The Greatest Manufacturer in Motorsports History
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The Greatest Manufacturer in Motorsports History

How the company that nobody expected dominated motor racing.

The Greatest Manufacturer in Motorsports History
Hemmings Daily

When people think of the most successful manufacturer in motorsports, the names that will pop into their minds are obvious: Ferrari, McLaren, Audi or any other exotic, high-performance, mostly European brands that sing lyrics about their impressive racing heritage. McLaren, for example, prides itself for being one of the best teams in Formula 1, while Audi constantly reminds the world of how it revolutionized offroad rally racing. As for Ferrari; well, it’s been the biggest name in racing since...forever. But I argue that these manufacturers are nowhere near of being the greatest in motorsports history. Oh, no. That crown goes to Ford. Ford in 2016 is not something that people would relate to racetrack-conquering performance, but during motor racing’s golden era between the 60’s and the 80’s, Ford left an illustrious legacy that would make big names like Ferrari tremble in fear. To see where it all began, the clock must turn back to the 1960's when Ford made its first stride on the international racing scene.

In 1963, Ford attempted to purchase Ferrari and had it happened, the Blue Oval would’ve acquired both the world's most prestigious sports car manufacturer and the most successful racing team in history in one package. However, fierce disagreements between Ford and Ferrari's aggressive presidents Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari split the two companies into bitter rivals. Enraged, Henry Ford II reportedly vowed, “Alright, we’re going to beat his a**. We’re gonna race him,” and quickly assembled a crack team of experienced engineers from both sides of the Atlantic and initiated the "GT Project". Their only objective: create an endurance racing car that will beat Ferrari at the World Sportscar Championship endurance race series (which Ferrari dominated since 1953). Just a few months later, the team conceived the GT40, a car that would become a racing icon. The new racer had a shaky start plagued by reliability issues, but Ford stunned the world in 1966 when three GT40s humiliated Ferrari by sweeping first, second and third place at endurance racing's most prestigious stage, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The GT40 carried on to win at Le Mans four times back-to-back from 1966 to 1969, effectively ending Ferrari’s reign in endurance racing. The GT40 etched itself as an automotive legend and signifies Ford’s grand entrance into global motorsports. After the GT40’s sweeping success, no one could look at Ford the same way. Enzo Ferrari certainly couldn’t.

As the GT40 project went on, Ford turned their attention to Formula 1. Often regarded as the holy grail of open-wheel racing, Formula 1 presents grueling challenge to both manufacturers and drivers. Each race �spans more than 190 miles total, and the cars maintain average speeds of nearly 150 miles per hour throughout the entire race. Per regulations, drivers have no choice but to retire the entire race in an event of a mechanical breakdown, challenging engine constructors to build an incredibly powerful engine that was also reliable, and that’s where Ford saw an opportunity. Ford teamed with Cosworth, a renowned British high-performance/racing engineering firm, and the joint venture unveiled a three-liter V8 engine named DFV for the 1967 season. The new engine immediately became a sensation; it was lighter, easier to maintain, more compact, more affordable and yet highly competitive, making it the engine of choice for both juggernaut teams like McLaren and Lotus to smaller teams like March. DFV-powered cars were untouchable (and they sounded glorious), winning all World Championship races (the ultimate race of the season) from 1969 to 1973. By the time the engine was being phased out in 1985, it had been installed to some of the most successful chassis in that decade such as the McLaren M23, and won 155 out 262 races. Nearly 50 years after production, the DFV engine is regarded as the most successful engine in Formula 1’s history, serving as a part-testament to Ford’s engineering prowess.

After enjoying great success in both endurance racing and Formula 1, Ford became greatly involved in rally racing, which is a series of mixed-terrain races set on some of the world’s most demanding landscapes. The Blue Oval rose to dominance in rally racing when it won the 16,000 mile London to Mexico World Cup Rally in 1970 and the World Rally Championship in 1979. Ford is still a strong competitor in rally racing to this day, winning the World Rally Championship again in 2006 and 2007.

It is remarkable what Ford has achieved in motorsports considering that most of its products are unsuspecting SUVs, family sedans and trucks that don’t exactly scream performance and speed. Ford’s great racing history took an abrupt hold as the American auto industry started to sink in the mid-2000’s, but the company is starting to come back; it recently announced its return to endurance racing with the new GT racer and unveiled the highly-anticipated second-generation Focus RS rally car. Although nobody can say for sure whether these new contenders from the Blue Oval will be successful in this new era, but Ford is definitely starting flex its muscles once again. Every manufacturer in motor racing right now should be feeling very nervous.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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