Mid-engine supercars seem to get churned out by the baker’s dozen in Europe, but until Chevrolet gets around to producing a mid-engine Corvette, America has just one: the Ford GT. The first production-spec 2017 Ford GT goes off the factory line within the next four weeks, and as the Blue Oval makes the final tweaks to its reborn supercar, Ford invited us out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to snag shotgun and go for a ride.
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—fittingly nicknamed “Stormtrooper” by Ford engineers—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, weren’t willing to let us get behind the wheel of the GT. But they did offer a guided tour of the 2017 GT’s 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 cabin’s teardrop shape and the GT’s flying buttresses, which hide the piping for the 3.5-liter V-6, the intercoolers, and the twin turbochargers mounted in the rear sponsons. The Ford GT’s Formula 1-style keel is less obvious, but it’s apparent when you look at it from a rear three-quarters angle and notice the asphalt visible through the channel behind the front wheels.
The Ford GT’s active aero works hand in hand with the GT’s five drive modes (Normal, Wet, Sport, Track, and V-Max), which are accessed via a control knob on the upper left side of the Ford’s F1-inspired steering . There are visual clues you’re in Normal mode, which include a unique instrument cluster display, the GT’s suspension sitting at 4.7 inches of ground clearance, and the rear spoiler deploying at 90 mph and coming back down at 81 mph. Normal mode has an additional Comfort suspension setting, which is activated by a button on the center 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—by softening throttle and transmission mapping for inclement weather.
Open the scissor door, duck, and slip into the cabin. It’s a pretty welcoming place, even if the cockpit is rather snug with Hand and I nearly touching shoulders. The seats are fixed into the carbon-fiber tub, so legroom is a bit precious for this 6-foot-1 scribe, but at least the seat backs recline a bit to up the comfort. (The driver’s seat is fixed, too; the pedals and steering wheel adjust to fit the driver.) The cabin has a very McLaren-like vibe to it with high-quality 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 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 stab of the throttle, we’re off. The EcoBoost V-6 emits a guttural growl unlike any V-6 I’ve ever heard. It pins me back in my seat as we rocket out of pit lane. Those moaning about the lack of a V-8 option ought to zip it for the time being. From the passenger seat, its thrust level feels off the charts. There’s no turbo lag that I can pick up; the engine pulls strongly through its rev range.