While Ford has yet to officially announce drivers for its new factory Ford GT program, Scott Pruett is likely to be among those in pole position for a highly sought-after seat in the Blue Oval’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, a former class winner at Le Mans, was on hand for the program’s official launch at Le Mans earlier this month and has already played a role in the early on-track development of the 2016 GTE-spec machine.
“Any driver would absolutely want to be a part of this,” Pruett told Sportscar365. “When you look at the history that Ford has with the GT40 at Le Mans, everything they’ve achieved, everything they’ve done…
“They waited for the right moment to have all the right pieces in place to make their return.”
Pruett is the only driver who’s been part of the development of Ford’s EcoBoost engine in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship since the start, which has gone on to win both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Twelve hours of Sebring in Ganassi’s Riley DP.
The same 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 powerplant will be used in both the production and race versions of the new-for-2016 Ford GT.
“Now the whole story comes out,” Pruett said. “A big component has been the fact that we’ve been running the exact same engine that we’ll be racing in the Ford GT.
“We’re continually making upgrades on a number of different levels every race. 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.
“As a lot of cars, as we know, if you don’t have as many pieces worked out as you can, it can be a challenge. One of the biggest components of the Ford EcoBoost. We can now drop in a known quantity and start getting to know more about the car.”
The car has already begun on track testing, although Pruett, who was at Ford’s official unveiling in Le Mans, has stressed that it’s still early days.
While he wouldn’t divulge details of the testing program, Pruett praised the sound of the EcoBoost engine, which has a distinctively different note to it than in the current DP.
“We’ve been doing a lot of preliminary work,” he said. “Obviously with this announcement, you’ve got to be so careful because we wanted to have that ‘Aha’ moment when we unveiled it and not have everyone see it online already.
“From this point forward, it’s pretty aggressive.”
Ford is the first GTE manufacturer to unveil its car built to the new 2016 regulations, which calls for an increase in performance and additional safety measures.
All new cars will be required to take part in the FIA’s Balance of Performance Test in Ladoux, France on Sept. 15, meaning other models, including the new Ferrari 488, will likely surface in the coming months as well.
“It’s all a moving target because the regulations are changing for 2016, so you have to perceive what that’s going to look like,” Pruett said. “You’re not designing a car that to compete with the cars currently; you’re designing a car into the future.
“Ferrari is talking about coming with a new car. And when you look at the heritage of Ferrari, and I use that because of that epic battle in the ’60s, that’s what people really remember on the GT side.
“Doing what we’re going to do next year, it’s the 50th anniversary of all that. It’s not going to be easy but it will be a fierce battle as it was in the 60s.
“This is historic times and exciting times, for what it means for today and what it means for the future.”