The Ford GT’s Return to Racing Glory

7 Jul

27696530511_479c053dd3_o (1)The story of the Ford GT40’s victory over Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the stuff of automotive legend. Books have been written about it, vehicles have been designed to commemorate its victory, heck, Top Gear UK even did a glowing segment on Ford’s rise to racing glory, and they’re not even American!

But what Ford accomplished at Le Mans this year, when the new GT won the world’s premiere endurance race in its first-ever competitive appearance, rivals even the four-consecutive Le Mans victories Ford celebrated from 1966 to 1969.

This was a car that had never demonstrated the ability to finish such a race, let alone win it. This was a car whose very development was only revealed 18 months ago. It was the perfect storm for Ford Motor Company and the GT team; one-year after announcing that the GT would be returning to Le Mans, on Father’s Day, no less, the Ford team stood atop the podium, celebrating a return to endurance racing nirvana nearly 50 years in the making.

The GT Ford sent to Le Mans managed such a decisive victory that even Ferrari driver Toni Vilander had to admit that Ford “could close the gap whenever they wanted. The way it came down proved they were too strong.” Ford faced harsh criticism from American racing fans before the race for using a V6 Ecoboost engine to increase efficiency and reduce weight. Those critics may be hard to find right now, however, as the EcoBoost GT took first place on arguably the biggest stage in racing.

So why all the fuss about the victory of a car most of us will never see in person, let alone own?

Car companies talk a lot about “halo cars,” vehicles that may be unaffordable or rare, but still manage to catch eyes and express the brand’s larger identity and goals.

That sounds great in theory, but in practice brands often end up with cars that, for all their glitz and prestige, aren’t really representative of the vehicles consumers can actually find and afford. The Ford GT that won Le Mans did so by using an EcoBoost engine, the same engine that is the heart of most new Fords on the road.

If you drive a recent Ford, the chances are good that the engine technology that allows it to get down the road faster and more efficiently than its competition is the same technology that allowed the Ford GT to vanquish Ferrari, Corvette, and the rest of the field.

So really, the Ford GT isn’t a halo car. It’s just a Ford. And that’s actually a lot more meaningful.