The Shelby GT350R-C qualifies on the pole and finishes fourth in the rain
By Steve Turner
Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company and IMSA
It was a busy weekend for the Ford Performance Shelby GT350R. While the former Stig, Ben Collins, was ripping a prototype up the Goodwood hill across the pond, the competition version made its racing debut in IMSAâ€™s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Backed by Multimatic Motorsports, two Shelby GT350R-Cs saw their first racing action at Watkins Glen International raceway.
From the way it began, it seemed that the story of the GT350R-Câ€™s first race might just have a Hollywood ending. In qualifying, Scott Maxwell put the Number 15 car on the pole with a lap time of 2 minutes, 1.358 seconds in Fridayâ€™s qualifying session.
â€œFor me, itâ€™s more rewarding for everyone at Ford and Multimatic who have put in so many hours into development of this car, both on and off the track,â€ Scott said. â€œFor me, itâ€™s giving something back. Honestly, we (as drivers) have the best job and the easiest job. We jump in the car and benefit from all their hard work. Once in a while itâ€™s nice to earn the pole and let them know all their hard work paid off.â€
It would seem that those efforts have definitely paid off, as Scottâ€™s co-driver Billy Johnson gushed about the prowess of his new steed.
â€œThis Shelby GT350R-C is an awesome car. Even the Mustang GT, with its new independent suspension, is just such a leap ahead of the solid-axle suspension from the previous Mustangs,â€ he said. â€œThen, the GT350 just takes that a step further, with all the modifications done to aerodynamics, the suspension and the powertrain. Thatâ€™s just turned it into a fantastic race car…â€
On race-day Saturday, the weather in Watkins Glen, New York, was less than ideal. There was steady rain, but road races run in the rain. Scott took the 15 car and ran in front for six laps. He was in a healthy battle with the Number 13 Porsche 911, however, after the second full-course caution, the GT350R-Câ€™s HollywoodÂ ending went off-script. Scott was penalized for jumping the restart, which movedÂ him back to the tenth spot.
â€œThe other driver missed a shift, so I donâ€™t know what I was supposed to do,” Scott said. “In the end, it was sort of irrelevant. The car was really, really good in the first 20, 25 minutes, when it was just spitting rain. It was consistent. When the heavy rain started it went away a little bit, but then visibility became a problem. In the end, it was a disappointing day, but we still qualified Number 1 and I think if it was dry, we would be on the podium for sure today. It just wasnâ€™t meant to be.â€
The lack of experience with the new cars definitely added another wrinkle to racing in the rain, as the teams didnâ€™t have any setup data to rely on.
â€œThe race getting red-flagged and then ending under yellow definitely took out a major part of the race itself,â€ Billy added. â€œThis was the first time the carâ€™s ever seen rain, so itâ€™s just like every session weâ€™ve had so far. Every time we have the car out is a learning experience; learning more about the car, working on it to make it faster and faster. The rain just throws in so many different, complex challenges to racing and the inherent preparation of the car that you canâ€™t really perfect until you actually run it. All the cars weâ€™re racing against have raced in the rain multiple times, so we definitely didnâ€™t have that log book on what works and what didnâ€™t work. Weâ€™re building that log book and weâ€™ll be even stronger the next time out.â€
Racing continued on and off with the weather, and co-drivers Austin Cindric and Jade Buford worked to move the Number 158 Shelby GT350R-C up to a fourth-place finish. Both Shelbys were on the move when the race ended because of standing water on the track.
â€œItâ€™s a good day to be disappointed in fourth with the debut of these cars, Scott getting the pole and us running up front, even in the rain, our pace was very good,â€ Jade said. â€œObviously we would have liked for it to go green, to compete for the win, rather than sit in pit lane, but thatâ€™s the call they made and we have to live with it.â€
Austin had worked the car through the field all the way to the second position before the driver change, so the new race car definitely showed off its potential in the rain.
â€œI had no expectations coming into the race,â€ he said. â€œWe started P7 and Iâ€™ve never driven a sedan in the wet, and our new Shelby GT350R-C had never been in the wet either, so we were kind of in the same boat. I just kept on working up to it and figured out what worked and what didnâ€™t, and picked them off one-by-one. A few dove down in the pits and a few I passed. It was a blast, really.â€
Despite the bad weather and bad luck, the Shelby GT350R-Cs definitely proved themeselvesÂ as a capable race cars, and theyÂ will see their next competition in Multimatic Motorsportsâ€™ backyardâ€” at Canadian Tire Motorsport Parkâ€”on Saturday, July 11.
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