DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With only two races left in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, just seven points separate the leading No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette Racing C7.R team of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner from the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe.
Seven points is the difference between first and fourth place in one race. Seven points is nothing. And thus continues sports car’s version of the most popular automotive rivalry in the country: Ford vs. Chevrolet.
Let’s take a quick look at the history of that rivalry.
Henry Ford knew the value of racing, even before there was much racing. On October 10, 1901, in Grosse Pointe, race car driver Henry Ford beat Alexander Winton, arguably the top racer of the era.
The event, held by the Detroit Driving Club, was to feature about a dozen entries racing in a 25-lap event on a one-mile dirt oval. Attrition and no-shows cut the field to just two cars for the main event – Henry Ford, who had never raced before, and Winton, driving the Winton Bullet. The race had been shortened to 10 laps.
Winton was quicker, but his car began to suffer ignition problems. Ford sped past on lap seven and won, averaging 45 mph. This was far more important than you’d think: Ford desperately needed to prove the value of his car as he sought to raise money to start the Ford Motor Company. After the race win, investors signed on, and in less than two years, Ford was in business. He hung up his helmet for good. Or he would have, had he worn an actual helmet.
This was not when the adage, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” began – the race Ford won was on a Thursday.
Meanwhile, the three Chevrolet brothers dove into racing head first, initially for business reasons, and then for the passion of competition, especially for Gaston Chevrolet, youngest of the three brothers – Louis was the oldest, Arthur the middle child.
All three Chevrolet brothers competed in the Indianapolis 500 – Arthur twice, including the first race in 1911; Louis raced at Indy four times. Gaston only raced at Indy twice, finishing 10th in 1919, and winning in 1920. Louis continued to race for the AAA National Championship. At the last race in 1920, on a board track in Beverly Hills, California, Gaston was killed in a crash on lap 146 of the 200-mile race. Even so, he had accumulated enough points to earn the AAA title of “Speed King of the Year.”
The true Ford vs. Chevrolet battle didn’t get serious until the early 1930s. It paused during World War II, then roared back afterwards in the late 1940s, and hasn’t slowed since. It intensified in 1967 when Chevrolet introduced its answer to the Ford Mustang: the Chevy Camaro. The rivalry continued on the streets, bolstered by the success – or absence of it – as Ford and Chevrolet competed in NASCAR, NHRA drag racing, sometimes in open wheel racing, and always at some level in sports car racing.
Though Ford and Chevrolet both supplied engines for the Prototype class in the GRAND-AM series, the rivalry really heated up in 2014, when Ford and Chip Ganassi Racing adapted an EcoBoost turbocharged V-6 engine to run in the IMSA Prototype class. What wasn’t known at the time was that it was basically a two-season shakedown of the powertrain, which would appear in the 2016 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT team.
This meant an identifiable Ford product, the GT, would challenge the dominant car in the GT Le Mans class, the Corvette C7.R, the latest version of the car that had been racing in the American Le Mans Series, and then the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, since 1999.
After a rocky start at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, the Ford GT prospects were looking grim. Then the Fords rallied at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a win, the last event in the U.S. for the GT Le Mans cars before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Ford and Ganassi rode that momentum into a profoundly dominant, historic win at Le Mans, on the 50th anniversary of the Ford GT overall win there in 1966.
The Ford GTs returned to the WeatherTech Championship, and with the Le Mans performance, it seemed like a formality – maybe we should just go ahead and give the championship to the Ford GT.
But Corvette Racing had other ideas. After winning Daytona and Sebring, the Corvettes took a beating at Le Mans, it looked like they were at the mercy still of the Ford GT, which won the next race, at Watkins Glen, and the next race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
But the Corvette team roared back at Lime Rock, scoring the Corvette’s 100th win. Then a Corvette won at Road America and again at the last race, at Virginia Int’al Raceway.
Now, after nine races, the difference between a Chevrolet or a Ford championship is seven points, and it appears both cars are on equal footing. At VIR, Antonio Garcia’s best lap in the winning Corvette was 1 minute, 42.776 seconds. Dirk Mueller’s fastest lap in the second-place Ford GT was 1:42.771, just five-thousandths of a second apart.
While the Ford-Chevy rivalry can get pretty heated, in the WeatherTech Championship, both teams and both manufacturers recognize the need to have high-profile competition.
With Ford and Chevrolet both committed to the series, and doing quite well, “It’s a plus for the American manufacturers’ image,” said Dave Pericak, director of Ford Performance.
That comment rings true especially since the Ford GT and Chevrolet Corvette compete against legendary brands in the sports car world, including Ferrari, Porsche and BMW.
Ford’s presence “further proves the value of sports car racing to major manufacturers,” says Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette Racing since it debuted in 1999. “The automotive world is full of rivalries, but it doesn’t get any better than having Chevrolet battle Ford at the front of the pack.”