WHITE NOISE

Once upon a time Ford confronted Ferrari with a low-slung supercar. In 2017, they're doing it again Ė and how

by CHRISTIAN SEABAUGH pics WILLIAM WALKER

FIRST ENCOUNTER Ford GT

Once upon a time Ford confronted Ferrari with a low-slung supercar. In 2017, they're doing it again Ė and how

The new GT is a product of lessons learned in the wind tunnel and at the racetrack

MID-ENGINE supercars seem to get churned out by the bakerís dozen in Europe, but until Chevrolet gets around to producing a mid-engine Corvette, America has just one, the Ford GT. Before the first production-spec 2017 Ford GT rolled off the assembly line, as the Blue Oval made the final tweaks to its reborn supercar, Ford invited us out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to snag shotgun and go for a ride. M

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 Ė fittingly nicknamed ĎStormtrooperí by Ford engineers Ė 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, werenít willing to let us get behind the wheel of the GT. But they did offer a guided tour of the 2017 GTís bodywork, suspension, and cabin before 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 cabinís teardrop shape and the GTís flying buttresses, which hide the piping for the 3.5-litre V6, the intercoolers, and the twin turbochargers mounted in the rear sponsons. The Ford GTís Formula One-style keel is less obvious, but itís apparent when you look at it from a rear three-quarter angle and notice the asphalt visible through the channel behind the front wheels.

The Ford features active aerodynamics, too. Up front, the GTís 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 of 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 maximise grip and downforce.

The Ford GTís active aero works hand in hand with the GTís five drive modes (Normal, Wet, Sport, Track, and V-Max), which are accessed via a control knob on the upper left side of the Fordís F1-inspired steering.

There are visual clues youíre in Normal mode, which include a unique instrument cluster display, the GTís suspension sitting at 119mm of ground clearance, and the rear spoiler deploying at 145km/h and coming back down at 130km/h. Normal mode has an additional Comfort suspension setting, which is activated by a button on the centre 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 Ė by softening throttle and transmission mapping for inclement weather.

The really cool stuff happens when you twist the dial further.

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 113km/h and down at 72km/h. Track is more intense still; it deploys the rear spoiler, drops the ride height down to 69mm of clearance (startlingly quickly at that), and stiffens the GTís racing-derived suspension, which features inboard-mounted torsion beams and pushrods mated to Multimaticís trick Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) shock absorbers. They have an otherworldly ability of providing a stiff ride for track work with a compliance that takes kerbing and bumps without upsetting takes kerbing and bumps without upsetting the car. V-Max cleans up the GTís aero profile by dropping the rear wing, which allows the Ford to hit its 346km/h-plus claimed top speed.

When Hand fires up a Liquid Blue GT in the road courseís pit lane, itís time for a ride. Nair says Ford briefly considered fitting a V8 or even a twin-turbo V8 into the GT. Instead it opted for the EcoBoost 3.5-litre V6 paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission because its smaller package and increased fuel efficiency would make it a more competitive race car Ė a gamble that paid off when the GT won its class at Le Mans in 2016. The lack of cylinders also hasnít come at the cost of outright grunt, either, with Ford backing up its proclamations. The GT produces 482kW at 6250rpm and a mighty 746Nm torque peak at 5900rpm.

Open the scissor door, duck, and slip into the cabin.

Itís a pretty welcoming place, even if the cockpit is rather snug with Hand and I nearly touching shoulders. The seats are fixed into the carbonfibre tub, so legroom is a bit precious for this tall scribe, but at least the seat backs recline a bit to up the

The lack of cylinders hasn't come at the cost of grunt, with Ford backing up its proclamations

FORD GT

BODY 2-door, 2-seat coupe DRIVE rear-wheel ENGINE 3497cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo BORE/STROKE 92.5 x 86.7mm COMPRESSION 10.0:1 POWER 482kW @ 6250rpm TORQUE 746Nm @ 5900rpm POWER/WEIGHT 354kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch WEIGHT 1363kg (dry) SUSPENSION (F) multi-links, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION (R) multi-links, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4763/2004/1109mm WHEELBASE 2710mm TRACKS 1694/1661mm (f/r) STEERING electrically assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) 394mm ventilated carbon-ceramic discs, six-piston fixed aluminium calipers BRAKES (R) 360mm ventilated carbon-ceramic discs, four-piston fixed aluminium calipers WHEELS 20.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 20 x 11.5-inch (r)

comfort. (The driverís seat is fixed, too; the pedals and steering wheel adjust to fit the driver, like a LaFerrari.)

The cabin has a very McLaren-like vibe to it with highquality 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 of 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 a stab of the throttle, weíre off. The EcoBoost V6 emits a guttural growl unlike any V6 Iíve ever heard. It pins me back in my seat as we rocket out of pit lane. Those moaning about the lack of a V8 option ought to zip it for the time being. From the passenger seat, its thrust level feels off the charts. Thereís no turbo lag that I can pick up and the engine pulls strongly through its rev range. Gear changes feel seamless, too. The seven-speed dual-clutch íbox responds instantly to Handís pulls of the paddles. The Ford GT appears to be incredibly well balanced, too. Just a hint of incredibly well balanced, too. Just a hint of steering angle has the GT instantaneously pointing toward the next apex. 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 trackís kerbing 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 itís 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 as deliveries were about to start at the end of 2016, Ford was still tinkering away. Nair said the company spent the final few weeks tweaking the transmission calibration, making the instrument cluster software snappier, lowering NVH on the rear bulkhead, and improving fit and finish.

This work was required for the GT to be EPAcertified and for the first $600,000-ish GT to roll off its Markham, Ontario, assembly line and into the driveway of Bill Ford Jr. before December 31.

Ford received the first GT, but the Blue Oval has committed to a four-year production run with 250 cars built per year. The first yearís run has already been spoken for by a host of celebrities and CEOs.

Those not in the first allotment can get their crack at owning Americaís mid-engine supercar in the 2018 batch. We just canít wait to go for a drive. M

The EcoBoost V6 emits a guttural growl unlike any V6 Iíve heard and it pins you back in the seat