The new Ford GT is perhaps best known for winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in its first year. It was built for Le Mans and it did well there. But it’s less than ideal for some of the other circuits on its schedule, and its American team must make the car work after being slowed down to be competitive with other teams—teams that have caught onto its ways.
Ford runs two cars in the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s GT Le Mans class, which will race this weekend at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. I caught up with the team that lit headlines on fire at Le Mans ahead of this weekend’s race to ask what’s next for the squad.
Circuit of the Americas features a nice mix of curves—both flowing and tight—plus one big, long straight that this team is not looking forward to.
No. 67 Ford GT driver Ryan Briscoe explained to us that the car was built with low drag in mind, but has some of the lowest horsepower in the WTSC’s GTLM-class field.
Low drag doesn’t solve every problem, though. Several of the Ford GT’s drivers were worried about how their lack of horsepower will affect them on COTA—a track built for lightning-quick Formula One cars.
“We’re just so low on power,” Briscoe said. “We can’t accelerate. Our advantage is going to be probably through the long corners, the fast corners, and our weakness would be on the straights.”
Additionally, to balance the speed the Ford GT showed at the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen right after Le Mans, IMSA (the WTSC’s sanctioning body) added more weight to the car.
No. 66 driver Joey Hand didn’t believe that winning Le Mans factored into IMSA’s decision since there were no changes made between Le Mans and the car’s next American race at Watkins Glen. However, rocketing away with a win at the Glen forced IMSA to do something.
Briscoe noted that only that one of the team’s wins in WTSC has been on outright pace:
“We haven’t won in a while, and we’ve only won one race this year on speed,” he said. “We won three races and two of them were on strategy. The only race we won on pure performance was Watkins Glen, and we got heavily slowed down after that race.”
In other words, perhaps the Ford GT isn’t the dominant car everyone thought it was in context of a full-season run.
According to Briscoe, they are the heaviest car in the GTLM class now. The combination of less horsepower and more weight has made the Ford GT slower to accelerate, and thus, tougher to drive than its competitors.
For the WTSC team, though, COTA will be the second time they’ve had two extra cars’ worth of support in the paddock. That other time was Le Mans, when the two Americans cars joined their World Endurance Championship twins that are based in the United Kingdom for a four-car 24 Hours of Le Mans effort.
At Le Mans, Ford surprised everyone with the pace of the new GTs—even themselves. Briscoe and No. 67 Ford GT driver Richard Westbrook both explained that they hadn’t gone on a full-speed run with low fuel and soft tires until qualifying, when cool temperatures suited the car’s turbos and they finally found what the car’s true pace was.
It came as such a surprise to everyone that even we said they had to have been sandbagging, but the Ford drivers swear it was just the difference made by their qualifying setup.
Having all four Ford GT teams from the American and British teams in one place, however, was a tremendous help in its own right.
This weekend, too, should be mutually beneficial again. Briscoe told us that the two teams exchange information on the cars all throughout the year, but being able to help each other out at the same weekend is a massive bonus.
In fact, Marino Franchitti, who races the No. 67 Ford GT in the World Endurance Championship, told Jalopnik at a later press event that his team will be watching the strategy the WTSC team uses since they’re racing the same track later in the day. He compared it to having four times the information available as you normally would from racing a car.
They’re two separate teams in two separate series, but essentially operate as one. “Without that crossover, we wouldn’t have won Le Mans this year,” Franchitti said.
Right now, the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R is neck and neck with the No. 67 Ford GT in the championship standings.
Even the balance of performance situation that has slowed the Ford down considerably feels like it has its ups and downs. Westbrook explained that the competitiveness of their car seems to vary widely from track to track:
We’ve really seen this year that you can’t look at just one track. You’ve got to look at the overall picture, because one weekend, Corvette is struggling at Road America, and then we come back to the next race at VIR, and they’re the strongest car. It really does seem track-dependent at the moment.
They’re all new this year, so they’re still learning where the car will shine, and where it won’t. That was much of the reason why they showed up two weeks ahead of this weekend’s race at COTA to test and shake the car down.
It’s their first time racing here, and showing up that close to the race weekend ensures that they’ll get to see the track in its current state, growing bumps and all.
With the two Fords sitting in second and seventh place in the championship, it’s hard for me to buy the Internet’s favorite argument that IMSA’s trying hard to make a first-season Ford GT championship happen. The team just rides out all the season’s ups and downs as usual—trying their best to win on strategy where they don’t have speed.
While they were out testing, we caught a few shots of the car up close and in action. Enjoy.
Photos credit: Kurt Bradley