The highly anticipated competition debut of the new Ford GT in last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona didn’t necessarily live up to pre-race expectations, with both cars facing a string of reliability issues, almost from the get-go.
While both cars finished the race, they were heavily delayed, with the No. 66 entry of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais the highest-placed in 31st overall and more than 30 laps down on the GT Le Mans class-winning Corvette.
According to Raj Nair, Ford’s executive vice president, Global Product Development and chief technical officer, the issues –largely tied to the gearbox and electrical systems — came as a bit of a surprise, but hasn’t discouraged the team for future success.
“Our test program had been pretty good, so to be frank, we expected a little bit better result as far as reliability,” Nair told Auto Hebdo.
“To be pragmatic, it was the first time out with the car, a brand-new car, and those 99 percent of the time are going to find issues you didn’t know.
“The one thing I can guarantee you about [the race] was that an engineer was going to come to me some time during the day and tell me that never happened in testing.
“Unfortunately, that happened more that I would have liked. But that’s why we’re here. We know the issues we have. For the best part, we’ve got enough data now, almost, to know how to fix them.
“The good thing is the car is pretty fast. If it hadn’t been for the reliability issues, I think we had the pace to run up front.
“We’ve got a fast car that’s not reliable right now. We obviously have to have both.
“But I rather have a fast car that’s not reliable and know how to fix it than a reliable car that’s not fast and not know how to get it to be faster.”
Both cars were plagued by gearbox issues, with the first domino to fall coming in only the 10th lap when Ryan Briscoe pitted the No. 67 Ford due to being stuck in sixth gear.
The No. 66 car, meanwhile, had a complete gearbox change, compounded with electrical gremlins, which dropped it well down the running order.
When asked pre-race, Ford Performance boss Dave Perciak was not able to disclose the total amount of total testing mileage, or the number of endurance tests it had completed but said they had done extensive on-track and dyno testing.
By mid-race, the Rolex 24 in fact turned into an extended test for the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team, in gathering as much data as possible to help diagnose and solve the issues.
“We wanted to get time on the car so we went ahead and went through all of the work of changing [the gearbox],” Nair said. “But early on in the race, we were setting some pretty good times.
“I think even from the feedback from the drivers, you always get more feedback and know how to get a little bit more out of it.
“Some of the parts that failed, some of the electrical issues, some of the simple things like brake line routings and some of the things we’re working to learn how to work as a total team between the partners…
“All of those things, we learned a lot and we know how to improve on it.”
Despite the struggles at Daytona, Nair is determined to get to the bottom of the reliability concerns before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which has been declared the program’s major focus for 2016.
“We put everything we know together to have a successful program,” Nair said. “The one thing we can’t buy is time.
“We certainly would have liked to have had a season or a half-season on us before coming into the 24 Hours of Daytona.
“Your first race being 24 hours is tough. But at the same time, the real important race this year is Le Mans. So it’s better to find these things now.
“We’re going to run the car and break as many parts as we can and [do] more testing and fix those parts that break, all with the goal that we’re going to not just fast but reliable at Le Mans.
“I think everyone remembers that win in ’66 coming 1-2-3. What most people don’t remember is ’64 and ’65 weren’t such good years for the car.
“We don’t have the luxury of those two years to sort out and then win. We need to put our best effort in to go for the win this year.”