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Ford “played the game well” at Le Mans – Bird

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Ford “played the game well” at Le Mans – Bird
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Jun 30, 2016, 2:24 PM

Ferrari WEC driver Sam Bird says that the rival Ford team “played the game well” on its way to sealing victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours earlier this month.

#68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Sébastien Bourdais
#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE: Davide Rigon, Sam Bird, Andrea Bertolini
#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE: Sam Bird
#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE: Davide Rigon, Sam Bird, Andrea Bertolini
#68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Sébastien Bourdais
#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE: Davide Rigon, Sam Bird, Andrea Bertolini
#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE: Davide Rigon, Sam Bird, Andrea Bertolini
Sam Bird, AF Corse
#68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Sébastien Bourdais
Podium LMGTE Pro: first place Davide Rigon, Sam Bird, AF Corse, second place Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, third place Richie Stanaway, Jonathan Adam, Fernando Rees, Aston Martin Racing

The American brand secured a historic win in the GTE Pro class at La Sarthe, 50 years on from its first outright victory in 1966, as the #68 Ford GT of Dirk Muller, Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais took the top step of the podium.

But Ford’s success wasn’t without controversy, amid numerous allegations of sandbagging in the run-up to the event, last-minute changes to Balance of Performance and post-race penalties.

Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com, Bird clarified the issues that put both AF Corse-run Ferrari 488s out of the race, before commenting on the nature of Ford’s win.

“The #51 car somehow ripped a hole in the sump, which required lengthy repairs,” explained the Briton. “They got out again for another couple of hours but in the end the leak was too big and they couldn’t repair it.

“On our side, we had a leak in the wastegate valve, and some other gremlins with the clutch and the gearbox. Then unfortunately at 2am we had a rim explode on the rear-left, and that put us out of the race immediately.

“Hats off to Ford for playing the game well, and we look forward to competing hard with them for the rest of the year. They scored maximum points, so now it’s time to catch up.”

Asked if he expected Ford to go back to being well off the pace of Ferrari, as they were for the opening WEC rounds at Silverstone and Spa now, Bird said: “I don’t think they can now.

“But it is very impressive how they found so much speed…”

Bird said, however, he agreed with the decision to modify the Balance of Performance between qualifying and the race: “I think they needed to – they definitely needed to look at the other turbo car [the Ford GT]’s performance, because they were alarmingly quick.

“But it looks like it was not enough, or they had more up their sleeve. I don’t know what more they [the organisers] can do in future, it’s a difficult game for all involved to play.”

“We can still do this”

Along with teammate Davide Rigon, Bird took victory at Silverstone and Spa, in which the AF Corse Ferrari team emerged as the clear pacesetter.

However, their failure to score at Le Mans now leaves them trailing Ford trio Billy Johnson, Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla by eight points in the GTE drivers’ standings.

Bird nonetheless is confident of his prospects for the remainder of the year, believing the 488 GTE to be better-suited to the rest of the circuits on the WEC calendar than the Ford GT.

“I’m sure that if we don’t have any more gremlins with the car, we can still do this,” he said. “We won the first two races and we’re not far off the lead in the championship now.

“In terms of speed we’re doing a good job. Had we not had those issues I think we could have given Ford a real run for their money with both cars, because the Risi team [which finished second behind the lead Ford] showed the 488 is fast enough.

“The Le Mans track probably helped them a bit, but when we get to circuits that are tighter and twistier the Ferrari should be coming into its own.”

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About this article

Series Le Mans
Event 24 Hours of Le Mans
Location Circuit de la Sarthe
Drivers Sam Bird
Teams AF Corse
Author Jamie Klein