2015 GT350 Mustang aimed at track-day dominance

  • 19-Nov-2014 06:36 EST
ShelbyGT350 LEAD image.jpg

With the new +500-hp Voodoo V8 under its muscular hood, a chassis designed for handling, and bodywork optimized for downforce and powertrain cooling, the GT350 could be an ultimate American track-day weapon. (For more images click on the small arrow at the upper right corner of this box.)

The original Shelby GT350 Mustang introduced nearly 50 years ago wasn’t built for comfort, or even street use. It was built to dominate the B-Production class in Sports Car Club of America road racing, which it did for three straight years and became a legend. With its 2015 GT350, Ford has captured a considerable amount of the original car’s spirit but wrapped it in a more livable package—the first high-performance iteration (Ford calls them “buzz actions”) of the all-new Mustang architecture and unveiled at the 2014 L.A. Auto Show.

“Starting from the base vehicle, which is quite good, the development team’s focus was even more so on track and winding-road performance,” said Raj Nair, Group Vice President, Global Product Development. “It will make a great basis for a track-day car right out of the box. Certainly the street-vs-track development ratio was more biased toward the track than the majority of cars we do—even versus the GT500, which is pretty good on track but more of a straight-line car. The GT350 is more about handling,” Nair told Automotive Engineering in a pre-L.A. Show interview.

Added Ford Global Marketing Chief Jim Farley: “This car is similar in character to the Porsche 911 GT3”—a bold statement that car-enthusiast magazines will certainly try to prove when they comparison-test the Shelby against Europe’s best and against the usual domestic suspects such as the Chevrolet Camaro Z-28.

According to Nair, during the sixth-generation Mustang’s planning GT350 emerged as the “buzz car” the team wanted to do first. And it just so happened that Ford Powertrain had begun exploring a wild new rev-happy V8 based on the existing Coyote architecture around the same time; the two became the foundation for continuing the Shelby Mustang legacy. (See http://articles.sae.org/13709/.) The “Voodoo” V8 is offered with either a Tremec 3160 six-speed manual or Ford’s own 6R80 six-speed planetary automatic.

Multiple mass offsets

Besides the new Voodoo V8, Ford supported the GT350 project with significant investments in structural engineering (achieving a 28% stiffer body), body tooling (all panels forward of the A-pillars are unique), lightweight materials (hood and front fenders in aluminum), and premium component hardware including a Torsen limited-slip differential and Recaro seats.

Front track has been widened by 35 mm (1.4 in), and the car sits about 2 in (50 mm) lower than the GT and rides on bespoke Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires constructed exclusively for the new Shelby. BWI Group’s MagneRide dampers control suspension action using magnetorheological fluid, a sensor set, and a subsystem ECU.

Farley’s GT-3-fighter dreams aside, the GT350’s expected competitor will be the Z-28, at its heart a muscle machine aimed at track-day purists and devoid of many typical creature comforts. “Z-28’s a great car, but it’s got a lot of tire underneath it, and its track manners are built around that,” said Nair, himself an accomplished amateur road racer. “We’re less reliant on tire and we’re going to be a little more crisp and nimble. It’s a typical difference in approach between us and GM. I think we’ve coupled that into a better all-around vehicle rather than something that’s so track focused like the Z-28.”

According to Jamal Hameedi, Chief Engineer of Ford Global Performance Vehicles, most of the team’s lightweighting measures went into “offsetting all the mass we added in terms of power, driveline, and brakes.” The development budget even included a line for a carbon-fiber grille opening and reinforcement, a lightweight metal strut-tower cross brace, and lightweight functional rear diffuser for improved aero and grip.

While Ford did not announce curb weight (or other key specs, including power and torque ratings) during the car’s L.A. show reveal, Raj Nair earlier told Automotive Engineering that he expected the GT350 will come in “slightly lighter than the current base Mustang GT—3618 lb (1641 kg) with a manual transmission.

The GT350’s standard brakesets are by Brembo, which is highly respected among global OEMs who realize that the latest foundation-brake technology and a strong brand are not inexpensive. They feature new two-piece cast iron rotors mounted on aluminum hats, 395 mm (15.6 in) diameter front with six-piston calipers and 380 mm (15.0 in) rear rotors with four-pot units.

Like an “amped up” Mustang GT

The car’s bodywork is designed for optimum grip on the track and aerodynamic efficiency. The front fascia includes a lower front splitter; there’s a ducted belly pan to provide added downforce. The hood outlet serves as a heat extractor while also reducing lift at high speed, and the front fenders incorporate vents in their flanks to extract turbulent air in the wheelhouses and direct it smoothly along the bodysides. At the rear, there’s a functional diffuser that works to boost downforce and provide cooling air to the optional differential cooling package, along with a subtle lip spoiler across the trailing edge of the decklid.

How does the GT350 feel to drive? Chassis tuning was done at Virginia International Raceway and the Nurburgring as well as Ford’s U.S. proving grounds. Nair has had seat time, and he describes the car as having “a Mustang GT feel, amped up to the next level.” He said that while steering may not be quite as nimble-feeling as that of the 2.3-L Ecoboost Mustang (lighter in front and thus better balanced), the MagneRide dampers “make it really surprising how aggressive you can be with the car without it getting upset. It handles crisply; on track you can ride the curbs a lot harder than with the prior vehicle or with the base GT,” Nair said.

While price has not been announced, Ford insiders indicate the new Shelby Mustang will come in underneath the roughly $74,000 retail figure of the 2014 Z-28. And that’s significantly less than a GT-3 Porsche.

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