Shotgun in the Shelby
After hot laps in the Shelby GT350R, we can say Carroll would be proud
By Steve Turner
Photos by Steve Turner and courtesy of Ford Motor Company
Strapped into the Shelby GT350R for the first time, the anticipation is intense. Our drivers cycle through the driving modes with each lap, and each lap gets quicker. The Hummingbird is flying around the 2-mile Grattan Raceway in Western Michigan and its numerous improvements are proving their worth. The suspension gobbles up the uneven surfaces, the power pushes us back into the seat, and the gripâ€”oh the gripâ€”is amazing.
Heading down the front straight, the driver bangs the gears right at the 8,200-rpm redline. The power is intoxicating, but when the corner is racing toward us the brakes impress even more. We are assured that they just donâ€™t fade. The pedal is always firm, and they are always at the ready. Thatâ€™s good because we have to be doing over 120 into the brake zone, and the giant stoppers reel us in like itâ€™s nothing.
As we glide through the twisties, the car just feels planted. It seems the grip is nearly equal at all four corners. We have seen a marked uptick in the handling of Mustangs over the last 10 years, but never have we felt something quite like this. The car is balanced and agile, and it seems the drivers donâ€™t have to work that hard to give us a thrill ride at about 80 percent of their full effort.
By the time we reach the hill, the speed is back. The elastic powerband lets Second gear eat up the sharper turns but not require a shift until things open up a bit. As the speed climbs and the elevation increases, we finally reach the top of the hill and whoosh. All four wheels are off the ground. What might have been a fright in the last generation of Mustangs is a delight in the halo S550. The car returns to earth without an ounce of drama and gets right back to business.
That business is being the best handling Mustang weâ€™ve ever experienced. Of course, that experience was limitedâ€”for nowâ€”to watching it unfold from the passenger seat. However, riding with a highly skilled driver is often nearly as informative as being behind the wheel. After one hot lap, I knew I couldnâ€™t even approach the times that Fordâ€™s drivers could at Â¾ speeds. Still the confidence and predictability shown by the GT350RÂ told me that this car will make us all feel like a hot shoe.
You can ride along with us right here and get some feedback from driver Gene Martindaleâ€¦
For a better idea of what the car sounds like on track, you can watch our second set of laps with driver Mark Lecroneâ€¦
For even more GT350R track action, here’s some sweet video from Ford…
Of course, getting a feel for the GT350Râ€™s handling is one thing. Grasping the power from the passenger seat is a bit more difficult. Itâ€™s clear the car is faster, but how much faster than a GT is difficult to say without a back-to-back comparison. However, the GT isnâ€™t the benchmark for which Ford Performance was aiming.
â€œâ€¦Last week brought out our GT350R and our GT350 Track Pack here at Grattan to do fair, back-to-back same day, same driver comparison. The GT350R with the Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires is equal to the hundredth of a second as fast as the Porsche 911 GT3 and it is over a second quicker than the Z28,â€ Chief Functional Engineer, Global Performance Vehicles at Ford Motor Company, Kerry Baldori said. â€œThe base GT350 with the Track Pack, which uses the Pilot Super Sport tire, is equal again, to within a hundredth of a second, to the Porsche Carrera and the Corvette C7 with the Z51 package.â€
Yeah, it is fast, and it is clear that the powerband is built for the racetrack. As we mentioned the ample midrange power and the extended rpm range offered by the Voodoo 5.2 means you shouldnâ€™t have trouble power through the tight stuff and letting it eat when the track unwinds. The car keeps pulling until you run out of nerve.
And, if the debate about the carâ€™s sound is getting on your nerves, we will say that the car sounds amazing doing its thing. Donâ€™t let most of those rev videos youâ€™ve seen fool you. When the car is under load and being driven in anger it makes some beautiful music. On the track with the exhaust valves opened up it fuses the burble of a stock car with the crescendo of an exotic into a note that just makes you smile when you hear it rip.
While the R-model is completely at home on the racetrack, itâ€™s easy to lose sight that this is a street car. Never have we been in a Mustang that offered such predictable grip, reassuring braking, and worry-free lapping. We are told that the car is built to easily endure 20-minute open-track sessions and still get you home in comfort if you opt for the Tech Pack option. In fact, our second hot-lap session was made with the air-conditioning blasting, and the car didnâ€™t miss a beat.
Now all we are missing is a chance to drive this amazing machine and compare it with the standard GT350, but that will come in time. For now, take solace in the fact that Ford may have yet again built the best Mustang yet.
As Ford Performance Vehicle Dynamics Supervisor, Eric Zinkosky, told us. He believes that his car finally delivers on the dream that Carroll Shelby had for the original GT350. â€œHe wanted a car that could go out a pick on Porsches, and this one can pick on Porsches. I think he would be proud.â€
We have to agree.