Taming the 760-horsepower animal ain’t easy, but it’s thrilling and rewarding
We got our first taste of the gob-smacking 2020 Ford Mustang GT500 a couple months ago when Ford Performance hosted the media for a first drive at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With each event that day, we were blown away by how quickly the car went down a prepped drag strip, how happy it was to crush curbs on the racetrack, and how both tame and rewarding it was to drive to and from nearby Mt. Charleston. We called it a game changer, and we still stand by it.
Fast-forward two weeks, and our hired hot shoe, Randy Pobst, was invited to Virginia International Raceway to push the limits of a base GT500 and one equipped with the Carbon Fiber Track Pack (CFTP). He loved the base car, said he got the “floaty” feels at a pro’s pace. After driving the GT500 CFTP, he said, “Pretty much, prayers answered.” He added that it has “the strength and agility of an all-pro linebacker.” We had to wait another two weeks to get the dynamic duo delivered to MotorTrend HQ for a proper MT instrumented test. Here’s what we found.
Just looking at them, you know they’re capable. Measuring 16.5 inches up front with Brembo six-piston calipers and 14.6 inches in the rear with four-pistons, the GT500’s two-piece floating vented disc brakes are powerful and fade free. Both cars performed better with some heat in their tires, as their 600 mph stopping distances grew shorter from the first stop to about the seventh stop where the distances leveled out and remained. The brake pedal remained medium-firm throughout the test. The base car needed just 100 feet to stop and the CFTP-equipped GT500 only 94 feet. True sports car territory.
With a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission and both a dedicated Drag Mode and launch control, the GT500 is capable of a 10.6-second quarter-mile time, according to Ford Performance. That’s on a chemically prepped (sticky) surface in optimal conditions. At MotorTrend, we test on plain asphalt. We learned during that first drive that despite being called launch control, what the GT500 has is an adjustable rev limiter that engages when both the brake and throttle pedals are pressed to the floor. Unlike, say, the 2020 Corvette’s programming of its Tremec dual-clutch transmission that smoothly and effectively engages its clutch for an optimal launch, once the GT500’s brakes are released, its clutch engages rapidly, almost like sidestepping a clutch pedal. Next, that rev limiter goes away, and now you’re at wide-open throttle with 760 hp under your right foot. Burnouts? You betcha, and you don’t even need to use the programmed line-lock feature.
Trial and Error
Even with traction control engaged, there’s simply too much wheelspin to afford representative 060 or quarter-mile times. It’s all in the launch. I tried lowering the target engine rpm, but then the car bogged. I tried launching at something less than wide-open throttle, but then the launch control criteria were not met, and the car does a lazy street start. I tried shutting off both launch and traction controls to see if I could select a two-pedal rpm myself, but the car only allows 1,000 rpm max under those conditions. Like I do in a Hellcat, I tried launching in second gear, but the car wouldn’t allow it. I tried all the tricks in my test driver’s kit but one. After the fact, MT’s Scott Evans asked if I had tried pulling both paddles simultaneously and revving the engine then releasing said paddles. He reminded me that doing this in the 2020 Corvette allows it to rev to an rpm of your choice in “neutral” then slamming the clutch. “Dang it,” I said, “I forgot they both had Tremecs. I’ll have to try that next time.” So, it was down to
It takes practice, but here’s how to get the best results: Engage Drag Mode (because it softens the rear suspension for better weight transfer and uses an “over torque” shift protocol) within the launch control menu, adjust the launch rpm to 2,200, disengage traction control, select launch control, then while pressing the brake pedal hard, go to wide-open throttle and release the brake. Normally, doing all those things would simply roast the rear tires, but here’s the tricky part.
Drag racers call it “pedaling.” After the initial launch, you lift off the throttle just enough to quell wheelspin but not so much that the car bogs, then gradually roll back onto the throttle without causing it to flare up again. It goes something like this: 100 percent throttle, then immediately 34 percent, then 36, 40, 52, 67, 75, and so on until the car shifts to second gear and then you can finally pin the throttle 100 percent to the floorboard. Even then, the GT500 will spin the rear tires at 80 mph in second gear, so you must be ready to make steering corrections and trust that it’ll go away.
And that’s the thing, there’s no formula to make it work every time. It’s a thrilling challenge and genuinely a “feel” thing as the tires, surface, and temperature conditions are changing all the time. I must have made a dozen runs to get two that I felt were ideal and representative; fewer in the GT500 CFTP with this knowledge and with its grippier tires. Those results, respectively, were: 060 mph in 3.7 and 3.6 seconds; and quarter miles in 11.5 seconds at 129.6 mph and 11.3 seconds at 131.6 mph.
Not surprisingly, these results are slightly slower than the similarly powered but lighter 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1and more in line with the 2018 Camaro ZL1 that has a similar weight-to-power value and tire setup. These are among the most challenging and rewarding rear-wheel-driven cars on the planet on a drag strip. To go any faster, you’d need all-wheel drive or an actual, self-regulating launch control system.
The China Shop
Unlike Randy’s assessment of how planted, predictable, and pointable the GT500 was on the high-speed Full Course at VIR—especially when equipped with the aero- and track-optimized Track Pack—our figure-eight-meister Kim Reynolds said, “Both of these GT500s are about as crazy as a car has ever felt around the figure eight. They have several times more power than handling. The base GT500? Maybe four times. The Track Pack? Maybe three times. They’re literally half out of control every second of the lap. Repeatedly I had wheelspin from corner exit to braking—it never stopped trying to walk around on me. Fun, but a heck of a lot of work!” He concluded with, “This is one fast SOB. The roar and thrust when you finally have the wiliness to go full throttle from circle to circle is like being in the middle of a thunderstorm.”
Racetrack in a Bottle
Here’s the thing: Our flat, parking-lot-bound, and relatively low-speed “racetrack in a bottle” isn’t really a racetrack, so the skidpad-to-skidpad dash sometimes fails to tell the whole story, especially with mega-powerful cars like these. On his best 1:56.30 VIR lap, Randy reached a 166.5-mph top speed and averaged just over 101 mph over the 3.27-mile circuit. In contrast, on our roughly 0.33-mile figure-eight exercise, Kim’s 23.5- and 24.1-second laps show an 82-mph top speed, a 52-mph average, and the same 45-mph minimum speeds on the skidpad that Randy experienced on VIR’s slowest corners. Also, looking at the map drawn by Kim’s 15 or so laps in each GT500, what stands out is that each lap followed a slightly different line. What typically looks like a couple laps—because he follows the same, tight line on each lap—with a clearly drawn “8” looks more like a GT500 drifting contest with a wide swath of lines coming off each skidpad. Kim was, indeed, trying to stay on the back of the bull, but using both hands.
Life With the Beast
With all this talk of drag strips, bull riding, and lap times, we need to put the GT500 in better perspective: in the real world. Shockingly, it’s an absolute darling; it couldn’t be any easier to live with. In Normal drive mode, it quietly burbles around town as comfortably as a luxury car, riding smoothly, never bottoming or scraping, slurring up and down shifts, and doing “limo” stops. That a car is capable of such exceptional performance and a breezy nonchalance is a rare feat. This generation of magnetorheological dampers, enormous two-piece steel disc brakes with a linear bite, and brilliant transmission programming all play a part. The teams that calibrated the GT500 deserve an award of their own.
What they say about L.A. traffic is true. My 31-mile home/office commute is often horrendous and can take up to 2 hours. Say what you will about the driver-machine connection a manual transmission provides, the twin-clutch automated manual (TCAM) transmission is a game changer on the track and a life changer every day. Porsche got the revolution rolling with its magical PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung), and others from McLaren and AMG to Ferrari and now Ford have seen the light. After lapping VIR, Randy said, “The GT500’s auto mode rivals Porsche’s PDK (yes, really) and does everything I would do, anyway.” These transmissions can upshift quicker than any human and thus maintain momentum. They’re also easier to live with in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
There just must be a more satisfying way to put the car in gear than rotating a flimsy plastic knob. I don’t care for the knurled metallic version in Jaguars, either. Even Porsche dropped the ball on this one with the 2020 911 Carrera’s unsatisfying shift stub. Either remove the mechanical selection and make it strictly a push-button affair, as Ferrari and McLaren do, or give us a proper center-console-mounted stalk to rest our right hand on, push, pull, or nudge.
Even with my launch control and interior nitpickings, I’d still own a GT500 and drive it daily. If I did, I’d also cash in on Ford Performance Racing School’s offer for a free track day with instruction. I’ve not been a fan of Mustangs in the past, with the exception of the GT350, but the all-around talent that this car possesses is a rare thing. In the hands of Pobst, even the base Shelby was quicker around VIR than the new mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Z51. It’s easy to drive slowly or quickly. It’s as thrilling as it is comfortable. It sucks up potholes and racetrack curbs alike. It sounds like it looks, mean and capable. The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is, for me, the best all-around sports car available. Come back in a few months to see how it fares in our annual Best Driver’s Car contest.
Source: Read Full Article