Ford GT and the return to Le Mans

Photos thanks to Ford

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship; Rolex 24 at Daytona; Daytona International Speedway; Ford Performance; 28-31 January, Daytona Beach, Florida, United States; 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT; Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Stefan Mücke; © 2016, Wes Duenkel

© 2016, Wes Duenkel

To beat Ferrari. That was the goal and motivation behind the creation, development and racing heritage of the Ford GT40. There was also that little matter of Ferrari backing out of a major buyout deal at the last-minute. Mr. Ford wanted to develop a car that would not only crush the Prancing Horse but also essentially put them in their place. Le Mans was the ultimate in racing during the 1960s and has continued to today to include the best in technology and development from any participating automaker.

Since Fords iconic 1-2-3 win in 1966 and with those that followed in 1967-1969, many have wondered when the automaker will return with another legendary machine to again successfully put the competition in the rearview.

2005 and 2006 brought a rebirth of the road going version with a limited production run of Ford GT customer cars. Since these debuted, values have shot up for not only the recent early 2000 cars but also the original road and race cars of the 1960s. But this comeback left Le Mans fans in the cold, hoping for another return.

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship; Rolex 24 at Daytona; Daytona International Speedway; Ford Performance; 28-31 January, Daytona Beach, Florida, United States; 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT; Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Sébastien Bourdais; © 2016, Wes Duenkel

© 2016, Wes Duenkel

The comeback race fans have been hoping for has finally arrived. Enter the 2017 Ford GT. A completely modern, Ecoboost powered Supercar proudly wearing the Blue Oval badge. The GT is powered by a first-ever 3.5 L twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that produces over 600 HP making it the most powerful production EcoBoost engine ever. This V6 features an all-new port/direct dual fuel-injection setup to improve engine response, plus a low-friction roller-finger-follower valvetrain. Mated to the motor is a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle.

While leaving off two cylinders will result in some weight savings (compared to the V8s of the original and early 2000s cars), the GT is constructed using advanced lightweight materials with the broad application of structural carbon fiber elements (including a carbon fiber passenger cell), with even the aluminum front and rear subframes being encapsulated in structural carbon fiber body panels.

With the return of Ford to Le Mans and the 50th anniversary of the historic 1-2-3 sweep in 1966 upon us, the automaker has spent tireless days, nights and even beyond to create another competitive race car. In addition to a wonderful video series on the return I have gathered some unique insight into the engineering development of the GT. Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Motorsports Engineering Manager and Derek Bier, Ford GT Manager have exclusively answered my most pressing engineering development questions on the new Supercar.

You’ll only be able to find this question and answer series here, so enjoy this exclusive content! Also be sure to watch each of the videos in the series as they tell a wonderful story of Fords return to Le Mans.

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship; Rolex 24 at Daytona; Daytona International Speedway; Ford Performance; 28-31 January, Daytona Beach, Florida, United States; 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT; Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Stefan Mücke; © 2016, Wes Duenkel

© 2016, Wes Duenkel

Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Motorsports Engineering Manager

Was the development curve of the GT race car longer or shorter than you expected?

  • We knew that we had a very aggressive timeline beginning at the time of the race program approval. We maintained a very aggressive car development program through to the FIA homologation at the end of 2015, and racing at Daytona in January 2016. In many respects the finish line was defined for us in order to race from the beginning of the 2016 season.

Was the Ecoboost V6 the only engine configuration considered to power the new GT race car?

  • We wanted to race the same EcoBoost technology that has been very successful at providing both performance and fuel economy throughout our lineup of Ford road cars. We began racing the V6 EcoBoost in the Prototype class with Chip Ganassi in 2014 in order to push the limits of EcoBoost even further and to prepare the engine for success with the GT race program. This engine provides a competitive advantage through a broad powerband, impressive torque response, and fuel efficiency. A further performance advantage was provided by the narrow engine package and an aerodynamics benefit.

Will you have any customer GT race cars?

  • We have not announced any plans for a customer GT racing program.

What was the most challenging aspect of the race car development?

  • The biggest challenge for the development of the race car was actually a handful of reliability issues that surfaced at our first race at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January. Our development program through 2015 went to plan and using our advanced analytical tools we were able to tune and develop the chassis, aerodynamics, and engine to perform very well as a total competitive vehicle package. We also ran endless miles of track durability to have confidence that the car would be reliable through a 24 hour race. What we didn’t anticipate prior to Daytona were the failures that resulted from 1) suppliers making changes to standard parts, and 2) driveline dynamics under yellow flag conditions. The resulting failures at our debut race were disappointing, but the team quickly addressed the problems prior to Sebring and we have demonstrated the pace and the reliability that we would like to see. All things came together at Laguna Seca, where the car performance, reliability, and efficiency resulted in our first win with the new Ford GT.

Derek Bier, Ford GT Manager

How much will the street version differ from the race version?

  • The road car has some advanced technologies not permitted on race cars; including active aerodynamics, active ride height adjustment, carbon ceramic brake rotors, electronic stability controls, and available carbon fiber wheels.
  • Interior comfort is also a priority for the road car, so it will include features such as full audio and navigation system with SYNC3
  • Mechanical differences: the road car has a dual clutch transmission (DCT) versus the sequential gear box in the racecar, for improved drivability. The road car’s engine also runs unrestricted levels of turbo boost, yielding more horsepower.

Was there any thought to implementing a manual gearbox in the GT?

  • The DCT has been prime direction since I joined the program. World class performance cars have all moved to DCT transmissions. They offer quicker and more responsive shifts over manual transmissions. The interior package has taken advantage of the DCTs lack of mechanical linkages, allowing for a narrower cabin and repurposed space in the center console for other controls.

Were any of you able to drive an original GT40 when undertaking the new GT program as a baseline?

  • No, we did not. The team is aware of the history of the GT40 and its greatness. We looked at both the ’66 GT40 as well as the ‘05/’06 Ford GT for inspiration, but really focused on a modern interpretation of the Ford GT. We were very focused on delivering a world-class Supercar, and benchmarked the best in the class. The automobile has progressed tremendously in the last 50 years, and other than the spirit of the car, the performance of the GT40 is no longer transferable to a Supercar in 2017.

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship; Rolex 24 at Daytona; Daytona International Speedway; Ford Performance; 28-31 January, Daytona Beach, Florida, United States; 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT; Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Sébastien Bourdais; © 2016, Wes Duenkel

© 2016, Wes Duenkel

Special thanks to Mark Rushbrook and Derek Bier for the great Q&A. 

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4 comments on “Ford GT and the return to Le Mans
  1. Thanks for sharing – I found the question about driving the original GT40 enlightening…”other than the spirit of the car…” there is no doubt that technology has come so far since the original 50 years ago but I doubt no modern painter creates art without appreciation and study of those that have come before him. So while the new street car is a technological marvel it lacks “soul”.

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