Ford is officially delivering the production versions of the its $US400,000 Ford GT supercars. Ever since the GT’s jaw-dropping debut at the 2015 Detroit auto show, anticipation for the car has been running high.
Fans saw what the racing version of the GT could do last year, when the car competed in North America and Europe and won the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, repeating history: it was 50 years to the day that the Ford GT40 went 1-2-3 at Le Mans, forging a legend.
That was a spectacular, against-the-odds triumph, with Ford once again dueling Ferrari (as well as Corvette, Aston Martin, and Porsche). It raised the expectations for the road-car to a fever pitch. Both vehicles were developed at the same time — that was the only way to get the race car on the track and satisfy the regulations to have a road car also in development.
Ford slowly teased us with glimpses of the GT after its 2015 debut. In 2016, a white GT appeared at the Detroit auto show. Then in 2017, a red GT was the centrepiece of Ford’s booth in Detroit, sharing space with the battle-scarred Le Mans-winning racing car.
Earlier this year, Ford brought a GT to New York and we got to push the start button for the first time.
Then Ford invited us to drive the car, on the road and the race track, in Utah.
Here’s what we thought:
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When the Ford GT was revealed at the 2015 Detroit auto show in January, it blew everybody's minds. With its elegant flying buttress wings, bold hood scoops, and razorlike edges, the supercar was breathtakingly beautiful. But its existence raised a question ...
That question was answered a few months later when Ford pulled the cover off the racing version of the GT.
In June of 2016, just a year later, Ford beat the odds and won Le Mans. The GT finished 1-3-4 in its class -- old rival Ferrari finished second.
The GT was created in a top-secret Ford design studio -- a former storage facility that was hidden away. Only the design team and Ford's top brass knew what was up.
After its 2015 debut, the GT supercar went on the auto show circuit. We saw it in New York that year ...
In early 2017, Ford brought the GT back to New York, we got to actually push the start button and fire up the 647-horsepower, 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine.
... where veteran race-car drivers such as James Burke (he's raced Lamborghinis) teach you how to get around the track fast and safe.
Not the Le Mans-winning car, by the way. We saw that machine, battle scarred and blanketed in glory, at the Detroit auto show in 2017.
A special treat: the Ford GT40 that finished second at Le Mans in 1966. It's perfectly preserved and lives at a museum in Colorado. Ford introduced it to some of its descendants.
Prior to our driving day, Ford walked us through the complicated engineering and design of a $400,000 supercar that's made mostly of carbon-fibre and aluminium. Start to finish, Ford built the road and race car in about a year.
We had at our disposal six road cars -- plus a seventh GT outfitted with a special racing harness, for high-speed laps on the track.
I saddled up to drive, for the first time. No pressure! The sticker price can only climb to $500,000 with options -- and just 250 cars will be delivered in 2017.
I took some guff for my choice of driving shoes. But c'mon -- checkered flag! Won't be driving 55 mph when it's race-track time!
The road-driving portion of the day sent us up into the mountains near Salt Lake City. Utah Motorsports is about a half-hour drive from the state capital.
In a word: magnificent. The only cars I've driven in the last two years that even come close are the Ferrari 488 GTB -- the racing version of which finished in second behind the GT at Le Mans in 2016 -- and the track-ready McLaren 675LT. I might also add the Corvette Z06, but that's a front-engine car.
The GT does exhibit some road-car compromises, however, due to its simultaneous design as a race car. The most notable of these is how snug the cockpit is. You're literally shoulder-to-shoulder with your passenger. The cockpit itself it gorgeously appointed, an essay in the sumptuous arrangement of leather, carbon-fibre, and Alcantara.
For what it's worth, the seats are notably comfortable for being low and as far back as they can go without being in the engine compartment -- not a common thing on supercars! They don't move, however. Instead, you adjust the pedals, using a rudimentary pull cord. The overall interior treatment is minimalist and defined by the digital instrument panel and infotainment screen. It doesn't come off quite a dead-serious as your typical non-nonsense McLaren. But the open, airy feel of a Ferrari 488 isn't present.
The 0-60 mph time is alleged to be under 3 seconds, and while we didn't scientifically test that, the GT had an abundant punch in a straight line. Of the GT's five drive modes -- Wet, Normal, Sport, Track, and a drag-racing setting called 'V-Max' -- the Normal and Sport will see the most everyday use. In Normal, the car is as relaxed as a mid-engine supercar with limited ground clearance can be. In Sport, everything tightens up and the throttle starts to feel a lot more purposeful; the engine note, a throaty blast accompanied by subdued turbo-whistles, also perks up. The GT's 550 pound-feet of torque is at your command.
What about the power? Bottomless. We barely scratched the surface.
On a winding mountain-road ascent and descent, the GT inspired confidence. A lot of that is thanks to the agile steering and big old Brembo carbon brakes, which can effortlessly slow the car. When I had the GT moving slowly around the Utah Motorsports track, it initially felt a bit heavy, even though on paper it isn't (a bit more than 3,000 lbs.). On the twisty roads, it quickly became evident that I was, in fact, experiencing how firmly planted the car was on the road. With all that torque, you could definitely move the rear end of the car, inducing some oversteer. But you won't feel a loss of control.
If I have one complaint it's the that the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, operated with some really nice slotted paddle shifters behind the GT's racing-inspired steering wheel, doesn't like to be an automatic mode. This car is a true hybrid road-and-race car, but its mood tends to swing toward race, and it wants you to shift the gears yourself. And it doesn't matter which drive mode you're in.
At a basic level, the low-slung GT, at just over 40 inches in height and with dramatic scissor doors, isn't all that hard to get in and out of. Taller drivers might need to struggle a bit, but we had a few of those on hand and they managed.
Road trips in the GT could be difficult. There's a tiny trunk compartment behind the engine that's about large enough to stow your ego as the GT stuns you into awed submission. A pair of swing-out cupholders meant that you could hit the Starbucks drive-thru. But your passenger's left leg might object.
So here's the thing: much like the McLaren 675LT that I drove on canyon roads above Malibu in 2016, the GT on the road is an absolute blast. But it leaves you wanting something.
And that something is a known as a race track.
As it turns out, we had a race track at our disposal. And an actual pro driver, namely Joey Hand of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, who would eventually show us how to get around a circuit the proper way.
Hand was kind enough to strap me in for my laps, but the whole time I was aware that this was the guy who executed the dramatic Sunday-morning pass of Ferrari at Le Mans in 2016 that put Ford back in the lead for good.
The Sacramento native has raced all over the world and is currently a member of the North American team that's preparing to head back to Le Mans in June for an effort to repeat 2016's win.
He hopped behind the wheel of a Ford van to show us how to tackle the West Track. Driving a race car and turning fast laps is a combination of technique, feel -- and fearlessness.
I took the GT out in Track mode. This lowers the car with a hydraulic THONK and deploys its rear wing. Drive modes are selected using the thumbwheel on the steering wheel.
So what's the verdict on this long awaited car, of which only 1,000 will be made over the next four years?
First off, let's explain how fast it can be driven. Hand could get around the track in well under 1 minute-40 seconds, and some of the better media drivers could turn one at 1:55. I managed consistent laps of just a few seconds over 2 minutes.
Hand treated me to a couple of hot laps after my own, so I could experience what it's like to push the GT and push it hard. The bottom line for Hand is that GT sets up perfectly for him, with just the right combination of oversteer and understeer and brakes that he adores. For a skilled driver, the sky's the limit with this baby: it has a very, very big envelope to push.
The power is astounding, seemingly limitless and delivered with an almost idealised linear precision. It's way too much for my skills, but on the front straight of the track, as I rolled off a turn, swinging wide, unwinding the wheel, and pouring on the throttle, the GT gave the impression that it would never run out of giddyup.
It's click-click-click through the gears and just WOOOSH, with that turbo six and its 647 ponies mustering a sort of measured roar. I don't know how else to describe it. It isn't the visceral scream of the Ferrari 488, nor the technocratic shriek of the McLaren 675LT. Rather, it's as if the GT's motor is creating a soothing frenzy of combustion back there behind your head and saying 'I've got this.'
You can see why this would work well in competition. The majestic reassurance that the engine supplies is an asset over 24 hours of continuous racing. It could distract more. But it chooses not to. The overall impressive is one of refinement.
The steering is so good that you barely need to use it. Smooth, gentle inputs get the job done. After a few laps, I was hitting my corners exactly as I mapped them in my mind and finding it easy to follow the racing line that Hand had earlier laid down in black rubber. While the GT felt as if it had some mysterious heft at languid velocities, at speed it was feathery.
And what about the rubber? The combination of grip, suspension play, and aerodynamic voodoo that the GT provides is just what you need if you're going full throttle and want the car to stick. The thought that the car might slip never even occurred to me. This freed up bandwidth to focus on steering, going fast, and braking.
As for the brakes, they're heroic. This is a car that can threaten 150 mph for breakfast and tops out at 216 mph. With that kind of pop, you need considerable stop. In fact, they might be too good. If you like to ease into your braking and then ease off before swinging into a curve, the GT's grab can take some getting used to.
And don't forget that the rear wing can help slow the car, turning into an air brake if you hit the brakes particularly hard.
Ever since the GT's racing debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2016, we've known that it's a fast car. Le Mans, with its long Mulsanne Straight -- 3.7 miles -- demands a missile-like machine if a carmaker wants to win. And fast the GT most definitely was at Le Mans in victory last year.
Confronting that speed up close isn't exactly what I thought it would be. I'd expected terror. But I got calm. The GT has its wild side -- Hand provided me with a guided tour -- but in the final reckoning, it combines the best of the scary old-school supercars with the precision of contemporary examples. It feels as if it has a body and a mind.
This is interesting because the 1960s Le Mans GT40s, which won the race four years in a row after 1966, were brutal machines: low, light, and with massive V8 engines providing the power. They contrasted vividly with the suave Ferraris they took on: American guts versus European glamour.
The new GT is really something completely different: a soulful supercar. Not a thinking man's supercar, like a McLaren, and not an object of lust, like a Ferrari.
Really, a Renaissance supercar, when you get right down to it.
Ford is known for three vehicles, which define its history: the original Model T, the Mustang, and the F-150 pickup.
In that context, the GT40s of the 1960s were a mad dream that became reality. But they had no place on the road.
The new GT supercar is now officially the fourth member of Ford's hall of fame. Everything about it seems as if were preordained for greatness, and from its debut to my day with it in Utah -- having followed the car's development for two years -- it has never disappointed. (It did give racing fans a scare in early 2016 at Daytona when both GT racer cars struggled with mechanical gremlins.)
Beautiful. Fast. A joy to drive. Technologically advanced. Staggeringly expensive. Exclusive. And the winner of the toughest race in the world.
Ford didn't simply outdo itself with the GT. It set a standard of excellence that it might never beat.
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