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2023 March
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Car and Driver: 24 Hours of Le Mans Update: Weather Wrecks the Best-Laid Plans


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Le Mans 24 Hours


It rains in France, everyone knows that. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is deep in France, the only question is when it will rain. If it starts to downpour as your car is sitting on the grid on slicks, waiting to be waved off on the opening parade lap, that’s very bad news for you. With the clock ticking down to the 3:00 p.m. start of the 84th running of this 24-hour classic, a slow drizzle steadily devolved into a pissing annoyance, which devolved into a full biblical deluge. And Le Mans luck, that highly fickle finger of fate, began to pick winners and losers.


Ford GT 67 Le Mans


First to suffer was the No. 67 Ford GT, which the crew suddenly pulled off the grid just minutes before the parade lap, and wheeled ignominiously on its dolly into the garage. Gearbox problems, already. The transmission is a known weak point of the mid-engine megabuck GT (heck, every team has had gearbox problems over the years) but Ford engineers felt they had the problem licked. Well, that was the brave face they’ve been showing to the public, anyway. As the rest of the teams scrambled their tire carts, swapping their intermediate wet tires for full wets, the Ford crew poked and prodded, eventually deciding it was the shifting mechanism that had gone out of whack.


Then, an 84-year-old race that has never started under yellow started under yellow, waved off the line by actor Brad Pitt, and running the first 52 minutes behind the safety car. As the skies cleared and the corner workers used brooms and leaf blowers to dry out the apexes, the Audi R8 safety car began to be booed by the restless crowd. Finally, at 3:52 p.m., the track went green, opening a close three-way battle for the overall lead between Toyota, Porsche, and Audi, and immediately causing a conundrum for all the teams in the four classes. As the track dried, the full wet tires were getting hot and rapidly outliving their usefulness. The pits quickly got so crowded with cars swapping their tires back to dry slicks that the No. 69 Ford GT had to wait just ahead of its pit box before it could be pushed in for the needed change, costing valuable time. Meanwhile, Ford GT #67 went out, then was back in, the crew trying to keep one of the two U.K.-based GTs in the race.


Le Mans 24 Hours


It’s been a week of ups and downs for Ford. Fast qualifying times on Thursday were answered by the ACO with a weight and power penalty on Friday afternoon. Bumping into Ford CEO Mark Fields outside the company’s hospitality suite, the executive said the team had suffered a long night trying to recalibrate the car and the fuel-consumption maps to answer the power and weight changes. But, he added with a shrug, there’s not much anyone can do when the ACO makes a rule, it’s their race and “you have to kiss the ring.”


Le Mans 24 Hours


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