SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – CAR editor Steve Smith heads to the United States to sample the new Ford GT (watch a short video here)…
So finally, after a two-year wait, we get to hear what the Ford GT is like to drive. Let’s have it then.
Patience. You’ve waited two years, another minute or two won’t kill you. Some context first…
As you alluded to, the world first got a look at the car back at the 2015 Detroit show, where it hogged the limelight. That was partly thanks to its looks and partly because Ford said it would be building a production version, but mostly because no one had any idea that Ford had something like this up its corporate sleeve. In this age of rumours, inside sources, and spy pics, that’s a pretty impressive piece of secret-keeping. Until that day on 12 January, no one outside a select few at Ford had any inkling whatsoever of the GT’s existence.
And then it went and won Le Mans.
Famously so in 2016. And no coincidence that this was exactly 50 years after that triumphant 1-2-3 Le Mans podium sweep when a trio of Ford GT40s wrenched the 24-hour trophy from Ferrari’s grasp. The car you are looking at here was specifically conceived and built to accomplish the same feat, which it did, claiming positions 1, 3 and 4 in the LM GTE category, with a lone Ferrari 488 GTE spoiling the perfect party.
So first and foremost a race car, then. Can you tell in the road-going version?
The road and race car were developed simultaneously but separately, however it’s immediately clear that this road GT has race genes at the core of its DNA. To be honest, the GT’s road team has done a bang-up job refining what’s clearly a racing chassis to make it suitable as a road car.
So tell me about these race car genes then…
Let’s start with the chassis: full carbon tub with alloy extrusions; a pushrod-actuated inboard suspension with primary torsion bars and secondary coil springs; a hydraulically operated ride height adjustment that, in Track mode, lowers the car by 50 mm; an integrated, FIA-certified chromoly roll cage; trick aero that includes a keel front suspension used in F1 and Le Mans LMP1 racecars; and a rear wing that can not only be trimmed for high and low downforce, but can actually change its shape and act as an aero brake as well. And talking of aero, the GT easily has the smallest frontal area in its class and is significantly lower than both a McLaren 675 LT and Ferrari 488 GTB, even in raised, Normal mode.
And then the engine. The 3,5-litre turbopetrol race engine was initially developed during the 2014 season, when the Chip Ganassi Racing team entered a pair in the IMSA Daytona Prototype series. This more powerful engine was essentially stressed-tested for a full season before the detuned version was put into the Le Mans Ford GTs.
The road car shares the same basic engine block and architecture, with all the ancillaries sitting at the rear of the engine between the block and the transmission for optimum mid-engined weight distribution. That’s about it though, with the race car having some very trick mods and tweaks. In the road car, it puts out 482 kW at 6 250 r/min, along with 746 N.m of torque between 3 900 and 6 000 r/min. The transmission is a Getrag-sourced seven-speed dual-clutch that, in manual mode, is operated by a set of alloy paddles on the steering wheel.
Impressive. Now can you tell me how it goes already?
Sure. I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive standing in front of the deep red GT at the Utah Motorsport Campus track outside of Salt Lake City. I’ve driven a number of supercars on road and track, but never one with this kind of race car pedigree. And it’s a pedigree that makes itself known as soon has you hunker down into the bucket seat and pull the belt across your body. For one thing there’s no seat adjustment beside the tilt of the back rest – the seat is fixed to the tub and instead it’s the pedals, along with the steering wheel, that you can move fore and aft to suit your driving position.
A press of the red starter on the centre console fires up the engine, delivering a buzz-saw and distinctly mechanical sound behind my head. It’s not a pleasant engine note – something of a drone to be honest – and with not much in the way of mass-adding sound-damping, it fills the cabin.
Our test route was a 50 km drive out into the surrounding Oquirrh Mountains and a blast up one of the passes, before returning to the track for some hot laps. The road surface on the route out was pretty bumpy and even with the GT in its softest Normal mode, you could feel every road imperfection. Unwilling to catch the attention of Mister Mirror-shaded State Trooper, I kept steadfastly to the 65 mph speed limit – a speed that only increased that engine note drone.
That’s not sounding like much fun…
No. Pootling about is not the GT’s strong point. But then we turned right. And before me a lay a long ribbon of smooth, beautifully cambered and banked road that disappeared up into the mountains. Time to thumb the little steering wheel-mounted selector to Sport mode then…
And just like that the GT turned into something else altogether.
Pressing down on the accelerator immediately changes the engine note into a sweet scream as the digital rev counter lights up across the screen behind the wheel. The acceleration is brutal but pretty linear and the car remains remarkably composed despite my rough attempts to unsettle it.
The tight hairpins and short straights really put the Getrag ‘box to task but its changes are swift and forceful, allowing me to keep the GT engine in the sweetspot through beautifully banked corkscrews and long sweeping corners.
There’s not a huge amount of feedback through the steering, but it’s very direct and the ground-sucking aero through the keel front suspension provides fantastic front end grip. There’s no hint of understeer despite my over-cooking a couple of corners and really having to lean on the car to get it round. Neither is it tail-happy in the slightest. Instead, it’s the most beautifully balanced rear-wheel-drive supercar I’ve driven … it feels nimble and light, despite its size, and wonderfully composed under heavy breaking.
The GT also has what Ford calls an “Antilag” system that employs software to maintain enough pressure in the manifold to keep the turbo spooled. It works pretty well too and, while there is a hint of lag at lower revs, if you’re on the money with your gear changes and keep it on the boil, the 3,5-litre turbo delivers its power instantaneously.
And what was it like on that track?
Even better. If there was any doubt as to the GT’s purpose in life, one lap around a race track settled it. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the video footage, but select Track mode and the GT practically slams to the ground in its eagerness to get going.
Now, configured in aero mode for optimal straight-line speed and high cornering grip, the GT is in its element. And rather than being an intimidating handful, it’s remarkably drivable. Power delivery remains very linear, it’s super composed under braking, and the turn-in is pin-sharp accurate. “Confidence inspiring” would be the term and after a couple of warm-ups, each of my five laps saw my times improve.
Okay, so I get the impression that the Ford GT is perhaps not the most refined supercar, but something rather special on smooth flowing roads and a race track?
I think that’s fairly accurate. You have to remember that the GT was built primarily to win races. And I really like that fact. Sure, cars like the Audi R8, Ferrari 488 GTB, Lamborghini Huracán and the McLarens are easier to live with, but none of them quite have the sense of purpose that radiates from the Ford. Echoing its exterior design that allows a limited number of retro nods and seductive aesthetics over race-winning aero considerations, the GT is unashamedly about fit-for-purpose functionality.
These qualities make it unique among its peers. And given that only 1 000 will be made over its four-year production run (for which they already have 850 pre-orders), the GT will remain a rare and, given its Le Mans-winning provenance, very special car. Just like the original GT40.