Le Mans is known globally as one of the most prestigious events in the annual motor racing calendar and as one of the biggest tests of endurance for competitors. Taking place since 1923 in the north of France the 24 Hours of Le Mans represents one leg of the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’ along with the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.
Back in 1966 Ford finished the race by taking the 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions with their legendary GT40. To mark the 50th anniversary of that unprecedented win they returned to the circuit this year with the latest version of the Ford GT and I was invited along to watch the action unfold. Team Ford was up against some pretty strong opposition from the likes of Porsche and Ferrari so a victory was anything but guaranteed.
My base for the trip would be the fairytale like French Chateaux (shown above) which was just a few minutes drive from the Le Mans track, which given the early start on day one was just as well. It was just as well we arrived early (well ahead of the races 3pm start) as 100’s of thousands of spectators would make their way to the event and that is a traffic jam I don’t fancy being caught in!
Before we settled in the rather plush surroundings of the Team Ford VIP lounge to watch the race we were offered the change to take part in a Ford parade lap of the circuit. Yes this meant I got to drive a Ford Focus RS around the Le Mans track in front of a capacity crowd. It was a fantastic experience! Some more theatrics entailed including a brief appearance by the French President and a pack of Hollywood actors and then the race was under way.
This was the first time I have been to a live motorsport event and the noise of those things is unlike anything else, even from within the Ford building the roar of the engines making their way around the circuit was absolutely epic! Watching the race was a kind of weird experience of course it was exciting but with the race spanning over such a long period of time I knew that anything was possible.
After some dinner I watched the action unfold until sunset (which provided some beautiful views over the track) as the Ford team were still in the running holding 2nd and 3rd spots behind Ferrari. At that point I had to give in for the day and retire back to the hotel for some R&R! It’s a hard life!
The sun came up on the second day of the 2016 Le Mans race and Team Ford’s determination showed no sign of slowing up as number 68 driver Dirk Müller eventually finished the 340 laps in pole position. He was followed by the team from Ferrari in 2nd position and Ford teammate’s in 3rd. All in all I would say that marks a very successful return to the sport for the Ford GT!