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Interview: Four Blue Oval Bigwigs on the Ford GT Race Car

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/15/2015 Edward Loh

Next year, the Ford GT will show the world its racing chops, returning to Le Mans and racing in the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship under Chip Ganassi Racing's banner. At the race car's reveal in Le mans, we caught up with four big names at Ford who helped make the GT race car and road car a reality.

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William Clay “Bill” Ford, Jr., Ford Executive Chairman

MT: Was this race car developed with Le Mans/WEC racing in mind, before the street car was developed?

BFJ: Well look, when we did the ’03 GT for our Centennial, that in many ways was a modernization of the old GT40. So we never really thought of that as a race car when we began the program. This one we did. We were talking about our next supercar being a race car, so I mean it was obviously… the street car will have great demand, but a vehicle like this needs to be raced.

MT: The timing is key. The number 66 on the car (reflecting 1966, the year in which Ford swept the podium at Le Mans). How early was this idea born for the return…?

BFJ: Well one thing to remember, you probably remember from the Detroit show, is that this program was kept to a very small number of people. I mean I was amazed it didn’t leak -- absolutely amazed. Very few of us knew. I mean I’d go down to the basement of a design center, and you had to walk by the trash bins and everything just to find the room and then you have the physical key to get in. No hardpass would get you in. But we talked about it from very early days. About the notion of us racing this.

MT: You can’t give us a year?

BFJ: No. I’m horrible with dates, anyways!

MT: The engine has been run, the powertrain is known. How competitive do you think it will be right out of the gate?

BFJ: We race to win. Period. Now, we’re going up against tough players and you know history would say it takes a few years. Well aware of all that. But we’re not showing up the first year as a learning experience. You know Chip [Ganassi] is going to come out of here, the first year, with a competitive car.

MT: How many teams are you going to run?

BFJ: Yeah. We’re going to do two here [LeMans] -- so two in the WEC [World Endurance Championship] and two in IMSA, the TUDOR Series. It’s going to be fun.

Raj Nair, Ford Group Vice President

MT: Bill Ford Jr. said Ford “races to win.” Whose butt is it if you don’t?

RJ: MINE! [Laughs].

MT: It’s not Dave's or Chip's? [Dave Pericak, head of Ford Peformance, Chip Ganassi head of Chip Ganassi Racing who will run the four-car team]

RJ: No, it’s mine. [Not laughing.]

MT: We know the powertrain has already been run in competition [in the TUDOR series] and the car has been tested in secret. How competitive will the car be?

RJ: Well, I mean, we race to win. And we started this project with the intent to race here so a lot of the work went into making sure we had an engine that had run for two series and will be sorted. And understanding what the GTE rules were going to be, and designing to those. So we think we’ve done our homework, but at the same time we know it’s an incredibly competitive field… a lot of competitive vehicles out there on the track, and competitors who have been here and running for quite a few years, whether it’s Ferrari, Porsche, Chevrolet, or Aston Martin. They’re all racing to win as well. That’s why we run the race.

MT: I heard you say you’ve driven this car.

RJ: I have.

MT: What is the Ford GT like to drive?

RJ: Well, I mean it’s shakedown right? So it’s fantastic [laughs]. A lot of times when you’re doing a car, that first out-of-the-box drive will give you an indication of how that program is going to go. And it was a very good out-of-the-box shakedown.

MT: Is there anything you can relate it to? Anything you’ve driven recently?

RJ: Well, I’ve driven a lot of prototypes when they first come out and relative to where our expectations are, I would say it exceeded our expectations.

Dave Pericak, Head of Ford Performance

MT: So we asked Bill Ford Jr., how competitive is it, and he said, “We Race to Win” and then we asked Raj, whose butt is it if you don’t win, and Raj said, “Mine.” And we said, are you sure it’s not Dave’s?

DP: And what did he say?

MT: Raj said, “No, it’s mine.” But what do you say?

DP: “Well, let’s just say we don’t plan to not win. But I think it’s mine. It’s my job to protect my boss! But let me tell you, we’re going to show up that day when they’re running all the race cars, and I hope everyone is ready to run.”

Ford GT Race Car© Provided by MotorTrend Ford GT Race Car MT: How directly are you involved?

DP: Oh, very directly.

MT: So can you confirm the team strategy?

DP: It’s four cars total, fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. We’re hoping that we get the invite to bring all four of them to Le Mans, two of them by default, because they run in the WEC, and then the two that run in IMSA as well. Because we’d like to show up with four cars.

MT: No driver announcements yet?

DP: No, but as Chip said, and he wasn’t joking, the interest in being a driver has been unbelievable. So we are in a very fortunate position in that I think we will have a few options in front of us.

MT: Now I’ve asked this at Bill, Raj, etc. Now that we’ve seen the race car, was this thing specifically designed, from the outset, to run here at Le Mans, next year, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Ford’s wins at Le Mans, before it was designed as a street car?

DP: Oh yes. I don’t know how they answered it, but this thing has been designed since day one knowing that it was going to get on the track; this very track. And we ended up putting a license plate on it for the road car. Honest. That is the honest truth. This thing is… there is so much I wish I could talk to you about right now, but I can’t. When we get through some more of the details, you are going to see what a game-changer this is. And how all of this was absolutely designed with Le Mans in mind.

MT: How about this car you’re showing. This one is not a runner is it?

DP: This one is absolutely a runner. This is our first one. It’s not 100% worked out, but this is absolutely a race car. Our very first one.

MT: When are we going to see this running? 24 Hours of Daytona?

DP: Yep. It will be out on the racetrack in six months. So we’ve got a long and a short summer -- depending on how you look at it. A lot of hours and not that much time to get there.

MT: When will driver announcements be made?

DP: I would assume driver announcements will be made in the latter part of the year, we’ve got a lot to work through to make sure we put the right team together. And our whole goal is to show up at Le Mans with the best team possible in all four cars. We’ve got a little bit of work to do.

Ford GT Race Car© Provided by MotorTrend Ford GT Race Car Mark Fields, Ford President and CEO

MT: Now Mark, I asked Bill, how competitive will this car be, and he said, “We race to win.” My question is, whose butt is it if you don’t?

MF: Yeah, we absolutely race to win.

MT: Whose butt is it if you don’t?

MF: [Laughs]

MT: I got an answer from Raj and Dave, but I’d like to know yours.

MF: Well, I guess ultimately I’m responsible for the operations of Ford, but you know I really like our head of global product development over here. [laughs, gesturing at Raj]. But listen, it’s our first year, so we’re going into this with our eyes wide open. At the same time, we’re going in racing to win. We’re not just coming here just to show up, just to check a box. Just look at our experience back in ’64, ’65. Who knows how it will turn out, but the wins we have already, with this engine, I think, are pretty impressive. So we’ll come, we’ll be competitive, we’ll race to win -- and see where we end up.

MT: So that leads to the larger question based on something Raj just said about taking this project to the board for approval. Why do this? What does this do for the brand?

MF: We took it to the board for a number of reasons. With any company, your brand is very precious and you always need to be true to it, nurture it. With this vehicle, it provides a halo for all of the innovation that Raj and his team have been working on for the last decade or so, that we put in a lot of our vehicles -- the light-weighting, the EcoBoost, the aerodynamics, and so part of the value of this vehicle is to provide that brand building. There is intangible benefit, right? These days, the most challenging thing is making sure your employees are passionate about the business and have a lot of pride in where they work. This provides that. And it provides that link to our past. We used the term heritage today. Heritage is just history with a future. And that means a lot to our employees and that means a lot to Ford racing fans around the world. So we did it for them. Plus we did it to get more street cred to a lot of the technology that we’re bringing here. And finally, we wanted to give Raj and his engineers, something to get really jazzed about!

MT: Back to you Raj. So historic win aside, why go to the trouble of building an all-new car; why not come to the Le Mans GTE class with a Mustang? Chevrolet is there with the Corvette, and yes it’s a slightly different vehicle, but it’s front engine, rear-drive…

RJ: Well, first we have such a history with the GT, right? So it’s really hard to go to Le Mans and not come here with a GT. Some aspects of the Mustang -- it’s a very big vehicle. Aspects of what it would be racing against -- there are absolutely places where it’s appropriate to race against Camaro and others in certain series. But here at Le Mans where you have the Ferraris and Porsches of the world -- that type of exotic cars on the track -- you need something that’s gonna go head to head. And we have something here…

Ford GT Race Car© Provided by MotorTrend Ford GT Race Car
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