LE MANS, France —While our friends to the south loudly chanted “U-S-A” as the Blue Oval’s brand new supercar, the Ford GT, took the GT LME Pro class win on its very first try at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, some people were quietly humming “O Canada.”
Although the Ford GT was first conceived of in Detroit, every single one is built by Ford’s performance partner Multimatic
in Markham, Ont. Hundreds of Canadians have been deeply entrenched in the project from the start, including 2000 Le Mans winner and Torontonian Scott Maxwell.
Ford’s aspiration was nothing less than victory, and everything went exactly according to the intense and time-constrained plan that was announced a little over a year ago.
They planned to make their triumphant return on the 50th anniversary of their first Le Mans win with the GT40 in 1966
. This year, it worked out that the race ended on June 19th, meaning the feat took place 50 years later to the day.
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They also planned to revive a decades-long rivalry with Ferrari, and boy, did they ever. American privateer team Risi Competizione and its No. 82 Ferrari 488
gave Ford a run for its money, being just a minute behind the No. 68 car after 24 hours. The Prancing Horse’s devotees will be none too pleased.
The only thing that could have gone more to plan is if the No. 66 car had won rather than the No. 68. The four cars were numbered after Ford’s four Le Mans wins in ’66, ’67, ’68, and ’69. But hey, nobody’s perfect.
There was only one aspect of the victory that went sour, and that was the amount of political infighting it produced within the paddock.
The mudslinging started after qualifying when the Ford GTs were gridded 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th. Their competition accused them of having concealed their peak performance, so the race organizers added weight and reduced the boost output on all four cars in response. It was a setback, but it was clearly one that the team was able to overcome.
Then, after the checkered flag, the No. 82 team submitted a protest accusing the winning car of illegally speeding past an incident. Ford countered that one of the Ferrari’s mandatory on-board lights wasn’t working at the finish. Both cars were penalized, so the finishing order remained the same. But the episode exposed a little bit of motor racing’s ugly side.
So, what comes next for a team that went in swinging for the rafters and knocked it out of the park, scoring one of motor racing’s most historic victories in the process?
They should probably go for victory on the 50th anniversary of their second Le Mans win. I’ll be watching and waving a Canadian flag.
ALSO READ: Canada’s Multimatic powers Ford to Le Mans win
Porsche win highlights spirit of the race
Circuit de la Sarthe is where the heart of sports car racing beats. It delivers motorsport’s lifeblood — the spirit of Le Mans — to performance drivers and enthusiasts the world over.
But what exactly is the spirit of Le Mans? Now that I’ve experienced it for myself, I understand that it encompasses far more than I ever could have imagined.
- It’s innovation. Nowhere else on Earth can automakers put the reputations of their R&D departments so publicly on the line. In the top LMP1 prototype category alone, the Porsche 919’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder combustion engine and two separate energy recovery systems go up against Audi’s 4.0-litre V6 turbocharged diesel hybrid and Toyota’s 2.4-litre twin-turbo gas-powered V6 with two hybrid units. And that example only scratches the surface.
- It’s perseverance. Keeping a car at full tilt and out of trouble for 24 hours is an achievement in itself. Every team’s three drivers race for at least six hours each, the equivalent of three Formula One races, through the pitch darkness of night and whatever weather conditions get thrown at them. But at least they get to sleep. Crew members often pull 30-plus hour days, lucky to nap for an hour or two between pit stops.
- Sometimes this monumental effort doesn’t pay off and sometimes it does, a lesson Porsche learned all too well this year. By the end of the 24 hours, both of their factory GT 911 RSRs were out with mechanical trouble and one of their two LMP1 had spent hours in the garage with a broken water pump. But the second prototype was perfectly positioned to capitalize on opportunity at the very end when it counted most.
- It’s emotion, to the extreme. This year’s race featured one of the most dramatic finishes in the race’s 84-year history.
Toyota’s No. 5 LMP1 car was 30 seconds ahead going into the last five minutes. Just as it was about to begin its last lap, it suddenly lost power and crawled to a stop on the front straight.
Consider that for a moment. They battled without stopping for 23 hours and 57 minutes, only to have a win stolen from them at the very last moment by a technical gremlin.
Meanwhile, the No. 2 Porsche 919 blazed past and took the victory. For them, it was sudden and utter elation. For Toyota, it was untenable heartbreak.
But that’s not the most remarkable part.
It would be easy to pop the corks, slap backs, and crow about how great Porsche is for scoring an 18th Le Mans victory.
They didn’t, though. Not once. Every comment from every driver and team member post-race was prefaced with sympathy for Toyota. They know all too well how easily the shoe can end up on the other foot.
In fact, when Toyota representatives came around to Porsche’s base camp to offer congratulations, the entire Porsche contingent rose and gave them a raucous standing ovation.
Fierce competition. Humble respect. A coming-together on an international scale. The relentless pursuit of innovation and victory.
The spirit of Le Mans is all of these things and so much more. But at its heart, first and foremost, it’s the spirit of humanity.
The writer’s travel and related expenses were covered by Porsche. To send feedback, email email@example.com
and put Stephanie Wallcraft in the subject line.