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Ford begroet Le Mans met spesiale motors

Die slagordes is opgestel en alles is gereed vir vanjaar se Le Mans-uithou-wedren wat op 15 en 16 Junie vanjaar plaasvind.

Dit is vanjaar die vyftigste herdenking van Ford se oorheersing van dié uithou-wedren oor 24 uur, waartydens die Ford GT 40 al drie plekke op die podium ingeneem het. Dit was ook Ford se vierde agtereen-volgende oorwinning sedert 1966 toe die twee Nieu-Seelandse renjaers Chris Amon en Bruce Mc Laren gewen het.

Ford het die GT 40 ontwikkel met die uitdruklike doel om Ferrari in sportmotor-uithou-wedrenne te klop. In 1963 het Ford daarin belang-gestel om Ferrari te koop, en ‘n vergadering is tussen Henry Ford II en Enzo Ferrari belê. Ferrari wou weet wie die motorsport-afdeling sou behartig, maar Ford het gesê hy sou dit doen. Daarby het Ford toe reeds vir die Indianapolis 500-wedren ingeskryf en wou nie mededining van Ferrari af hê nie. Ford was woedend en het die GT 40 ontwikkel; die naam was ‘n samevoeging van Gran Turismo en 40 duim, die motor se hoogte.  Die motor is ontwikkel van die Lola Merk 6-konsep, maar hoewel die motor reeds in 1963 sy buiging gemaak het, het hy die Le Mans-wedren vir die eerste keer in 1966 gewen. Ford wou gehad het dat twee motors, dié van die Nieu-Seelandse renajers Chris Amon en Bruce Mc Laren en die een van die Britse renjaer Ken Miles en die latere Formule 1-wêreld-kampioen Denny Hulme, ook van Nieu-Seeland, die wedren gelyk moes voltooi. Amon en Mc Laren se motor is egter as die wenner aangewys aangesien hul motor ‘n effens groter afstand afgelê het. In 1967 was dit die Amerikaanse renjaers AJ Foyt en Dan Gurney se beurt. Die motors wat die wedren in die eerste twee jaar gewen het, is deur die Amerikaanse motorsport legende Carroll Shelby ingeskryf. In 1968 is die wenmotor, wat deur Pedro Rodriguez en Lucien Bianchi van Italiaans-Belgiese herkoms. Bianchi is in die oefenrondtes vir die Le Mans-wedren van 1969 oorlede.  Daardie jaar het die Belgiese renjaer Jacky Ickx en die Britse renjaer Jackie Oliver die GT 40 se laaste Le Mans-oorwinning behaal. Die nuwe Ford GT is in 2016 ontwikkel om hulde aan die GT 40 te bring en het daardie jaar se Le Mans-wedren gewen.

Daar sal nie minder nie as vyf spesiale motors aan vanjaar se wedren deelneem, en elkeen sal hulde bring aan die sukses wat Ford in die verlede, maar ook meer onlangs, behaal het. Vanjaar se wedren sal die laaste een wees waaraan Ford sal deelneem. “In 2016 het Ford na Le Mans terug-gekeer vir die vyftigste herdenking van die GT 40 se eerste oorwinning en ons het dit op die beste moontlike manier herdenk deur die wedren te wen,” het Bill Ford, die uitvoerende voorsitter van die Ford-motor-maatskappy gesê. “Dit was ‘n trotse oomblik om namens die werknemers op die podium te staan en ek sien uit daarna om vanjaar na Le Mans terug te keer en die span te ondersteun wanneer ons vir die laaste keer deelneem”, het hy bygevoeg.

Die #66 Ford GT spog met dieselfde swart kleur as die motor waarmee Amon en Mc Laren in 1966 gewen het; Stefan Mücke van Duitsland, Olivier Pla van Frankryk en Billy Johnson van die VSA sal hierdie motor bestuur. Dan Gurney en AJ Foyt se wenmotor van 1967 was die inspirasie agter die #67 Ford GT, wat deur Andy Priaulx van Frankryk, Harry Ticknell van Brittanje en Jonathan Bomarito van die VSA. Die #68 Ford GT bring hulde aan die motor wat die wedren in 2016 gewen het, en dié motor, wat deur Dirk Müller van Duitsland, Joey Hand van die VSA en Sebastien Bourdais van Frankryk bestuur word, sal deelneem in dieselfde kleure as die 2016-wenmotor. Hierdie drie renjaers het ook in 2016 gewen, en Hand is opgewonde om weer deel te neem nadat hy die afgelope twee jaar weens siekte misgeloop het. Hy het twee dae se toetse op ‘n Ford-nabootser afgelê en het hard geoefen om vir hierdie wedren voor te berei. Volgens hom vir hulle nog een keer wen vir die span en almal wat by die projek betrokke is.

Die vierde motor wat in die GTE Pro-kategorie deelneem en deur Scott Dixon van die VSA, Ryan Briscoe van Australië en Richard Westbrook van Brittanje bestuur word, is die #69 Ford GT, en sal dieselfde kleure hê as die motor wat in 1966 tweede geëindig het. Briscoe is self opgewonde om weer aan Le Mans deel te neem, veral as gevolg van die motors se spesiale kleure wat hulde aan Ford se suksesvolle renmotors bring. Hy was al saam met Dixon en Westbrook op die podium van Le Mans, maar hulle kon nog nie wen nie. Dit sal vir hulle ‘n manier wees om vir almal wat by die GT-projek betrokke is, dankie te sê.

Daar is ook ‘n vyfde motor wat deur die klantespan Keating Motorsports ingeskryf word. Hierdie motor sal die kleure van die titelborg Wynn’s dra en aan die GTE Am-klas deelneem. Hierdie motor word bestuur deur Ben Keating van die VSA, Jeroen Bleekemolen van Nederland en Felipe Fraga van Brasilië. Keating, ‘n Ford-handelaar, het ‘n lang persoonlike verbintenis met Ford en volgens hom het hy nog nooit só na ‘n wedren uitgesien soos hierdie een nie.  Hy en sy handelaar het ook ‘n verbintenis met Wynn’s, wat vanjaar tagtig jaar oud word. Hy sal die eerste privaat persoon wees wat met ‘n Ford GT deelneem en hierdie wedren verteen-woordig elke deel van sy lewe.

“Die Ford GT is geskep om na GT-uithou-wedrenne terug te keer,” het Mark Rushbrook, die internasionale direkteur van Ford Performance-motorsport gesê. “Dié GT-program wat uit die fabriek ontstaan het, was ‘n groot sukses en ons het die vele uitdagings wat ons die afgelope vier jaar teëgekom het, baie geniet,” het hy bygevoeg. Le Mans is nie heeltemal die einde vir Ford nie, aangesien daar ook nog ‘n aantal IMSA Weather Tech-kampioenskapwedrenne in 2019 voorlê.

Ford is die enigste huidige deelnemer aan die GTE Pro-kategorie wat die afgelope drie jaar elke keer op die podium by Le Mans was en die vier fabriek-ingeskrewe motors word bestuur deur renjaers wat almal ‘n goeie kans het om die wedren te wen.

Die tweestryd tussen Ford en Ferrari word ook uitgebeeld in die rolprent Ford v Ferrari wat in November vanjaar vrygestel word. Matt Damon en Christian Bale vertolk die rolle van Carroll Shelby en Ken Miles onderskeidelik.

Vanjaar se Le Mans 24 uur-uithouwedren vind op 15 en 16 Junie plaas.

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