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here’s a long-standing tradi-

tion along the Eastern coast of

Central Florida each year in

January. That’s the time that road rac-

ers from across the globe trek to Day-

tona to fire up the racing season at the

“Rolex 24.” This race would be the first

event at the track following a three-

year, four hundred million dollar ren-

ovation (they called it “Daytona

Rising”) of the facility.

Yes, Virginia, there


a Santa

Claus, and Ford


going back to Le-

Mans with the Ford GT! Daytona

would be the very first race for the all-

new 2017 Ford GT, and Ford GT own-

ers and enthusiasts materialized from

all over the world to watch the first

outing of their new darling under real

racing conditions. A few weeks before

the “Rolex 24” is an event at Daytona

they call the “Roar Before the 24” – a

three day testing session where cars

that plan to run the “Rolex 24” get

time to do some serious on-track test-


Chip Ganassi Racing brought two

new Ford GTs for the GTLM class and

two of their old Riley Daytona Proto-

type cars (Ford powered) for the Pro-

totype class. The engine in these

prototypes won the prototype class in

the 2015 “Rolex 24” and it is essen-

tially the same twin-turbo 3.5L V6

that powers Ford’s swoopy new Ford


Although conditions were wet and

miserable for most of the “Roar’s” test

sessions, the new Ford GTs proved

themselves to be incredibly fast and

looked to be pretty reliable. Although

a number of Ford GT enthusiasts have

complained about the new model

sporting a turbo-charged V6 instead of

a V8, many of them were impressed

with the sound of the new cars in race

trim at speed on the track. Not quite

as thunderous as those plastic cars out

of Bowling Green, but nowhere near

as wimpy and annoying as the sewing

machine whine of those tiny little V-

12s from across the pond.

Ford Motor Company really rolled

out the red carpet for Ford GT owners

at Daytona. A special parking corral

for Ford GTs was set up just outside

the track, along with a huge hospital-

ity tent where meals were served and

tech talks were provided for registered

participants. The package included

race tickets, corral parking, pit access,

and infield grandstand seating. At var-

ious times Ford execs and race-car

drivers would give talks about the

Ford GTs and their preparation for the

race in the hospitality tent. I only

caught one of these sessions, where

Dave Pericak (Director, Ford Perform-

ance) and Raj Nair (Executive Vice

President, Global Product Develop-

ment) talked about the cars and their

dreams of going back to LeMans later

in the year. Enthusiasts in the room

kept trying to get them to reveal some

secrets about the new car and other

upcoming offerings from Ford. “


colors will the new GT be offered in?

or, “

When will you make a new Light-

ning truck?

” Ford execs stuck to the

corporate playbook: “

Sorry, we cannot

discuss future product plans.

” You re-

ally couldn’t really expect them to spill

the beans, especially with Henry Ford

III sitting in the audience, could you?

I thought it was quite prophetic

when Raj Nair said, “

You know, before

this weekend is over, I’m SURE I’m

going to hear at least one of my engi-

neers say, ‘Gee, it never did THAT in


” Everyone laughed but, un-


Spring 2016 36

When a company like Ford debuts a new long-distance

endurance racer they do not keep it a secret.


Text and Photos by Jeff Burgy