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Exclusive: Inside the Ganassi Racing Ford GT
How The Ford GT Goes From Daytona Disaster To Sebring-Ready
Ford has entered four GTs in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for 2016, and they’ll run under the numbers 66, 67, 68, and 69. Do you know why the Ford GTs have those particular competition numbers? It’s because 1966 was the first year Ford won Le Mans with the GT40. Then they won again in 1967. And, you guessed it, in 1968 and 1969 as well. There’s some pretty cool history behind Ford’s return to sportscar racing, but a lot of pressure there as well. The first race, the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona, wasn’t awesome for the Ford GT, but there are still three big events to go before the Fords head for France.
Next up is the 12 of Sebring, and we stopped by the Ganassi Racing headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, to see how the Ford team was preparing for Florida. Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) has been preparing for the Ford GT since long before any of us knew Ford Motor Company was working on one, let along planning to race it at Le Mans.
“We switched to Ford engines in our [Daytona] Prototype (DP) cars at the beginning of the 2014 season,” said Mike O’Gara, Ganassi’s team manager. “Not all of us were privy to all the information about the GT car, but we knew that the engine switch was part of something bigger that was going to be coming along, so we kinda used our prototype cars as a testbed for the EcoBoost engine to get all of that sorted out.”
When the Ford GT racing program was announced—a complicated multi-car effort involving Multimatic in Canada and England, Roush Yates in North Carolina, Ford in Michigan and of course, CGR in Indy, Ganassi already had people in place to crew the cars. Some of the crew came from the IndyCar or DP teams, while others came on board with experience in sportscar competition and IMSA’s GT Le Mans class (GTLM)—the production-based class in which the Ford GT is racing. Not only did the crew members need to be exceptional mechanics and engineers, but they also had to be comfortable with the very bright media spotlight aimed at every move the new car makes. “In a Prototype car, nobody pays any attention until you start winning. Here we had an audience from the start,” O’Gara says. “Our crew knows the goal. They know this isn’t a reality show. It’s just our job.”
Each Ford GT has a dozen crew members assigned to it, with duties ranging from calculating fuel usage to manning a fire bottle. Most have multiple things on their to-do lists; someone who works as a fabricator at the shop might be on airjack duty at the track. While we were at Ganassi, everyone was hard at work on assembly in preparation for Sebring. “People think the cars just sit around between races,” O’Gara told us. “They forget that there’s transport time, and then the cars get torn apart, parts checked, replaced, rebuilt.” An IndyCar takes about two days to be ready for the next race, but a GT car turnaround is almost a week. “It takes a full day just to take it all apart.”
Some of the slow-down is caused by the complex bodywork. All the bolt-on aero means there’s that much more to remove before you can get to the engine and other hard parts. There’s also a spaghetti dinner of wiring in the car. Engine and transmission controllers, radios, video recorders, data recorders for Ganassi, data recorders for IMSA, rear cameras, radar, it’s like the back room of an abandoned Radio Shack in there. “It’s changed how we think about the way we replace parts,” says O’Gara. There’s not a lot they can change in the components due to the rules, but there are still advantages to designing clever tools or finding more efficient fasteners. Look closely at the edges of the carbon fiber bodywork and you’ll see molded ridges and corresponding insets to help index the pieces as they are assembled. Seeing the cars completely stripped down is a rare opportunity, so let’s do a virtual walk around in the photos below.
The Ganassi shop in Indy houses the two American Ford GT cars along with the Daytona Prototype and three IndyCar teams. The European Ford GTs For World Endurance Championship (WEC) are run by Multimatic’s shop in England.
The bodywork and tub of the GT are carbon fiber, with a honeycomb aluminum front and rear subframe.
The engine is a twin-turbo 3.5L Ford V6. It shares block, crank, cam, and cylinder heads with the Daytona Prototype EcoBoost, but has a unique intake, exhaust, and mounting architecture. When Ganassi first tested the new GT racecars, it used a DP engine to power the R&D car.
Garrett turbos exit straight out the sides of the car. A large carbon duct brings air in from a NACA on the side to cool the rear brakes.
Sophisticated materials are used in the GT’s construction like carbon fiber, Kevlar, and wood? That’s no Home Depot piece of plywood, it’s a resin-infused wood composite called Jabroc. It’s used as a skidplate and mounting point for aero elements because it has better abrasion resistance than carbon fiber, and it’s cheaper. Speaking of abrasion resistance, the yellow material lining the carbon wheel tubs is a Kevlar blend. While carbon is very strong, it can be sanded or splintered by any sort of grinding motion. Kevlar helps protect against wear and keep any damaged carbon from becoming shrapnel.
Smaller NACA ducts on the GT’s sail panel can be used to vent to any component that needs a breeze. As of this writing, the right side one is a general vent, while the left side is ducted to cool the alternator, which runs off the gearbox.
Fueling the GT is a two-person job, as one crewmember gasses it on one side while the tank is vented from the other side. The internals of the tank can be swapped so either side of the car can be the fueling side depending on the racetrack’s pit orientation. The arrow is pointing to the door handle, which other than being made of carbon fiber, is no more high-tech than the latch on a Ford Falcon.
How do you get the data out? That’s a download port for the onboard recorder. Below it is the beacon for the lap timer.
That thing that looks like a thermos? It’s a thermos. Only it’s plumbed to the steering wheel and a tube in the driver’s helmet. The reddy-orange tubing you see at the top of the photo brings in fresh air to the cockpit. There’s a second black tube that brings in air conditioning. In the footwell of the passenger side is a Braille lithium-ion battery. All the rest of the boxes along the floor control telemetry, communication with the caution light, the air shifter for the gearbox, the lighted number panel on the side of the car and the engine.
“Are there rules governing how many tear-offs you can use?” we asked crew chief Tyler Rees. “Not in IMSA, but possibly at Le Mans,” he answered and went on to say that part of the preparation for Le Mans will include all the team having to learn the nitty-gritty of pit lane and garage rules. We suggested flash cards.
Without the heavily ducted radiator and condenser in place, the front of the GT is a lonely place. You can see the steering rack and the high-mounted anti-rollbar. Steering is electronically assisted. The line running across the rail is the connection for the air jack, and the plumbing running back through the car is the radiator intake. Intercooler gets mounted in the rear.
All around the main bay of the Ganassi shop are smaller workshops dedicated to specific fabrication tasks. In the machine shop, they can make everything from brackets to toolbox rollers. “We like to keep as much as possible in-house,” says O’Gara. “Especially here in Indy. It’s not that we don’t trust an outside machinist, but maybe some delivery comes in while they have your blueprints out, or someone spots a part waiting for pick-up on a shelf. We want to keep any advantage we can for as long as we can, even if that’s only one race.”
The Daytona Prototype car sits ready to go to Sebring. Behind it is the window to the parts room. Guarantee it’s better stocked than your local Auto Zone.
The bulk of the GT’s carbon fiber is made by Multimatic in Canada, but repairs and strengthening ribs can be made in the paint and composites room at Ganassi. The Ford GTs are painted, although the shop also has the ability to print and wrap cars.
Ganassi recently consolidated some smaller shops into its main facility. The Ford GT bodywork is awaiting a more permanent home, but for now it’s being prepped in the loading bay where the race haulers live.
Another example of production cars outstripping racing rules in terms of technology is the wing on the Ford GT race car versus the street car. Active aero is not allowed in the GTLM class, so the street car’s self-adjusting smart wing is replaced by a larger fixed unit.
The rocketship exhaust of the production car is routed out the side on the race machine, leaving the bosses in the carbon as the perfect place for the rear view camera and radar spotter. Both feed to a screen in the cockpit, showing the driver where the competition is, and how fast it’s catching up—or hopefully, falling behind.
International Motor Sports Association races involve multiple different classes on track at the same time. Headlight color is used to distinguish between some of the faster and slower groups. Rather than deal with colored bulbs, the GT uses tinted headlight screens.
When rules change often regarding fuel tank capacity, it’s easier to take up some space in the existing tank rather than make a new one. While we were in the shop the team was figuring out how many little plastic spheres would be needed to use up the extra space in the tank, and if they could squeeze them down enough to get them inside.
Gearboxes, shocks, and brakes have their own set-up room. Once again, the street car is more sophisticated than the race car, where GTLM rules require steel brakes. The GT has 15-inch rotors on the front and 14-inch rotors on the rear. Six-piston and five-piston Brembo calipers clench carbon metallic pads the thickness of hamburgers against the discs. Endurance racing is hard on brakes, although O’Gara says he thinks they should be able to get through Sebring without a brake change.
The gearbox is a magnesium case made specifically for the Ford GT. The A/C compressor and the alternator are both driven off the spinning input shaft. We couldn’t take photos of the gears inside, but they are polished steel that looks more like jewelry than a car part. O’Gara says one of the major differences between the six-speed Xtrac in the DP car and the Ricardo in the GT car has to do with the gear sets.
“For the DP cars, Xtrac makes a list of gears for the six-speed sequential boxes. We have a whole host of ratios to choose from whereas in the GT we homologate gear sets, so you have a short-track gear set, a mid-speed gear set and a Le Mans gear set. So on most race weekends with the DP car we would be changing gears every session to try to optimize certain corners or get right to the rev limit but with the GT you pick a set of ratios and that’s what you run all weekend. Each manufacturer does that. Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari, they all have a set of gears that they run and they don’t change it throughout the weekend. It makes our lives easier because it’s less gears to stock, it’s less pressure on the engineers and it’s a cost-savings thing.”
The cause of the gearbox failure at Daytona turned out to be a small manufacturer change to how a single sensor was wired. O’Gara says they had it figured out by the end of the race, but there’s no going back in autoracing. Only forward, which the GT crew is more than ready to do.
Talking to the team as they prepped the cars it seems that the Ford Ganassi crew is eager to take to the track at Sebring, with the eventual goal being a golden anniversary win at Le Mans this summer. The full driver roster for Le Mans was announced just recently, with IndyCar pilot Scott Dixon and experienced Le Mans driver Sébastien Bourdais coming on board. The No. 66 Ford GT will be raced by German Stefan Mücke, Frenchman Olivier Pla and American Billy Johnson, while Scotsman Marino Franchitti—younger brother of Dario, and Brits Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell will run in the No. 67 Ford GT. The IMSA cars will take on their new numbers and our 66 will become the No. 68 Ford GT with American Joey Hand, German Dirk Müller and Frenchman Sébastien Bourdais behind the wheel. The 67 will become the No. 69 and New Zealander Scott Dixon will join Englishman Richard Westbrook and Australian Ryan Briscoe in that car.
Watch the Sebring race on Fox sports this weekend March 19th, 2016, and tune in here for photos and updates.