Over the weekend, two of the drivers tasked with the opportunity of handling Ford’s factory return to Le Mans – Ryan Briscoe and Joey Hand – got a chance to soak up Ford’s glorious past in Dearborn, Mich.
Briscoe and Hand toured the Ford GT design studio and The Henry Ford (museum) in Dearborn, and received a formal “good luck” from Ford’s senior management, met three engineers from the 1960s GT40 teams and got to see one of their race engines “run” Le Mans on the dyno.
But as both drivers explained, the day was so much more than that.
“We met with Bill Ford, Edsel Ford, Henry… Mark Fields was there. We got to talk to all those guys who are coming to Le Mans,” Briscoe told NBC Sports. “Later we went to the design studio where the car was designed from the ground up. You see the colors and the suit we wear. That’s awesome! There were different iterations of the car and stages.
“Then over at the museum, we met the head engine builder, Mose Nowland, for the ’66-’67 Ford GT winning car. He’s retired, but he is now at the museum working. He takes care of the cars he used to work on. He has stories about being back with (Dan) Gurney and A.J. (Foyt).
“In ’67 after the race, he wasn’t into getting autograph cards or signatures. But he wanted a memento. So he took a French flag over their pits and took it home! And he’s had it all these years… he gave that flag to Joey and myself today. So we’ll take good care of it!”
Hand added, “It’s difficult to describe, man. It’s definitely a day to remember. The things were incredible – there were so many things I learned, history, places, things I saw. I really checked a lot off the list today.
“One of the things you hit on, we met the engine builder who built the engines in the first Ford GTs. He gave us the French flag he had taken from the race in 67. He gave it back to us. We hope it will bring us good luck.
“He’s had this flag for 50 years, and there in the middle of the museum, right in front of the ’67 Gurney/Foyt winner and right across from Henry Ford’s (car) in 1901 that started it all. It was a really fun day.”
Hand – an integral part of the Ford EcoBoost engine development program the last two years in both its Daytona Prototype iteration and now in the GT – expressed how this moment was part of the bigger Ford-at-Le Mans story.
“This is a big deal. As racecar drivers, we’re in the racecar, we’re in the car, and we help the car go faster,” he said.
“Driving the Ford GT is ultimately a race car at the track that’s part of a history that is just so much bigger, man.
“There’s so much history with this company. I’m proud to be part of it.”
More on Ford’s return to Le Mans with the four-car GT program – split two cars apiece between the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK (FIA World Endurance Championship program) and Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program) – will follow in the weeks ahead.
This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans is June 18-19.