Rolex recap: New Ferrari, Ford rides go in different directions

Photo: IMSA
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Even though they’ve been longtime rivals, about the only things Ford and Ferrari have in common is their respective names both start with an F.

But both manufacturers were kind of in the same boat at this past weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, shaking down newly developed turbocharged sports cars.

Ferrari debuted its highly anticipated 488 GTE with two strong performances, finishing 10th and 12th overall and fourth and sixth, respectively, in the GT Le Mans class.

The No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE, driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, Alexandre Premat, Memo Rojas and Daniel Serra, overcame both a pit lane penalty and falling behind several laps early on to rebound, regain the lead lap, led the race at its midpoint and ultimately finished fourth in class.

The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari led GTLM early on before contact with another car in the second half of the event caused damage, relegating it to its eventual sixth-place showing.

The third 488, the No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari, was forced to retire during the 18th hour and finished 10th in GTLM and 41st overall out of the 54 entries in the 54th running of the Rolex.

Another strong point about the new 488 is all three teams that competed in the Rolex led laps at one point.

The 488 ushers in a new era and says goodbye to the old era of the 458 Italia in North American endurance racing. According to a Ferrari media release, the 458 Italia accounted for 12 wins since its debut in 2011, including the 2014 GT Daytona triumph in the Rolex.

This weekend was the last race for the 458 in the GT Daytona class. The No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia rebounded from contact just before the race’s midpoint to finish seventh in the GTD class and 21st overall.

The final Ferrari entry, the No. 51 Spirit of Race 458 Italia, finished 11th in GTD and 26th overall.

As for Ford, high hopes for its new GT didn’t quite work as well as planned. The No. 66 finished seventh in GTLM and 31st overall, while it’s twin, the No. 67, finished ninth in GTLM and 40th overall.

Both cars, part of the two-car effort of last year’s Rolex championship team, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, suffered gearbox issues that caused them to fall behind and never recover.

“We certainly had our share of reliability issues, and that is not uncommon in a brand new car’s debut,” Raj Nair, Ford Motor Company executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer said in a media release. “As we have said, the first time these two particular cars hit the road was literally at the Roar (Before the Rolex 24) test here a couple weeks ago.

“Aspects of our total testing program had gone very well, so I think we’re a little surprised at some of the reliability issues we have had.

“The good thing about it all, and the thing we are pleased about, is the car is showing some pace, it is showing some opportunity, and overall we are happy that we have a fast car and we need to work on reliability. That’s a lot better than having a slow car that’s reliable, but you don’t know how to get speed out of it. Overall, this is racing and this is what can happen in racing. If we don’t win every race, we are disappointed, but at the same time we know how to fix our issues and we’ll be better the next time we come out.”

However, Ford enjoyed respectable finishes from its No. 01 and No. 02 Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley Daytona Prototypes.

The No. 01 was Ford’s highest finisher, placing fifth both overall and in class, while the No. 02 finished seventh in class and 13th overall. The latter Ford suffered brake problems three times in the race, the last time putting Kyle Larson into a tire wall and ending its day with less than three hours left in the race.

Dave Pericak, Global Director for Ford Performance, put the overall effort into perspective in a Ford media release.

“I don’t think anyone should think of this race as a failure,” Pericak said. “It’s not the Cinderella story we were hoping for, but this is racing. I’d rather work the bugs out now, then later.

“We will re-group, we will fix it, and then we will go out at Sebring and show what we can do. That’s what this is all about.”

Here are some select quotes from Ford drivers on their Rolex experience this weekend:

SCOTT DIXON: “It was the last ride for this car. I hope Chip has some plans for Prototypes next year or at least being in something next year. This is something I’ve been involved in since 2004. Twelve years doing this racing and it’s a lot of fun.”

TONY KANAAN: “It was a tough race for us. That’s typically a 24-hour problem, right? It’s very unpredictable. The one thing I should say is that I’m proud of this team. The mentality that we have. We were 28 laps down and still setting fast laps after fast laps. We don’t give up. This is how we win – this is how we lose. We don’t know any other way to go racing. All I have to say, I told Chip we have to come back again.”

JAMIE McMURRAY: “It seems like it was a really long weekend for all of our cars. … I had a really good time getting to be part of the race again and driving with Scott (Dixon), Kyle (Larson) and Tony (Kanaan). I hope we get to do it again. Chip always puts together a great program for this race and it’s one of my favorite events each year with the team. You really have to have everything go right for you and we just didn’t catch the breaks we needed this weekend unfortunately.”

RYAN BRISCOE: “It was a pretty tough race for us, but it was the first true test for the Ford GT. We showed awesome speed and competitiveness, so I think there are a lot of positives to take from the race. Obviously, we have a list of items to go through post-race, you know, work on our reliability, but for me, driving the car was so much fun. It’s an awesome race car. It was really comfortable to drive and really racy, so from that standpoint, it was really promising and I’m sure the team and Ford and everyone involved will be able to work out the kinks that we got in our first-ever race with the Ford GT.”

RICHARD WESTBROOK: “It was an amazing start for both the No. 67 and 66 (Ford GTs) and a helluva achievement. To be thrown a 24-hour race as our debut and then to finish with both cars, and to be able to run so competitively at the front as well and for long periods of the night. Obviously there were a few issues during the race with both cars, but that’s to be expected. Everything’s new and it’s only going to be better.”

JOEY HAND: “For me, it was a pretty awesome day. I got to take the first start in this Ford GT. I got to lead the first laps with the Ford GT. The car drove well. We had a couple of little problems that set us back a few laps, but ultimately, the car was good and quick and had a good balance. I think what we take away from this is we have a good race car, we have a good starting point, we finish these little issues and we’ll be major contenders in the long run.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: “It’s a brand new program, so we didn’t expect to run free, but at the end of the day, the car showed some pace and we’ve been able to reach the checkered flag. There’s been a few issues, but one that’s been happening a few times which obviously took us out of contention. That had never happened before. We will just try to understand and fix it and come back stronger.”

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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).