By: Lee Spencer, NASCAR Senior Writer
In an exclusive with Motorsport.com, Doug Yates discusses the challenges of preparing the EcoBoost V6 engine for the Ford GTs in Le Mans
Three years before Ford announced its return to Le Mans in 2016, the company was designing and developing the twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine that would power the GT supercar for the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Doug Yates, CEO of Roush Yates Engines, has been working hand-in-hand with Ford from the genesis of the project. Yates says Ford's EcoBoost engine program was created with “going back to Le Mans in mind…it set us up for this moment.”
Yates grew up in the Ford family with his father’s former race team Robert Yates Racing.
“It is the most energy and excitement I’ve ever seen around a racing program from Ford Motor Company, and we have very tight interaction," he acknowledged.
“It’s really together that we’re doing this program, and we work together every day with their engineers and their staff on making this engine better and getting it ready to go racing.”
Endurance will be key
To prepare for the GT’s coming out party next year in the Le Mans GT Endurance Pro class, the base engine has already run 12 to 15 24-hour tests in Ford’s Michigan-based 17G test cell, said Yates, whose foremost challenge as an engine builder is making sure the power plant finishes the race.
“It’s much different than a NASCAR durability cycle,” Yates said. “A 24-hour endurance—that process takes about a week to complete the test from start to finish. Obviously it’s 24 hours of running, but all the prep time pre-running the test and all the post-checks on the components, and then the tear-down and the evaluation of the components. So the level of the engineering is stepped up.”
A successful partnership
One advantage Roush Yates Engines has during the development process is the relationship Yates has established working with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, for whom he provides engines for TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Ganassi switched from BMW to Ford in 2014.
“Chip Ganassi’s road racing team is spectacular, and we’re really proud to be part of it,” Yates said. “Winning the Rolex this year with those guys—they’ve won it before, and for us to be part of it this year just shows to the level they race at and their preparation.
“And I think that experience will help build on what we’re going to do next year at Le Mans.”
Going the distance
Since the series will not determine what the horsepower level until September,Yates isn’t sure what number the EcoBoost V6 will achieve, but he believes it will be in the 550-hp range. While Yates wasn’t certain of the exact testing rules for the FIA World Endurance Championship, he says the series is relatively open and anticipates adequate shakedowns of the engine and car prior to the September test.
Yates admits the first time his engineers ran the new engine on the dynamometer for a 24-hour durability test, “It didn’t go so well.”
“Making that much power from a V6 engine is not so simple,” Yates said. “We raced the V8s in the Daytona Prototype Series for many years a whole lot of effort. Basically, you take that engine out of a Mustang and go run the 24 Hours, with a few modifications and it’s there. A V6 twin-turbo direct-injected engine is much different. The power output per cylinder is obviously higher.
“So what we had to do to really make it work and last that long… the head gaskets were a concern, so we worked on that side of it. The bore stability was a concern. The crankshaft was a little issue for that many miles. But besides that, most of the components in that engine are actually stock. The majority of the components are stock. Ford Motor Company has done an outstanding job of advancing performance when it comes to street engines in general.
“We ran probably four or five durabilities before we passed the first 24-hour durability test. The tough part of that is, you get 18 hours into the test, and you fail something. You make a small change, and anytime you make a change, you have to go run another 24-hour test. That process takes time, so we’re really proud that we’re ahead of this.”
A family tradition
Yates has a lot of pride in the project. While he wasn't born when the last Ford GT swept the podium in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, Yates recounts the Holman-Moody days when his father built engines for Ford factory teams. He’s stoked to be a part of “a production-based program of this magnitude” and credits Raj Nair, group vice president and chief technical officer, Global Product Development, and others from Ford Motor Company for having the foresight to embrace this opportunity.
“Fifty years ago, they finished first, second and third, so there’s a lot of weight on everybody’s shoulders to take this on and go back,” Yates said. “Edsel Ford had a lot to do with that decision. He was there as a young guy with his dad and remembers that moment really well. It’s a very proud moment for him and something he talks about often, and we want to go back and make him proud next year.
“I was born in ’67, so obviously I wasn’t around for the race, but I’ve heard lots of stories, and I had the opportunity to meet Carroll Shelby and be around him and his family a little bit. It’s a big moment, and today’s announcement is something really special to be part. And we forward to hopefully carry on that winning tradition.
“The part that I feel really good about is that Ford is so engaged and so behind this. To see our engineers and their engineers working together, along with Chip Ganassi’s team, is something that I’ve never seen before. To be honest with you, in the NASCAR world, we’ve had interaction before, but not at this level. So this is something I think will be good for this program and also good for all Ford performance racing programs in the future.”