Multimatic driver doing the initial testing on the race car.
Seldom has any street or race car been introduced with more fanfare than the 2016 Ford GT, unveiled at the 2015 Detroit auto show in January. The announcement ended months of speculation, as Ford had managed to keep the car entirely under wraps, a remarkable accomplishment in the instant-news era of the internet.
The GT was an enormous hit at Detroit, essentially stealing the show. Its sleek design paid homage to the original Ford GT 40 from 50 years ago, but thoroughly modernizing it.
The most-asked question: Will Ford race it? Executives pled ignorance, but development
was already underway on a race version. They were saving the official announcement for the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Then, the next most-asked question: What was under the hood? The answer was a bit of a surprise – many were expecting a V8, like the original GT 40, but the new model had a stock-based Ford EcoBoost 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6.
That’s essentially the engine Ford has been racing in the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Daytona Prototype cars that have been a part of the TUDOR Championship grid since the series debuted at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2014. That engine has carried Ganassi to wins at both the Rolex 24 and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, and has proven strong and reliable. The engine is capable of 600 horsepower, but will be dialed down to meet the regulations of the GTE class.
The car has a significant historical importance to Ford. As the legend goes, Ferrari negotiated with Ford in the early 1960s about a possible buyout, but Ferrari backed out. Ford decided then that they’d just build a car to beat Ferrari on its most hallowed ground: The 24 Hours of Le Mans. And that’s what happened in 1966, with Ford taking the first three spots.
50 years on
That was 50 years ago, and Ford wants to go back in 2016, hence the Ford GT race car. It will debut globally on track in January of 2016 at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, then a two-car team will run the entire TUDOR Championship season, and there will be a sister two-car program racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship. All four cars will be run under the Ganassi banner.
“We’ve won races and championships, but we’ve never run Le Mans,” said Ganassi. “When presented the opportunity to compete with the all-new Ford GT on the world’s biggest sports car stage, and on the 50th anniversary of one of the most storied victories in racing history, how could any race team not want to be part of that?”
Joining Ford and Ganassi in the project are Multimatic Motorsports, Roush Yates Engines, Castrol, Michelin, Forza Motorsport, Sparco and Brembo. Roush Yates is supporting development of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 – the most powerful EcoBoost production engine ever.
At present, the Ford GT is undergoing testing, mostly in Canada at Calabogie Motorsports Park near Ottawa. IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competitor Scott Maxwell, long the in-house development driver for Multimatic, told the Toronto Star last week that he is the only one who has “driven the car in anger.”
Said Maxwell: “I think it will be incredible. But there is work to do. Multimatic has built a facility [at Calabogie] and we’ll continue the development work there before we take it to a circuit we actually race on.”
Beyond that, Maxwell was mum on the new car – talent, as well as discretion, is how he has kept his job for so long.
Finally, the answer to still another much-asked question: If Ford is celebrating its 1966 overall victory at Le Mans, why isn’t it entering Le Mans’ Prototype class, joining Porsche, Audi, Toyota and others seeking the overall victory in 2016?
The simple answer: The class structure in top-tier sports car racing in general, and Le Mans in particular, has changed over the last 50 years. The top class in 1966 wasn’t Prototype, it was GT. And if that victory is what Ford is celebrating, then going back with a racing version of the new production 2016 Ford GT is absolutely the right thing to do.
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