It is very easy to think you know everything about the latest Ford GT, for this is a car that seemingly came out of nowhere at the 2015 Detroit Motor Show and subsequently stole almost every column inch, headline and online article. Oh, and then it went on to win its class in the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hour race on its debut.
As a result, much has been written about the mythical beast and many have alluded to the tough vetting process for potential punters (as there won’t be many made to buy – if you have a spare £350k to buy one!).
However, as we sat listening to Jamal Hameedi, chief engineer at Ford Performance, wax lyrical about his latest supercar, we realise that there’s so much more to know. It turns out the 2017 GT was a project that bore the weight of the original GT40’s success on its shoulders throughout development, a project that was so secretive that only a few selected engineers had a key to the basement in which it was built. The Ford GT 2017 is a project so technologically advanced that it takes us almost an hour of chat to barely scratch the surface of its advanced aerodynamic set-up.
But it’s putting that to test on the track where this car earns its ‘super’ pre-fix. It’s one of the most astounding things you’ll ever see on four wheels.
Ford GT 2017 review: Design
Upon first glance, it becomes immediately apparent that several of the new GT’s design features are nods to the iconic GT40 – including the deep nostril air outlets/intakes in the bonnet, the circular taillights and central exhaust setting – but there’s so much more going on than a casual throwback to the past.
Hameedi explains that his team immediately discounted the Ford Mustang as a Le Mans contender, due to its large glasshouse and enormous nose, instead looking towards the Ferrari 458 and McLaren 675LT for aerodynamic inspiration.
The next natural option was to look towards the Ford GT40, a vehicle that has won more prestigious titles than any other road-race car in history and has been tipped for a resurgence by every motoring journalist since the 2002 GT40 was unveiled by Ford at the Detroit Motor Show.
“Keeping the new Ford GT a secret was one of the hardest things about the project,” explains Hameedi. “We had to work during the evenings and at weekends, and we gave all those who worked on it a physical key to the basement so even the security guy didn’t know.”
The result is stupendously seductive, with the new GT sitting just millimetres from the ground, the cabin almost disguised in the centre of sharp bodywork and a clearly visible Ford EcoBoost engine jutting out of the rear.
It is low and menacing, with slashes and ducts covering almost every surface, but it is also extremely beautiful to behold, managing to fuse retro charm with modern, space-age aerodynamic touches.
Ford GT review: About that engine
Perhaps most controversial of all Ford GT parts is its engine, ditching the opportunity to use a meaty Detroit V8 for a relatively small capacity 3.5-litre V6. But the results remain impressive.
Almost 60 per cent of the parts are shared with the 3.5-litre V6 found in the Ford F150 Raptor pick-up – but with the addition of a revised turbo and exhaust, crankshaft, head gasket and intake manifold to name but a few, with the main aim being increased performance.
With some 647hp, the new Ford GT isn’t exactly a lightweight, but then it isn’t a modern hypercar either. However, that is to miss the point of GT entirely.
This is a car that takes aerodynamics, chassis dynamics and suspension systems to a new level, bringing technology that would have some F1 teams wincing to a road-going car.
That said, the GT’s engine is still capable of propelling the car from standstill to 62mph in just three seconds. It has a top speed of 216mph.
All the while it emits a sort of scream from behind the driver’s head that is very difficult to put into words. If it’s theatre you’re after, we’re pretty sure the Ford GT won’t disappoint.
2017 Ford GT review: The drive
Opportunities to get behind the wheel of the new Ford GT are as rare as rocking horse doo-doo, so we knew from the outset that we weren’t going to be tossed the keys and told to enjoy a week-long road trip with it.
Instead, we would have to make do with a few red-hot laps of the top-secret Michelin Tyres test circuit in Ladoux, France. We’ll admit that it is no way near long enough to get truly acquainted with such a complex piece of machinery but it seemed silly to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.
Upon initial glances, the first thing to notice about new Ford GT is just how low it sits. Despite trick suspension able to raise and lower the ride height by some 50mm, it puts just 70mm between the front aero work and the tarmac in Track mode.
Clambering into the upward-opening scissor doors and over the tall hip of the carbon tub isn’t exactly easy, but once settled into the thin race seats it is strangely comfortable.
Said seat is bolted into the tub itself in order to save weight, but to ensure everyday usability Ford has designed a steering wheel and pedals that slide back and forth independently to fit most driver heights.
The cockpit is tight and as a driver, you feel placed right in the centre of the vehicle, such is the position of the steeply raked windscreen and glasshouse.
Visibility should be an issue – but despite a full race harness, helmet and HANS device limiting our movement, it’s actually quite easy to place the car as we cruise around Michelin’s facility towards its impressive test circuit.
The same can be said for manoeuvrability, with the 7-speed dual-clutch auto transmission proving smooth and manageable even at crawling speeds, and there’s a staggering amount of steering lock for a supercar.
There are few complaints about the soundtrack too, as the highly-strung V6 enters the cabin with all the fury of a Le Mans racer.
We have the circuit all to ourselves on our test day. The first stretch of track is a long straight that allows us to immediately open the taps. Acceleration is blisteringly quick, with the mighty V6 engine screaming away behind the driver’s head, filling to cockpit with delicious noise.
With Ford GT in Track Mode, it is at its most aggressive, unleashing full power from the engine via the most sensitive throttle response and immediate gear changes, as well as employing every piece of aero trickery available.
There is little time to comprehend the first corner, as it arrives so fast, but the Ford Performance driver crammed into the passenger seat signals that carrying this sort of pace through turns is perfectly normal.
Beautifully weighted and precise steering means it’s possible to select a turn-in point and dart towards the apex with breathtaking accuracy, while the sheer amount downforce created by the numerous engineering breakthroughs allows the accelerator to be nailed almost immediately.
Ford also created specific anti-lag turbo technology that helps maximise the GT’s ability to power out of corners. This tech works by keeping the throttle open, even when the driver is off the throttle. The fuel injectors are shut down, but turbo speed and boost are maintained for faster engine response and acceleration as soon as the driver hits the accelerator pedal.
Enormous carbon ceramic brakes provide a substantial amount of stopping power, while pulling on the paddle shift gearing results in whip-crack cog shifts throughout the box.
A clever rear wing, which provides a large chunk of the rear downforce, also transforms into an air brake when additional braking performance is required.
The Ford GT delivers a phenomenal sensation when behind the wheel. Plus it’s arguably one of the fastest ways to lap a circuit on four wheels outside of a professional racing arena.
2017 Ford GT review: The technology
To understand the level of technological sophistication that Ford has introduced to its latest halo product helps to explain why it is so good at attacking a race circuit.
Granted, the interior technology (infotainment and navigation) is fairly basic – only the digital multi-mode display, which replaces the analogue instrument binnacles immediately jumps out as a tech highlight – but the multi-function steering wheel wouldn’t look out of place in Formula 1.
But there is enough active aerodynamics and wind tunnel-tested technology here to bore mates in a pub for a lifetime.
Take the rear wing as an example: not only does it work in conjunction with hydraulic flaps at the front of the car to offer the perfect amount of downforce for excellent chassis balance, it also features a patent-pending design that changes the shape of the aerofoil for maximum efficiency when fully deployed.
This unique piece of technology includes a small gurney flap which deploys at the tip of the wing in certain scenarios, resulting in a 14 per cent improvement in overall aerodynamic efficiency.
There is also plenty going on underneath the car, with complicated underbody flaps opening and closing to channel air behind the wheels and out through the slashed duct that runs along the flanks of the car.
In short, nothing on the Ford GT is for show, it all has a purpose and that common goal is to make this machine go faster.
“The vehicle doesn’t even have normal ducts for air conditioning, ventilation and heating,” explains Hameedi. “There just isn’t space, so we had to create channels in the carbon fibre cockpit to allow the ventilation system to work”.
And that is the beauty of a vehicle like this, even the controversial V6 engine was selected for aerodynamic purposes. The compact six-cylinder design of the car’s EcoBoost powerplant allowed the team to taper its fuselage to more efficient dimensions than a larger V8 configuration engine would have allowed. Some will argue that this approach means supercars of this nature lack soul, but just a few hot laps around a technical circuit will be enough to change the minds of even the most sceptical drivers.