In 1966 Ford took a stunning victory at the Le Mans 24 hour with the Ford GT – breaking Ferrari’s dominance and creating a rivalry between what today would seem like two unlikely brands. Within the Ford Motor Company it was decided that the 50th anniversary of that win should be celebrated with a return to Le Mans, and with that the story of the new Ford GT begins.
An all-new Mustang was on the cards and the team at Ford Performance were tasked with sketching the next generation of America’s iconic muscle car. The idea was to take it to Le Mans, and perhaps win some silverware.
There was one big problem with that plan. To make a Mustang that could compete with the likes of the Ferrari 458 – the body shape, particularly the front-end and height, would need to radically change – in a way that would likely make it unrecognisable as a Mustang.
Sadly, the plan was shelved, and for most of the company the dream of a 50th anniversary celebration at Le Mans was over.
Little did they know that a few members of the Ford Performance team were not giving up hope. Using a space in the basement of a Ford facility, locked off with traditional keys not security swipe cards, they began to sketch and build a true Ford Supercar.
The result, is the new Ford GT.
This car was unveiled in January of 2015, sometime after Ford Boss Mark Fields and Ford Performance Boss Henry Ford III were shown the secret project and gave the green light to go ahead.
In what was a race against the clock, the team now needed to design not only a revolutionary road-car, but a race-car at the same time, presenting a unique opportunity to have the development of each feed into one another.
I first laid eyes on the beast at CES Asia in Shanghai, in May 2015 – some 715 days later the opportunity to sit behind the wheel and drive the new Ford GT was not one I was going to knock back.
— Trevor Long (@trevorlong) May 25, 2015
Last year at Le Mans, Ford celebrated that 50th anniversary with a class win in the 3.5l V6 EcoBoost powered Ford GT race car.
Staggeringly, to meet the eligibility requirements of the Le Mans production car category, the team at Ford needed to complete the road car and deliver two vehicles by the end of 2016 or lose their Le Mans silverware. Those cars were delivered in the nick of time to Mark Fields and Henry Ford III.
Fast forward to May 2017, and in the somewhat remote American town of Salt Lake City, UTAH, Ford had several examples of their 2017 Ford GT production car ready to drive.
250 will be built this year, and again for the three years that follow, and with a limited production of 1,000 they have all got names against them, in fact they could sell them six times over and you still wouldn’t be at the front of the queue.
The $450,000 US price tag would likely equate to at least an $800,000 cost in Australia after you throw in a luxury car tax and more. That didn’t stop me jumping at the chance to fang it around the Utah Motorsport Complex track, and take it into the mountains around Salt Lake City.
When you first approach the car you cannot avoid the striking design which sees the wide two person cockpit taper back to a narrow point with the engine behind driver and passenger continuing backwards to the two large exhaust pipes high up on the rear of the car.
This swooping cabin is accentuated by the vast gap between it and the rear wheels, creating a cavity you can see through with just a thin buttress connecting the rear wheel arch to the roofline.
It is hard to find a bad angle on the Ford GT. I looked for a very long time – nothing. It’s a sexy set of wheels. And those wheels? Made in Australia. Geelong company Carbon Revolution impressing Ford Performance engineers with their Carbon Fibre wheels – up close, they look sensational.
The doors on the GT open upwards, yet the space for a big bloke like me to get in is still remarkably restrictive – but hey, it’s a supercar folks. In fact the doors are the only part of the car I’ve been able to fault. They open from the inside with a button that really just unlatches them, and a push from there doesn’t open them – you need to press the button and push the door out in one motion to get them open. First world problems huh.
Reaching down for a seat adjustment arm will get you nothing. Nothing other than the only storage compartment in the cabin – a small pop open space on the floor between your legs at the front of the seat. Enough space for your glasses, and the car key perhaps.
These seats are fixed in place. Adding adjustments to them would have added height to the car, something engineers were not prepared to consider.
Instead, the foot pedals adjust forward and back, while the steering wheel adjusts over a reasonable range to get you an optimal driving position. If you’ve got a passenger, I hope you’re good friends – because you’re going to go arm to arm because this is a bit of “not so squeezy” compared to similar supercar vehicles like an Aventador and even a Huracan from Lamborghini.
Though interestingly despite that restriction, Ford managed to fit two cup holders into the Ford GT – they pop out of the centre console on the passenger side – take that Lamborghini.
Back to the steering wheel, and this is one hell of an impressive bit of kit. Considering the low-run production of this car, you really need to appreciate this kind of detail. It’s ergonomically fantastic, with buttons for track and volume controls as well as tough mechanical dials for drive mode and wipers among a host of other switches.
In front of you, the high-tech digital display dashboard instrument cluster is set to impress. With various drive modes the display customises the configuration and layout based on what you will most likely need in that mode. Speed is pushed off into the corner in Track Mode because gears are what matters on the race track – the gears appear enormous in the middle, while they are off to the side or down the bottom in other modes.
Despite its race breeding there’s still room for a small touchscreen infotainment system – and it’s Ford’s Sync 3 so you’ve even got Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Frankly, for a car in this league, it’s outstandingly well equipped.
If you had any concerns about the 3.5litre V6’s ability to cut it for sound and power, park those thoughts at the garage door. Press that Engine Start button and you’ll be suitably impressed, throw down the throttle for some serious revs and you’ll wonder what all the fuss about V8’s is really about.
Before we drive away, there’s one other thing to be aware of. Ride height. At 120mm it’s tall, but low enough to be a worry on driveways and speed bumps.
Outstandingly, thanks to the staggeringly high-tech suspension on the Ford GT, not only can the car be lowered for track time, the nose can be raised when you need it.
With a movement of 50mm each way, the car will lower to 70mm in track mode – at the rear that’s just 5mm higher than the Ford GT race car.
Then when approaching a speed bump, the nose will go up to 170mm – as high as a Ford Falcon or more.
What’s most impressive though is the speed at which it can lower and raise itself. Need to raise the nose of your Lamborghini Huracan? Press the button on approach at low speed, it will be ready in 10 seconds or so. Need to raise the Ford GT nose – push the button – bang, it’s done.
Same with track mode. Enable track mode (Which can only be done in Park), and it immediately drops like a V8 Supercar off the air-jacks.
Ford had themselves a supercar. But they also had themselves a race-car. The roll-cage was primarily built into the tub, aerodynamically it was as good as it would get – it was the best of both worlds, in fact some compromises made in the design added weight, but with every panel carbon fibre, wheels made of carbon fibre and a carbon fibre tub – weight was already on their side.
Twist the gear control dial into P, release the brake and the ride begins with ease. Immediately I noticed it didn’t feel mechanical – something you notice in a car like the Aventador where you can hear and even feel all the clunks and grinds of the engine and gearbox – the steering was soft and smooth, the main thing to adjust to from any normal drive was the ultra-low seating position and the width of the car which didn’t perhaps seem as apparent from the driver’s seat.
Leaving the Utah Motorsport Complex, following the Sync 3 navigation system out onto the open roads and into the mountains around Salt Lake City there are three lasting memories of the drive that really stick with me.
Gravel, Rocks, Stones – any “marbles” on the roadway are heard in the cabin as if they are being thrown at your windscreen. Being this low to the ground, and sitting in a carbon fibre tub with absolutely no noise dampening you hear a lot more of the debris on the road than I’ve ever heard before. I’m not actually talking about road noise – but the sound of the smallest rocks flicking up under the car.
Perhaps not helped by that constant worry that I’m driving someone else’s supercar here also.
Secondly the engine. Wow, this EcoBoost V6 has a lovely rumble and roar, and I remember constantly wanting to push it a touch further, dab the throttle just a little more. Cruising along a freeway at speed, the engine sounds like it’s waiting for you to shift, hit the next gear. This is not a criticism, far from it, it’s a sign of the utter power of the 647 horsepower beast that sits just centimetres from your head.
But perhaps most tellingly, it didn’t drive like a supercar. As crazy as this sounds, once the cameras are off, and I’m finished recording lines for camera about the power, the price, the performance – you can almost forget this is what it is you are driving.
This is a genuinely comfortable drive. On the harshest bumps or railway crossings you need a much slower speed than you would normally take, but in regular driving where the undulations and imperfections of a highway or side street might rattle you in a raw race-car like supercar, I never felt that in the Ford GT. And I hadn’t even discovered the comfort setting for the suspension.
Glorious just at the speed limit on twisting mountain roads, flick it to Sport mode so the gears become a focus on the digital dashboard and press the simple M button in the middle of the gear selection dial to use the shifters on the wheel, paddles that move with the wheel for a nice mid corner downshift and blip.
And should you perhaps find yourself pushing as hard as 80 miles an hour the rear wing deploys like a flag waving in the rear mirror – it’s presence overpowering the view out the back and under braking it stands upright as an air-brake to really give you that supercar reminder.
Time to head back to the track…
Turning circle is expectedly large, but that’s ok – reversing camera right there for you – no problem.
A professional race-driver joins this chubby wannabe for some flying laps of the Utah Motorsport Park West Circuit. We drop the car into track mode – the wing goes up ready to offer aerodynamic support and the digital dashboard flicks into track focus – a large “hockey stick” rev counter remains, while front and centre larger than I’ve ever seen on another car the gear selection is shown.
Speed is difficult to see, out on track you’ll struggle to cast your eye to the top left of screen to see it – fear not, plug in your iPhone with the Ford Performance App and everything you do, including the view out the front if you mount your phone on the windscreen will be recorded.
This app takes vehicle data and overlays it into a video of your track time, showing everything from revs to steering direction, throttle, braking and of course speed.
No need to hope that Ford have your local track in their database, the GPS signal is used to draw the circuit and lap after lap can be recorded with a delta split, and even a ghost car icon of your best time. This is next level stuff.
I take two sighting laps of this counter-clockwise running twisting West track. What is normally the end of the main straight is in fact not the fastest portion of the lap, that goes to a long stretch which starts in 3rd gear with two left handers, the second of which is taken flat out as you push through to fourth and then fifth gear.
I didn’t crack 200km/h, but by gosh it was there to be found. I think in the seven or so laps I did I barely found the floor with my foot.
What blew my mind was the grip. Sure, we hear race drivers talking about mechanical and aerodynamic grip all the time, but this was the first time I felt it. Through a series of left handers on what is a long double apex corner, if not two left handers, I was being told to push push push even though I felt somewhere close to the limit. The camber of the track paired with the stunning amount of aerodynamic force and the grip from what are road tyres was impressive to say the least.
I’m no race driver. I rate myself on the PlayStation in my racing simulator, but as egotistic as this sounds, I felt great out there. With more track time I would have been confident pushing it more and more.
Ford told me I’d be the first Australian to drive the Ford GT road car. I wasn’t. Pipped at the post by 12 hours.
Coming second to Ryan Briscoe though is nothing to be ashamed of. The Aussie race-driver and former IndyCar star is now part of the Ford GT Racing program in the Endurance championship and will next month take his third start at Le Mans looking to bring one of four factory GT entries back to the front of their class.
To see what it’s really like, it was time to get strapped into the passenger seat and let Ryan show me how it’s done. Hot laps are not something this weak stomached fella is all that keen on, but you’ve gotta do these things, right?
The cars Ford had on track were equipped with race harnesses and we wore helmets with HANS devices fitted to our shoulders, this was the real deal.
Ryan warmed it up through a lap and then hit it like he was in his race car on practice day. In fact, because I now knew the track, the passenger foot well is so short I could push hard against the floor and because the forward outlook was so vast and I could see so much track, they were the best hot laps I’ve experienced.
And these boys were not mucking around. Every lap was being recorded and timed on the Ford Performance App, I overheard Ryan talking with the Ford team about what sort of times the other drivers like Scott Dixon had done – they are 24/7 competitive these blokes.
Ryan’s top speed wasn’t all that higher than mine in fact, hitting just over 210km/h, but he had me lapped in the corners. If I thought I felt grip on my laps, I was kidding. This car was stuck to the ground through turns like I could never imagine, and I left with a grin from ear to ear.
Talking to Briscoe on the cool down laps, he’s not lost his Aussie charm, misses his family and mates back home but still pinches himself to think he’s a professional race driver who gets to do these things. More importantly, he also said the driving dynamics of the road car were not dissimilar to the race car with the key difference being the presence of ABS in the road car of course.
The parallel development of a road car and race car in a program like this has resulted in performance on track that will be the envy of many, and on the road that should be an example to all.
With our time at the track drawing to an end, what can you say about a limited-edition supercar that’s being made in left-hand-drive only and none of the thousand sales are to Australians? This is a car you must see.
Get to a Motor Show somewhere in the world, get to a place where Ford is showing this beast off. It’s a dream to see, to crouch down next to and admire the aerodynamic flow, the low stance, the wide stance, the exaggerated styling. It is, quite possibly the most beautiful car being built today.
I’ll probably never get to drive it again, but the opportunity is one that will never be lost on me – what Ford have created here, out of a top-secret project by a team with the desire to celebrate an iconic motorsport moment is something they should be immensely proud of – this one deserves its place as a poster on the walls of teenagers around the world.
Without question the Ford GT is a true supercar.