The Boss Brigade
Mustangs dominate races three and four of World Challenge GTS
By Steve Turner
When the World Challenge GTS series rolled into your author’s backyard, we just had to take the trip over to the St. Petersburg Gran Prix to see the Mustang Boss 302s run against Aston Martin Vantage GT4s, Camaro Z28s, and Porsche Caymans. It seems the Boss brigade knew we were coming, because they put on quite a show.
In St. Pete the GTS class ran two races—three and four—of the young season, and the Boss 302s filled the podium in both races. In fact, in both races Mustangs held the top spot for the entire race. Yes, it was that kind of weekend for the Ford Performance teams, and we were happy to witness it.
On Thursday, Rehagen Racing’s Dean Martin, an old friend of SVTP, put his Picture Car Warehouse machine on the pole with a 1.19:001 lap time and an average speed of 82.024 mph.
Since it is quite difficult to pass within the tight confines of a street course, Dean used his Mustang experience to his advantage during Friday’s race. While many of the other Boss pilots were new to the car or the series, Dean knew how to put the power down and get a big leap ahead on the start. He maintained that lead through out the race, but that starting line edge came in handy he scraped the wall and tweaked the car’s tie rod. Even that mistake—and the less than ideal suspension geometry that resulted—wasn’t enough to let his competitors sneak by and he held on for another win.
“I got a great start, and on the street courses it’s tough to pass unless you make a mistake. I made two or three—one big one when I bounced it off the wall in Turn 3… but the Picture Cars/Rehagen Racing/Watson Racing Mustang is really good,” Dean said. “The car just performed really well. I’m really happy to bring it home.”
“We talk about it a lot. It’s a low self-preservation factor. You’ve just got to ignore the fact that the walls are there. A lot of guys are intimidated by it, because if something goes wrong on a street course, you’re a pancake,” he said of his success on street courses like St. Pete. “You’ve just got to have faith in the car. That’s a lot of it. The Mustang is such a great reliable car. Every time I go to the brake pedal or the throttle pedal, it’s going to be there. It’s more the car. The car is spot on.”
In second place, relative newcomer Kurt Rezzatano, was just starting to get a feel for racing the Mustang in GTS, and he obviously took to the experience well. After qualifying sixth his Performance Ford Boss 302 with a 1:19.795 lap, Kurt also used a relatively good start to put himself in position for a podium finish.
“The car was pretty good. We did a decent start. I feel like I was surprised. Dean looked like he hooked up and just left it. My car got a little bit of wheel spin. I had to pedal it a little bit, and shot up through the middle. Luckily I got ahead of Spencer (Pumpelly) because I knew he was going to be really quick,” Kurt said. “Once I got it rolling I got down into Turn 1 and just tried to set sail and get in behind Dean. He was driving a really smart race. I could tell he was gauging it a little bit. He made a couple mistakes. I saw him brush the wall in 3 and I thought maybe I had a chance. I caught up a couple times but got into traffic and it got pretty interesting. All in all a good race.”
In just his third start in World Challenge GTS, Spencer Pumpelly looks like a tough competitor. He was the quickest in practice with his DWW Motorsports Boss 302, and qualified hot on Dean’s heels with a 1:19.262 lap. He ran a clean race and was excited to put his team on the podium for the first time.
“I enjoyed driving the Mustang. It’s a ton of fun. I got great throttle response in the car,” Spencer enthused. “I’m really proud of all the guys who helped put this car together and make it go fast.”
You can watch the post-event pressers here…
In Race 4, Dean Martin was back on the pole, but this time some wounded brake rotors that didn’t clean up like the team expected meant that the reliable braking he had in the first race wasn’t there for Saturday’s evening dust-up. With each lap Dean was giving up a bit of ground, and soon it was a pack of Boss 302s leading the entire race.
Newcomer Spencer Pumpelly found his stride this time. While Dean and Kurt battle it out, he slipped by and locked into the lead spot. Once he was there, Spencer wouldn’t give up any ground and rolled to the win.
“Yesterday was a bit of a learning process. It was only my first race for the team. I think we learned a lot. One of the things I learned is that I wasn’t very good at starts, so I had to re-think how I did that. Today I got a much better start thanks to some coaching from the DWW guys. That put me up in third. Then I saw Dean and Kurt go two-wide in some corners and Dean was on the inside and started to drift out wide,” Spencer explained. “I knew it was a street course, so it’s tough to go three-wide, but they were going outside with momentum and I knew that hole would be there for at least a little bit, so I went for it and fortunately got by because it’s so tough to pass here. I don’t think we would have had the result if it hadn’t happened, so we’ll chalk it up to a little luck that there was a hole there that opened up for me.”
Three seconds behind him at the stripe was Andrew Aquilante in the Calvert Dynamics Boss 302. After experiencing a mechanical failure in Race 3, his team got to work repairing the car, and he went from the back of the pack to the podium.
“We pretty much made a wholesale driveline change trying to solve all the issues. Thanks to all those guys. It was good race,” Andrew said. “We made a little bit of a wrong strategy call on tires. We went out on scuffs and that didn’t work very well. The Pirellis held up all race, but we just didn’t have the ultimate pace of the sticker cars…”
Right on his tail was teammate Kurt Rezzetano, who mirrored Andrew’s tire choice, so he was left wanting more traction too. Two trips to the podium in one weekend did make for an enjoyable visit to St. Petersburg.
“The street course is interesting. This is the first street course I’ve ever raced on,” Kurt said. “I had a great time driving this place though.”
The drivers even joked about the Mustangs being hit by a weight penalty after such a successful weekend. However, when asked about the car’s advantage, it would seem that the old-school suspension tech on the Boss 302 has its benefits on the tight confines of a street course, but not so much on the more open tracks.
“On the street track we’ve got a lot of slow corners, 90-degree corners. Stop. Turn. Jump on the gas and go. The Mustang is very good at that. As weird as it sounds, the live rear axle—having both tires on the ground—as long as you survive (is an advantage). Also, if you look at the way our cars are set up. They are a lot softer. They can take the curbs a lot more. That’s worth a little bit here and a little bit there. That’s what we do.”
“Everybody thinks we have a huge power advantage, but it’s really not so much the power. It’s the traction off the corners,” Kurt added. “We suffer in the fast, long corners because we don’t have camber in the back of the car, but in the short, shoot stuff where you’ve really got to get the torque (down) to make a difference, that’s what separates the Mustang.”
The next race in the World Challenge GTS series takes place at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, from April 24-26. If you enjoy Mustang road racing and you are in the area, you should definitely check it out.
St. Pete World Challenge GTS Gallery