Tom Wilson
November 3, 2010
Contributers: KJ Jones Photos By: Henry Z. De Kuyper, KJ Jones

Last year we fielded a 14-year-old daily driver Mustang Cobra in the inaugural Castrol Syntec Challenge. It was a game move, putting up a lightly modified '94 Cobra against a bunch of mega-dollar cars representing other magazines, and we did well to finish fourth. However, like the editors of the other five magazines involved (Super Street, Import Tuner, Eurotuner, Honda Tuning and Modified Magazine), Big Steve wanted to step up our game this year. And so Carlos Cortez's '07 Mustang Shelby GT500 convertible got the nod.

Carlos' car's main attraction is nuclear thrust. The GT500s are no slouch off the showroom floor, of course. With Carlos' ride wearing the first Vortech VTS supercharger upgrade, it packs a Herculean hit that's guaranteed to make almost any competitor run and hide from contests of brute force.

Of course, the Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge is far more than a drag race. The contest includes a dyno evaluation, emissions test, 180-mile endurance drive, 0-to-60 acceleration, 80-to-0 braking, power-to-weight calculations, and a fastest-lap shootout on the road course. Therefore our GT500 was further prepped to enhance its all-around game (see "Maxed Out" on page 64 in our Oct. '10 issue and "Topped Off" elsewhere in this issue).

Because the Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge is far more than a drag race, testing the participants is a three-day affair, opening with a dyno test at K&N Performance in Riverside, California. A best-of-three power pulls are made on K&N's Superflow chassis dyno, followed immediately by an emissions test.

Once everyone has their chance on the dyno's rollers, the Top Car entourage hits the road and rumbles through street and highway traffic, on the three-hour grind up to Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California's sweltering central valley. At Buttonwillow, Day 2 is dedicated to testing in the standing quarter-mile, 0-60 acceleration, and 80-0 braking. Day 3 is spent lapping Buttonwillow's "big track" in search of the single-fastest lap.

Points are awarded mainly, but not completely, as a percentage of the best competitor's performance, which makes it impossible for competitors to keep tabs on how everyone is doing. Furthermore, while some results are plainly evident to anyone watching, others, such as the officially clocked lap times, are known only to the officials, and they keep those a secret for a couple of months so the news doesn't leak out early and spoil the fun.

We certainly had the power this year, and as long as the brakes stayed close to their operating temperature, our Shelby GT500 had fabulous braking, along with good emissions and unimpeachable street-car credentials. If we have to call something an Achilles' heel for our combination, it's definitely the car's excessive weight and limp chassis.

I'll finish by saying I love road racing, but that particular discipline of motorsports asks a lot of a street car. It's impossible to brake or corner anywhere as hard and as repeatedly on the street as is the norm on the track. The qualities that make a great track car also contribute a lot to having a punishing street car. But the perceived catch-22 is that great street cars usually tend to fall apart on the track. Our Top Car challenger dispelled that theory.

In the final analysis, I'm jealous of Carlos' ability to take his GT500 (and its sledgehammer performance) for a long, spirited cruise through the canyons of SoCal, tunes playing, fresh air blowing, and massive power burst always at the ready. His ride is a fabulous street car with wonderful driveability. And by bettering its competition in outright power, and finishing a close second in the acceleration and braking tests (and being just a touch below emissions standards with long-tube headers), this GT500 definitely is a winner with us in its intended street environment.

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