The long, low sweep of bodywork absorbs the early morning sun and radiates a warm glow, the candy apple red paint providing the aura of smoldering coals. It’s a dreadfully chilly morning in the Mojave Desert as we huddle close to the car to catch some reflected warmth.
It’s not the first time we’d stood around at Willow Springs International Raceway and gawked at an all-new Ford GT, waiting for clearance to begin hot laps. Seven weeks earlier, we were in this very spot with a black GT awaiting the same test. Our resident pro driver, Randy Pobst, had reported issues with the damping and braking. Then one of the well-worn prototype’s fuel pumps failed. The other fuel pump kept it running well enough to finish the photos you’re looking at.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
All supercars are special, but in an increasingly crowded room, the Ford GT still stands out. Pick your reason. It looks like nothing else, all teardrop cabin and outrigger fenders and flying buttresses in between. It’s powered by a twin-turbo V-6 with a mysterious anti-lag system and an intake system that incorporates both those fenders and their buttresses. Its suspension makes use of both coil springs and torsion bars and drops the ride height 2.0 inches in slightly longer than the blink of an eye. An FIA-certified rollcage is built into the roof. The pedals and steering wheel come to you, not the other way around. That steering wheel feels for all the world like it came out of a real, honest-to-goodness race car. Perhaps because it was designed for a real, honest-to-goodness race car—one that won its class on the first attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The expectations of this car, stoked by a protracted rollout and delivery process carefully curated to maximize hype, are by now many times its 3,354-pound curb weight (some 300 pounds more than Ford’s published “dry weight”). Lines have been drawn for some time now in enthusiast circles, each with its own lofty metric for the GT to live up to. Nearly two years since its unveiling and a year and a half since Le Mans, it’s finally time.
A day before it showed signs of illness at the race track, our first GT told a very different story. Test meister Chris Walton found the launch control easy to use with light wheel slip on the way to a 3.0-second dash to 60 mph. More interesting was the second bout of wheelspin at 50 mph when the dual-clutch transmission grabbed second under full boost. Less than 8.0 seconds after hitting 60, it blew past the quarter-mile mark at 130.5 mph.
The results are slightly different by the end of a quarter-mile drag. The GT-Rs and 911 GT3 RS have fallen behind, and the McLaren 650S and 675LT have pulled slightly ahead. Otherwise, the finishing order is the same as it was at 60 mph.
For all its straight-line punch, the GT is no Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. The Ford is built for corners. Figure-eight master Kim Reynolds found the GT predictable and surprisingly easy to drive hard. “It basically understeers” at the limit, he noted, “so it’s best just to manage it and then pour in power to rotate it out of the corner. It will try to spin if you don’t keep a step ahead of it. Frankly, it felt like I had a better time than a 22.7, but so it goes.”
The finer details: 22.7 seconds at 0.97 average g in the figure eight and 1.11 average lateral g on the skidpad.
How elite is that? Take all the cars listed above, and the GT is faster around the eight than everything but the Corvette Z06, Viper ACR, 488 GTB, Huracán Performante, 675LT, 720S, and 918 Spyder.
Over 1.0 g on the skidpad is also elite, and the GT’s 1.11 is better than any car tested except the Corvette Z06, Huracán Performante, AMG GT R, and 918 Spyder and is tied with the ZL1 1LE and GT3.
“Its brake pedal is firm, and its stroke is short, but there’s a bit of modulation available at the end,” Walton said. Stopping from 60 mph takes 95 feet, generally impressive but midpack among supercars.
It was at this point the excrement hit the ventilator with our first GT loaner—just as we were about to hot lap it in anger at Willow Springs. The wounded car was shipped back to Michigan, where Ford diagnosed a blown shock, a damaged wiring harness, and an out-of-tolerance brake booster. More than 5,000 miles of torture and torment at the hands of the enthusiast press had taken its toll on the early-build car.
Our testing incomplete, we cajoled Ford to send a replacement for lap-time testing at Willow Springs. We were fairly confident in our metered test results for the first car—we can debate whether a dodgy brake booster or fading shock cost us a tenth on the figure eight until we’re blue in the face—so we relented that our second vehicle’s tests would be limited to high-speed laps.
To be clear, Big Willow is a nasty track. The pavement is old and bumpy. Its edges are jagged. There are no shark’s teeth to clip at the apexes, no gravel traps to catch you at the exits. Just desert scrub, hard dirt, and concrete block walls. The lap gets meaner as you progress through the circuit, culminating in the 140-mph, no-camber Turn 8, which transitions to a short braking zone for the deceptively tight decreasing radius of Turn 9, which leads to the front straight. Top speeds of 160 mph on the front straight aren’t unheard of in production cars, but hit the gas too eagerly in Turn 9, and you’ll run out of corner-exit asphalt real quick (as some of racing’s greatest names have discovered). It’s 2.42 fast and unforgiving miles.
How did the GT do at the self-proclaimed “fastest road in the west”? With Randy at the wheel, we ran a blistering 1:23.69. Where does that fit in the scheme of things?
|Fastest Production Car Lap Times at Big Willow|
|2018 McLaren 720S||1:21.75 sec|
|2018 Lamborghini Huracán Performante (Euro-spec)||1:22.53 sec|
|2015 Porsche 918 Spyder||1:23.54 sec|
|2017 Ford GT||1:23.69 sec|
|2017 Porsche 911 Turbo S||1:24.26 sec|
|2016 McLaren 675LT||1:24.29 sec|
|2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (Z07, 6M)||1:25.00 sec|
|2014 Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4||1:25.17 sec|
|2016 Lamborghini Aventador LP 750-4 Superveloce||1:25.42 sec|
|2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO||1:25.70 sec|
|2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (Z07, 8A)||1:25.76 sec|
|2015 McLaren 650S Spyder||1:25.88 sec|
The Ford GT also beats, in order, the McLaren 675LT, Chevrolet Corvette Z06/Z07, Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4 and Aventador LP 750-4 SV, Nissan GT-R NISMO, and McLaren 650S. (The others mentioned above in the 0–60 test haven’t been lapped at this track.)
“It behaves much more like an AMG GT or a Nissan GT-R, a front-engine, rear-transaxle car” Randy said, “It behaves like it’s got a longer polar moment when it doesn’t, and that’s quite an accomplishment. I really respect that a lot. It has that stability. It does not have that traditional twitchiness of mid-engine cars. This car gives me more of an impression of downforce than most of the cars that we test. I think that downforce is quite effective, especially in the back.”
It can still bite you, though.
“It will generate a little power oversteer in third, and maybe even in fourth, when the revs are up way out towards the exit,” he said. “And that happens very predictably. It’s got a really nice breakaway at the limit. Kind of fun. It’s not twitchy. It’s not a snap oversteer. It’s a mild, progressive power oversteer. Still, I’d like more acceleration traction.”
The culprit is in the throttle calibration.
“I seem to get a lot of power in what feels like the last 20 percent of the throttle,” he said. “I get 50 percent more power sometimes. I’m rolling the throttle in, and when I go the rest of the way to the floor, it wakes up and I have a lot of power. And I’m thinking, I would like to have already had that. In most turbo cars I would already have full boost and I would just be adding more throttle, whereas this car feels like it’s not on full boost until that last 20 percent of throttle travel. Then the boost comes in and it’s too sudden. So there’s still a little bit of a lack of linear feel in the power.”
It’s the opposite issue on the bottom end.
“There’s a little bit of lag, and then it comes rolling in and it really pulls like a bear up high,” he said. “I have to drive with turbo foot—in other words deliberately start feeding power in early to spool up the turbos. It’s a little bit more of a vintage feel—it’s more like a classic turbo engine. It’s a high-rpm engine, the powerband is strong higher in the revs, and it has a good midrange. But it’s even better on the top end.
Randy’s real issue, though, was with the braking.
“It just doesn’t build confidence to go super deep on the brake, because there’s this time element where I’m on the pedal hard and I’m expecting full brake g, and I don’t have it yet,” he said. “What you want for this car is instant ‘Boom!’ because we’re going 160 mph, and we want to stop right now. So I think it’s actually stopping fairly well, but there’s not a linear relationship to the pedal on the initial application. It takes a while for it to build up.
“You’re going 160 mph down here, and you’re thinking about all the trouble you’re going to get in if you go flying off the end of that corner,” he continued. “To even be in a position where I’m like, ‘Oh, I made it,’ it tells you I’m not getting the kind of response and bite that gives me the confidence to go to an exact point and know I’m going to make it into the corner.”
Randy otherwise had very favorable impressions of the GT: “It feels relatively soft for a supercar. It’s not a harsh car, and I like that, especially for a spool-valve car. It’s not harsh on the racetrack. This track has bumpy brake zones, and I’m not feeling it at all. The car is soaking that up nicely. It soaks up nicely all the way through Turn 8—which feels bumpy in some cars—even at that low ride height. There’s not a good track program on the automatic. I’m shifting manually. That all’s working beautifully. And the powerband’s wide enough that it’s not terribly picky. Either that or the ratios are perfect. For some reason, I find it very, very easy to find the right gear.”
Rarely do my own track impressions exactly mirror Randy’s, as we employ him to push the cars further and harder than the rest of us are capable of. Not that we’re pikers, but there’s , and then there’s . At Willow Springs in this Ford GT, though, Randy and I were in complete agreement. The wonky throttle calibration, the lack of initial brake bite, the shockingly supple ride on one of the nation’s bumpiest tracks, the ease with which you can drive it fast right out of the gate … all of it. I would have loved to use this space to tell you how it drives on the street, but Ford restricted this test to the track only.
The results in, we arrive at the overriding question: Is it worth it? If this were a $200,000 car, we wouldn’t even ask the question. With a starting price of $453,750 and an as-tested price estimated to be an extra set of tires south of half a million dollars, though, these factors become pertinent.
Few cars command that kind of coin, and every one that does is very special indeed. It’s here the Ford GT makes its stand. It’s not the quickest or fastest car we’ve ever tested, but then neither are most of its price peers. It is, however, every bit as special as they are, a new and refreshing take on the supercar formula we know so well. It’s unique in a segment that’s long figured out the optimal layout and design, and it’s a uniquely American approach to an idea dominated by European thinking. Imperfect and impertinent, it’s priceless.
|2017 Ford GT|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||213.4 cu in/3,497 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||647 hp @ 6,250 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||550 lb-ft @ 5,900 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||5.2 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, torsion bars, push-rod actuated adj coil springs and adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, torsion bars, push-rod actuated adj coil springs and adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||15.5-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.5 x 20-in; 11.5 x 20-in, carbon-fiber composite|
|TIRES, F;R||245/35R20 95Y; 325/30R20 106Y Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2|
|TRACK, F/R||66.7/65.4 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||187.5 x 78.9 x 41.7-43.7 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.0 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,354 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||41/59%|
|SHOULDER ROOM||48.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||0.4 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.2|
|QUARTER MILE||10.8 sec @ 130.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||95 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.11 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||22.7 sec @ 0.97 g (avg)|
|2.4-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||1:23.69 sec|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,275 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$500,000 (est)|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, side, knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||3 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.2 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||11/18/14 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||306/187 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.46 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|