Lap after lap, Scott Maxwell gnaws deeper into the curbing. By drawing a straighter line through a shallow chicane on the road course that lies in the shadow of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Canadian pro driver with class wins at Sebring, Daytona, and Le Mans is searching for—and finding—more speed. What started as a nibble is now a chomp as he rides to the top of the red-and-white candy cane on his fourth lap. The 2017 Ford GT he’s piloting, the car in which I’m riding shotgun, swallows it whole
The GT skates over the pavement, clearing it by just 2.8 inches in its ground-sucking Track mode, when the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are sunk into the wheel wells and the GT looks as if it has all the suspension travel of a bobsled. Yet this carbon-fiber dart from Dearborn never threatens to lose traction, to pitch left, or to unsettle as it leaps off the curbs. It soaks up the input gracefully, presses rubber into earth, and rockets ahead. “I kept expecting that curb to launch us,” Maxwell says during the cool-down lap. “But the car just takes it.”
Back in the pits, Jamal Hameedi, the chief engineer of Ford Performance, wants my feedback. “How was it? Did you feel something more visceral than in a McLaren?” No amount of poise can neutralize the effects of cornering, braking, and acceleration with that kind of intensity. I feel as if my gut has been run through a Vitamix and is now sweating out through my palms. So, yeah, the GT stirred something inside me.
After two years pirouetting on auto-show turntables, the Ford GT is finally making its own moves. Ford won’t let us behind the wheel just yet—at least not while the car is moving—but in between in-depth discussions with Hameedi, I was treated to 647-hp chest compressions and gut-punch lateral g’s in the passenger seat, with Maxwell and vehicle dynamics development engineer Murray White taking turns driving.
Hameedi talks about the GT program like a man who’s gotten away with something, and not just that he was able to buy a Ferrari 458 Speciale and a McLaren 675LT on Ford’s dime. For competitive analysis, you understand. The guy responsible for all of Ford’s performance variants, from the flying F-150 Raptor to the $40,000 350-hp Ford Focus RS, still marvels that his team was allowed to build a car this extreme. A career Ford engineer, Hameedi knows a thing or two about corporate bureaucracy. As the program manager for the 2005–06 Ford GT, the original mid-engined GT40 nostalgia trip, he witnessed firsthand the internal resistance to selling a six-figure Ford. That those GTs now trade for more than $300,000 (they originally retailed for $139,995) allowed his team to shoot for the moon this time around. “That car gave us the confidence to do this car,” he says.
To recognize the 50th anniversary of Ford’s Le Mans podium sweep, Dearborn was wont to do a special-edition road car. But instead of some paint-and-tape Mustang, Ford Performance unleashed both a full-fledged GT racing program and a homologation road car that’s pretty close to being the 2016 Le Mans GTE-Pro class winner with a license plate. The resulting production model isn’t just radical for a car wearing a Blue Oval badge, it’s the razor’s edge of automotive design, with a weight-to-power ratio of roughly five pounds per horsepower to back it up.
Based on the neo GT’s $450,000 starting price, you might say the confidence borders on hubris, though. The GT lies in the largely uncharted waters between million-plus-dollar hypercars from Bugatti and Pagani and the supercar stalwarts from Ferrari and McLaren that run around $250,000. The $424,845 Lamborghini Aventador S is the only competitor parked at the same intersection of price and performance. Yet in this realm, a car is overpriced only if it doesn’t sell, and the first 750 GTs—three years’ worth of production—are already claimed. Ford will accept another round of applications for the remaining 250 cars in early 2018. Start building your case now; a social-media following helps.
It can’t hurt that the GT looks like a carbon-fiber crystallization of the Kama Sutra. The design studio offered three initial concepts, but the development almost immediately converged around the sketches that spawned the car you see here. “We wanted to make the air flow,” says Hameedi. “And everything else followed after that.” It starts with a front end inspired by the “keel-suspension” designs found in Formula 1 and Le Mans prototypes. Like those racers, the GT uses unusually long lower control arms to move the attachment points inboard while the springs and dampers are packaged inside the car’s body and actuated by pushrods. This leaves gaping voids on either side of the radiator to move air through the body to generate downforce.
Designers sculpted the cockpit with an extreme front-to-rear taper that keeps airflow adhering to the fuselage without becoming turbulent. The cockpit’s teardrop shape also dictates that the seat bottoms be bolted to the carbon-fiber tub, with the driver and passenger seats just a few inches apart.
The skyscraping wing/air brake rolls out a Gurney flap from its trailing edge when deployed, while a pair of active shutters stalls air over the front splitter to balance the total downforce. Hameedi won’t cite exact numbers for the GT’s performance in that area. He figures that data would allow the competition to make an easy extrapolation to the race car. “We still want to win some more races,” he says.
Both Maxwell and White extol the benefits of the GT’s downforce as they lap, but those virtues aren’t as tangible from the passenger seat. It’s the unconventional suspension and its efficacy that are rewiring my brain. There are no coil-overs. Instead, at each corner, the suspension pushrod transfers the lower control arm’s movements to a rocker arm that connects to the damper and anti-roll bar while also twisting a splined torsion-bar spring. The opposite end of the torsion bar, instead of being fixed to the body, attaches to a hydraulic actuator that contains a small coil spring, allowing Ford to vary the spring rates depending on the driving mode. Acting in series with the torsion bar, this coil provides a softer overall spring rate in the car’s Wet, Normal, and Sport modes than the torsion bar alone provides.
The hydraulic actuator comes alive in the Track and V-Max modes, compressing the coil spring and dropping the car two inches. In these settings, the coil is locked out, increasing the overall spring rate. Push the button to confirm, and the suspension doesn’t deflate as in an air-spring car; rather, it pops into a squat abruptly, a Le Mans racer dropping off its air jacks in the pits.
Multimatic, the Canadian supplier and composites expert that builds the GT in a suburb of Toronto, supplies the spool-valve dampers that deftly blend compliance and control. These devices offer finer tuning precision than the stacked shims that control damping rates in a traditional damper, and for the first time they are electronically adjustable via a rotating sleeve that opens and closes certain tailor-shaped ports in the spool valve.
The twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 is a close relative of the 450-hp version in the F-150 Raptor. Engineers unlocked another 197 horsepower with a lower 9.0:1 compression ratio, larger turbochargers, and new manifolds, while a dry-sump oiling system keeps it all lubricated on the track. Engineers also relocated the alternator and air-conditioning compressor to the back of the engine to position it closer to the firewall, shifting the center of gravity and reducing the polar moment of inertia.
The EcoBoost engine sucks in clean air from the lower portion of the side pods ahead of the rear wheels. The turbos pressurize the intake charge up to 30.0 psi and pass the air back to the side pods, where it climbs through the intercoolers and is piped through the buttresses toward the roof, then down into the intake plenum. Both port and direct injection deliver the fuel.
The big blowers mean that the peak torque of 550 pound-feet arrives at a very lofty, un-turbo-like 5900 rpm. To keep the turbos on call when the driver lifts off the accelerator, Ford activates an anti-lag system in the Sport, Track, and V-Max modes. By continuing to pump some air through the engine, the turbos turn at about 80,000 rpm off throttle. At full boost, they pinwheel at up to 176,000 rpm. That anti-lag system is just one indicator that Ford prioritized Boost well ahead of Eco with this engine. The other telltale: the GT’s gluttonous EPA combined rating of just 14 mpg, only two ticks better than the naturally aspirated V-12 Aventador S.
While the GT’s V-6 delivers supercar thrust, a car with looks and moves that can snap necks deserves the aural drama of eight, 10, or 12 cylinders. The EcoBoost engine’s soundtrack is loud and deep, but it’s a thrum, not a bark or a scream, with no fire and brimstone raining from the exhaust. The GT’s engine sounds awesome for a V-6 Fusion but restrained for a 647-hp supercar. That’s the downside to making your power with six pots muffled by two turbochargers, but Ford landed on that configuration, it says, specifically for the fuel-economy benefit in the race car. And, no doubt, the marketing traction the EcoBoost association buys.
The road car routes torque to the rear wheels through a Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and a Torsen-style limited-slip differential. In manual mode, cogs are swapped via milled-aluminum shift paddles inspired by the Daytona prototypes in which Ford developed the GT racer’s engine before the rest of the car was finished. The stack of slots in the paddles and the vertical ridge on their backsides add tactility and grip. Launch control—activated from the top line in the digital instrument cluster’s menu—cues the engine at roughly 3000 rpm and should send the 3250-pound GT to 60 mph in under three seconds. With V-Max mode retracting the wing and opening the two flaps at the back edge of the front splitter to reduce drag, this carbon-fiber wonder ran a claimed 216 mph at Porsche’s Nardò test track in Italy.
Today we’ll top out at 135 mph while driving around what White, the chassis engineer, calls a “little Mickey Mouse point-and-shoot thing.” The road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is utterly flat, a go-kart track on a grander scale. Nevertheless, in a Ford GT, the thrills are more Space Mountain than Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
White bends the squared-off steering wheel into each turn with a single smooth input, exhibiting the confidence of a man who knows his machine intimately. His movements become the GT’s movements through a hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion steering system with a fixed 14.8:1 ratio. Over and over, he wheels the car toward the apex, then coaxes the throttle to deliver midcorner rotation in a brief, tightly controlled drift. Not showy, but playful.
As White tucks into the right-handers, I watch for his elbow to jab my bicep, but it never happens. The GT’s cockpit is compact but not unlivable. The passenger seat sacrifices legroom to a shoebox-sized insert in the footwell intended to control the passenger’s movements in unbelted crash tests. On the other side of the car, though, the steering wheel and pedals offer manual adjustment beyond my six-foot, three-inch frame. Pull the small fabric loop by your right knee and the spring-loaded pedal box slides toward the driver, or away from you if you stand on it. Headroom, especially with a helmet, is in shortest supply, although you can compensate with the generous amount of recline adjustment in the seatbacks.
Faux suede with splashes of aluminum and carbon fiber bathes the interior. The gear selector and headlight, window, mirror, and lock controls are the only visible pieces pulled from the corporate parts bin, and the Sync 3 infotainment system plays through a 6.5-inch screen. The sole volume control is on the steering wheel. Ford expects GT buyers to be more interested in the fact that an FIA-approved steel roll cage is sandwiched between the carbon-fiber exterior and the interior trim in every car and that the mounts for six-point harnesses are installed at the factory. The firmly padded carbon-fiber Sparco seats look retro, as if they were sculpted in the mid-1950s and upholstered in the ’70s, but they’re reasonably comfortable and wider than what we’ve come to expect from this kind of exotica.
Six-piston monoblock calipers clamp the carbon-ceramic brake rotors up front, with four-piston units out back. White and Maxwell both gush about the binders—they’re constantly pushing deeper into the braking zone, they say. After braking early on the front straight two laps in a row, Maxwell pushes too deep the next time around and gets on the left pedal late. He catches the car in speed-scrubbing oversteer. The next lap, he repeats his mistake but dumps speed into a front-end push.
Maxwell toys with that balance in every other corner. Driving fluidly but constantly feathering the throttle in turns, and making microadjustments to the steering, he rides the limits without holding back. He appears challenged but in control, and wholly engaged. The Ford GT is a beast of brute force and a clockwork of rare nuance.
My attention wanders from the windshield for only a few seconds at a time. The GT’s brakes throw me into the harness. The tires shove me into the Sparco’s bolsters. And the twin turbochargers punch my spine as Maxwell lines up a straight shot through the chicane. I desperately want to be in the driver’s seat. The fact that I’m not is really what’s making me sick.
Explained: Rarefied Air
Automotive engineering and design are rarely as intertwined as in supercar development, where stratospheric speeds and mid-mounted engines elevate the importance of moving air over, through, and to the right places. Notice how the GT’s front lower control arms nearly meet in the center of the car. Along with moving the dampers and springs upward and inboard, this creates large channels to move air through the body with minimal disturbance, reducing lift. At the tail end of the GT, the wing and diffuser perform the bulk of the aero work while airflow through the body feeds the engine and its heat exchangers. The transmission and oil coolers aft of the rear wheels rely on air scooped from the car’s underside, and they exhaust it, cleverly, through the centers of the GT’s round taillights. —ET
001. 3.5-liter V-6
004. Oil reservoir
005. Seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle
006. Transmission coolers
007. Engine-oil cooler
008. Suspension pushrod
009. Torsion-bar spring
010. Hydraulic actuator with internal coil spring
011. Spool-valve damper
012. Anti-roll bar
source: caranddriver.com BY ERIC TINGWALL