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

On the Track
Lap times were set on the third and final day of the 2010 Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge, with an hour of open practice before a 15-minute, officially timed session. The single-fastest lap is tallied, with double points awarded to the winner because traversing a road course (in the least amount of time) encompasses all aspects of a car's performance; testing a vehicles balance and finesse through transitions the more specialized tests miss.

Before hitting the track, the Maximum Motorsports crew swapped the Hawk HPS Plus street brake pads for gnarly Hawk DTC-60 race pads front and rear. After the pad change, I took the car out on the deserted roads around the racetrack to bed the pads, which gave me an introduction to the Shelby's hairy power.

On the road the car was a joy; an easy-riding, power-crazed unit with noticeably more tone in the handling than that of factory-suspended GT500s. The only squawk was a flat spot in the throttle right off idle, but it was a momentary thing, and with 124 mph in the quarter, it wasn't hurting power delivery any.

Still, just one little squirt of the throttle and we knew we were in for a tough hour and 15 minutes on the track. And we were. Carlos' car has the power of a Trans Am racer but without the precision of a full tube-frame chassis, stiff suspension, and dedicated racing slicks. Furthermore, at 4,300 pounds in on-track trim (car with driver), Carlos' car is bending under the three-quarter tons more weight than the purebred racer.

In an effort to provide some stability to this difficult situation, Maximum had tuned out much of Ford's built-in understeer with geometry and alignment settings, but left plenty of push in via sway-bar tuning. The result was an inherently honest car (it never tried to turn around and bite us) but with so much understeer in the fast sweepers that only minimal power could be used.

On top of that, the dead spot in throttle response just above idle was right where we needed a whiff of power to pick up the front end in mid-corner. That meant either we understeered wide, started to power oversteer (so much torque down low), or simply had to crawl through the turns using almost no throttle at all. None of those are a way to set a fast time.

As you might imagine, this made for a two-fisted, lurching bronco that was difficult to keep in that narrow range where the car was balanced and the tires were giving all their grip. It was our version of the tightrope that KJ walked during his time behind the wheel in the drag test.

Just to make sure we earned our pay, the brakes, which provided excellent stopping power and modulation, faded to the floor in a couple of laps, and the usual lap or so of cool down had almost no effect. Only bringing the car into the pits and bleeding the brakes would restore raceable braking-for another couple of laps.

Some fiddling with shock settings-and most importantly-swapping in a smaller front sway bar, allowed us to put something of a flowing lap together by the end of our timed runs. Unfortunately our 2:05 best was light years behind everyone else, who hovered in the 1:57 to 1:58 range. However, on the plus side, Carlos' car was 7-seconds-a-lap faster than last year's ride.

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