“Like A Shot Of Adrenaline!”

What’s it like to drive the fastest Ford production vehicle ever? Ask the lucky Ford GT driver who achieved a top speed of 216 mph.

By Matt Hendrickson

It is a cool, serene morning at the Nardò Ring, an almost 8-mile-round high-speed test track located in the heel of Italy’s boot. Under a cobalt-blue Italian sky, the space-age doors of the 2017 Ford GT swing upward. Bart Lenaerts puts on his helmet, eases his way into the cocoon-like cabin, then starts the engine. The GT fires up with the guttural, silky purr of a tiger on the prowl.

Lenaerts tightens his grip, shifts the GT into first and whoooooooosh! He’s nothing more than a speck on the Italian horizon.

The Ford GT tears up the track at the Daytona International Speedway for the first time.

Obsessed with cars since he raced go-carts as a teenager in his home country of Belgium, Lenaerts is an expert driver. Still, he had a few butterflies before testing the GT today. Since Lenaerts would be the first to explore the GT’s ultimate maximum speed performance, Nardò was chosen because of its extra-large size and low bank angle—a pretty intense run in the mighty GT. “The speed sensation is magnified by how low you are to the ground, and I had to go mentally where I’ve not gone before,” he says after the drive. “All objects on the track—lane markings, safety barriers, traffic signs—pass by at such enormous speeds, you can’t really focus on them.”

The GT has the most powerful Ford EcoBoost® engine to date, a 647 hp V6 beast with 550 lb.-ft. of torque that can reach a top speed of 216 mph*–the highest ever for any Ford production vehicle. The GT is constructed of carbon fiber, which keeps the weight down to just over 3,000 pounds and enables the car to accelerate rapidly to its top speed. The optimized aerodynamics also help it slice through the wind. In the GT Track mode, the rear wing is raised—but to reach max speed, Lenaerts uses the aptly named V-Max mode, where the wing remains lower and the front air shutters open, allowing the Italian breeze to flow unfettered through the vehicle.

Bart Lenaerts is a team leader in Vehicle Dynamics. He is a Tier 4 driver, the highest level of certification, and one of only 25 people worldwide entrusted by Ford to conduct high-risk and high-skill tests.

Two minutes or so after Lenaerts takes off on the track, he zooms back around, having raced those 12.5 kilometers in less time than most people take to brush their teeth. Afterward Lenaerts describes flooring it while he was often a mere two yards away from the track’s steel barrier. “It’s such an adrenaline shot, but it makes you focus so quickly. There’s no time to be afraid. If you’re afraid, you don’t have the right reflexes,” he says. “The speed sensation is insane.”

La bella vita, indeed!

*Horsepower and torque ratings achieved with 93-octane fuel.


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