2017 Ford GT: Pro Racer’s Perspective
By Andy Pilgrim
By now you’ve probably read our official first-drive story about the 2017 Ford GT. I was along for the ride, so to speak, with executive editor Mac Morrison, who’s a bit — that’s putting it mildly — of a racing nerd. We wound up talking about the GT once again during a recent telephone conversation, and I began to scribble some new notes and review some others I had taken in Utah during the test drive of the car. When he quickly realized I was doing so, Morrison, of course, demanded I hand them over. So here they are, my thoughts on the 2017 Ford GT, from a professional race-car driver’s perspective:
The driver’s office: Opening and closing the GT doors is a breeze. They are either substantially lighter or have more efficient operation than other scissor door exotics. I’m sure the liberal use of carbon fiber helps. When opening any scissor door, make sure you stand in the right position so you don’t clock yourself in the face.
Opening the driver door exposes quite a sizeable entrance hole. I think I just stood there and stared for a few seconds the first time I opened it. My first instinct was to put my right foot in there and feel for a grab handle on the inside, exactly as I would when jumping into a race car. The correct way to do it is to sit on the side of the car at a 90 degree angle to forward and swing each leg into the car separately. I’m quite glad I wasn’t wearing a skirt.
The GT seats do not move up and down or forward or backward. The seat pads are set on top of the car’s carbon-fiber structure, though the seatback does recline a little. I have received comments from people surprised and even critical of the GT fixed-seat setup with moveable pedals and moveable steering wheel. There are other street-car manufacturer’s using moveable pedals and, on a racing note, the 2017 Mercedes GT3 race car I’ve tested this year also uses a fixed seat and moveable pedal/steering-wheel setup. This makes driver changes much easier and quicker. The GT seats are supportive when driving on the limit on the track, and the pedal setup makes it easy to left foot brake.
I am 5 feet 10 inches tall with average length torso and legs. I found a good driving position with no usability issues. One picky point: I couldn’t get the steering wheel at a perfect angle for me, but it was close. To be clear, I have a hard time getting any road car’s steering wheel and seat to a perfect driving position for me. I very much like the shape of the GT steering wheel but do not like all the buttons and switches on it. At one point, l think I found a garbage disposal button; OK, maybe I didn’t, but there is a lot of stuff on there.
Rear visibility is good, and the side mirrors give an excellent view out back and to the sides. Visibility out the front windshield gives the same excellent panoramic view I often find in other exotic mid-engine supercars.
The GT’s engine has a ripping angry V-6 sound which is addictive. Hitting the gas adds a bass-heavy intake roar that reminded me of a commercial jet backing away from a jet bridge. If you watch and listen to my GT track-lap video, you can hear the initial induction roar and then a serious increase in urgency and overall engine volume once the revs hit about 4,900 rpm. There is no appreciable turbo lag, just a build in power all the way up the power band. This engine produces a bulging mid-range pull that seriously works the traction control in the first three gears.
You may have read in our GT first drive article about some ABS brake behavior I reported, not only to Morrison but also to the Ford engineers, who were very receptive. I found the same exact issue on both the GTs I drove. I have been lucky to work with production-car and race-car development teams for different manufactures over several years. I have also worked with tire and brake manufactures and on ABS brake development. I believe the GT braking behavior is linked to the ABS algorithm. My guess is, the algorithm is not capable of keeping up with the GT when encountering certain track nuances such as ripples in brake zones under maximum braking. Transfer or reset back to full braking power was way too slow after the tire senses an “in air” or “no friction” moment. This issue only occurred in two brake zones and would result in extending my braking distance and forcing me to go wide of the ideal line.
The GT’s steering is direct and transfers exactly what the chassis is doing in a linear and immediate way. This gave me the confidence to steer aggressively when entering turns. The Utah track starts with three medium-speed corners. If you look at my onboard video you can see a snap oversteer entering turn three at about the 34-second mark. As I correct the oversteer, you’ll see my momentum does not change. That is because the steering correction to chassis reaction is so immediate. This is not the same reaction time you would feel with most high-performance production sports cars. It would be more normal to have a longer recovery event. NOTE: The GT I drove in the video had just been used for a drift video shoot by Ford’s pro race driver, Billy Johnson (nice work Billy), so the rear tires were not at their best.
Another very impressive performance characteristic is the way the GT pulls once speed exceeds 100 mph. I have ridden very high-powered motorcycles for years. If you take bikes with the same power and weight and compare one with ram air to one without, you can actually feel the ram air bike pulling harder at high speeds. The air intakes on the GT are way out in the air stream and it would not surprise me for a second if the GT’s body shape doesn’t cause a significant ram air effect at high speeds. It really pulls hard above 100 mph, very impressive. You can also clearly see from the track lap video how quickly the GT accelerates from 50 to 100 mph in several places.
I kept the traction control (TC) on minimal interference and not turned off completely, as I always believe most drivers want the insurance. The Track-mode TC algorithm on the GT is very good, I give it an eight out of 10. I did feel TC intervention on corner exit in the sense it was holding me back a little too much for my tastes, but I did like the fact it left me alone when I needed to twist the car into faster corners under power and rotate the tail.
The GT chassis and suspension setup in Track mode is probably one of the best I have ever felt on a street-legal car. You might imagine the 2.7-inch ride-height setup would be stiff, as on a Porsche 911 GT3 RS for instance, but it is very compliant. This suspension compliance combined with grip and aero make the GT so quick and fun to drive on the track. It is not scary twitchy at all and inspires confidence.
The new Ford GT is certainly a driver’s car, whether on the street or track. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next from Ford’s performance boffins. I have a suspicion there will be more than a few manufacturers looking at how the GT came into existence, how track function led to a street weapon the likes of which we’ve never seen. Let the good times keep rolling.