BUTTONED DOWN IN BUTTONWILLOW
The Shelby GT350 Track Tour...
as a racer saw it
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, May 9, 2016
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
The editor of LA Car invited me to attend and report on the Ford performance GT350 Track Tour at Buttonwillow Raceway in Kern County, and a place that’s generally not noted for its four star resorts. But the lure (it’s really more like his “lust for”- Ed.) of track time always overcomes my need for creature comforts.
Story by Dave Wolin
As a guy with many years of racing experience in a lot of different race cars, I was prepared for the usual hype, followed by driving a wallowing understeering beast... Surprise, the 5.2 liter, 526 hp V8, independent suspension and 6 speed track ready GT350R follows in the legacy of the original GT350 of the 60's, a racecar, tamed a bit, but more than acceptable on the track as delivered.
Some upgrades since the 60's: magnetic adjustable shocks, 19" carbon fiber wheels which reduce unsprung weight substantially, a Torsen LS differential, set of wide-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cups, huge 6-piston caliper brakes and (just like the original GT350) no back seat. Of course the '64 GT350 cost around two and half grand, the 2016 GT350R will set you back sixty plus.
I put in some nice laps under the watchful eye of an instructor, adhering religiously to the 8250RPM (yes 8250) and really enjoyed the sound, it’s quite unique beacuse this motor has a flat plane 180-degree crank. Ford says it's the most powerful naturally aspirated motor they've ever built, I won't argue.
It was surprising how deep you can go in the corners and how much bite the Torsen diff provides on exit. Within just a couple of laps I was driving at more or less racing speeds with confidence. Surprise again, was the comfortable seating for a guy my size, 6'5, with the standard equipment Recaros.
And as I got going faster, the value of trick aero add-ons were obvious. A new splitter and spoiler combine to nail the car to the track in high speed corners. Not wanting to upset my pro Ford driver minder / passenger, I don’t think that I got anywhere near the limits of adhesion with all the delightful downforce that was available.
Normal corner entry understeer (hard to avoid in a 3700 pound front engine car) disappeared quickly with a slight application of throttle and I found myself actually trail-braking into high speed corners; enough to set the car and then applying full throttle early, all the result of the continually adjusting "Magneride" suspension, Torsen and aero package. And all that kick in the pants comes with a 5 year, 60,000 mile warranty!!
We were treated to the company of some very knowledgeable Ford reps for the tech session. Ford Performance head Jim Owens, discussed in detail the internals of the motor, technical details of the gearbox and brakes, all showcasing the balance of the Ford Performance (formerly SVO) line. That’s 12 new Ford performance models in total including the new Ford GT, the 350 hp AWD Focus and others.
The Ford GT, fresh off their first win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, attracted the most attention - Good to know I fit in it but we weren't offered test drives.
By the way we never even came close to getting our arms twisted to write a good review, but as an unbiased columnist who drives and races GM products, I will say that the GT350R offers more bang for the buck than the comparable Camaro that goes for about $10K more, the $80,000 M4 or $135,00 GT3. I'd race one tomorrow if given the opportunity. - DW
Dave Wolin is a long-time professional driver, who keeps his edge running in a number of west coast sports car races every season. His background includes organizing, fielding, and competing in factory teams for outfits like Mitsubshi, along with participation in a couple of USRRC and Can Am events along the way. Fact of the matter is that his guy actually not only OWNED a Lotus 30 but raced it and lived to tell the tale ... He currently is involved in a series of special tribute events that have honored the Can Am and USSRC Series’ (all without giving himself a Hall of Fame plaque in either). - Ed.
Ford now has all their hot rod efforts under a single umbrella. Gone is SVT, SHO, etcetera, and in with Ford Performance.
Seems a recent shift in upper management understands what a day at the track means to people in their target market. Focus and Raptor are two big names with upgrades ready to roll. Of course Ford's leading nameplate is Mustang.
The all-new Mustang GT350 is a track-ready street-legal car anyone with $55,000+ can drive away with. Big engine (5.2L), big power (526hp), six-speed manual, and big 'ol honking brakes are just part of the package.
Ford has a Track Day setup touring the country and I managed to sneak my way into the Buttonwillow event. The car has much new technology yet retains its Mustang heritage. Tech guys talked a good line about "linear driving" experience. What they meant was that the car is easy to drive on the street yet capable of some hot laps at speed on the track.
They know from what they speak. I'm a decent C+ track driver yet still managed to break loose once or twice in controlled runs around the twisty Buttonwillow course. Ford is looking to show this car off and if you can catch a ride at a nearby track, take the opportunity. Be forewarned, though. They'll only give you two hot laps. That's about eight too few for the effort put forth in driving Los Angeles to Buttonwillow and back. - Harold Osmer
To view a video of the Shelby GT350 Track Tour, click here.