The 24 Hours of Le Mans has played host to its fair share of memorable moments in motorsports history. The 1-2-3 win for the Ford GT40 in 1966 has become the stuff of motorsports legend, both on and off the track. So, when Ford Performance revealed their plan to mark the 50-year anniversary of the legendary ’66 win by returning to Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time since 1969, the pressure was on to make the return a triumphant one.
Ford Performance announced that they would make a factory supported campaign operating as Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. The vehicle they developed was the Ford GTLM GTE-Pro. The new design paid homage to the styling of the Ford GT40 which had seen them to victory in ’66 but the build was based on the road-going variant of the second-generation Ford GT.
To compete effectively under endurance racing conditions, the Ford GTLM GTE-Pro needed technical solutions which balanced optimal performance and maximum reliability.
Ricardo has a long history of supporting the development of GT technology for endurance racing applications, including the development of the driveline for the Audi R8. It is for this reason that Ford Performance approached Ricardo to develop a transmission solution for the Ford GTLM GTE-Pro.
Developing a transmission solution for the Ford GTLM GTE-Pro
The transmission solution for the Ford GTLM GTE-Pro was developed from a clean sheet.
Reliability and performance were critical to ensure the transmission lasted the distance at one of the world's most demand endurance races. As such, Ricardo worked with the team at Ford to create a bespoke design which drew upon our proven technology. Naturally, a semi-automatic sequential transmission with six-forward ratios plus reverse was specified, largely governed by the regulation at the time. However, Ricardo refined components, gear design and configuration were utilised to optimise a solution for Ford. This included the manufacture of fully formed ground gears which were superfinished using our proprietary in-house finishing process to minimise mesh losses and increase both cooling and lubrication efficiencies.
An integrated shift piston with no external actuation was deployed to optimise the packaging for the GTE Pro’s requirements. This made the installation of the shift system into the chassis easier, creating a simplified arrangement and a reliability improvement. As usual, gear shifting was controlled by paddle shifts mounted behind the steering wheel.
To support vehicle dynamics and optimise the handling, the position of the differential was optimised to get the best driveshaft angles and for a low centre of gravity for improved handling. The bespoke approach Ricardo undertook meant that Ford could mount key elements and ancillary drives from the gearbox casing making the packaging even more compact and leaving additional space for aerodynamic optimisation and configuration
A triumphant Le Mans return for Ford Performance
The Ford GTLM GTE-Pro made its return to La Sarthe in 2016 and saw history repeat itself as Ford once again battled head-to-head with Ferrari on the track. The result was a fairy-tale ending for the Ford Chip Ganassi Team as they triumphed at Le Mans, coming 1st-3rd-4th in their class.
This would prove to be only the start for the Ford GTLM GTE-Pro which would go on to achieve a further four victories that year in both the FIA World Endurance Championships and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championships. This would be followed by a slew of successes until the Ford GT racing programme was retired in 2019. In total, the programme would see 19 wins on the track across four years.
Steve Blevins, Head of Engineering for the Ricardo Performance Products business segment, looks back on the programme with Ford Performance:
"The 24hrs of Le Mans has always been a favourite event of mine. To be able to support Ford Performance in marking the 50-year anniversary of such a legendary event with yet another historic class victory was a great thing to be a part of. The world of the endurance car competition is rapidly changing. The Ricardo team are embracing this new challenge with exciting high-performance solutions that meet the unique requirements of our clients.”
Martin Starkey, Managing Director of Performance Products, adds:
"The Ricardo team are incredibly proud to have played a part in bring Ford back to Le Mans. Their victory in 2016, which marked such a historical moment for the world of motorsports, was a high point and was both a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the team, and the quality of the technical solution we developed for our customer.”
Join us for next month’s instalment where we will dive into the world of motorsport electrification. Discover how Ricardo are using half a century of motorsport experience to support the next generation of racing technology.