Make America(n supercars) Great Again
Mid-engine supercars seem to get churned out by the baker’s dozen in Europe, but until Chevrolet gets around to producing a mid-engine Corvette, America has just one: the Ford GT. The first production-spec 2017 Ford GT goes off the factory line within the next four weeks, and as the Blue Oval makes the final tweaks to its reborn supercar, Ford invited us out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to snag shotgun and go for a ride.
Parked in a sea of black asphalt with B-1 bombers and other military hardware roaring out of Nellis Air Force Base passing overhead, the Frozen White and Black pre-production GT—fittingly nicknamed “Stormtrooper” by Ford engineers—makes quite the visual impression outside the harsh glow of auto show lighting. Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president of global product development and the man many on the team credit as the father of the GT, and Dave Pericak, the head of Ford Performance, weren’t willing to let us get behind the wheel of the GT. But they did offer a guided tour of the 2017 GT’s bodywork, suspension, and cabin before letting us loose with Le Mans–winning racer Joey Hand on the track.
After talking with Nair and Pericak, it becomes clear that the new GT is a product of lessons learned in the wind tunnel and at the racetrack. The obvious aero tricks include the cabin’s teardrop shape and the GT’s flying buttresses, which hide the piping for the 3.5-liter V-6, the intercoolers, and the twin turbochargers mounted in the rear sponsons. The Ford GT’s Formula 1–style keel is less obvious, but it’s apparent when you look at it from a rear three-quarters angle and notice the asphalt visible through the channel behind the front wheels.
The Ford features active aerodynamics, too. Up front, the GT’s air intake hides active grille shutters used to manage air pressure at the front wheels. The car initially made too much front downforce, which any engineer will tell you is a pretty good problem to have. An active rear spoiler balances downforce in the rear. Hydraulically actuated like the suspension, the rear spoiler shoots up like a bottle rocket and has a couple neat tricks. It functions as an air brake under heavy braking, and it actively changes shape while at speed. You read that right. The rear wing has a small cam inside it that changes the air foil and adjusts a small gurney flap up and down at speed as conditions demand to maximize grip and downforce.
The Ford GT’s active aero works hand in hand with the GT’s five drive modes (Normal, Wet, Sport, Track, and V-Max), which are accessed via a control knob on the upper left side of the Ford’s F1-inspired steering . There are visual clues you’re in Normal mode, which include a unique instrument cluster display, the GT’s suspension sitting at 4.7 inches of ground clearance, and the rear spoiler deploying at 90 mph (144.8 km/h) and coming back down at 81 mph (130.4 km/h). Normal mode has an additional Comfort suspension setting, which is activated by a button on the center console, plus a nose-lift function, which is operated in the same manner. Wet mode is based on Normal mode, and it works as you think it would—by softening throttle and transmission mapping for inclement weather.
The really cool stuff happens when you twist the dial farther.
Sport mode builds upon Normal mode. It sharpens up throttle response, loosens up traction control restrictions, engages an anti-lag system, and puts the rear spoiler up at 70 mph (112.7 km/h) and down at 45 mph (72.4 km/h). Track is more intense still; it deploys the rear spoiler, drops the ride height down to 2.7 inches of clearance (startlingly fast at that), and stiffens the GT’s racing-derived suspension, which features inboard-mounted torsion beams and pushrods mated to Multimatic’s trick Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) shock absorbers. The DSSV dampers were seen on the 2014 Best Driver’s Car–winning Chevrolet Camaro Z/28. They have an otherworldly ability of providing a stiff ride for track work with a compliance that takes curbing and bumps without upsetting the car. V-Max cleans up the GT’s aero profile by dropping the rear wing, which allows the Ford to hit its 200-plus-mph (321.9km/h) claimed top speed.
When Hand fires up a Liquid Blue GT in the road course’s pit lane, it’s time for a ride. Nair says Ford briefly considered fitting a V-8 or even a twin-turbo V-8 into the GT. Instead it opted for the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission because its smaller package and increased fuel efficiency would make it a more competitive race car—a gamble that paid off when the GT won its class at Le Mans. Ford, frustratingly, still isn’t talking horsepower or torque figures because it’s waiting final EPA certification, but it insists that the GT makes at least 600 horsepower.
Open the scissor door, duck, and slip into the cabin. It’s a pretty welcoming place, even if the cockpit is rather snug with Hand and I nearly touching shoulders. The seats are fixed into the carbon-fiber tub, so legroom is a bit precious for this 6-foot-1 scribe, but at least the seat backs recline a bit to up the comfort. (The driver’s seat is fixed, too; the pedals and steering wheel adjust to fit the driver.) The cabin has a very McLaren-like vibe to it with high-quality materials, few buttons, and a driver-focused, business-first layout. Shared parts with other Ford products seem to be few and far between. A couple buttons on the steering wheel, the headlight switch, transmission gear selector, and Sync 3 software are the only obvious exceptions.
A twist of the dial into Track mode makes the GT hunker down like an Olympic sprinter, and with stab of the throttle, we’re off. The EcoBoost V-6 emits a guttural growl unlike any V-6 I’ve ever heard. It pins me back in my seat as we rocket out of pit lane. Those moaning about the lack of a V-8 option ought to zip it for the time being. From the passenger seat, its thrust level feels off the charts. There’s no turbo lag that I can pick up; the engine pulls strongly through its rev range. Gear changes seem seamless, too. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto responds instantly to Hand’s pulls of the paddles. The Ford GT appears to be incredibly well balanced, too. Just a hint of steering angle had the GT instantaneously pointing toward the next car. As Hand works the GT through corners, it seemingly rotates flat on its axis. The GT feels firm and planted at all times during our stint in the passenger seat, with the traction control system (in its sportiest setting) appearing to be unobtrusive and with the DSSV shocks happily taking a beating from the track’s curbing without upsetting the car in the least.
Just as quickly as our lap began, Hand pulls the GT back into the pits to wrap up our session. Although it’s nearly impossible to verify without getting behind the wheel ourselves, the 2017 Ford GT seems like it could be every bit as capable as the McLaren 675LT, as engaging as the Ferrari 488 GTB, and as accessible as the Porsche 911 GT3 (all of which Ford benchmarked the new GT against). Even though the first GT delivery is later this month, Ford’s still tinkering away; Nair says the company will spend the next few weeks tweaking the transmission calibration, making the instrument cluster software snappier, lowering NVH on the rear bulkhead, and improving fit and finish. Once that’s complete and the GT is finally EPA-certified, the first $450,000-ish USD 2017 GT will roll off its Markham, Ontario, assembly line and into the driveway of Bill Ford Jr. before December 31. Ford will get the first GT, but the Blue Oval has committed to a four-year production run with 250 cars built per year. The first year’s run has already been spoken for by a who’s who of celebrities and CEOs. Those not in the first allotment can get their first crack at owning America’s mid-engine supercar when the next batch rolls out in 2018. We just can’t wait to go for a drive.