Ford GT: A Peek Behind the Developmental Curtain

DEARBORN, Mich. – Back when it was unveiled in January, the Ford Motor Company hinted at the dense technology and grand ambition that underpinned its next generation GT supercar but the reveal was light on details with many questions left unanswered.

The project is now far along enough, however, that the company is now beginning to put more meat on the bone for public consumption, fleshing out a car that has inspired much public fascination over the past four months despite a general lack of specifics.

Given how far away from production it remains (late 2016) some things (price, Canadian allotment, etc.) aren’t going to be known for a while yet, but Ford has at least given the public more to chew on with regard to the nature of the car itself after allowing a select group of journalists to get a peek behind its gestational curtain at the company’s Product Development Center in Dearborn in mid-May.

And the experience proved to be quite illuminating.

20150512_113129 Without question, the GT is going to be one of the most technologically complex vehicles on the road once it arrives. After seeing the sort of work being done to bring it to life, I think the best way to view it is as a rolling test bed – for technology, performance, design, materials, ergonomics, software integration, you name it. The ripples of its development will likely spread far and wide.

Its gestation has the feel of a giant science project that’s being propelled by lots of deep thinking and a ‘what if we tried this?’ approach to innovation.

So what did we learn?

Well, for starters the GT will have an incredibly complex array of computerization. It will feature more than 25 microprocessors (Body Control, Powertrain Control and Transaxle Control modules among them) that will analyze information gathered by more than 50 on-board sensors to crunch huge volumes of operational data at a rate of about 300 MB per second. As a point of comparison, the previous generation GT (2005-06) had just one electronic system (anti-lock brakes).

In all these systems will represent more than 10 million lines of computer code, with over a million coming from the 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 engine alone.

Speaking of the powerplant, it is projected to generate north of 600 horsepower and will feature bespoke turbochargers, cams, pistons and connecting rods, all of which have been developed in-house.

GT-Design_4382_HRDeveloping this unit has been in the works since early 2014, via simulators and on track in the IMSA-sanctioned Tudor United SportsCar Championship, where the Daytona Prototype of Chip Ganassi Racing won prestigious endurance races at Sebring (2014) and Daytona (2015) using a racing variant of the engine.

Given its standing as the halo car in the newly minted Ford Performance division of the company, the emphasis on track capability permeates the GT’s development. It is meant to be driven fast with the driver being aided by technology but not overwhelmed by it. Keeping the driver focused on the task at hand is paramount.

A few examples of note really crystallize this philosophy.

First, driving modes. The GT will have four driving modes: normal, sport, track and wet. All will be governed by a sprocket-like knob located on the left-hand side of the F1-like steering wheel within easy reach of the driver’s thumb.

There are no other switches or knobs to go searching for on the centre console or elsewhere on the wheel or the dash. One switch will take calibrate everything from engine throttle to traction control, suspension damping, active aerodynamics and ride height.

As Ford Performance Chief Engineer Jamal Hameedi noted during the briefing, when you’re travelling north of 200 km/h on a race track, the last thing you need is distraction.

Ford-GT-sketch-Nicoghosian-01Another example is the layout of the instrument cluster which focuses on the basics (speed, rpm, fuel level, gear position, among others, in a bright digital display) and deletes just about everything else. Like the driving mode selector, the objective here is to deliver vital information to the driver with minimal distraction. Putting such information within the peripheral view of the driver is intentional, Hameedi told me.

Even the active aerodynamics being introduced to the GT in the form of a rear wing element that actuates based on driving mode is governed by simplicity. It has three positions: normal, deployed and air brake.

When asked if fine-tuning the wing would be possible, Hameedi suggested it was unlikely. Such variability could not only upset the car’s downforce level (not a good thing at speed), but it sounded to these ears that doing so would also add needless complexity.

Guiding the development of the GT’s construction is the use of weight-reducing (lightweighting, in Ford parlance) materials that are both incredibly strong and durable, hence lots of carbon fibre. The body panels and passenger cell will be made of the composite, while the front and rear subframes will be aluminum.

On the design end, the GT’s glorious, low-slung landrocket form is the result of a 14-month iterative process that features a myriad of interesting shapes, textures and contours. Nods to the GT’s impressive history (both on track and off) are visible in fine details and it cuts a familiar silhouette, but that’s really where the similarities end.

GT-Design_7The passenger compartment also provides interesting insights. A fixed seating position (the pedal box and steering column are adjustable) not only saves weight (no steel tracks), but it keeps the cabin small. The small infotainment screen will be clustered by just a handful of knobs, while the centre console will have a push button start and a rotary gear selector – and that’s about it. Again, technology (and its attendant clutter) kept mostly in the background for the benefit of the driver.

In all, the Ford GT is now starting to feel less like a flight of fancy and more like a real car. What cannot yet be answered, however, is what its arrival will mean, not only for Ford, but for the industry at large.

For that, we’ll just have to stay tuned.

Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company

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