A brief history of Ford in motorsport
Most of us just use our cars as a mode of getting from A to B. Whilst we all want our vehicles to be as comfortable and technologically advanced as possible (and many of us are quite keen for them to be fast, too), the vast majority of people never attempt to use their cars to race – and would, of course, be breaking the law if they did!
However, it is no secret that many of the vehicles produced by the Ford Motor Company – one of the world’s oldest and best-loved manufacturers – are capable of terrific speed and also perform well in many other crucial areas (such as handling and reliability) which, added together, makes them the ideal racing machines.
Ford have enjoyed a long and varied history in many different forms of motor racing and in this article we will take a brief look at some of their most significant successes, beginning with a machine that was invented almost at the dawn of automobiles and finishing with a modern-day success story.
Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 but had been experimenting with vehicle design and manufacture for several years prior to this. In 1896, he completed work on his first ‘car’, known as the Quadricycle.
Although certainly not a racing machine, the Quadricycle – powered by ethanol and travelling on four bicycle wheels - was the first machine of its kind to reach 20mph, thus awakening a thirst for speed among a number of rich and powerful Americans who were intrigued by Ford’s invention.
Only three Quadricycles were ever built, with the original model (pictured above) now on public display at the Henry Ford Museum in the company’s hometown of Dearborn, Michigan.
Those who are up to speed (so to speak) on their motoring history will know that the luxury car manufacturer Lincoln has been owned by the Ford Motor Company for almost 100 years, having been bought out following their near-collapse in 1922.
It may be more of a surprise, however, to learn that a Lincoln actually won the first ever NASCAR race, which was held at North Carolina’s Charlotte Speedway in June 1949.
The car, driven by Jim Roper, was not thought to have been a winner at first: Glenn Dunaway, who was actually driving a Ford, was the first to finish the course’s 200 laps and it seemed that he had been victorious. However, race officials then raised suspicions about the fact that Dunaway’s car had managed to hold such a steady line over the race’s many difficult turns; it was then discovered that this had in fact been achieved by spreading the car’s rear springs, which constituted illegal tampering.
The race was subsequently awarded to Roper, with Dunaway being relegated to last place in the final standings.
Whilst Ford has never headed up a Formula One team of its own, it has enjoyed tremendous success as an engine supplier over the years. In fact, the company which brought the public such reliable everyday cars as the Fiesta and Mondeo is second only to the motorsports specialists Ferrari in terms of the number of Grand Prix wins it has notched up, currently standing at an incredible 176.
The first of these wins came back in 1967 in the Dutch Grand Prix, with Jim Clark the victorious driver in the cockpit of the Lotus 49. This was actually the first time the car had appeared on the F1 grid and it certainly proved a debut to remember, with the Lotus finishing over 23 seconds faster than its nearest rival.
Fast forward around 35 years to 2003 and Ford’s final Formula One victory as an engine supplier (at least at the time of writing).
Giancarlo Fisichella was the successful driver this time, leading his Jordan car to victory for the first and only time that season at the eventful Brazilian Grand Prix.
Despite enjoying almost unparalleled success in their under-the-bonnet role, Ford recently confirmed that they currently have no plans to re-enter the world of Formula One any time soon, with the economics of such a move – combined with the great successes currently being enjoyed in other forms of motorsport - seemingly the primary reason.
The outgoing director of Ford Performance, Dave Pericak, recently told Autosport: “Formula 1 is so expensive. If you look at every series we are in right now there is a relevance to all the goals and objectives we have, in developing our tools, technology and people and translating that into road cars”.
One example of the successes in other fields Pericak alluded to took place in 2016, when Ford enjoyed an event to remember at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.
Ford Performance (the official name of the company’s racing arm) entered four of its iconic GT cars into the race’s GTE Pro class and swept aside all before them, finishing first, third and fourth placed in their discipline.
This intimidatingly strong result certainly sent out a message to any motorsport professionals and enthusiasts around the world who may have thought that Ford were now only concentrating on road vehicles and that their racing glory days were behind them – you can never write off a team which has as much experience and expertise as those at the famous Blue Oval!
Ford’s history in motorsport has been colourful, diverse and hugely impressive. Millions of people around the world buy new and second hand Ford cars every year so, when you think about it, it is quite amazing that a manufacturer which enjoys so much success with ‘standard’ vehicles still has such a passion to do well in the more exciting areas of driving. For the sake of motorsport, let’s hope that passion never dies!