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Car and Driver: Ford Takes Pole in GTE Class at Le Mans, Immediately Wishes It Hadn’t

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AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

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Ford’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 50 years since the brand first won the iconic endurance race, could hardly have gotten off to a better start as the GT emerged from qualifying having secured four of the top five positions in the GTE Pro class. Ferrari took third as well as sixth and seventh in the class.

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But the teams had barely had a chance to celebrate before the Automobile Club de la Ouest (ACO), the organizing body that runs the event, announced some significant “balance of performance” penalties that will see the GTs having to carry 22 pounds of ballast and having their turbo boost levels reduced, while the Ferrari 488 has had 33 pounds added to its minimum weight although has been allowed to keep its engine power unchecked.

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Further down the order, the Aston Martin Vantage GTE and the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R—which was reckoned to be the GT’s biggest challenger going into the race—have been allowed to run larger air-restrictor plates while the Ferrari and the Corvette have also been given a 0.5-gallon increase in fuel allowance to try and equalize the “stint length” of the 8.5-mile circuit to 14 laps

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You’ve probably spotted the potentially perverse incentive such a Byzantine system gives for teams to potentially disguise the potential of their cars to improve their potential performance in the race. While we’re not saying anything of the sort happened, we’ve heard some muttering in the paddock that the Chevrolet’s performance barely improved between practice and qualifying, while the Ford GT went four seconds quicker.

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“We were where we thought we would be,” Raj Nair, Ford’s CTO told us after the penalties were announced, “the same for our estimate of Ferrari… But for whatever reason there are three competitors who aren’t where we thought they would be and the ACO and FIA have made it clear that if they see people suddenly improving their performance in the race then there may be some penalties. I hope they would enforce that.”

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For perspective, the fastest Ford lapped 31.5-seconds slower than the LMP1 Porsche 919 that sits on overall pole position, but the prospect of a revival of the 1960s Ford-versus-Ferrari battle further down the pack has won at least as much attention as the fight between Porsche, Audi, and Toyota at the front.

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We’ll find out who, if anyone, has been bluffing after the race starts at 4 p.m. local time tomorrow.

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