Ford executives, engineers, designers and managers have made thousands of decisions in creating the exciting new Ford GT that makes its competition debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
One of their first decisions was to work with Michelin as their exclusive technical partner for both the Ford GT race cars and production cars.
“We understand how important tires are, especially at Le Mans, and so in one of our very first meetings, we asked Ford about tires,” said Mike Hull, managing director, Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Ford said, ‘We have already chosen Michelin,’ and given their record at Le Mans we were very happy to hear that.”
“One of our first steps, in the fall of 2014, was to identify the Michelin engineer who would lead the development of both the race and street tires,” said Chris Baker, director of Motorsport, Michelin North America.
“As we have learned with other sports car programs involving our OE partners, we clearly recognized the benefit of having the same engineer leading both the street-car and race-car programs. This greatly enables our ‘track2street’ approach to racing.”
Michelin also dispatched a top young American engineer to its European technical center to begin work on tire simulations and data acquisition plans.
This engineer has been deeply involved with Ford Performance and Multimatic, (technical partner of Ford Performance) in integrating Michelin’s proprietary tire simulation outputs with Multimatic’s / Ford’s state-of-the-art “driver-in-loop” vehicle simulator platform.
Following the spectacular unveiling of the Ford GT production concept car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2015, work continued behind the scenes.
In June, careful to avoid wandering eyes or cameras in the days prior to the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hour race, the Ford GT team paid a secret visit to the Michelin technical center at Clermont-Ferrand, France.
There, they conducted filming and photography in preparation for the official announcement of Ford’s return to Le Mans and the car’s unveiling on the eve of the 2015 race.
At the proving grounds, Michelin, Ford, CGR and Multimatic engineers met to establish a plan for sharing data, simulations and to establish a test schedule. At Le Mans, CGR and Ford engineers then saw the Michelin tire paddock in action and confirmed the tire development schedule.
Ready to Test
When testing began in earnest after Le Mans, Michelin suggested a two stage plan for tires.
“There is no point chasing tires while you work to establish the baseline set up and determine the characteristics of a totally new car,” said Baker. “We started the Ford GT testing on our IMSA reference tires to provide a fixed point for evaluations and comparisons.”
As the Ford GT development progressed, Michelin provided the opportunity to test its various tire options. “We reference our tires by their compound and temperature ranges rather than just soft, medium and hard compounds,” said Baker of Michelin’s IMSA and WEC confidential race tires.
These advanced tires include innovative technologies often destined for inclusion in future street tires.
The CGR team and drivers experimented with the “medium/cool; medium/medium and medium/warm temperature” tires as well as with the latest Michelin tires used so effectively at Road America and VIR in 2015.
“It’s been fantastic,” CGR’s Hull told Racer magazine in November. “They (Michelin) have different compound tires for us, they go through the mix of tires, what they think will work best, what they don’t think will work.
“They are great because they have a very open mind, and they don’t tell you what you should do; they tell you what your options are. The relationship we’ve had with them for the tests we’ve done so far has been terrific.”
The Learning Curve
One learning curve the Ford CGR teams in IMSA and WEC face will be to quickly close the Michelin experience gap with GTLM (GTE-Pro in WEC) rivals like long time Michelin technical partners Porsche (1998), Ferrari (1999), Corvette (2004), and BMW (2013).
Having long raced in series that use only single specification tires or, at most, two mutually exclusive options, the CGR team can now access multiple options, and enjoy the ability to mix set ups with different compound tires on different wheel positions, plus the enhanced ability to multi–stint a given set of tires (i.e., run multiple tanks of fuel using the same set of tires).
At the 2015 Rolex 24 At Daytona last January, the race winning CGR Ford EcoBoost Riley DP used 30 sets of a competitor’s single specification tire to rack up 2,634 miles, at an average speed of 109.69 miles per hour.
By comparison, the more powerful 2015 Le Mans 24 Hour winning Porsche 919 hybrid used just 10 sets of Michelin tires in covering 3,452 miles at an average speed of 139.3 miles per hour.
With drivers such as Dirk Mueller, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook all having Michelin GT experience, CGR looks to flatten out that learning curve.
“Ford and the CGR team have done a very thorough job of developing and preparing the cars,” said Baker. “Now it’s time to race and see where the Ford GT and CGR are in relation to our other Michelin technical partners.”