Ford’s announcement that it will return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016 with the all-new EcoBoost-powered Ford GT connected the dots in the manufacturer’s recent initiatives in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
That’s because the same twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that’s been developed for Prototype competition will not only be used in the new Ford GT production car, but also in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates’s factory Ford GT race cars next year. The all-new Ford factory program operated by Ganassi will compete in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with a two-team, four-car effort.
“Now the whole story comes out,” said Scott Pruett, Chip Ganassi Racing driver and Ford Performance ambassador. “A big component has been the fact that we’ve been running the exact same engine (in the TUDOR Championship) that we’ll be racing in the Ford GT.”
For the last two-and-a-half years, Ford Performance and its production car counterparts have been working on the top-secret project that will bring the famed brand back to the French endurance classic on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first overall victory.
Ford first shocked the industry by unveiling its new-generation Ford GT supercar at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, with confirmation that it will race a production-based version of the car coming just two weeks ago in Le Mans.
The Roush Yates-built powerplant, which shares the majority of its parts with the production engine used in the Ford Taurus SHO, made its race debut in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, before claiming its first victory just two months later in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
“When we started the DP program with the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6, at the time it was a change, because our group had been almost primarily focused on NASCAR before that, so it was really a lot of fun,” said Dave Simon, Ford Performance race engine engineer.
“But at the start of the program, what we didn’t fully grasp was how close we’d be able to work with the production engineers who developed the production 3.5-liter engine. It opened a whole new opportunity to collaborate with the guys who had designed and modeled and tested the original production engine.
“Then, as we were developing the higher horsepower engine for (the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost prototype), that went directly into the Ford GT. We were able to give back what we had learned in racing to the production side, and that was turning the race engine into an engine for the Ford GT production car.
“Then, along with that, we were planning on going back to Le Mans to race with the Ford GT, too.”
Development of the EcoBoost V6 hasn’t stood still, especially now with its multiple applications for the road and the race track.
“You can’t ignore what we’re doing,” said Simon. “You think about it every day, but at the same time it doesn’t change your development process.
“We don’t work any harder to develop this engine because it’s going to Le Mans than we do to develop an engine going to any other track. We’re in it to win, no matter where we’re going.
“Our process has been the same, but at the same time you know where we’re going and we know the stakes, so we hope that we’re doing everything we need to do to make sure the engines will finish the race and at the same time be competitive.”
For Simon, who’s been involved with Ford’s motorsports programs for the last 13 years, the opportunity to take the EcoBoost technology to Le Mans will be an unforgettable experience.
“Anyone who’s a race fan knows there are those few gems of races, the crown jewels of motorsports,” he said. “Le Mans may be sitting at the top.
“We’ve had a lot of success with winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Sebring, which are huge emotional moments because it takes a lot to win those events.
“But personally, to go back to Le Mans, it’s the most exciting thing I’ve probably ever done or will do in my motorsports career. Most of us here at Ford and at Roush Yates will tell you the same thing.”
In the meantime, the hard work continues in Ford’s TUDOR Championship Prototype, as Pruett and Joey Hand and the entire Ford Performance and Chip Ganassi Racing teams seek further gains with the EcoBoost platform heading into next year’s debut with the Ford GT.
“We’re continually making upgrades on a number of different levels every race,” Pruett said. “It’s won the Rolex 24 and Sebring within a 12-month period. It says a lot about the fact that we’re starting with a proven engine that we know is going to go the distance.”