Friday, September 9, 2016

This Cobra has fangs!!!

By John Heilig

            The first thing we noticed was the car lying on its side. Now, cars often end up on their sides at Pocono Raceway, but this was different. It was far away from the track, and it looked as if it had been intentionally placed there. It was.
            We (approximately 50 of us, journalists and enthusiasts) were at Pocono as part of the Ford Performance North American Track Tour. Pocono was the seventh of eight stops on the tour. It began in California and will end in Atlanta.
            The purpose of the Tour was to introduce us to Ford Performance and particularly the Ford Mustang GT350 and GT350R. 
            We broke up into four groups and made four stops. Ours, the Green group, went first to the Ford Performance Garage, where we were treated to an entertaining talk by Jim Owens, Marketing Manager, Performance, who has been with the various forms of Ford Performance as well as with Carroll Shelby’s skunk works for all of his career.
            Owens related how Lee Iacocca wanted something more than a car that looked nice when the Mustang was introduced on April 17, 1964. He wanted it to be a performance car. He talked with Shelby, who had been i instrumental in Ford’s conquering of LeMans with the original Ford GT and asked what he could do. Shelby then developed the original GT350 that dominated SCCA B Production.
            Ford Performance is an amalgamation of the former SVT program, the European rally program and Australian racing programs. None of these programs could “talk” to one another because of different philosophies and methods of operation. Now they are all under one umbrella, with Henry Ford III in charge. And, as Owens said, when HF3 is in charge, things happen.
            Other products in the Ford Performance garage are the F150 Raptor, the Escort ST and the Ford GT production car. But the emphasis at Pocono was on the GT350. 
            After Owens’ talk, the Green group headed out to Pocono’s infield road course (we didn’t go on the tri-oval at all) for some seat time. But first, we were fitted with helmets and modified HANS devices, just in case something should go wrong. The HANS devices, which were attached to the helmets, restricted our head movement somewhat, but we were still able to see all we needed to see. Besides, we weren’t racing on the track, we were just “testing” the GT350. 
            Each car had an instructor from the Ford Performance School. We were also captured by a GoPro camera mounted at the base of the A Pillar. After the event we will be sent copies of our tape as well as a post-race debriefing. 
            We pulled out onto the track for the first warm-up/familuarization lap. I still felt we were going at a good clip, and was encouraged when my instructor didn’t scream that we were going to be killed by my driving. 
            Actually, I discovered that I was creeping up on the car ahead of me, and just as I was about to back off on the accelerator, that car radioed my instructor that we should pass. Okay.
            I floored the pedal and zipped past the other car and was rapidly approaching the braking point at a high rate of speed. I braked and hit the left-hander and chicanes after that to complete my first lap. 
            Three laps ended too quickly. I was set to walk away, when my i structor said, “Oh, no. We’re switching seats.” And he drove, showing me just how much performance could be wrung out of the GT350 and how deep toward the corner he could brake. Still, I felt comfortable in the passenger seat and there is no screaming by me on my video.
            Actually, I would like to have had a few more laps after he shoed me the faster way around the track, but common sense says that many drivers would then be tempted to get in over their heads and try to emulate the car under the tent. 
            I was impressed by how smoothly the GT350 handled. It is very compliant. The suspension, while set up for hard cornering, is also comfortable with no strain on my kidneys or back. I got the impression that the GT350 would be as comfortable on the track as it would be going to the grocery store.
            After our 40 minutes of track time - way too short for my tastes - we did our debriefing video and told of our feelings about the car. I hope I able to adequately express how I felt about the car and my rides.
            Two instructors from the Ford Performance School gave us a walk around of the GT350 and the GT350R. The 350R is set up more for competition and several weight-saving measures were taken. For example, there is no back seat, although experience has shown me that the back seat in a Mustang is, well, less than ideal anyway. The GT350R also has, lighter body panels, no radio or air conditioning, no trunk liner and no resonators on the exhaust. It also wears carbon fiber wheels, and has a more serious spoiler out back and front splitter. The GT350R also has red accents, like a red cobra insignia rather than black, red stitching on the seats, a red mark at the top of the steering wheel to show when the wheels are pointed forward, and red brake rotor hats.
            The car has five drive modes - Normal, Sport, Track, Weather (rain) and Drag. In Drag, for example, the rear shock settings are adjusted for a better launch off the line. 
            Either way, the engine is, the most powerful naturally aspirated engine Ford has ever produced. The 5.2-liter V-8 delivers 526 horsepower and 429 lb.-ft. of torque. 
            The GT350 and 350R are purpose-built. The only manufacturers’ names, other than Ford are the Recaro seats, Brembo brakes, and Michelin tires. 
            Our final stop on the tour was a detailed explanation of some of the features of the car. Here, we saw the underside of the upended car that displayed some of the air ducting, the crossed exhaust lines, and the many cooling features to keep the brakes, oil and transmission as cool as possible. 
            No prices were given for either version of the GT350, and I wouldn’t hazard a guess. Jim Owens indicated that the Performance program is not necessarily designed for great profits, giving us an understanding that even though the profits aren’t high, they aren’t negative either. 

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