IN­SIDE GROOVE: Ford Floun­ders at the Rolex 24

Ignition - - Contents Table 0f - By Mark Hack­ing

At the 2015 North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Auto Show, Ford didn’t just steal head­lines with the sur­prise un­veil­ing of the Ford GT, they stole them, high­tailed it out of Detroit and were half­way around the world by the time peo­ple fig­ured out what was go­ing on. In this day and age of spy pho­tos, In­ter­net leaks, staged spy pho­tos and planned In­ter­net leaks, the GT was a real neck-snap­per.

Of course, at least part of the suc­cess of this un­veil­ing had to do with his­tory. The forth­com­ing Ford GT will be just the third it­er­a­tion of this home­grown supercar in over 50 years. The orig­i­nal was de­signed and en­gi­neered to win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and it did just that, se­cur­ing the over­all vic­tory four years in a row from 1966-69. Sim­ple math re­veals that this year is the 50th an­niver­sary of that his­toric first win.

What’s per­haps less well known is that the Ford GT40 also dom­i­nated at Day­tona 50 years ago, cap­tur­ing first, se­cond and third in the first-ever 24hour race at the leg­endary track. (The first-ever win for the GT40 came in 1965 when the Ford en­tered by Car­roll Shelby won the 2,000 km long Day­tona 2000.) There were pro­duc­tion ver­sions of the GT40 avail­able to reg­u­lar cus­tomers in lim­ited num­bers, but the car was prin­ci­pally de­vel­oped to se­cure rac­ing glory.

The se­cond-gen­er­a­tion Ford GT, which ar­rived in 2004, was in­spired by the orig­i­nal and was a cred­i­ble su­per- car in its own right. This GT boasted se­ri­ous per­for­mance ca­pa­bil­i­ties and was avail­able in lim­ited num­bers be­fore it ceased pro­duc­tion. The only thing pre­vent­ing this ver­sion from achiev­ing ul­ti­mate suc­cess was a lack of big wins in the big races. A hand­ful of Ford GTS cam­paigned by pri­vate teams around the world did se­cure some vic­to­ries and ti­tles, but noth­ing on the scale of Day­tona or Le Mans.

The 2017 Ford GT is kind of a com­bi­na­tion of both ap­proaches, ac­cord­ing to Dave Per­i­cak, the Global Di­rec­tor for Ford Per­for­mance. “We’ve had a very unique op­por­tu­nity to de­velop both the road car and the race car at ex­actly the same time,” he says from the Ford Chip Ganassi Rac­ing garage at this year’s Rolex 24 en­durance race. “It’s sort of a bless­ing and a curse at the same time. You get to bake into the road car what you need for the race car… but you’re do­ing two de­vel­op­ments at one time.”

Nearly 100% of the time, fairy­tale end­ings are re­served ex­clu­sively for fairy­tales.

De­spite the col­lec­tive will of a mul­ti­tude of rac­ing fans, and the peo­ple at Ford Per­for­mance, Chip Ganassi Rac­ing and Mul­ti­matic En­gi­neer­ing (the Markham-based com­pany re­spon­si­ble for en­gi­neer­ing and build­ing the Ford GT), the Rolex 24 at Day­tona was not a Cin­derella story for the car.

Per­i­cak main­tained that the team was not view­ing Day­tona as an ex­tended test ses­sion for their re­turn to Le Mans this com­ing June. But this was the very first com­pet­i­tive out­ing for the Ford GT and the com­pe­ti­tion in GT cir­cles is now re­lent­less.

There may have been a time, prob­a­bly not so long ago, when en­durance rac­ing was a more mea­sured af­fair – work on your own re­li­a­bil­ity first, wait for your com­peti­tors to crash or suf­fer a me­chan­i­cal fail­ure, gen­er­ate speed only when nec­es­sary. Nowa­days, round-the-clock en­durance races such as Day­tona and Le Mans are ef­fec­tively 24-hour sprints now. The lead­ing teams bring to the ta­ble bul­let­proof re­li­a­bil­ity, record-break­ing speed and in­scrutable con­sis­tency – from their cars and driv­ers alike.

Lost in the shuf­fle of the Ford pres­ence at Day­tona was the fact that other man­u­fac­tur­ers hadn’t been sit­ting on their hands in the off-sea­son.

Two peren­nial con­tenders for GT en­durance rac­ing glory – Chevro­let and Porsche – showed up with sig­nif­i­cantly re­vised ver­sions of the Corvette C7-R and 911 RSR, re­spec­tively. Two other for­mi­da­ble en­ti­ties – BMW and Fer­rari – brought brand-new GTLE cars to Day­tona – the new M6 and 488 GTE, re­spec­tively. (Run­ning in the sep­a­rate GTD class was the brand-new Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán and a re­vised ver­sion of the Audi R8 LMS GT3.)

But just as they had done with the in­tro­duc­tion of the Ford GT in Detroit, Ford stole the show with the race ver­sion in Day­tona. A big per­cent­age of the head­lines re­ferred to the legacy of the car. Many of the photo gal­leries in­cluded shots of the mean-look­ing ma­chine in its red, white and blue liv­ery. The PR peo­ple for the other fac­tory-sup­ported teams had been turned into back­mark­ers.

Nev­er­the­less, col­lec­tive hopes for the Ford GTS were dashed early on. A hand­ful of laps into the race, the No. 66 car, pi­loted by for­mer Day­tona win­ner Joey Hand, moved into the class lead. But the other car went in the other di­rec­tion. Less than 20 min­utes into the race, the No. 67 driven by Ryan Briscoe be­came stuck in sixth gear and was forced into the pits for re­pairs.

As the race pro­gressed, the me­chan­i­cal grem­lins jumped over to the No. 66 as well. Dur­ing a rou­tine tire change, a brake line was dam­aged. Then, elec­tron­ics is­sues af­fected the tur­bocharged 3.5L V6 Eco­boost en­gine and, lastly, fa­mil­iar trans­mis­sion trou­bles took hold.

The Ford Chip Ganassi Rac­ing crew worked tire­lessly to en­sure both cars made it to the fin­ish and they were suc­cess­ful in this re­gard. The No. 66 car fin­ished sev­enth in class and 31st over­all; the sis­ter car fin­ished ninth in class and 40th over­all. A race that was not sup­posed to be an ex­tended test ses­sion had, by ne­ces­sity, be­come an ex­tended test ses­sion.

But ev­ery­one in­volved with the Ford GT race pro­gram is think­ing big­pic­ture. “Re­turn­ing to Le Mans af­ter 50 years is re­ally im­por­tant to us as a com­pany,” Per­i­cak stresses. “It would be re­ally great to bring that vic­tory home not only for Ford, the com­pany, but Ford, the fam­ily, as well. So there’s a lot at stake right now.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.