Before Ford makes its highly publicized return to Le Mans, two of the drivers that are aiming to rekindle the marque’s glory from days gone by had the chance to tour the facility at which this new generation of Ford GT was born.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Joey Hand and Ryan Briscoe toured the Ford headquarters in Detroit last Friday for a good luck sendoff and a little history lesson.
Speaking from just outside Ford’s dynamometer, on which one of the race engines for the Ford GT program was being run through its paces ahead of the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic, Hand said the tour had been all encompassing.
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“We’ve seen a lot of stuff, let’s put it that way!” Hand told Sportscar365. “We started the morning getting our first introduction to Bill Ford [Executive Chairman] and a few other people at the Ford world headquarters.
“Then we ran over to the Ford GT design center where they do some street car stuff, but ultimately we got down into the basement.”
The lone full-time American in Ford’s GT lineup was impressed by the level of security and secrecy that cloaked the program’s inner sanctum.
“Basically it was the hidden room that they had where they designed the Ford GT. It’s literally in the back, furthest part of the basement, a room with a key like you’d have to your house, and that’s how everyone got in.
“They didn’t have key cards, they had a key, that’s how secret it was. It was really cool because it’s a small group of designers down there that did the whole thing from scratch to finish.
“They did everything from the exterior of the car to the interior of the car to our driving suit designs. It was pretty cool to see all of that.”
Hand and Briscoe met with many Ford employees, and Hand noted that excitement for the impending trip to Le Mans was in evidence at every turn.
“Seeing the people here, they’re thankful for us to be here,” he said. “I met a lot of employees over lunch break. We signed autographs and they were really excited about the program.
“Everybody asks us, ‘What do you think? What’ve we got? How’re we going to do?’ We don’t know, but what I tell everybody is realistically, I have a good feeling. I think we have a shot, one of the cars does, for sure.
“But you just never know. From a standpoint of performance and how the car drives and feels from the drivers’ seat, I think it feels really good.”
Joey Hand and Ryan Briscoe with Sweepstakes, the race car that Henry Ford drove to a win that netted winnings he used to found Ford.
Hand said the gravity of Ford’s undertaking, and the history that they were making, sunk in when experiencing the cars from the marque’s famous triumphs of the past in the flesh.
“We went to the Henry Ford museum where we got to see the 1967 Dan Gurney, AJ Foyt [Le Mans] winner. We got to see Henry Ford’s first race car from 1901.
“For me, it’s honestly just a big day of history to meet more people and see more things and get enlightened a little as to how historic this team is.”
Especially unique was the chance to meet with Mose Nowland, the primary engine engineer for the Le Mans-winning team in 1966, who loaned Briscoe and Hand a French flag he brought home from the historic win (pictured above).
Hand said experiencing that history gave him a heightened appreciation for the present.
“Days like today making me feel even more honored to be on the program to be honest because it really shows just how historic this company is and those wins were in the sixties, and how historic what they’ve decided to attempt and what I’m involved in today.
“It made me think, ‘What if something big happens here and in 30 years the next group of drivers comes along and thinks, ‘I want to be those guys.’
“I think the biggest thing and most exciting thing for me is that no matter what happens at this race, it’s not going to matter.
“Myself and these other drivers and all of the people involved in the program are going to go in the history books no matter what.”