Ford finally revealed its next-generation Ford GT (ABOVE) on Monday at the North American International Auto Show, and for racing fans, the conversation quickly turned to the brand’s plans for the twin-turbo V6 stunner.
Here’s what we know based on information we’ve learned over the past seven months: The car is destined to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016, which will mark the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first win at the world’s most famous race in the GT40 MK II.
The curvy coupe will be built to conform to the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s GTE regulations – the same class where the factory Corvette Racing, Porsche, Ferrari, and Aston Martin teams engage in an annual cage match at the legendary 8.5-mile French circuit.
Canadian racing technology and chassis construction experts Multimatic will be responsible for transforming the Ford GT road car into its baseline GTE platform. North Carolina’s Roush Yates Engines, which churns out Ford’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost mills (LEFT), will apply its knowledge to the GTE challenger.
American powerhouse team Chip Ganassi Racing will run the program. The Indianapolis-based outfit began its sports car partnership with Ford in 2014, running the Ford EcoBoost Daytona Prototype platform in the TUDOR Championship where it won the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring, and later in the season at the “Lonestar Le Mans” event at Circuit of The Americas.
Ganassi has relied on Scott Pruett, the winningest driver in North American road racing history, for the better part of a decade, and his ties to Ford date back to the 1980s when he joined the manufacturer as a works driver. Ganassi recently hired Joey Hand, who hails from Sacramento along with Pruett, away from BMW after the Californian completed an eight-year stint as a factory driver. The two American drivers are primed to lead the development of the Ford GT as the team readies itself to represent Ford on the international stage.
Some of the more recent details about the program add more elements of intrigue to the Blue Oval’s plans.
The launch of the car and its Le Mans return were initially considered as a package deal for NAIAS, but the most recent timeline for a rollout has been moved to Paris just prior to the 24-hour race in mid-June. Fans hoping to see the car on Monday and learn about its return to La Sarthe will have to wait a few more months.
The recruiting process for the Le Mans program started almost one year ago. Although the project came to light in early summer, a few key personnel were targeted for the project as early as March, if not sooner.
With Ganassi’s Ford EcoBoost DP effort expected to fall silent at the end of 2015 to allow their full focus on the GTE program, Ford has made all of its resources available to the team – many of which had been previously unavailable. Combined with the massive racing-specific engineering and R&D resources Ganassi already has in place with its Verizon IndyCar Series, TUDOR Championship, and NASCAR Sprint cup programs, opening the door to Ford’s enterprise-level resources should accelerate the Le Mans project to a point of readiness that few manufacturers have experienced in recent years.
The new Ford GT’s use of the same 3.5-liter TTV6 EcoBoost Daytona Prototype engine is a smart choice by the manufacturer, and due to the intensive weight loss and packaging optimization the engine has gone through in the past 12 months, not to mention the reliability it has displayed at events like the 24 Hours of Daytona, the road car will inherit an engine package with significant racing pedigree.
Horsepower and torque figures for the GTE class are impressive, yet often require manufacturers to dial down both figures to comply with regulations. It makes the GT’s 600 hp in road trim far more than they’ll be able to use at the track, and that can only help in their durability quest. Basically, the race version of the engine will be understressed.
Multimatic is also renowned for its suspension and damping expertise, which will help Ford to reach a similar state of immediate readiness as the Roush Yates engine. The one area that will require work is the Ford GT’s aerodynamics.
With low-drag bodywork serving as the key to quick lap times at Le Mans, Ford and Ganassi will need to transform the car’s aerodynamic profile into more of an arrow than automotive art project. If Ford intends to become a player in 2016, aero will be the key.
Another interesting area for the team to master is the fuel used by teams at Le Mans. E85 is the norm in America, and while we won’t know the exact mixture that will be required until the 2016 regulations are revealed, tuners can expect a continuation of the watery stuff that threw the Dodge factory effort off in 2013. Once the 2016 spec is known, look for Roush Yates to have the dyno rooms glowing with mapping tweaks and 24-hour simulation runs on the punchless petrol.
Of the major questions needing answers, it’s unclear how robust the Ganassi-Ford GTE racing program will be in 2016. It’s safe to assume a presence in the TUDOR Championship will be maintained in the GT Le Mans class (the series’ name for cars conforming to ACO GTE regulations), and it would also be expected – and likely required, based on existing rules – for the team to contest some rounds of the World Endurance Championship prior to Le Mans.
We’ll also have to wait and see what Ford’s driver roster looks like, and with plenty of championship-winning talent available for hire – I’ve even helped connect a few drivers with the right people involved with the project – we could see an impressive, multi-national lineup of American badasses, French speakers, and other talent to wave the Stars and Stripes.