I finally watched the brilliant Le Mans ’66 last week. Starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, the film retells one of the greatest stories in motorsport: how Henry Ford II tried to buy Ferrari, was rudely snubbed by Enzo, then had his revenge on the racetrack. Ford’s weapon of choice was the GT40 – so-called because it was just 40 inches tall – and it went on to utterly dominate endurance racing.
Success for the GT40 took time. At Le Mans in 1964, all three cars failed to finish. The following year, Ford suffered the same fate. But an updated MkII model came good in 1966, with a legendary 1-2-3 finish in the 24-hour race. Ferrari’s 330 P4 prototypes were nowhere to be seen.
Incredibly, Ford would win Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969, cementing the GT40’s near-mythical status and inspiring Hollywood to tell its tale.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Fifty years after its first historic victory, Ford returned to Le Mans in 2016 with a new GT (not christened ‘GT44’, despite being four inches taller) and won the LMGTE Pro class. Job done, you might think. But unlike the original GT40, this car has another mission to accomplish: taking on Ferrari on the road.
Take it to the track
OK, so I didn’t drive the GT on the road. Ford only has two press cars in Europe and didn’t want either reconfigured by an over-excited hack confusing the M6 with the Mulsanne Straight. Instead, I was let loose on M-Sport’s test-track in the Lake District.
As the firm behind Ford’s WRC rally cars, M-Sport knows how to design a tortuously twisty loop of tarmac. Whether such a circuit suits a barely-disguised Le Mans racer is another matter. Oh, did I mention it was raining?
Well, that was pretty sensational.
Raw, edgy and intimidating – as perhaps a hypercar should be.
View in the door mirrors, through the rear buttresses, is like nothing else. pic.twitter.com/IrcZgJhREN
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) September 3, 2019
In the metal (sorry, carbon fibre), the GT looks stone-cold sensational, the voluptuous curves of the GT40 fortified by slash-cut intakes and aggressive aero.
The rear view – past two afterburner tailpipes, over the transparent engine cover and through diverging rear buttresses – is like nothing else. In radiant ‘Triple Yellow’ with nose-to-tail racing stripes, it brightens up even a damp day in Cumbria.
Pedals to the metals
I lift the scissor-style door and slide over a wide sill. Headroom feels tight with a crash helmet on and the bucket seat doesn’t move; you pull a strap to slide the pedals instead.
Ford anoraks will spot the infotainment screen from a Fiesta, but that’s your lot for luxury – there are no cupholders and no carpets. No matter: this car is for driving, and its suede-wrapped wheel and anodised shift paddles feel superb.
In place of a good ol’ V8, the latest GT packs a downsized 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6, but what it lacks in cubic inches is amply compensated for by twin turbos and a dry weight of 1,385kg (scarcely more than a new Ford Focus).
With 656hp coursing through its carbon fibre rear wheels, it scrabbles for traction in first, second and third gears, but feels brutally quick. It’s also fiercely loud: not sonorous like a Ferrari, but industrial and raw like a race car.
It responds like a race car, too. Anti-lag technology keeps the thrust coming, while the dual-clutch gearbox never pauses for breath. Its suspension is taut and nailed-down, its steering telepathically direct. Switch into Track mode and the whole car drops by 50mm, but even in Normal it feels fiercely focused.
However, while its sheer speed intimidates, its balanced, cohesive chassis does not. By the time my brief session comes to an end, I’m convinced I could win Le Mans.