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Up Close with The Ford GT LM Race Cars

by Paul Strauss
Up Close with The Ford GT LM Race Carszoom in

Last year, I spent some time getting to know the drop-dead gorgeous 2017 Ford GT. You know, the $400,000 carbon fiber and aluminum sportscar that a handful of very wealthy (and very lucky) buyers will soon have the privilege of purchasing. This past weekend, Ford Performance invited me to get up close and personal with two of the Chip Ganassi Racing GT LM race cars, as they competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge at Road America in Wisconsin.

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All I can say is that it was well worth the 140+ mile drive each way, and 14+ miles I put on my shoe treads throughout the weekend to get to see these amazing mechanical marvels in the flesh as the zipped around the famed 4.048 mile road course.

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While the body of the GT LM (aka LM GTE) race car might look quite a bit like the production Ford GT, these are highly customized vehicles, with a number of specialized race components. After all, it takes some very impressive engineering to take first place at 24 Hours of Le Mans – in your first year of competition, no less.

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Rather than the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic headed to the production GT, the GT LM has a 6-speed sequential gearbox with a racing clutch. There’s also safety equipment like a steel roll cage, quick-release steering wheel, carbon fiber racing seat, six-point harness, and a fire extinguisher system.  The racing GT also has a nifty built-in pneumatic jack system, an FIA spec fuel system, and a dry sump oil system to keep oil from sloshing around in the corners.

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Interestingly, the racing GT’s twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 has been spec’d to generate somewhere around 500 hp, which is about 100 horses lower than the production car’s projected specs, but there’s no world in which the Ford GT LM would ever be considered slow. One can only hope the exhaust note of the production car is similar to that of the race car. There were dozens of cars on track, ranging from crazy prototypes to more down to earth GT Daytonas, and honestly, the Ford had the sweetest (and most identifiable) baritone of the bunch. That said, the GT LM directs its exhaust out the sides of the car, and the production GT has those dramatic rear exhaust ports, so who knows.

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The race cars are also fitted with a number of aerodynamic enhancements, not the least of which are the giant adjustable carbon fiber wing out back, a wide, low to the ground splitter, and a open air intake up front. Those headlights and yellow lenses are FIA spec, and frankly don’t look nearly as cool as the headlights on the production car.

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22 full-time team members (and sometimes more) work tirelessly to ensure that the GTs are ready to race and maintained throughout each competition. Every circuit requires precise tuning of the cars to meet the needs of both the track and drivers, and there are typically different setups for both qualifying and racing, since the first is all about speed and lap time, and the latter requires endurance for the full race.

It’s an impressively dynamic ballet of man and machine traveling from track to track, and the team takes every spare minute between competitions prepping for the next qualifier or race.

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Check out the photo gallery below for a close-up look at these Ford GTs being prepped for qualifying and racing. See if you can spot all the differences from the production car. In case you’re wondering what that number is on the side of the cars, it displays the vehicle’s current position in its class.

Now that I’ve seen both the Ford GT and its racing cousin in person, it just makes me even more envious of those who will manage to get their hands on one of the production cars. Hopefully, someday I’ll get to take one for a spin – if only for an afternoon at Road America.

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