As I exit Turn Eleven at Summit Point Raceway’s twisty, concrete-lined “Shenandoah” course, I’m confronted with a rare opportunity to put my money where my mouth has been. In a review of the 2011 Mustang GT 5.0, I perhaps foolishly opined that “C5 Z06 pilots will need to find a twisty road lest they be run nose-to-tail down long freeway sprints.” Now I’ve found myself fifty feet behind an enthusiastically-driven C5 Z06, and it’s squatting with full throttle up Shenandoah’s Bridge Straight. This will be a straight drag race, and for extra irony it’s going to occur on a road course. Four tires chirp. Sixteen cylinders sing. Forty to one hundred and ten miles per hour. Up a hill. Was I wrong? Can the mighty five-point-oh hunt for Corvettes?
Yes. It can. At least when said five-point-oh is equipped with the optional 3.73 axle ratio that, along with a pricey set of Brembo front brakes, makes up the entire list of options on our $32,800 test vehicle. No measurable gap appeared between the two cars before both went briefly airborne at the end of the sharply peaked Bridge Straight. Once we landed, the Z06 driver did the sensible thing and signaled for us to pass before the entrance to the Nurburgring-replica Karussell which is Shenandoah’s trademark feature.
The skeptical among you will point out that it’s not perfectly fair for your humble author, a victor of such exalted automotive events as the 2007 24 Hours of LeMons at Flat Rock, to go picking on advanced-group trackday drivers. You may be correct. Still, I think it’s worth noting that I ran a very similar 2010 Mustang GT 4.6 in essentially the same group of drivers last year and found myself Corvette chow every time the track went straight. This five-liter is a different animal: strong from idle to redline and NASCAR-frantic as the needle swings ’round the tach. It’s very nearly the perfect normally-aspirated trackday engine; no surprise, given its close-cousin status to the Ford “Cammer” Daytona Prototype mill.
The rest of the Mustang is, of course, a little less race-ready. The control surfaces in our no-frills model didn’t really please me. Everybody says they want a low-content Mustang GT, the same way that everybody claims to be holding cash in hand for a six-speed biodiesel-powered rear-wheel-drive sport wagon, but the folks who actually buy Mustang GTs buy them with plenty of options. That’s a good idea. Check every box on the form except the fabulous glass roof, since it adds a lot of weight in a very bad place for road-course handling.
The 5.0 was the subject of much trackside discussion this past weekend, most of it focusing on the optional Brembo front brakes. Here’s the best way to think about them: Go look at a Porsche 911 GT3. Evaluate the size of the brakes on that car. Now come back and look at these optional Brembos. Then consider that the Mustang outweighs the GT3 by a few hundred pounds. Get the idea? These aren’t the be-all and end-all of optional brake setups. True racing Mustangs use massive calipers front and rear. These brakes, which are identical to the GT500 stoppers and probably very similar to the items found on the Camaro SS and Challenger SRT-8, aren’t even close to what’s required for heavy-duty track use.
That caveat aside, these aren’t necessarily cosmetic items. Unlike the standard sliding-caliper Mustang front setup, the Brembos will take a genuinely hard lap or two before requiring some rest, and they never cook the brake fluid the way last year’s “Track Pack” pad option did. I added fifty feet of breathing room to my desired braking zones throughout the weekend and never completely ran out of stopping power. That’s good enough for most people, and those of us who want more have many aftermarket options.
The various chassis and aerodynamic improvements Ford touts for 2011 are not easily detected without a back-to-back drive in identical conditions, but the car as I experienced it was more than satisfactory for track rats of all experience levels. The P Zero tires aren’t super-grippy but they communicate honestly. Axle hop under wheelspin is minimal and it’s rare that one is forcibly reminded of the Mustang’s suspension layout. It takes a solid hit to a curb with steering already (mis)dialed-in to really experience the pop-and-slide motion so familiar to CMC racers everywhere.
The AdvanceTrac system has an “intermediate” mode where wheelspin is allowed and some degree of lateral motion can occur before intervention. It’s a pretty good compromise for trackdays. Disabling the whole system, as I did on the second day I drove Shenandoah, reveals a stable yet tossable big car that can be thrown around without fear.
I provided Mustang rides to a wide variety of people over the course of the weekend — attorneys, racers, even a TTAC reader. I believe that all of them stepped out of the car with a healthy respect for what Ford’s accomplished here. Even if you haven’t tracked a Camaro or Challenger and been unimpressed by those cars’ lumbering on-track demeanor, this 5.0 is likely to make a believer out of you. Just don’t brag too much ahead of time to your ‘Vette pals; it’s better to show than it is to tell.
Ford provided the vehicle and insurance for this test. TrackDAZE provided the space on the track and a rather decent lunch for two days. The author is a TrackDAZE instructor and can be requested by novice and intermediate-level drivers at any 2010-season TrackDAZE event.