ALTON, Virginia—Virginia Worldwide Raceway is situated within the south of the state, a stone’s throw away from the North Carolina border. I first competed right here in 2003 driving a Daytona Prototype; my co-driver Terry Borcheller and I certified on pole and managed to drag off a win. Consequently and never surprisingly, VIR has been considered one of my favourite tracks ever since.

This place is old fashioned: it’s slim, with just a few technical sections and blind crests, and is usually very quick. In different phrases, it’s not a spot you wish to make errors. And on at the present time, I positively didn’t wish to something to go fallacious: I used to be fortunate to be considered one of a small group of journalists from the U.S. and Europe who Ford invited right here to check each its Mustang GT4 and GT Le Mans race vehicles.

The U.S. media representatives had beforehand raced or examined at VIR, however not one of the European guys had seen the place. To assist everybody out, we spent the day past in Charlotte, N.C., driving the vehicles on VIR utilizing an immersive simulator on the Ford Efficiency tech middle. For individuals with no expertise of the observe, this was an enormous assist in a minimum of studying the circuit format, although Ford had insisted all media attending this occasion possess a racing license, professional or newbie.

I’ve been in skilled motorsports for greater than 30 years, so that you would possibly suppose I might be just a little blasé about driving one other couple of race vehicles for just a few laps. However truly . . . heck no! I used to be not fortunate sufficient to drive karts or race vehicles whereas rising up. I didn’t truly take part in my first automotive race till I used to be 27 years outdated, in a secondhand IMSA Renault Cup automotive. I used all my financial savings plus a mortgage to purchase that automotive for $6,000. To at the present time, then, each time a crew or particular person affords me the chance to drive a race automotive, I’m past grateful. These items by no means will get outdated.

Since 2014, I’ve finished nearly all of my racing in GT3 and GT4 vehicles, within the SRO GT World Problem America collection and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. So, each the vehicles Ford dropped at VIR have been proper in my wheelhouse; I couldn’t wait to get on the market.

Ford introduced alongside two of its manufacturing unit race drivers, Billy Johnson and Ryan Briscoe, to assist us with automotive orientation. Johnson and Briscoe drove the Ford GT in GTLM-class races in IMSA and FIA World Endurance Championship races, inside and out of doors of the U.S.; Johnson additionally drives a Mustang GT4 in choose IMSA Michelin Pilot Problem collection races.

The quiet morning air was quickly ripped aside as Briscoe flew down the entrance straight at near 170 mph. We have been knowledgeable he was “warming up” the Ford GT. I wandered over to observe his entry into Flip three, because it’s a great place to observe and see how onerous a driver is pushing and the way effectively a automotive is working. You enter the brake zone whereas turning barely left and scrub off just a little pace as shortly as attainable earlier than turning more durable left, you then shortly get again to steady-state throttle to take care of as a lot momentum as attainable by the nook. It may be a tough factor to get proper. This was Briscoe’s second time coming into Flip three; he flew out of Flip 2, went proper on previous the place I believed he would possibly brake, then hit the brakes whereas stuffing it left. This brought on a really fast yaw rotation—so fast, it regarded like a twitch. Earlier than I may elevate an expletive, he was by Flip three and gone. I type of simply stared on the area he had simply trounced, assured that what I’d witnessed can be of no use in any respect at this time. Very good work, Mr. Briscoe.

He was the one one on the observe at that time and we may clearly hear his gearshifts and the GT’s screaming twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 engine all the way in which round VIR’s three.27-mile, 17-turn full course. That was, till Johnson went out to heat up the Mustang GT4.

I don’t suppose I’ve heard many race vehicles louder than this Mustang, and positively not a louder GT4 automotive. It has a Roush-Yates Engines custom-built, dry-sump 5.2-liter V-Eight with 4 valves per cylinder and twin unbiased variable cam timing—plus an exhaust amplifier, I swear. Having very not too long ago had a blast driving the Mustang GT350 and GT350R avenue vehicles on a observe, I used to be particularly curious to strive the GT4.

In the event you’re not acquainted with the assorted courses, GT4 vehicles are designed to be a lot nearer to avenue vehicles than are GT3 race vehicles. GTLM vehicles, in the meantime, are one other stage sooner than GT3 vehicles. The GT4 Mustang seems to be just like the GT350/GT350R avenue mannequin however with a wing and a much bigger entrance splitter. It additionally encompasses a distinctive carbon-fiber undertray, doorways, hood, rear decklid, and roof, all to save lots of weight.

Driving the Ford Mustang GT4 Race Automotive

I used to be capable of do 4 flying laps—six complete together with out- and in-laps—in each the GT4 and GTLM vehicles. I used to be completely happy to search out the seat place and peak within the GT4 have been good for me. Johnson was there to provide me final rites, or possibly he was doing so for the automotive? Both manner, I used to be quickly heading down pit lane. The Holinger RD-6 sequential paddle-shift transmission had a stable shift really feel, simply as a race gearbox ought to have. I may hear the three.31:1 Mustang GT4–particular limited-slip differential whining properly as I eased slowly onto the observe.

I used to be the second particular person out within the Mustang, so the tires have been already warmed up. I used to be shortly on it, determining what quantity of brake-pedal stress triggered the ABS and enjoying with the rear finish on turn-in. I used to be shortly impressed with the Mustang’s entrance finish, because it was fast to reply however compliant. That meant I may decelerate my fingers after a fast preliminary steering enter to provide the chassis time to speak to the rear, and there was no snap oversteer. I’ve pushed the Audi and Porsche GT4 race vehicles this 12 months and spent a lot of the 2018 season within the Black Canine Chevrolet Camaro GT4. In a steering sense, the Mustang felt loads just like the Audi. The response of each vehicles to preliminary steering is a really fast response by the entrance finish.

By the point I began my third timed lap, I used to be persevering with to push the automotive’s dealing with envelope by braking later and lifting faster off the brake as I turned in. The Mustang’s shock/suspension setup is great: The entrance has adjustable ride-height Multimatic (Ford’s racing associate) DSSV struts with two-way adjustable Mustang GT4–particular damping and a Multimatic adjustable blade sway bar. Within the rear, Multimatic designed decrease management arms and adjustable ride-height Multimatic DSSV coil-overs with two-way adjustable dampers. The Bosch Motorsports M4 ABS works extremely effectively with this complete suspension bundle, permitting virtually psychic communication between my steering inputs, every tire’s contact patch, and the chassis; that is one sorted race automotive.

VIR’s uphill esses are flat-out in fifth gear at about 140 mph; I had been doing a fast partial carry coming into the very quick right-hand Flip 9 on the high of the part. The Audi and Camaro GT4s each appreciated a partial throttle carry right here, in any other case they might understeer barely off line; with out the carry, I couldn’t readily reposition them for my most well-liked turn-in for the quick, blind, and off-camber Flip 10 left-hander.

The Mustang’s entrance finish, nonetheless, was so good by the uphill esses, together with the right-hand Flip 9, I had a type of ideas that begin with, “I ponder if…” It’s the kind of thought that’s higher to have on the kitchen desk, not essentially on a racetrack. I had gone faster on every of my first three laps (in line with the in-car timer) and I used to be now on my final try. The Michelin racing slicks have been hanging in effectively on the 18-by-11-inch Forgeline GS1R wheels, so all felt good. As I got here flying out of Flip 6 onto the lengthy stretch as much as the esses, I used to be satisfied “my thought” was grounded in stable analysis; I positively didn’t must carry for Flip 9 on the high—so long as I possibly closed one eye.

At virtually 140 mph, the esses aren’t a spot to have doubt. As a pace comparability, a C7 Corvette Stingray maxes-out, grip-wise, round 115 mph by Flip 9, and that’s should you don’t thoughts sliding the automotive just a little. On this lap, I felt the GT4 was going possibly three or Four mph faster as I entered. I turned in and the feisty Mustang stayed true, proper on line. As I blasted previous the apex, I opened my different eye and breathed out. At that second, I consider a smirk impulse might have left my mind, however it was shortly rerouted to my rear finish. The GT4’s again finish let me realize it wasn’t completely happy, and the automotive began to oversteer. A fast steering correction and partial throttle carry caught the slide, and I wasn’t greater than a few ft off-line coming into Flip 10. I completed out the lap, and it was my quickest.

Why did the rear quit and create the oversteer second? My take is that the Mustang GT4’s general aero is similar to the Audi’s and Camaro’s. I needed to carry out a partial throttle carry in these different two vehicles to maintain the entrance from understeering on entry to Flip 9, whereas within the Mustang I had to take action to regulate the rear after passing the apex. It feels to me like all three of those GT4 vehicles have a comparatively shut Stability of Efficiency—the system that racing collection use to stage the enjoying discipline between totally different vehicles—by way of aero grip. Sure, setup modifications would possibly make a distinction, however my expertise says all three vehicles are shut.

The best way the Mustang GT4 was setup suited me completely; I’ve all the time appreciated a automotive that tends towards a small quantity of rear-led yaw on preliminary turn-in, as I’m comfy manipulating or steering a automotive’s rear finish. I had a blast pushing limits whereas driving the Mustang; it’s a competent and fully appropriate GT4 race automotive. With the price of entry into GT4 competitors a lot decrease than many different types of skilled racing, it’s no shock the category is rising quick, however its largest plus is arguably simply how a lot enjoyable these vehicles are to drive.

Driving the Ford GT Le Mans Race Automotive

I had a two-hour break after driving the GT4 and earlier than saddling up within the GTLM. Fortunately, I used to be ready to make use of Briscoe’s seat insert; I solely wanted some further help padding. As I listened to Briscoe give me the lowdown, I used to be making an attempt to get my head across the reality I used to be truly sitting in a Ford GTLM race automotive. I bear in mind testing the Cadillac GT3 automotive at Sebring in 2015 similtaneously Ford was initially testing the GTLM, and I used to be struck by how a lot decrease the Ford was than our Cadillac. However now contained in the cockpit, I used to be happy to search out wonderful visibility by the windshield.

The EcoBoost V-6 seemed like a monster the second I woke it up; I attempted to be good and gently slide it out of the pits with out an excessive amount of fuss, stalling the automotive within the course of—very skilled. As soon as I received rolling, I instantly channeled GT3 race vehicles I’ve pushed at VIR to assist step my mind manner up from GT4 speeds. The GT3 spec will not be as fast as a GTLM, however it’s shut sufficient to assist. I additionally made positive to do not forget that the GTLM doesn’t have antilock brakes.

The GT engine’s anti-lag instantly made itself recognized, popping wildly throughout off-throttle and partial-throttle moments. Anti-lag helps keep turbo enhance, which cuts down on turbocharger lag. I additionally instantly felt an enormous distinction in grip between the Mustang GT4 and the GT upon coming into the left-leaning braking space for Flip three at effectively greater than 100 mph. The sooner you go within the GT, the extra downforce and lateral grip you construct, and it’s mighty spectacular. Turns three by 6 at VIR are slow- to mid-speed corners with some pretty bumpy curbs. I used to be simply so impressed with how effectively the GT dealt with the curbs, together with how a lot grip the 18-inch Michelin race tires generated. (The Michelins run on 12.5-inch-wide entrance and 13.Zero-inch-wide rear wheels.) I used to be truly ready to make use of the identical quantity of curb in these slower corners as within the GT4, which says an amazing quantity concerning the shocks and suspension setup. For a 2,800-pound automotive with this a lot downforce functionality, I used to be amazed by the compliance.

I used to be on my technique to the uphill esses when a narrative Briscoe had shared performed in my head. He instructed me that in the beginning of the GT program in 2015, all of Ford’s GT manufacturing unit race drivers spent substantial time on the simulator on the Ford Efficiency tech middle. This was all a part of studying the automotive, plus the assorted tracks they might ultimately race on; it was additionally early days for the total immersion simulator on the tech middle.

On the time, this system the simulator used for VIR was not preferrred. From their real-world driving expertise, the drivers all felt they need to have the ability to assault VIR’s uphill esses at full pace with no throttle carry, at someplace near 160 mph. However each time they entered the primary leap a part of the esses with no throttle carry within the simulator, the automotive would simply take off vertically, flip over, crash, and find yourself someplace within the subsequent county. Regardless of the engineers agreeing with the drivers that the sim program was fallacious in that regard, Briscoe mentioned about 18 months handed earlier than considered one of them was courageous sufficient to take that a part of the observe in actual life with no throttle carry. Who mentioned you may’t train race automotive drivers something?

Making an attempt to overlook this story, I entered the esses with a fast partial throttle carry, nonetheless doing greater than 150 mph. I rocketed over the little leap and flew round Flip 9 prefer it was nothing. The pace enhance and g forces in comparison with the GT4 are excessive; I needed to massively pace up my fingers on the steering wheel simply to verify I used to be lined up for Flip 10. Turns 9 and 10 occur as quick as you may learn this: in, up, over, flip, align, dab brake, left, gone. The automotive felt particularly caught to the highway because it went by the off-camber Flip 10, a nook well-known for producing understeer. Word to self: much less brake wanted right here; this automotive is so freakin’ quick.

I had a fast thought paying homage to once I first had an opportunity to drive the Ford GT avenue automotive in 2017, a really fascinating and succesful supercar on a observe, however nonetheless a avenue automotive on avenue tires. What all the time struck me most concerning the avenue GT was the speed at which I may really feel it construct up downforce as my nook pace elevated; it was rather more succesful on this space than different supercars, a minimum of to my butt dyno. And it did all of this with out an enormous wing hanging off of the again. I all the time put the GT’s downforce all the way down to the distinctive flow-through keel design of its physique and the way effectively the entire thing channels and works the air. However within the race automotive, ooph, it’s different worldly.

As I left Oak Tree nook and commenced firing gears out of the GT’s six-speed sequential transmission, I already had the most important grin on my face and this was solely my first lap; three extra to go. The braking zone into Flip 14 on the finish of VIR’s lengthy again straight, is entered from a dip within the highway to a brief uphill, whereas turning barely to the left. Within the final a part of the brake zone, the steepness of the hill disappears. It isn’t a very tough brake zone so long as you brake onerous sufficient, early sufficient, ensuring to make use of the steepest a part of the hill for the heaviest braking. I made a psychological be aware to hit the brakes particularly onerous, early within the brake zone, to get further assist from compression into the hill. While you’re going 160-plus mph, you could have monumental downforce in a automotive like this, so it’s if you’re at most pace that it’s time to hit most brake-pedal stress; particularly if you don’t have ABS. The GT actually throws out the anchor, exhibiting unbelievable deceleration. The brake pedal was extra compliant than I anticipated, with wonderful really feel, and I used to be having a blast. An excellent avenue supercar such because the Porsche GT3 RS has incredible brakes and a number of downforce for a manufacturing automobile, however the GTLM on full brake looks like double the deceleration pressure. I swear you may really feel your eyeballs leaving their sockets. This brake impact is delivered to you by Brembo, with six-pot calipers within the entrance and 4 within the rear, with vented rotors throughout.

Popping out of VIR’s Hog Pen nook (Flip 16) and onto the entrance straight was additionally an incredible expertise. The Mustang GT4 was actually good on this space, sliding round an affordable quantity as I attempted to take care of momentum. Regardless of shifting round, the GT4 nonetheless feels extra caught and faster than any efficiency avenue automotive on this part. The GTLM is a complete totally different animal. As I dropped over the hill and entered the right-hander onto the entrance straight, I used to be carrying severe tempo. I couldn’t consider how a lot grip the GT generated, as I may really feel each compression and lateral load in my neck and torso on the identical time. I instantly knew there was extra pace there, which was slightly superb.

The following couple of laps glided by manner too shortly, my lap occasions shifting in the best path. The quickest corners stored getting extra ridiculous, as I stayed on the fuel longer and stayed off of the brakes. By lap three I used to be coming into the high-speed esses with no carry; it was loopy how shortly I needed to transfer my fingers on the wheel to steer the automotive into appropriate place to enter the esses. It actually felt like a online game. The grip in Hog Pen continued to amaze and I started to get rather more comfy shifting the automotive round within the slower corners. The GT transmits entrance and rear slip amazingly effectively and controlling any small slide with just a little steering enter or a throttle manipulation was nice enjoyable. The brakes and Michelin race tires took every little thing I may throw at them with a mere shrug.

As I got here onto the again straight throughout my third lap, I may see the GT4 Mustang possibly six seconds forward of me up the highway. By the top of that lap I used to be getting fairly shut and backed off my tempo, simply in case the driving force didn’t know I used to be coming. The Mustang did transfer over to the aspect of the observe as soon as I received behind it, however I didn’t set a lot of a time for my fourth lap. However it didn’t matter, as lap occasions weren’t the purpose on at the present time. What counted was that the expertise of driving the Ford GTLM was unbelievable, and it’s unhappy to suppose the automotive won’t be raced in 2020 by Ford and the Chip Ganassi crew. Possibly one other crew will step as much as run this superb automotive. After driving it, I certainly hope so.

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