Ford's involvement in IMSA racing became effective in 1980, with Walter Hayes, vice president of public affairs in Europe. He was transfered to Dearborn, Michigan and started to take actions to get Ford more racing prone. Michael Kranefuss, who ran Ford touring cars as well as he worked for Zakspeed, joined Ford's racing program. He was named Motorsport Director in 1976. Walter Hayes called Michael Kranefuss later in 1980, and the two of them made plans to get Ford into big time racing. In 1981, Michael Kranefuss was named head of Ford's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO). After hiring some people and setting up what had to be done, Ford's future was set. One of the first thing Michael Kranefuss did was to get in touch with Erich Zakowski, the German Ford touring car specialist for whom he had driven a decade ago. The first really big move was to withdraw the Ford Capris bodywork off, and use the Mustang bodywork instead. While the cars had some potential, they appeared slightly short on power. They were consistently hampered by overheating problems. However, Klaus Ludwig grabbed some victories aboard the Ford Mustang TC. Bill Scott and Tom Milner had some facilities, and this led them to run the cars for Ford Motorsport. In 1981, Klaus Ludwig won at Brainerd and Sears Point, after leading from flag to flag. Ford took back the program in 1982, after Miller High Life withdrew its support at the end of the 1981 season.
Copyright Van Zannis
The 1982 saw two Ford successes, always with Klaus Ludwig driving, but it was now clear that Ford needed a better weapon to tackle IMSA. So the GTP program was born. Zakspeed USA opened in Livonia, Michigan, in a space leased by Jack Roush Racing. Zakspeed/Roush was formed at the beginning of 1983. Zakspeed and Roush were working in conjuction while the Zakspeed team was learning about the wherabouts of American racing while Roush gained an access to higher technology level. Ian Dawson was named team manager, and Alan Smith general manager. Bob Riley was then brought in as chief designer for the team. After thinking for a while over which should be the engine location, it was decided that the new GTP car engine would be front located. While Zakspeed had its own prototype in Germany, Al Turner made the trip to look how good it was. In fact, it was so good that Bob Riley took the best out of this concept. By the fall of 1982, Roush/Protofab began fabricating it. The chassis was made out of composites provided by Ford Aerospace. The front engine configuration allowed Bob Riley to design a car with maximum downforce. 'A clear edge of technological development' as would put it Ford Chairman Philip Caldwell. The car had been designed through CAD/CAM technologies, and Aluminium and Mylar templates were used to produce the panels. All of the chassis individual sub parts were then bonded together.
The Bob Riley creation was tested in the Ford wind tunnels by Don Kopka and his staff. The tub was made of a carbon fiber/Nomex sandwich. This choice had been made because of the carbon fiber qualities. Lighter and stronger than steel, it appeared as the perfect choice to build this car. The driver's safety was not to be forgotten as ballistic-grade Kevlar was added to critical areas to enhance it. The chassis, thus finished did not weigh more than 100 pounds. A conventional suspension was bolted to the tub. A frames were mounted at the bow, they carried alloy uprights and four piston ventilated disc brakes. Koni coil-overs and a driver-adjustable sway bar made up the balance of the front suspenders. A similar setup was mounted aft and worked in concert with a rear-mounted five-speed transaxle. At 1770lb, it was probably the most plastic intensive racecar ever built.
The car's engine was mounted ahead of the cockpit. The tunnels made up the entire rear of the car, allowing for maximum downforce. This configuration was to enhance the overall ground effects. The engine was a 2,1L turbocharged, DOHC, four cylinder Ford BDA powerplant. While this seemed to be a small engine, it could produce more than 600hp. With a Cd of 0.15, the car should be efficient. The car was presented prior to the 1983 Detroit Grand Prix, then tested at Mid Ohio by Klaus Ludwig and Bobby Rahal. Some minor problems had to be sorted out before the car debuted at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin in August. The race was to be run under a very wet weather. Klaus Ludwig and Tim Coconis had qualified second while Geoff Brabham and Bobby Rahal were fifth. It was a shortened event, after 115 laps. While the race conditions were horrendous, the cars' ground effects kept them in front of the pack.The cars had been cheered while rolled onto the grid, and the very first race of a Ford Mustang GTP was an unpredictable outright victory. Klaus Ludwig and Tim Coconis went home first while Bobby Rahal and Geoff Brabham took a third place.
Copyright Robert Manley
Unfortunately, the remainder of the season was far to be as successful as Pocono and the Daytona Finale ended up with retirements after starting from the pole each time. The powerful small engine had to be improved, and Al Turner work steadily in order to do so. It seemed that Zakspeed and Al Turner were not really synchronized about the way things had to be carried out, so Al Turner quit after a month. Three cars had been actually built, and one was designed to receive a Roush V8 engine. It was not to be, as literally hit the ceiling when he knew it. In fact, Jack Roush and Erich Zakowski did not have the same views, as Jack Roush intended to use his homebuilt V8s in GTP racing. But Ford did not intend to use this kind of powerplant in GTP racing, as they needed a high tech image. That's why Jack Roush left the program at the end of 1983, Michael Kranefuss was in charge of the whole thing, and he knew what he had to do. However, it seemed that Erich Zakowski's will not to work with Cosworth finally nailed the program. His engines were powerful, but very unreliable. High temperatures were reached within the cockpit, and it caused a driver's fatigue. The chassis also was a problem, as it was not designed by racing experts. Ford Aerospace seemed not to master some race constraints.
Copyright Dwight Deal
The 1984 season began and two cars were to be entered in almost every race. Now backed by 7-Eleven, the team skipped the first enduros of the season. The first race of the season was to be run at Miami, where Klaus Ludwig retired after thirty one laps. The next event was Road Atlanta, and it was a retirement as well, as was the Riverside race. Two cars were entered at Laguna Seca, and Bob Wollek was the new driving star. But the two cars did not see the chequered anyway. Retirements were the reward for the Charlotte, Watkins Glen and Portland races too. After such a series of disappointments, relief came at Sears Point with a fifth place taken by Klaus Ludwig. At Road America, one year after their maiden victory, Klaus Ludwig and Bobby Rahal were out after 83 laps. The two last races were Michigan and Daytona Finale. A dnf was again the result for Michigan while Klaus Ludwig and Tom Gloy took a fifth overall at the very last race of the season.
Copyright Mike Smith
Then the cars were never to be raced again! After two seasons and one single victory, the Ford Mustang GTPs career sounds like disaster. Some major problems literally prevented from being a good racecar, but was it a conception problem? Many people were convinced that the engine configuration that had been chosen was the good one. Yet, it seemed that when the fuel tank was empty, the car was literally undrivable. In fact, many problems appeared within the course of the season, and Michael Kranefuss' final opinion about this project said it all : "It was the worst project I've ever been involved in. The car had many problems."
As a conclusion, it was a could have been car, and the project was dropped at the end of the 1984 season. Ford lost a great occasion to prove its mettle. But things would change very soon, with Jack Roush coming back with his unbeatable Ford Mustangs which would dominate the GTO class for a very long while.