“Our company was born on a racetrack, I remember watching the race in 1966 as a 9 year old and it was the most thrilling thing I’d ever seen.
“We thought about Le Mans in 2003 with the last Ford GT but that was a short programme that was really a modernisation of the GT40 and with such a compressed programme we really didn’t ever get to a serious look at a racing programme.”
There was a nice cheeky nod to the Prancing Horse in the launch video?
“It was pure coincidence!”
And the new car is a global car to be marketed around the world?
“Yes, and we are racing to win. People have asked me today what are your expectations? History tells us that it takes two or three years and I understand that. But this isn’t a learning experience, Chip intends to come here with a fully competitive car, We’re coming here to race.”
What about the corporate language of the effort, Audi, Porsche and others have one way, others do it differently. The body language we are getting here this morning is pretty open access, competitive, but with an element of fun?
“Yes! if you can’t have fun racing you’re not alive!! Back in the day my uncle and Gianni Agnelli had a lot of fun with the back and forth and those friendly relationships continue to this day. It not only should be fun it HAS to be fun.
“We are very excited in seeing the tech make its way into some of the road vehicles but as a programme this is almost nothing but fun.”
“Ford is returning, and we are very, very happy to welcome the latest chapter of a long, long story with them here.
“It’s great news for Le Mans of course and for the WEC but I think too it is great news for motorsport as a whole.
Ford Motor Company Group Vice President and Chief Technical Officer, Raj Nair:
Does the company view this programme as a three year job, or is there a longer term objective in Ford returning to top level international racing as part of its brand strategy?
“Currently our focus is just on next year. We’ve got great expectations for the car and our participation in WEC and the United Sports Car Championship, for which our preparations have already started taking shape with our partners Ganassi Racing and Multimatic. But to look forward more than that at this point it’s hard to say.”
Given the announcement by the ACO of changes to the GTE Pro regulations, particularly affecting performance through design and aero changes, how relevant does that make the current development work going on with the car?
“Well, we’ve been fortunate enough to be engaged with those discussions and we’ve got a pretty good idea of where the rules package is going. Obviously there will be modifications as there always are and we’ll react to that when they happen. We’ve got a good relationship already with the FIA, the WEC and the ACO and we’re aware of the regulations and how they will work out.”
Considering your introduction to two major series and a high profile return here in 2016, what would be a good result for you in your first year?
“We race to win. But we have to recognise it’s racing and there are a lot of competitors and manufacturers with great experience and results. We have a lot to learn and know that we have a tough job but in choosing the partners we have winning in some form is a realistic target in our first year.”
“When you put all of these things together: Ford, the new GT, a 50th anniversary and Ecoboost technology, any race team would jump at that opportunity. We certainly did!
“People have always said: ‘Chip, you’ve won this race, that race, Indy etc etc, How about going to Le Mans.’
“Honestly I’ve been waiting for the right programme to come along and this is certainly the right programme at the right time.
“We probably started talking about this to, two and a half years ago, it was certainly this programme that got us to shift over to Ford.”
You’ve raced here as a driver of course (in 1987 in the #62 Kouros Sauber)
“It’s kind of coming in a full circle – from being a car driver to a car owner. This was the last place I drove as a pro driver and to come back so many years later – to say I’m excited about it is a huge understatement!”
Testing will start in earnest in the Autumn.
George Howard Chappell:
You’ve been here with Ferrari and Aston Martin and won and now with a third iconic GT racing brand?
“It’s fantastic. There’s been some very hard work to get here but it’s fantastic.
“I’ve won teams that have won with Ferrari and Aston Martin and it’s great to race against those guys now as well as renewing my, and Ford’s rivalry with Corvette. I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’ve had a couple of years out and that’s not been the easiest thing to stand on the sidelines even though I’ve known this was coming.”
“I’m the programme manager of the race side of Ford GT on the Multimatic side. Effectively Multimatic will be the operational side of Chip Ganassi Racing for the WEC.
How close are we to a fully operational race team are we at present?
“We don’t have to go racing as a team until next April (the US based CGR team will debut the car at Daytona). We have a few key people in place. Multimatic is a bit of a stealth company. People don’t really understand what goes on but the depth and breadth of experience within the company means we can easily cover the testing and as we go forward we’ll be building up a full staff to run two cars.”
Any key names you an share with us?
Julian Sole is a Multimatic employee. He’s been a key part of the design side for the race car.
And is the car we have here today a Show Car?
“No this is a running car! It won’t run this weekend, it could, but it won’t.
“The film you’ve just seen of the car was not made up!”
And when does testing start in earnest:
“The obvious answer is ‘When we’re ready’ we need to have a car that is durable and on the button by the time we get to Daytona so it’s been building up.
“It’s been difficult to date of course because we’ve had to keep everything massively under wraps.
“Testing will principally be in North America in the coming months and in due course it will swap to Europe.”
You’ve been playing a full part in the Manufacturer’s working group working towards new GTE regulations. What areas can you talk about around changes that would help the Ford?
“In all the time I’ve worked in GT racing on regs evolution I have never seen the manufacturers so united in trying to get to a very good fixed ruleset. Everyone’s worked very well together and sometimes not with a selfish interest but with a solid view for the good of the sport. That’s been great to see and I hope we can get them nailed down soon.
Pascal Couasnon, Michelin:
“It’s another very big programme and I hope it’s a mark that people respect the work that we have done.
“When you have a series where you have to fight against other tyre makers and keep major brands happy you have to be at your best all of the time. That’s what we love.
“Ford came to us and I was very quick to say yes.”
“I’ve been involved with Chip for 12 years now and I started my professional career with Ford Motor Company in the mid ‘80’s, so knowing all the people it was kind of natural for me to be here.”
“Ford is serious about this, that’s why they’ve been out for so long. They wanted to wait for the right time and for the conditions were right to make the investment in the design and the engineering programme for this car. The dollar has not been strong also, so that has been a factor. But they are committed to building 250 cars a year for four years minimum, so there is a commitment to the continuation of the programme, the infrastructure and the partnerships we are forming to get this done. With the way WEC and Le Mans is now you cannot speculate with an entry like maybe you could before. If you take Porsche as an example, their re-entry as a manufacturer prototype entry is much better a year forward from where they were, but it’s not a fast track situation.”
“Right now I can’t say too much about exactly what my role in this will be but I’ve worked with the team doing the filming for the launch video and it’s exciting times. Maybe driving; maybe something more ambassadorial…at the moment I don’t know. But if it was me choosing a driver line up for this programme I would choose a mixture of ability. There is no substitute for experience. You do need the speed and instinct of the younger drivers, but they tend to think they’re bullet proof and in this kind of racing you need the blend.”
“I’ll be honest with you; my heritage is going to be sportscar racing. I’ve done Indycar, which has been great, but people will remember me in sportscars. Young drivers talk to me and I tell them you need a lot of money to get into single seaters. When you start at the bottom level, what can you bring along with you, and how far does that take you these days? Me earning a living as a paid driver all came from good early support. Somebody believed in me as a younger driver, and that was Ford Motor Company. The young driver programme concept other manufacturers have adopted is very interesting and in endurance racing now you get this unique opportunity to be part of a team and develop your skill alongside other racers and engineers. It is a very strong career path. But that would come later I guess. Right now this team is focused on getting back.”
GG / ML