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In his biggest effort yet to claim the Dunlop Targa title in 2006, California-domiciled champion New Zealand race driver Steve Millen, has transformed the exotic new and exciting Ford GT into a top Targa challenger.  For many Targa fans this will be the first time they will have seen this sleek new supercar from Ford USA.  Based on the Le Mans winning GT40’s of the sixties, this new car is sure to be a major Targa attraction this year.
The Millen team has completely stripped the car and rebuilt it with the local Targa conditions in mind. Lighter weight was a priority, so the complete air conditioning system was removed, and a new lightweight Stillen stainless steel exhaust system allows better breathing.  Already a powerful car, the GT’s supercharged 500 horsepower 5.4 litre V8 engine didn’t need many modifications, although a smaller pulley allows some extra horsepower to be extracted from the supercharger. The standard brakes have been replaced by a 6-piston set from AP Racing and the factory BBS road wheels fitted from the factory are unchanged.
Millen had to pay particular attention to the handling of the GT because of the varying conditions that the car will see during the 6 day event.  While the Targa event is strictly on tarmac, the car will see anything from long smooth straights to tight and twisty corners, with constantly changing surfaces and undulations.
The various terrain changes mean the standard suspension won’t work so well on bumpy roads and a softer suspension won’t work so well on smooth, straight roads. “You’ve got to compromise and find a happy balance,” said Millen about the setup of the car. The Ford GT comes with adjustable suspension, but Millen opted for a Penske setup that was specifically developed for the car.  Both Penske and Stillen spent several weeks creating and adapting a new suspension for the GT.  Changes to the setup can be made quickly and easily to adapt to different stages of the event. Also creating additional downforce is the small rear spoiler and the more aggressive carbon fibre front spoiler.
The interior of the car was adapted specifically for the event. Safety is a huge priority, so Stillen built their own Chromoly roll cage and put a fire extinguisher under the passenger seat. A lighter Momo steering wheel and carbon fibre racing seats replace the standard factory seats.
Steve Millen has brought some New Zealand history into the mix by painting the car in Tangello orange which pays homage to the racing colours of Millen’s fellow New Zealander, the late great  Bruce McLaren. The racing stripes are titanium, and are actually a standard Ford colour.
While the Ford GT is certainly an upgrade from previous years, Millen still has realistic expectations. Many of the participants have competed with the same car over the last several years and have proven setups for the Targa event.  Millen knows that this year will be experimental and that there will be a steep learning curve. Next year he hopes to bring the GT again with even more power and shorter gear ratios suited for New Zealand’s greatest road race.
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