Philpot proves he has the ROC Factor with impressive London showing

© Race of Champions

LONDON – Bradley Philpot may be unfamiliar to most followers of motor racing, but after an impressive showing at the Race of Champions in London, the Briton will be a name on the lips of many.

Philpot secured a place at the Race of Champions by winning the ‘ROC Factor’ competition that started off as something very small. Drivers were asked to submit a two-minute video showcasing their racing talents, with ten being selected for a public vote.

Fans from all over the world were invited to support their favorite drivers, with Philpot winning the most votes to secure a place in a shoot-out with second-place finisher Des Foley. The winner was originally set to get a place on the Race of Champions undercard.

Just days before the Race of Champions kicked off, the stakes were upped once again. Philpot and Foley were not just battling for a chance to be part of the event, but in fact to enter the Race of Champions event itself after Jorge Lorenzo was forced to withdraw through injury.

“Unbelievable. It’s completely out of the blue,” Philpot told MotorSportsTalk on Thursday. “Just something starting out very small as a Twitter competition which you’ve got hardly any chance to win.

“And suddenly we’re here, and this is actually happening. Crazy but I’m happy.”

Philpot went head-to-head with Foley on Thursday, winning both of their ties before being picked by the judges to step up and take part in the Race of Champions.

Even for a racer who has finished on the podium at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, the opportunity to share the track with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Tom Kristensen, Mick Doohan and Jenson Button was an exciting one – but it did not overawe Philpot.

“The next focus switches to beating them,” Philpot said. “If I win [the vote], if I find out I’ve won, then it will be a relief. Then overnight I have to refocus on actually doing the job on the circuit.

“It would mean a lot [to beat them] and that would be the aim, so that’s what we’ll try and do.”

It is this racer’s mentality that Philpot tries to ingrain into other drivers when working as an instructor at the Bedford Autodrome in England, and one that he helped to form in NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton ahead of his single-seater adventure in the Florida Winter Series last winter when he raced up against the likes of Max Verstappen and Raffaele Marciello.

Philpot’s Saturday did not start in the best fashion, though.

Having your car towed is enough to ruin anyone’s day, but Philpot kept focused and relaxed ahead of his first Race of Champions heat against five-time MotoGP champion Mick Doohan.

Despite lacking the kind of CV that Doohan has – few can match the Australian in that regard – Philpot was sublime during both runs around the circuit inside the former Olympic Stadium, easing through 2-0. It was a considerable scalp to claim so early on.

The last 16 gave him a tie against Blancpain GT driver Alex Buncombe, but this was where Philpot’s fairytale weekend ended. Buncombe won both heats to go through 2-0, but would only be beaten in the semi-finals by nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen in a remarkable Race of Champions debut.

Philpot’s success did not stop there though. As well as taking part in the racing event, all of the drivers plus a selection of celebrities were invited to take part in a skills challenge on a course featuring a number of different tasks. Penalties were applied for hitting bollards or going the wrong way, with challenges including parallel parking, a slalom and donuts.

The challenge was won by World RX and ex-World Rally Championship racer Petter Solberg, while Buncombe finished second. It was Philpot who completed the top three, though.

To go from entering a competition on a whim to beating all of the Formula 1, single-seater and touring car drivers that entered the Race of Champions at a skills challenge is an astonishing achievement.

Quite what the future holds for Philpot remains unclear, but he’s hopeful that this can be a springboard for more racing with French manufacturer Peugeot in the future.

“I have a little connection with Peugeot. Peugeot UK aren’t doing anything racing in particular this year, but hopefully this kind of thing will help me convince them to do a little bit more going forward,” he said.

The Race of Champions is all about fun and camaraderie, making it the perfect environment for a racer such as Philpot to prove himself. He will have left the Olympic Stadium with his head held high, and rightly so – his past weekend has been a feel-good story unlike any other in motorsport.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).