Billy Johnson, driver of the #66 Ford GT in the World Endurance Championship, finally gets his shot at driving a first-generation GT recently. Since Johnson was one of the drivers involved in the development of the second-generation car, it’s a bit surprising it took so long.
These cars are rare though, and the guy’s schedule has been slammed for the last decad-e. In addition to competing at Le Mans, he was the 2016 IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car GS Champion. He has also been instrumental in developing the Mustang GT4, FP350S, Mustang Performance Pack 2, and the new GT500. He’s even taught a group of NASCAR drivers to drive road courses—Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are just two of his many students.
No Warmup Needed
He takes to the GT like a duck to water. A neutral balance, direct steering, and a strong line of communication between car and driver are clear. You never see Johnson caught out of place by the GT, even on cold tires. There’s hardly a hint of understeer—a little surprising for a 3,600 pound mid-engine car on cold tires. Plenty of grunt and an occasional nibble of the curb does pitch it sideways, but all his drifts are all comfortably held. After a few test slides, Johnson lays on the throttle and cuts a long, shallow slide like someone who’s turned a hundred laps in the car (2:43).
Afterwards, his review is nothing but praise, albeit measured praise. “Power’s good. Brakes are good. [Good] transmission. Definitely neutral and playful; you can make it do what you want it to do.” Perhaps the kindest remark he makes: “There’s no underlying quirk that you’re fighting against.” That’s quite a compliment considering his hand in developing the carbon-tubbed second-generation car that, unlike this car, was designed to go racing at Le Mans.
Not that it should detract from the engineering accomplishment seen here. The chassis works very well, especially for a rushed project. For those who are unaware, Ford had to build this machine in a hurry—just sixteen months—so they would have a flagship to showcase for their 2003 Centennial Celebration.
His tone may keep these compliments from sounding like much, but for a stoic professional with lots of development experience, this is about as exhilarated as you can expect. After all, they can’t have their objectivity clouded by pesky emotions.
A Lesson For All
Johnson’s delicate steering inputs, and gradual increase in pace is such a nice thing to witness. He’s clearly taking this out for a quick inspection with a passenger, so he ramps up the pace in a professional way; getting more and more willing to take liberties as he gets accustomed to the car. Unlike what an amateur could do in little time, he’s already well acquainted with the GT after just a lap, but the instruction holds for someone still finding their feet as a driver. Progress steadily, treat the cold tires with some extra care, and once you’re able to predict what the car will do, give it the boot.