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Joe Sulentic's '95 Steeda Q Cobra R
A Kick-Ass SCCA T-1 Road Racer, With License Plates!
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Street-driven dragrace cars are so commonplace that theyre practically the norm in the 5.0 Mustang world. Without a ton of effort or money, you can build an 11-second 5.0 that will be highly competitive at the track, and yet be totally driveable so you could drive it to work or school every day. Thats usually not the case with a road race car. The typical image of a road-race car is a gutted, overly sprung beast that would kill you on the daily slog to work, and for the most part, thats true. A fast road-racing setup demands no compromises in the name of comfort. It is, however, possible to build a street-legaland truly street driveableroad race Mustang. Dont believe us? Check out Joe Sulentic and his Steeda Q.
A few years ago, Steeda kicked ass and took a long list of names in the IMSA Grand Sport class with the infamous Number 20 car. For two years, it pretty much dominated the series, but it got so that the competitors that Steeda was blowing away were also their customers. And thats not good for business. So, the Number 20 car was retired, and the company decided to concentrate on building parts and complete cars, but not racing them. Of course, company owner Dario Orlando was besieged by phone calls from racers looking for driving jobs or sponsorship, but nobody got the okay until Joe Sulentic, from Iowa, rang the phone.
Joe had a long history in racing. He spent several years in Europe racing formula cars, rising to a Formula 3 ride. Formula 3, if youre not familiar with it, is where a lot of the Formula 1 drivers come from, and thats the biggest of the big time, bubba. Anyway, Joe had come into possession of a 95 Cobra R, and figured it might be a nice diversion from the open-wheel formula cars. He did some research, and figured Steeda was the place to go for a competitive road-race Mustang. The car was sent to the Steeda shop in Pompano Beach, Florida, resulting in a Mustang that regularly beats up on mega-buck Ferraris, Vipers, and Corvettes. But delving a little deeper, we found out that it wasnt quite that easy.
The car was originally built for IMSAs Grand Sport class, but Joe couldnt drive it right away. Steeda built the car, and spent a lot of time optimizing it before turning the wheel over to Joe. I was itching to drive the car, but Dario kept telling me to be patient, that they were still fine-tuning it, Joe recalls. By the time he got in it, the car was perfect (well, almost) and it finished second overall (out of 60 cars) in Joes first outing in the car, at the 96 Daytona race. After a few more races, Joe got the itch to convert the car to an SCCA Showroom Stock-style racer, so Steeda converted the car to Q status, and set it up for the T-1 class.
Now remember, this is a street car. Yeah, we know, youre calling b&*% sh@$ on us, but its true. The day we went to Moroso Motorsports Park to shoot the action photos, Joe drove the thing the hour up the Florida Turnpike to the track, and the only support vehicle was buddy Ken Perkins Cobra. No kidding. You cant stuff many tools and spares in two Mustangs, especially when one has a full cage.
But the driveability goes even further than that. Joe has driven the car, in the same trim you see it here, from his home in Iowa to Florida, a two-day trip. Joe says Its not very comfortable, since theres no air conditioning, no stereo, and the springs are so stiff, but its not as bad as youd think. And when we were running Grand Sport, it didnt have any windows , so if it rained, you got wet. But thats no big deal. [Ed note: IMSA requires the door bars to go all the way out to the door skin, so the doors were gutted. To go T-1 racing, the stock doors were hung.]
So what does it take to build a streetable, competitive road racer? Not as much trickery as youd expect. Lets start with the obvious deviation from stock, the suspension. Heycheck it outits stock! Well, almost. The rules of T-1 racing allow you change the springs and shocks, add aftermarket bolt-on items, and such, but stock-type suspension must be retained, meaning no doubleA-arm front ends and three-link rears. The most radical thing in Joes suspension is a pair of 1,000lb-in front springs. Thosell rattle your teeth through potholes, but on the road, Joe sets the Tokico five-way adjustable struts and shocks to the softest setting and, again, Its stiff, but its not that bad.
The stock front control arms use offset urethane bushings to increase caster, and the 1-3/8-inch swaybar uses solid rod ends for immediate action. In back, the stock parts were replaced with Steedas aluminum lower control arms and heavy duty uppers, an adjustable swaybar (working in conjunction with the stock bar), 240 to 260lb-in variable rate springs, and Tokico five-way shocks. And thats it. Its all off-the-shelf Steeda stuff. We asked Dario if he did the old trick of bending the rear axle tubes for negative camber at the rear tires (kids, dont try this at home), and he said the infinitesimal gain isnt worth the hassle of doing it. The wheels are 17x9-inch front and 17x10-inch rear Forgeline alloys, and the tires have recently changed from BFGs to 275/40-17 Hoosiers. Joe tells us the Hoosiers have softer sidewalls, which work much better with the suspension setup theyre using. Experimentation is the key with anything.
The brakes are stock Cobra units with 13-inch calipers, and with different Hawk brake pads, depending on the track and length of the race. Road racing is incredibly hard on brakes, and endurance races are beyond brutal to them, so during a 12-hour chingo, the pads are changed every few hours. To minimize time in the pits, Steeda found some trick, quick-release fittings for the brake lines that allow them to switch all four calipers in about two and a half minutes, without having to bleed the system. At roughly $400 a corner, these fittings are the most expensive additions, from a comparison-to-stock standpoint, on the whole car.
As stock as the suspension is, the motor is more so. To be competitive in T-1, you need a 351, since the Cobra R and the Steeda Q are legal, and both come with a 351. Most of us dont have the cake to afford a legit Cobra R or Steeda Q, but any lower-grade 94-and-later Mustang can be upgraded with bolt-on parts. Dario told us the engine in Joes car is an SVO 351 short-block with out-of-the-box X-heads (no porting or other head trickery is allowed by the rules), a stock Cobra intake, a cam (PN F1JE6250B), a 77mm mass air meter, and a Cobra computer. The short-block has been blueprinted to within an inch of its life (compression is 10.59:1), but it uses the same parts that came with the short-block. The rules also dictate street legality, so the car still runs two catalytic converters, though theyre followed by a Steeda Hi-Flow exhaust with an X-pipe and a pair of two-chamber Flowmasters. Rear-wheel horsepower is 330, so its obvious that this isnt a radical motor. The trans is a Tremec five-speed, and the rear gearing is 3.27:1.
The only unavoidable sacrifice to street civility is the interior. You dont screw around when running wheel-to-wheel at 150 mph, so a full-boogie rollcage intrudes into every aspect of the cabin. But weve driven dragrace cars with more annoying door bars, so it all depends on what youre willing to deal with to go fast. The stock airbag steering wheel was chuckedwho needs an airbag with five-point Simpson belts and a full-face helmet?in favor of a Grant wheel, and a trio of gauges occupy the space normally reserved for the radio. The stock rear and passenger seats are still there, but Joes butt sits in a tight Cobra race bucket.
And thats it. Thats what it takes to build a highly competitive SCCA T-1 road-race car. We dont want to minimize the effects of the experience and professional tuning that went into this car, but weve done features on much more radical Mustangs purported to be street cars, so you decide how radical this thing is. In its first two races this season, it has dominated the field. The weekend we were at Moroso, it lapped the entire field, including Scott Boves 97 Cobra T-2 car. Were already hatching plans to build our own version.