Feedback. Through my fingers. Through the palms of my hands. And through my butt cheeks. I’ve never driven a road car quite this communicative.
This is only a brief encounter with the Ford GT, and not in the best conditions - I’m on the tight, twisty test track of Cumbrian motorsport legends M-Sport, and it’s been chucking it down with rain all morning.
Regardless, I just know Ford’s supercar is going to make quite an impression. The sound of pure rage when you put your foot down. The way the 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 feels like it’s putting out way more than 647bhp as the virtual rev counter hunts down the hard limiter. The heavy, direct and feedback-laden steering.
Away from the racecar-like digital display, it’s a pretty ordinary place to sit, as far as supercars go. I’d go so far as calling the steering wheel ugly. But I quite like that the GT seemingly isn’t interested in having a spangly interior. Its focus is on other areas - mostly driving badassery.
There’s a very good reason for the way this car feels - the GTE racing version of the Ford GT is closer to the road car equivalent than any of the cars its World Endurance Championship rivals. In fact, the recently retired machine is a completely different kettle of fish to anything we’ve seen for years in the world of GT racing.
Let’s just look at the GT’s rivals. There’s the 911 RSR, which may be derived from the 911 and powered by a flat-six, but with a mid-engined layout, it’s a huge departure from any road-going Porsche. The meme-worthy BMW M8 GTE may have arrived before its road car equivalent, but with a carbonfibre monocoque and pushrod front suspension, it’s a very distant relative to the M8 due to be launched this month.
Finally, there’s the Ferrari 488 and Aston Martin Vantage. They followed the tried and tested recipe of established road cars massively modified with the help of third parties (Michelotto Automobili and Prodrive, respectively) to become racers. Ford was going to go down this route using the sixth-generation Mustang-based ‘Project Silver’, but with a shape that’s not ideal for racing, the car looked less and less like a Mustang as the effort progressed.
The solution was to make something from scratch. Ford drafted in Canadian company Multimatic - known for its clever DSSV dampers - to help develop both a road car and racing car concurrently. This meant the road car’s design effectively ended up being led by that of the racer. Its shape, the pushrod suspension setup, the carbonfibre monocoque - it’s all there first and foremost to make a fast competition car that complies with ACO GTE regulations, rather than an exciting supercar.
The cockpit is tiny, so if you’ll be transporting a passenger, you’d better hope they don’t care about personal space invasion. You can’t even move the seat backwards or forwards - instead, you shift the steering wheel or pedals, a feature which allowed the designers to mount the windscreen further back. Ask why pretty much anything on the road car is the way it is, and the answer will probably be “because racecar” in the most literal sense.
Is this a sneaky way to make a racing car? Perhaps. Is it an effective method? Undoubtedly - 16 wins across IMSA and the WEC across three seasons plus one IMSA constructor’s title are a testament to the programme’s success.
This is not a new idea, though. The most recent prominent example of this kind of rule ‘interpretation’ is the Mercedes CLK GTR. Stuttgart’s main target in the FIA GT1 series was the McLaren F1, something which was created as the ultimate road car before being turned into a highly successful GT racing car further down the line. But what Merc’s motorsport bods decided to build was more like the Porsche 911 GT1 - a purpose-built racing car with a handful of barely watered-down road cars to satisfy homologation rules.
Also, like the Porsche, Mercedes did make some vague attempt to tie it into an existing road car by shoehorning CLK into the name, despite its new creation having diddly squat to do with the wafty coupe. In contrast, the GTR was to be unlike anything it had ever built, which is why - mirroring Ford’s alliance with Multimatic - outside aid was sought via a company called HWA.
One of the first orders of business was, weirdly, to buy a McLaren F1 GTR. An ex-privateer example was sourced, with its BMW V12 subsequently switched for an AMG 12-pot. Along with testing the engine that would go on to power HWA’s creation, the mule was also used to test various new body panels.
The finished not-a-CLK was immediately quick, nabbing pole position in Hockenheim at the first round of the inaugural FIA GT championship in 1997. Reliability problems resulted in one car retiring and the other only just scraping a classified finish well down the order, but it didn’t matter - within a few rounds, AMG-Mercedes drivers Bernd Schneider and Klaus Ludwig were doing most of the winning.
The 1997 driver’s and constructor’s titles went to Mercedes before it had even started building customer GTRs. Sound familiar? It should do - the Ford GT had a whole season of competition - including a 24 Hours of Le Mans victory - under its belt before a single road car was delivered.
The CLK, though, would become a victim of its own success. The Mercedes cleaned up in the 1998 season, winning every single race. Competitors - many of whom voiced concerns about the nature of AMG’s entry from the beginning - weren’t interested in enduring another season like this. Entries for the following year dried up, and the plug was pulled on the GT1 category.
This is where the CLK and Ford GT’s stories start to deviate - despite plenty of success, the latter car wasn’t ever a dominant force in the WEC, with Balance of Performance regulations nullifying the car’s design advantages. Plus, the road car was much more than a homologation afterthought - Ford is only required to make 100, but the original production run is 10 times that, extended recently to 1350.
It’s also, for all its racecar blood, a very useable beast. There are softer, taller suspension modes that allow it to work properly on the road. Even on a soaking test track, the traction control does a commendable job of keeping wheel spin in check without sapping all of the twin-turbo V6’s power. There’s zero luggage space, but hey, that’ll just encourage you to pack light.
The icing on the cake is that Ford has let the world see how much potential the car has when regulations don’t get in the way, via the sensational GT MkII.
The GT has done something very similar to the Mercedes in a way that’s much more acceptable, it seems. Here’s hoping it’s not the last ‘CLK GTR moment’ the motorsport world sees.