The Ford Mustang is officially 50 years young, and the occasion has sparked widespread celebration of its role in inspiring American muscle car culture at home and around the world. But what’s often less celebrated and yet equally important in the Mustang’s history is its incredible diversity in the realm of motorsport. From short track ovals to 24-hour endurance road races, from drifting to drag racing, the Mustang has competed in and won in it all.
This vast range of disciplines was put on display at an event hosted by Ford Racing earlier this year, where participants were invited to ride along in three distinct iterations of the Mustang, each with a very different driver providing an alternate perspective on the car’s capabilities. The first stop was a ride in a Formula Drift car; the Monster Energy Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR piloted by Vaughn Gittin, Jr., who has claimed American and world drifting championships and was named Ace Driver of the Decade last year for being the winningest racer in Formula Drift history.
“JR” as he’s better known, is the face of the RTR tuning package (RTR stands for “Ready to Rock”), which offers modifications such as lightweight wheels and ultra-high performance tires, suspension tuning with adjustable dampers and sway bars, a signature rear spoiler and aesthetic features. Serialized RTRs are available at select Ford dealerships worldwide, and aftermarket parts are available online.
A second Mustang was put on track to give Gittin something to chase during this demonstration, which was a very important detail. To many motorsport purists, drifting looks like nothing more than a pack of cars spinning haphazardly out of control. But with the two cars going at it at once, it became obvious the degree of car control these drivers need to have is staggering. With one hand on the handbrake and the rear tires in full burnout – and a cockpit full of tire smoke and bits of tire rubber pelting their helmets – both drivers hit the line through each turn perfectly and without making contact, despite being within mere inches from one another the entire time. In a way, it was almost artful.
Next up was a trip down a drag strip in a most imposing machine: a Mustang FR500 Cobra Jet that houses a 5.4-litre V8 with a Whipple supercharger, a combination that produces a tick shy of 900 horsepower accompanied by one of the most almighty roars around. This behemoth was being hurtled down the asphalt by drag racing legend Roy Hill, who claims 28 IHRA national event victories and 31 second-place finishes as a driver and team owner. He also runs a drag racing school in his hometown of Sophia, North Carolina. There are few moments in life as breathtaking and posterior-clenching as feeling that beast of a Cobra Jet tearing along the drag strip at full power, followed by the sensation of the back tires slipping, the rear end coming out, the throttle being lifted, the steering being corrected,…and then carrying on down the straight with the hammer down again. With someone less capable than Hill at the wheel, that fraction of a second, which felt like a life-flash of an eternity from the passenger seat, could have spelled disaster.
After that came a demonstration of the culmination of all of this and more of Ford’s motorsport experience: an opportunity to sit in a 2015 Mustang equipped with a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, which was taken around an autocross track by engineers from the car’s development team. The new Mustang has officially launched since that ride-along and been discussed extensively, but during that early introduction it was already evident, even as a passenger, how improved the handling is in this latest iteration.
The development team spent twice as much time on aerodynamic simulations and in the wind tunnel for the 2015 Mustang than on past models, and the latest improvements to Ford’s computational fluid dynamics capability allowed feedback to be given to the design studio less than 48 hours after each test. As a result, a number of aero features have been introduced in the latest Mustang, including wheel aero curtains and combinations that vary by powerplant of grill shutters and hood vents, splitters and air dams. These features reduced the Mustang’s overall drag by three percent while improving its stability. The resulting handling changes are marked, especially the significant decrease in pitch under braking and acceleration.
These experiences came together to tell a tale that has already spanned five decades and is ready to begin another. The Ford Mustang’s story is stereotypically about brute force and the open road, but on racetracks the world over Mustang always has been – and, we can hope, always will be – about speed, versatility and finishing first.