A Ford costing £420,000
It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? A Ford, costing well over £400,000. Does it sit in the range somewhere north of the Fiesta and the Focus? But this is a Ford like no other. It’s won Le Mans, it may well win again. And it’s not like the other GTE race cars from Aston Martin or Porsche. They are road cars turned into racers. This is a racer that has somehow been turned into a road car.
It also didn’t go through one of those immense management-engineering cycles where it disappears for years into hundreds of computers before appearing bland and conforming. The concept simply disappeared, along with a small team of engineers. When this proper skunkworks team reappeared, they had created the GT. Cue consternation at management level.
2017 Ford GT
Engine. 3.5-litre, V6, twin-turbo, petrol
Gearbox: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: 1385kg (dry)
Top speed: 216mph
Economy: 14mpg (est)
CO2/tax band: n/a
And then cue consternation everywhere else. This is like the GT40 but more so. One of the first things you notice is how incredibly low it is, just 1063mm, that’s only 41.8 inch. It’s barely waist height, just like the GT40. It’s wide too, at 2003mm. You sit low, which may not surprise you, in a carbonfibre tub with a built-in rollcage. Driver and passenger are very close together in there, in a way you wouldn’t be if this was a converted road car.
And behind sits a Ford Ecoboost engine. True, it’s a 3.5-litre V6, twin-turbo’d until it makes 647bhp, but it’s still an Ecoboost engine. It powers the rear wheels through a Getrag seven-speed.
That engine may be a slight nod to Ford’s road cars, and there are a few other nods, like some composite chassis materials they’re working on which may one day appear in a road car. Also early experience ended up with lots of blown head gaskets. They figured out why, improved the design and then made sure the road cars get the improved design as well.
Because of the GTE regulations, a manufacturer has to make a certain number of road cars, which normally isn’t a problem as that’s where the racer came from. In this case it’s reversed – which can’t please the other manufacturers much. You’re in no doubt this is a racer first and foremost. You can’t adjust the driver’s seat, instead you adjust the pedals to reach. And who has a rear wing that can affect not just downforce but also drag by operating in two planes?
The suspension is similarly very trick indeed, with two springs at each corner, one coil one torsion bar, offering differing heights for road or race. Go into Track mode and the coil spring is compressed and locked out by dropping the ride height – and it drops quickly – 50mm so the spring rate doubles.
It doesn’t feel that sophisticated in the cabin, which has the sort of plastics you wouldn’t find in a Fiesta. And the noise is simply echoed around, so you wouldn’t want to go on holiday in a GT. And yet. The handling and ride are just beyond astonishing. Cars that can race for 24 hours often have a softness to them that shorter duration racers don’t have, but in this instance it’s so marked it’s beyond amazing.
There’s a compliance and a comfort here that is better than anything else many road testers would ever have experienced, no matter how long they’d been doing the job. Which makes you think this is going to be amazing. And it sort of is and sort of isn’t.
It handles brilliantly, with a great deal of grip, and an agile and responsive demeanour. It’s certainly fast – note the 0-62mph time of under three seconds on the way to 216mph. Those figures are most definitely believable, this thing motors at a phenomenal rate. And yet you end up feeling a bit disconnected.
The steering doesn’t tell you much, and the brakes have too much servo assistance and the noise – well, it’s loud and rough and raucous. Something like an Aston Martin would never be delivered making a noise like that. It’s honest, you could give it that.
Even on the track, this stays the same situation. The suspension remains above criticism, allowing you to attack kerbs where you’d stay clear in some other racers. Drive it like a racer and this is a full-on racing car, no question. Ford says the GT is quicker on every race track its tried when it benchmarked against the McLaren 675LT.
But which one would you rather drive on the road? Perhaps that’s carping. Who cares about the cabin materials or whether it doesn’t sound that sophisticated? This is an endurance racing car, a proven winner, the real deal. And you can drive this racer on the road. Well, in theory you could.
Ford made 1000 of the GT, more than it needed to to comply with the regulations. It will make them over the next four years and they’re all sold out. This is an epic example of chutzpah, a mainstream car manufacturer coming out with a pure racer that it manages to convert to road use. It’s a very in-your-face thing to do and we applaud Ford for having the guts to take such a high-risk strategy and succeed.
Whether it’s a great road car is another matter, but perhaps that doesn’t really matter. And who knows, maybe in this instance racing really will improve the breed.