Ford let potential customers rip around the racetrack in Shelby GT350s
By Steve Turner
Fans of high-performance Mustangs are chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel of the new Shelby GT350. As you know, it’s a car that packs 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque under the hood and that performance is put down with a high-tech Magneride suspension. It is impressive enough that Ford Performance is developing and selling vehicles like this one. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could test drive one on a racetrack before you buy it?
In years past that might sound like crazy talk. Only members of the media got early seat time in such high-performance dream machines. Well, Ford is not only selling an amazing performance Mustang, but the company let previous customers, potential customers, dealers and a few media types sample it at four historic tracks across the country. Not coincidentally, these were four tracks where Carroll Shelby earned points racing the original GT350.
Dubbed the Shelby GT350 Track Tour, which we told you about back in July, this event series began at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, California, in August and continued on in September with stops at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and Lime Rock Park in Salisbury, Connecticut in September. The final stop of the Track Tour pulled into Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida, from October 12-13, and your friends at SVTP were fortunate enough to score an invitation.
As we said, this event is unique as it lets potential customers experience a highly coveted vehicle in what had previously been reserved for dealers and the media. As such, there was not only a chance to get into the GT350, but the opportunity to learn more about Ford Performance and its offerings, including a generous dose of education about the Shelby GT350.
We drew a slot in the Blue group, which meant we would be in the last run group on the track before the event took a break to switch gears from our mixed group of media and customers to a more dealer-centric group in the afternoon. This meant that we started out getting a walk-around tour of the features found on the Shelby GT350, including the differences found on the GT350R. The Shelby GT350 Marketing Manager, Mark Schaller, conducted it.
If you weren’t there to see it in person, we captured it here so you can feel like you were there…
If you haven’t been glued to every nuance of the GT350 story like we have, getting a little tour of its features is definitely informative, especially before you drive it. In fact, we enjoyed getting schooled on the car and Ford Performance before we drove.
Our next stop on the tour was a visit with Ford Performance Marketing Manager, Jim Owens. If he can’t get you excited about what’s to come from the Blue Oval’s high-performance division, we don’t know who can.
Jim has worked for Ford SVT and even did a tour working for Shelby American, where he worked closely with Mr. Shelby himself. Jim reinforced a thought that we have had for a few years now. This really is the Golden Age of Ford performance, and you can watch him make a case for that here…
After getting pumped up by Jim, it was easy to be ready to take the track and see what the cars were all about. For many people it would be their first chance to take flight in the Hummingbird. Fortunately we already had the opportunity to ride in and drive the car before, and it’s safe to say we were impressed. However, it’s always exciting to get a chance behind the wheel of highly tuned machine like the GT350.
Before we could get that chance we got a quick tour of the features available at the driver’s fingertips. As you likely know, the GT350 is loaded with Track Apps that will measure your car’s performance and several driving modes that will enhance its capabilities on the race track. Many of these are available by toggling through the controls on the steering wheel or on the center console. If you haven’t seen this in action we captured this over-the-shoulder overview of these features for you…
Cool stuff for sure, but we were getting antsy. After learning about the cars and hearing other people have fun in them all morning, we were more than ready to hit the track. We finally got the call to suit up, and your scribe was first in line to strap on an HANS device and a brain bucket.
Ford hauled multiple Track Pack and R-model GT350s, in many of the available color configurations, down to Sebring International Raceway. However, if you want your pick, being first in line helps. Once the safety gear was in order, we headed to the track entrance and were directed to the first car in line—a sinister, black GT350R.
It was like reuniting with an old girlfriend for one last fling. We made sweet music with the R-model at Laguna Seca, so she felt quite familiar as we surged out of pit lane onto the historic track. The open exhaust built its familiar crescendo as we gained speed. Oh it feels good when it hits 3,000 and starts pulling hard. The grip is there, the cornering is sharp, and it feels so good when your foot presses hard on the accelerator or the brakes.
Just like we remembered it, the GT350R is a race car in street-car clothing. While we were at home in the car, the track was another story. We had run the full Sebring circuit but not the shorter IMSA 12-hour configuration. As such we were skittish for the first lap or so, and by the time we started to gain confidence and push our laps were over. Here’s a look at our brief time in the GT350R…
Going into the event, we knew the track time would be short, but even a couple laps in a GT350 makes for a better day than most people might ever have. Fortunately, what followed our drive was a move into the passenger seat where our co-pilot took over an showed us how it was really done.
The brave souls riding with everyone on the Track Tour are definitely used to grabbing onto the passenger-side door handle and hoping for the best. They are instructors at the Ford Performance Racing School, which runs out of Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. Of course, they get to return the favor, as they drive you around much faster than you would have dreamt of attempting. In our case, it was Bill Rhinehart showing us how to get around the track. These eye-opening laps are sure to be the stuff of cocktail party legend for anyone that attended the event and isn’t regularly on the racetrack.
Then as quickly as it started, our time had come to an end. The morning session was over, and other groups needed a chance to enjoy the fruits of the Ford Performance engineers’ labor.
As we said, Sebring was the final stop on the GT350 Track Tour. However, if you weren’t lucky enough to wrangle and invitation we are told there’s a good chance the events will hit four new tracks in 2016. We sure hope so, because it’s a lot of fun and they might have a Focus RS by then…
Shelby GT350 Track Tour Gallery