The Ford GT in Action

Sam Kessler (Online Editor)
Ford's superlative GT was let loose on the track at Le Mans - and the competition felt it

Le Mans is a strange beast; on the one hand you have the LMP-1 and LMP-2 racers, geared up and designed for the annual endurance race in the extreme. On the other you have what are essentially road-faring supercars that just so happen to be able to race for 24 hours solid.

Sitting on Ford’s balcony, it’s obvious which of those my fellow spectators are focused on; nearly every person there seems to be in the Ford GT owners club. This is, after all, the first time many of them will see Ford’s new supercar opus in the flesh.

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To some it might seem excessive to cross the Atlantic just to see the GT lap for a day, but to the owners’ club, predominantly as you might expect, Americans, there is simply no better car. It’s a legacy that dates back to the GT40 of the 1960s – many of which are owned by the Le Mans onlookers – but one which in actuality was a concept that got out of control.

The first embodiment of the current GT was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show back in 2002. Then it was titled as a GT40 Concept, designed for the manufacture’s millennial celebrations. It certainly made an impact. It wasn’t long before a secret prototype production car was being tested and emerged into the light of day in 2004.

Despite the visual similarity there was – and still is – no real similarity between the new cars and the 60s GT40s. On the surface the GTs are simply bigger, wider and more aggressively styled. Underneath however they have the benefit of Ford’s not inconsiderable drive into research and engineering. If you’re wondering just what one of the world’s most important car manufacturers can achieve when they put their mind to it, look no further than the GT.

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Back to Le Mans. After the pomp and circumstance of a pre-race parade lap cheers heralded the beginning of the race which, after a few laps, settled into the murmur of conversation as we settled into 24 hours of it.

It didn’t take much to get the surrounding Ford GT owners talking about their cars; by the end of the day I was identifying people more by the livery of their cars than their actual names. What’s most striking though is the intense love they seem to have for the cars. Plenty of drivers can wax lyrical about their vehicles, but rarely with that same, devoted affection.

It was a love that was repaid on the track. After a full day of intense driving, Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA came out victorious in the LMGTE Pro class, ahead of Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 488 GTE. As if that weren’t enough, the Ford GT also claimed third and fourth place with the US and UK teams respectively.

Despite a surprisingly tight race given the time frame, there was simply no getting past team Ford. Even as we watched into the early hours of the morning, returning after a brief nap and a bloody Mary, the Fords were consistently in the lead. With the new car pushing every one of its 600+ horsepower to the limit, it was a well-deserved win both for team and car.

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What does this mean for the Ford GT itself then? Well, like any supercar that wins Le Mans, at the very least it means bragging rights for the rest of the year. Given the third and fourth places too in this case that can probably be extended to the decade. More importantly however, Le Mans was a showcase for the future of Ford.

The GT may be their most power car by a good margin, but Ford themselves are this year pushing for power. The GT joins the new and improved self-proclaimed King of the Road, the F-150 Raptor and the Focus RS, a car which, having taken it from London to Le Mans, is far, far more fun to drive than its stature suggests. It’s not the biggest shift in automotive history, but it means we could well be seeing more cars like the GT cropping up from the American manufacturer.

As for the GT itself, competition to own one is fierce. Each and every owner we spoke to at Le Mans had their name down for one of the 250 that will be produced each year. Given the number of prospective owners at the race alone, that’s considerable demand. But then again, if its on-track performance translates to the road, then the Ford GT will be well worth the wait.

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