LE MANS, France (Reuters) - Ford will mark the 50th anniversary of its 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours victory by returning with a new GT car for next year's event as well as entering the full world endurance championship, the manufacturer announced on Friday.
The plans were revealed at the Sarthe circuit in western France on the eve of this year's event, one of the biggest motorsport draws in the world with a crowd of some 250,000 spectators.
Ford will compete in the Le Mans GT Endurance class for professional teams (LM GTE pro), rather than the top tier Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) category which has been dominated by Audi recently.
This year's race has 56 entries, ranging from the awesome diesel hybrid Audi R18 e-tron quattro to regular sportscars like Porsche 911s, Aston Martin Vantages and Chevrolet Corvettes.
"When the GT40 competed at Le Mans in the 1960s, Henry Ford II sought to prove Ford could beat endurance racing’s most legendary manufacturers," executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement.
"We are still extremely proud of having won this iconic race four times in a row, and that same spirit that drove the innovation behind the first Ford GT still drives us today."
The new Ford GT car will compete in the full 2016 world endurance championship and United SportsCar Championship in the United States, making its race debut in January at the Daytona 24 Hours.
Ford will enter two teams, to be operated by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, with a four-car entry at Le Mans in a year's time.
Ford swept the top three places at the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours and won the next three editions of the race.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond