Track Test: 2011 Mustang V8 W/Brembo Brakes

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

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.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Power6 Power6 on May 22, 2010

    Sorry Jack, not buying the "too small brakes" thing here, and dammit you should know better!! Any track day hack knows that 14" rotors on a 3500#(correct me if I am wrong!) are going to be pretty good, given 400-somethingHP and even without knowing the weight and width of the rotors, but I am guessing probably at least 1" wide. That is a decent amount of heat capacity. For better or for worse every maker except Porsche puts pure street pads on their cars. I assume you didn't change the pads from whatever Ford gave you. I don't care if it is some "track pack" crap on there, Ford is not putting a proper race pad on a street car. And to call this brake system out for not performing on the track with the stock pads is silly. Again, you should know better Jack, but maybe you are not as good at physics and math as you are at driving. Race teams have run much harder and much longer with just as much mass and power as this Mustang with far smaller brakes. You simply need to choose the right pad and the right fluid. The drive to upgrade is not just because the braking can't be done as there is almost always a pad in the temp range you need. The need to upgrade is because the brake system can't dissipate heat into the air fast enough to keep from cooking ball joints, tie rods, wheel bearings etc. You shouldn't call the Mustang Brembos out for lackluster performance because they weren't sized so ridiculously that they worked great in shi**y stock street pads. You'd need 22" wheels for that ha! Fact is you can't have good braking on the track without the proper pad, and no stock pad is the proper pad for the track. I am sure with the right pads, and fluid for good measure, there brakes would be fine on the track and not take out any greasy parts.

    • See 1 previous
    • Power6 Power6 on May 24, 2010

      Hey Jack, Thanks for getting back about this! I think I am picking up what you are putting down. The big thing for me was to see they are putting some decent brakes on the menu now, which was not always on offer with the "pony" cars over the years, other than CobraRs and 1LE specials. The fact that they are Brembo branded seems to mean less and less these days(like a "Bose" stereo), but at least they are decent size. These are probably good track day brakes with Motul fluid and some race pads. I learned my lesson hard with street pads, melted a set of R4S pads in the rain at a Thunderbolt track day, and peppered my fairly new WRX with rusty pad flakes all over. Took me untold hours with "detailing clay" to clean up the mess. I got Legacy 12.3" brakes with proper race pads now. So funny since those pads worked everywhere for me with my SRT-4 but I live and learn.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Aug 27, 2010

    I drive this 204K mile CR-V. At ~165 miles the OEM rotors began to warp when they got hot. They were worn thin. So i shopped around for replacement rotors and bought Brembo replacement rotors. At 204K miles the rotors are warped again. Never turned. Never overheated. We don't get them hot on off ramps and then sit at the bottom with very hot pads squeezing the rotors while the rest of the rotor cools. I'll be buying OEM Honda rotors next time assuming they are a reasonable cost. Not impressed with rotors that only last 50K when the previous set lasted ~165K. And yes I checked, no stuck calipers.

  • SaulTigh When I was young in the late 80's one of my friends had the "cool dad." You know the guy, first to buy a Betamax and a C-band satellite dish. Couple of stand up arcade games in the den. Bought my friend an Atari 2600 as soon as they came out. He had two of these crap heaps. One that only ran half the time and one for parts in the yard. My middle school brain though he was the most awesome dad ever, buying us pizza and letting us watch R rated movies recorded on free HBO weekend. At the time I though he was much better than my boring father.Now with adult hindsight, I now know he was "dad who should have taken better care of his family" and not had so many toys.
  • Dave Has to be Indy 500. Many more leaders and front passes than NASCAR, and Monaco is unwatchable with the inability to pass on that circuit.
  • Jeff How did the discussion get from an article about a 56 billion dollar pay package for Elon Musk to a proposal to charge a per mile tax on EVs in California or paying increase registration on vehicles to make up for lost gas tax revenue? I thought such a discussion would better fit Matt's Gas Wars series.
  • Master Baiter Both people who bought ID.4s will be interested in this post.
  • Urlik Not a single memorable thing happened in the big three races this weekend IMHO.