassi race teams achieved major victories in the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis 500.

“We’ve won races and championships, but we’ve never run Le Mans,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “When presented the opportunity to compete with the all-new Ford GT on the world’s biggest sports car stage, and on the 50th anniversary of one of the most storied victories in racing history, how could any race team not want to be part of that? Will it be a challenge? Absolutely, but we couldn’t be with a better partner than Ford.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).