Fifty years after winning Le Mans in a 1-2-3 sweep, Ford Motor Company returned to the most famous race in the world. This 24-hour test of man and machine, with a 90-plus-year history, remains the pinnacle of endurance racing. Winning the 24 hours of Le Mans is a claim every automaker wants to make — but only 14 can. Winning Le Mans four or more times, which Ford did from 1966 to 1969, has only been accomplished by 6 automakers. So when Ford returned to Le Mans with the new Ford GT in 2016, it was a big deal.
I was fortunate enough to attend the race for the first time that year. It had been on my bucket list forever, and I figured this was the year to make it happen. Happily, the Ford GT Forum felt the same way and arranged a group travel package for owners. By working directly with the automaker the Ford GT Forum was able to secure space in Ford’s VIP suite, which overlooks the front straight at Le Mans.
All attendees had full access to the pit area and were given a tour of the Ford GT garage. Seeing the new GT in this setting was amazing, especially when you consider how close the street version is to the race car. Watching the race crew precisely manage the stacks of body panels, tires and mechanical pieces during the race was an experience I’ll never forget.
Beyond the race activity there was a range of owner-related events occurring throughout the weekend. Several Ford GT owners from the U.S. even shipped their cars over for the race. These lucky folks were able to participate in a parade lap around the Le Mans race circuit before the 24 hour event started. They also had quite an adventure cruising European highways and race tracks before arriving in Le Mans.
The race itself was thrilling to say the least. Bill Ford Jr. waved the green flag to start it and the four Ford GTs being campaigned all performed well, with number 68 winning its class exactly 50 years, to the day, after the original 1966 Le Mans win. I felt so fortunate to be a part of the celebration, which I chronicled in a Forbes story posted right after the checkered flag dropped. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget.