On Saturday, April 18, I'll be racing in the Mustang Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park just outside of Birmingham, Ala. I'll be driving the No. 00 Ford Racing media car. Not only is it an honor to be invited by Ford Racing to drive their media car, it's also an honor to do so at the Mustang's 45th anniversary celebration which will also be taking place on site this weekend. I've been around Mustangs my whole life, and it has a history that I feel very attached to.
Although I haven't driven a race-prepped Mustang Challenge car yet, I have been in the Miller Motorsports Park school cars, which I believe vary just slightly from the cars we'll race at Barber. They're great performing cars, and they have the look to match. Some of the notable differences between these cars and the KONI Mustangs that I've raced over the past few years are the front splitter, big rear wing, smaller tires (and a different compound), and smaller engine. They run a 4.6L stock Mustang GT engine, which has about 300 hp (the KONI Mustangs are just shy of 400 hp). The series also has a tighter rein on what can be modified in the cars. This makes the Mustang Challenge more of a spec series, where driver technique plays a bigger role than normal.
The Miller cars drive quite different from my No. 61 ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang. The Miller cars handle well through the turn, and when you go over the limit, the tires "chudder," making it very clear that you've gone too far. With the KONI Mustangs, when the car pushes through the turn, the feedback is much more subtle.
So, what's better? Obviously, it's always nice to have more contact area, but if you're pushing, you're not going the fastest possible either way. However, I do expect that the tires will likely be different still with a fresh set of series-sanctioned tires, and I also expect that there will also be other nuances to these cars that I'll be learning on the practice day.
It'll be a fun and intense challenge racing against the guys in this series. There are some great drivers here, including Andrew Caddell (the inaugural series champion from last year), Mike McGovern, and Jim Click just to name a few. Mike was my instructor at Bondurant, both when I was 16-years-old as well as just within the past few years.
Barber itself is a neat track. I've been there twice now. It's not normally considered to be a Mustang track. The track was originally designed for motorcycle racing. As a result, its turns are tight. These types of turns tend to favor smaller cars as there's less mass to redirect. However, at my last race at this track, Mustangs swept the podium, with our ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang coming in third.
Just off the track itself is the Barber Museum. If you ever go to this track, it is a must to check this out. There are over 900 vehicles that get rotated through the displays, with about 600 being shown at any one time. The collection includes motorcycles, race cars (including ones from Formula One and NASCAR), and many others. They come from all periods of automotive history and geography. It's truly an eyeful, and well worth a couple of hours to walk through.
If you are going to be in Alabama for the 45th Anniversary, be sure to stop by the ROUSH Performance display to say hello and check out the new ROUSH 2010 Mustang.