While the US and UK Ford teams came together at Le Mans for the brand’s assault on the 24 Hours, this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas will showcase the Ford GT for fans in two separate series.
The cars are the same, the engines are the same – they even have the same numbers on the side.
But the challenges facing Ford in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship are quite unqiue.
“There are different things occurring in North America than what happens in the FIA WEC. It is a different style of racing – they race for two hours and 40 minutes mostly, we race for six hours in the WEC most of the time,” said Ford’s WEC team principal, Multimatic’s George Howard-Chappell.
“The strategies are different as well. The pit stops are completely different with changing of tires and fuel at the same time in the US and in the WEC they are done separately.
“The cars are not massively different in their configurations but they demand slightly different tweaks and there are a lot of nuances that have to be different.
“There are always little issues but the coordination between the IMSA and the FIA WEC programs has been really good.
“Then you also have to layer in the fact that the IMSA balance of performance the ACO BOP aren’t the same and they handle it differently. You basically have divergent cars.
“We’re running different boost maps and a whole bunch of other little changes between the two programs.”
Tire development also plays a key role in performance in both championships. Michelin has worked closely with Ford from the commencement of the programme.
In both the WEC and IMSA championships, Michelin has an engineer embedded with the teams on race weekends to extract the maximum performance they can”
“For Michelin we were actually running different tire combinations at the start of the year. Our car in the WEC is really easy on its tires and we can double stint without a problem whatsoever. That can give us a real advantage for track position,” Howard-Chappell said.
“For the rough tracks in North America they are able to turn the tire on very quickly which is important because there is no advantage to be able to double stint because you can refuel and change tires at the same time.
“Michelin has given us multiple options so both the IMSA program and the WEC campaign have something that is ideally suited to what they need.”
This year Ford is the only brand to run full factory GT programs in both championships. The commitment is huge, the amount of data is enormous, but the amount of coordination required can be even bigger.
Like all teams in both championships, Ford is constantly looking to improve. The car that hit the track in January has moved on considerably since that first race in Daytona.
But no manufacturer has a bottomless bucket of development funds available – making changes and updating the car is a matter of clarifying the priorities.
“There is always a big task list and then there is a prioritization of it. You will always have a difference of opinion as to what development task should be given priority.
“We have weekly team meetings on a conference call with the IMSA team, the WEC team, the Roush-Yates guys on the engine side, and Ford Performance as well,” Howard-Chappell said.
“If there was a race the weekend before we have a big download of that information and we then we haggle over what are the priorities.
“Even though this is a big factory program, every organization has limits and we can’t do everything we want to do on the development side straight away.
“With a program like this, the development is never finished. If you stop and think you’re done, the opposition are constantly developing every day and they will pass you by.
“If we stop, we’re going to get left behind.”
Ford did manage to get a head start on the development of the new car thanks to Chip Ganassi Racing’s Daytona Prototype program.
The Ford EcoBoost engine that powered the team’s Riley Daytona Prototype machines is the same engine you’ll find in the back of the Ford GT.
Despite the fact the race distances usually contested in both the WEC and IMSA series may differ – the engine spec in the rear of the Ford GT is exactly the same for both championships.
“The Ford EcoBoost engines coming out of Roush-Yates for the IMSA series and the FIA WEC are identical,” Howard-Chappell said.
“You could take an IMSA engine and plug it into a WEC car and it would be the same – the only difference is the boost table because of the BOP.
“The engine is also virtually identical to what Chip Ganassi ran in the Daytona Prototype over the past few years so that has really assisted the development of the program.
“After two years in a DP car – yes there are subtle differences like the intake manifold – but if you look inside the engine it is exactly the same so any bugs had been well and truly sored by the time we received the first engine for the GT.”
The history books will show Ford had a triumphant return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais taking victory in June this year.
Heading back to the race with a four-car line-up was a huge undertaking – one that looks like the decision makers from Dearborn wanted to make a statement.
However in reality, the decision to “go big” was really made for them.
“It is certainly ambitious to run both programs and Ford should commended on that. The basis of it was that Ford wanted to go back to Le Mans,” Howard-Chappell said.
“On top of that they want to race in the US and they have been running in IMSA for several years with Chip Ganassi.
“To be able to guarantee you can get an entry for Le Mans, you have to run in the FIA WEC. Just running in IMSA does not automatically get you a spot on the grid.
“From that perspective Ford really had no choice. If we had just run in IMSA it would have been well within the right of the ACO not to invite them.
“It wasn’t a big decision from Ford to beat their chest and be arrogant with two championship assaults, it was all circumstantial how we ended up running cars in both series.
“It is certainly a huge task then you add the development of the road car as well. Then it becomes an even bigger undertaking that Ford should be congratulated for.”
Ford’s teams in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship hit the track at Circuit of The Americas for the first time on Thursday.
The IMSA squad has its first practice 10:25am followed by the FIA WEC at 2:45pm.