Fifty years after its legendary first win, Ford’s GT will return to Le Mans

On the eve of the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford announced that it will return to the legendary race next year in the GTE Pro class with its all-new GT supercar.

The news follows months of rumors, and sets up a reenactment of one of the greatest dramas in racing history.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 1-2-3 Le Mans victory over Ferrari. The win came after Henry Ford II poured his company’s talent and treasure into beating Ferrari in response to being snubbed by old man Enzo.

Enzo Ferrari had entertained selling his company to Ford, but backed out at the last minute. In response, Henry II vowed to humiliate Enzo on the biggest automotive stage there was. Ford developed the GT40, the car that inspired the modern-day GT.

Ford floundered at its first two attempts in 1964 and 1965, but dominated the race from 1966 to ’69. Ferrari hasn’t earned an overall victory at Le Mans since.

Unlike the original GT40, the new GT won’t be competing for an overall victory. The racer will be based on the production car people can actually drive, meaning it won’t be in quite the same league as the multi-million-dollar hybrids from Audi, Porsche, Nissan, and Toyota.

Instead, the GT will compete in GTE Pro, the top class for production-based cars. That means it will trade paint with Chevrolet Corvettes, Aston Martin Vantages, Porsche 911s, and, yes, Ferrari 458 Italias.

Just like the road-going GT, the racer will use a 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6. This engine has already seen plenty of track time in Tudor United SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototypes, racking up wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will manage two two-car GT teams, one for the U.S.-based Tudor series, and the other for the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

So even though the GT is meant to continue the original car’s mission of taking Europe’s motorsport elite down a peg, there will be plenty of opportunities to see it on U.S. soil. Both teams will run at Le Mans in 2016, giving Ford a four-car squadron.

The GT will run the full Tudor and WEC schedules for 2016, meaning its first race appearance will be at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

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