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Ford GT’s Daytona debut overshadowed by reliability issues and bad luck

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The Ford GTs run at Daytona. Image courtesy Ford Motor Company.

Developing a competitive new racing car, based upon a production car, is an arduous task. Doing so in a little over one year borders on the impossible, which is why no one should be disappointed at the 31st and 40th place overall finish of the Ford GTs – both experienced reliability issues at last weekend’s 24 Hours of Daytona.

Intermittent heavy rain marred qualifying for this year’s 24-hour race, perhaps masking the performance potential of Ford’s latest endurance racer. Both Ford Chip Ganassi Racing cars took just a single lap, turning times fast enough to put them in ninth and 10th position in the GTLM class grid. On race day, both Ford GTs ran strong on the opening laps, but after just 16 minutes of competition, the number 67 car was forced to pit with gearbox issues.

The same car would later experience a pair of shredded rear tires caused by a damaged rear diffuser, before calling for a gearbox change on Sunday morning. As if these issues weren’t frustrating enough, that car later returned to pit lane, and ultimately the garage, to address electrical gremlins.

The second team car, number 66, ran in the GTLM class lead early in the event, later settling in to third place. A routine pit stop led to a damaged brake line, requiring repair, and shortly after returning to the track, the car experienced a loss of engine power. Later, car 66 would head back to the garage with the same transmission issue that impacted the other Ganassi Racing Ford GT.

Though Ford was predicting a class win in the buildup to the race, the ultimate outcome was little more than a teachable moment. Still, Raj Nair, Ford’s executive vice president of global development, remained upbeat about the Ford GT’s debut performance, saying,

Aspects of our total testing program had gone very well, so I think we’re a little surprised at some of the reliability issues we have had. As we get into diagnosing the issues, some of them are very specific to what is going on in a race…The good thing about it all, and the thing we are pleased about, is the car is showing some pace, it is showing some opportunity, and overall we are happy that we have a fast car and we need to work on reliability. That’s a lot better than having a slow car that’s reliable, but you don’t know how to get speed out of it.

The same sentiment was echoed by Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance, who summed it up with,

I don’t think anyone should think of this race as a failure. It’s not the Cinderella story we were hoping for, but this is racing. I’d rather work the bugs out now, then later. We will re-group, we will fix it, and then we will go out at Sebring and show what we can do.

The ultimate prize for Ford, and the Ford GT, remains a (class) victory at Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of its 1-2-3 podium sweep in 1966. It’s worth noting that the original GT40 had its share of teething pains, too, delivering DNFs in its first three race outings. Testing and development has improved dramatically in the last five decades, but with just over four months remaining before the green flag waves at Le Mans, Ford certainly faces an uphill battle.