This week, the Ford GT engineering team is celebrating its first anniversary from when the program was officially kicked off in May 2002. The team didn't buy a cake or schedule a celebration lunch, instead they are hard at work putting the final touches on Jobs 1-2-3, the first production cars that will make their worldwide introduction at Ford's Centennial celebration in June.
The cars will soon be painted, raising an interesting debate about what colors should be chosen. Some feel the cars should be painted the colors of the three 1966 Ford GT-40s (black, red and gold) that swept the LeMans podium. Others feel the cars should be painted in colors that helped make them famous - Gulf Blue, yellow and red.
"We've decided on the colors for the first three Ford GTs, we think everybody will understand the decision when they see them in June," says John Coletti, director of SVT programs. "It's amazing that we'll show the first cars just a little more than a year after we started the program - that's a real tribute to the people, processes and technology behind the cars."
When Fred Goodnow looked at the curvy door panels of the Ford GT concept car, he had doubts if a window could slide the length of the panel without bumping into another internal part. As he later found out, he wasn't the only doubter. What makes Goodnow and the Ford GT team unique is they turn doubts into challenges, and challenges into unique solutions.
"We saw on the computer-aided design models that the window could retract fully … barely," says Goodnow, Ford GT design engineering and launch manager. "This required a process of teamwork since many people had to compromise for the window to work properly. At first, we looked at real crazy ideas like two-piece windows (what were these??) that were innovative but didn't pass the supercar test. These windows have to work properly if you want to do it credibly."
After the designers sacrificed a little exterior styling and the ergonomics engineers compromised tiny amounts of interior space, the window slid freely through the door's passage. The next challenge was to build the door itself.
"I said, 'Let's build a one-piece door inner panel' since this is such a uniquely styled door that cuts into the roof like the original race cars" says Goodnow. "Many people told us it couldn't be done. The Ford GT team is all about turning a "can't" into an industry or company firsts."
Through extensive computer modeling, the team designed an industry-first, one-piece aluminum inner door panel manufactured using an innovative super plastic forming process. Together, the two panels form an elegant, strong and well-crafted door that captures the car's rich past while showing tomorrow's technologies.
"In the 60s, they needed unique door shapes so the drivers could jump into the cars at the beginning of LeMans races," says Goodnow. "Today, we promised we'd stay true to the original Ford GT-40 design so we had to make these unique doors. We could have cut corners but, instead, we came up with unique solutions to retain Ford GT heritage while showing it's a modern-day supercar."
The Ford GT's mid-engine configuration posed interesting challenges to the engineering team, not least of which was where to place the gas tank and how to maintain the unique design of the exterior fuel filler cap.
Many mid-engine cars have fuel tanks underneath and behind the passengers, or even further up front. But, Ford GT engineers sought a fuel system that would deliver maximum vehicle balance, fuel evaporation efficiency and safety.
The solution, a North American first "ship-in-a-bottle" plastic tank that is shaped long and narrow to fit in the tunnel that's normally reserved for the transmission. The plastic tank is blow molded around a metal tube that houses the mechanics of the fuel system, including the fuel pumps.
The unique, fuel-efficient system meets new LEVII (low-emission vehicle) regulations in California with a lightweight structure and single evaporative source - compared to six or seven sources normally created by the manufacturing process.
Of course, the fuel system helps performance too, feeding the 500-horsepower 5.4-liter supercharged engine with two electric-powered turbine pumps and three non-powered jet pumps.
“The innovative gas tank is a real leap forward in technology, it’s increasing vehicle performance through balance and efficient fuel delivery,” says Curt Hill, Ford GT powertrain supervisor. “People remember the 1960’s GT-40s for racing, I think they’ll remember the new Ford GT for performance and advanced technology.”
This unique gas tank technology is signaled by a unique aluminum-clad fuel filler door that covers another unique technology, the first capless fuel filler in North America. Once the aluminum gas door is opened, customers simply have to insert gas pump nozzles into the filler area without removing a gas cap.
A unique direct fill system covers the filler pipe to keep out unwanted particles. A patented positive seal insert provides a fuel-tight seal, electro-static ground path, and vacuum and pressure relief as required by the system. Ultimately, this technology allowed designers to create the unique fuel filler door and, in the future, will allow customers to fill up the tank without touching gas caps that often get wet from fuel overflow.
The difference between the concept and prototype Ford GTs becomes very evident on the track - the prototype was recently testing at the Florida Evaluation Center in Naples, FL near the conclusion of winter testing. With the arrival of spring, engineers are now primarily testing the cars at Ford's Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, MI.
"I've worked on some cool stuff during my career, but now I'm finally working on the ultimate American sports car, a car that can take on the world's best … the Ford GT," says Hannemann. "After working on this car for a year, I've come to realize the Viper is in a different class. The Ford GT is a real supercar, that's why we're going after Ferrari ... again"
"We only have one competitive car in our fleet, that's the Ferrari 360 Modena. When people think about the Ford GT, they picture Ford against Ferrari. We're giving people a chance to bring the 1960's battles of LeMans to the streets of today."
Not only is Hannemann's perspective different now, the engineering tools have changed drastically.
"In the 1980s, we were drawing cars on engineering boards," says Hannemann. "The Ford GT has been designed, engineered and tested almost completely in the digital world. For limited-edition vehicles where you only can build a few prototypes, the first production cars back in the 80's were probably rougher than the Ford GT prototypes we're building right now"
Hannemann's passion for supercars is matched by his track addiction. A three-time SCCA World Challenge champion, he began racing in 1979 driving a Fiat X-1/9 in Southern California autocross events. Most recently, he competed in an October 2000 Petit LeMans race. He recalls several highlights:
"In 1985, I beat Tommy Kendall to win the SCCA endurance series," he says. "Of course, he was only 18 at the time. Actually, I've had many highlights but I have to say I feel very fortunate to have met so many great people like Carroll Shelby who have helped me grow personally and professionally."
His extensive racing career was, for the most part, put on hold in 1999 with the arrival of triplets.
"I guess it was destiny to work on the Ford GT after my wife delivered triplets," Hannemann says, looking forward to delivering the first three production Ford GTs, and getting back on the track soon. "I guess if someone started a Ford GT race team and asked me to drive, I'd have to consider it. My racing resume doesn't end in 2000, it just says 'to be continued…'"