Ford claimed decisive victory in the GTE class on its return to the Le Mans 24 Hours 50 years to the day following the American manufacturer's 1966 Le Mans 1-2-3 with the GT40. The pole-winning No. 68 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT driven by Dirk Muller, Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais led the charge to a decisive victory.
“It’s great,” Hand said. “This is crazy. Hashtag America, that’s what I would say. I don’t know what to say. Just a great group of people, just a lot of great people, that’s what this is all about. This is a lot of hard work – we put it all on the line for them as drivers today. We didn’t leave anything out there, and the car just kept on truckin’. It was a great day.”
Team owner Chip Ganassi added: “You know, I’m just lucky to have great people to work with and work for. Representing Ford 50 years after their historic win here, and now to come back with a great team of people and great partners, it’s great. I want to say thanks to my team, everybody that’s involved with this deal from head to toe – it’s incredible.
"This is right up there with all our wins. The race I always want to win is the next one, but this one is going to go in the books as a crowning jewel.”
Porsche took a surprise early lead through Frederic Makowiecki as the GTs briefly dropped down the order in the wet, but by the third hour Ford was back on top.
Richard Westbrook led the comeback in the #69, assuming the lead as Dirk Muller brought the #68 into contention before several protagonists began to fall.
James Calado damaged his AF Corse Ferrari's sump on a curb, delaying that #51 488 GTE significantly before it eventually retired with overheating issues, while the #91 and #92 Porsches were neutered by a damaged radiator and a broken rear suspension, respectively.
AF Corse's second entry retired after a rim failure caused Davide Rigon to crash, and in the factory team's absence the Risi Competizione Ferrari engaged in a three-way fight with the #68 and #69 Fords.
After gaining back some time in the 10th hour, Risi led once the two Ganassi cars had their brakes changed, and stayed in front with a quicker service. By dawn the Ferrari had established a 20-second lead, only for a safety car to bring the #68 Ford back into contention again.
After a cat-and-mouse game the Ferrari eventually succumbed to the Ford's pressure in the 20th hour when Joey Hand caught and passed Matteo Malucelli.
A spin from Toni Vilander in the following hour allowed the #68 to escape and ultimately enjoy a comfortable finish, while the Ferari's focus switched to keeping the #69 Ford at bay. It did, but the team ignored a stop-and-go penalty repair order in the closing minutes of the race and faced a post-race sanction over it. However, it now seems that the results will stand after all.
The #66 Ford recovered from an early electrical issue to fourth on the road and, as the IMSA Fords and Ferrari are ineligible for WEC points, a maximum championship score.
Ford's #67 entry was wheeled off the grid before the start with a gearbox problem and had an unreliable and incident-ridden run to ninth in class.
Aston Martin Racing's lead Vantage ran fourth for much of the race but lost that place, which could have become third thanks to the late Risi penalty, to a puncture and wound up fifth.
To add to the attrition, only one of the works Chevrolet's finished after Tommy Milner crashed the #64 Corvette C7.R heavily on the approach to the Dunlop chicane in hour 16.