Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
September 6, 2012

Track Out

With its flowing elevation changes and demanding turns, Road Atlanta provides multiple thrills per lap. It's challenging, very fast, and there's little room for error.

I warmed up to the GT500 with three easy laps, then pushed hard on the throttle, brakes, and suspension to realize the potential of this fabulous car. The optional Recaro seats ($1,595) are just wonderful. I liked them in the Boss and love them wrapped in leather and Alcantara. Actually, the ergonomics are as good, or better, than any factory Mustang I've driven. The controls were just where I like 'em and that made the GT500 easy to drive fast.

It's no lightweight, but having a wide power curve means you can exit corners at lower rpm with little drama and still makes tracks down the straights. The Shelby has herculean power and the technology to enable full use of that gumption. Power comes on really smooth and is linear, not peaky.

To prevent journalists from killing themselves, a coned chicane was set up on RA's long back straight. Still, we accelerated from Turn 7 (a tight right-hander) to 135 mph before braking for the disruption. The chicane forced heavy braking and a Second gear downshift, but the Shelby rocketed back to 135 (top of Third) before reaching the downhill braking zone for 10a. Holy boost Batman, this thing goes from 60 to 135 mph like a scalded cat. Ford engineers confirmed the GT500 would achieve over 170 mph using the entire back straight!

The Shelby has precise and predictable handling. Aggressive and even moderate braking planted the nose and gave me loads of grip for accurate turn-in. I didn't notice any understeer, which was nice. Overall, it was neutral in the turns. I could induce oversteer with throttle, but it was controllable. With the Advance Trac active, the computer limited yaw, it keeps you from messing up.

The updated suspension was also tight, absorbing the apex strips without upsetting the chassis. The Brembo brakes hauled it down from speed effortlessly with firm feel and nice modulation. Ford claims a 55-percent improvement in fade and better stopping distance.

It all combines to make the GT500 amazing quick on the track, but also enjoyable for street driving. It's sprung tight, yet it absorbs imperfections nicely. To enhance your experience, drivers can toggle on the fly between damper settings that alter the feel, ride quality, and performance. These adjustments include the tunable EPAS (electric power assist steering) and the (optional) Damptronic Bilstein dampers, which can either be set on Firm or Soft with the touch of a button. Drivers can also enable or disable LC, TC, or Advance Trac.

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Drag City

Atlanta Dragway's quarter-mile was up next, where about 20 journalists and Ford engineers laid down a multitude of passes on the same six GT500's we drove on track the day prior.

We arrived to see Ford's crew performing check-out laps on each of the cars. After a safety briefing, I rode with a Ford driver to learn the LC system. Some journalists had never seen a dragstrip, so this was necessary. I climbed aboard with Brake Controls Engineer Dan Dunn, who pounded a mean gear and got us there in just over 12 seconds. Not bad for a hot car with two occupants and a rollbar.

By the time I cycled through, the ambient temperature had climbed to 78 degrees, with mild humidity absorbing valuable space where oxygen could be. The track though, once prepped, was showing baldness on the line.

I strapped into a Black 500, which had about 15-20 runs on it--in a row. I heated/cleaned the Goodyear tires with a First-gear burnout by turning off traction control, revving the engine, and dumping the clutch. A touch of brake with my left foot held the car stationary; once I saw smoke, I powered towards the line. We were instructed to use the LC, so I dialed in 3,800 rpm, pushed the LC button, and was ready to go. When I snapped my foot from the clutch, the GT500 lunged and then bogged--seemingly gagging for a breath--then took off. Due to the tall gearing, only two upshifts are necessary, and I cracked the traps in 12.52 seconds at 120 mph--disappointing to say the least.

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