Spent a good part of the day at Willow Spring's Streets of Willow course on Friday. Had to get up at 4:30 to make the 2 hour trek north into the vast wasteland above L.A. but it was worth it. We got a chance to watch a professional racer run his new car ragged trying to get it dialed in for an upcoming road race... in New Zealand. It all started last Saturday at Crystal Cove. Steve Millen had a wild (a la fellow New Zealander Bruce McLaren) orange Ford GT there and we were curious. Follow the jump if you are too.
It had some Stillen stickers, an odd little rear spoiler lip, and a few other bits of hardware strapped and screwed onto it. After talking to Mr. Millen (brother of Rod, uncle to Rhys), he mentioned that he would be up at the track and asked if we wanted to tag along. Who were we to say no?
So here we are at 7 am, watching the crows pick bits of rabbit off the road, feeling the temperature rise about ten degrees every five minutes, listening to that wonderfully quirky Kiwi accent and watching as a small team of helpers gets the car sorted for its upcoming racing duty. Steve is fairly happy with the setup, but needs to make a few adjustments. Fortunately for us it gives us plenty of time to watch and listen as this multi disciplinary champion flings the GT around the relatively short and very technical course.
As the pictures will attest, the car has a tendency to wag its tail when the throttle is planted, followed by small belches of flame that perfectly match the body's pigment. Steve has quite a varied history in motorsports and his off-road and rally experience allows him to easily collect the car even when small dust storms kick up at track's edge. In fact he seems to prefer this D1 style lapping and continues to slip and slide for a few more hours before declaring the setup good enough for the upcoming race.
The race in question is the annual New Zealand Targa Rally, which he has run 5 times in a row. He has generally run a Turbo 6 Ford Falcon, but this year wanted something a bit more reliable and fun. A little extra speed wouldn't hurt either. So he took your basic, off-the-shelf Ford GT and went to work doing what he does best.
Although many associate him with the dominating Nissan 300ZX and aftermarket superchargers for Nissans and Infinitis, Steve also knows a fair few things about adjusting brakes, tires, and suspension bits to get a good car performing better. So the tweaks to this particular GT are mostly limited to chassis work. A little extra boost and a new exhaust are the only real changes to the powerplant. The main changes are safety and handling related.
Steve patiently pursues the proper setup and then indulges our requests for some extra time to position the car for more photos and even allows us to take to the track for some action shots. Just a few days ago we were pacing a new Swedish supercar out in Las Vegas, and now we are being chased by a legendary racer and all-around nice guy who is going to drive the GT 135 miles back to Orange County, battling Labor Day get-out-of-town-early traffic just like us. We only guess that the upcoming race will offer much tougher challenges, but Steve should be up to the task, and so should his Ford GT.