Rob Kinnan
May 1, 2000

Step By Step

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P90730_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Front_Passenger_SideP90731_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Driver_Side
This photo was shot at the National Runoffs at Mid-Ohio last December, where Joe and the Steeda Q T-1 car finished second, beating a slew of Vipers, Ferraris, and Corvettes. (The graphics are meant to make the car look like an indian warhorse going into battle.) The winning factory Viper was fading fast, and its driver admits that with another three or four laps, the Q would have taken him. The Runoffs are the Super Bowl of SCCA. The top three finishers in each class, in each region, go to the Runoffs to decide a national champion.
P90732_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Engine
The SVO 351 short-block was blueprinted, but wears unported Explorer heads and a Cobra intake. The air conditioning was removed, but other than that, it’s your typical mild ‘94-to-’95 under-hood scene.
P90733_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Smog_Pump
Even the smog pump is still hooked up.
P90734_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Undercarriage
The exhaust retains two cats, but uses Flowmasters and an X-pipe.
P90735_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Front_ViewP90736_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Front_Valance
Behind the front valance is an oil cooler.
P90737_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Driver_Side_Dyno
We had Steeda put the car on the Dynojet, where it recorded 330 hp.
P90738_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Control_Arms
The rear control arms are straight off of Steeda’s shelves. The variable-rate springs out back are rated at 240– to 260–lb-in.
P90739_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Rear_End
The stock 8.8 rear was upgraded with a new differential (PN 42-C28) and 3.27:1 gears. A Steeda adjustable sway bar controls body roll. Savvy readers may notice that the left clamp has moved, which Dario discovered as we were shooting this photo.
P90740_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Front_Suspension
The front suspension looks stock, but that’s a beefy 1,000–lb-in coil you’re looking at. The struts are five-way adjustable Tokicos.
P90741_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Control_Arm_Bushing
More off-the-shelf parts. These offset control arm bushings locate the lower control arm farther forward, which increases caster.
P90742_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Suspension
This also has the benefit of allowing you to run less static negative camber, yet achieve positive negative camber gain in body roll. That all works to make the car more stable at high speed, better under braking (allowing you to go deeper into the corner), and maintain an optimum tire footprint.
P90743_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Sway_Bar
The sway bar uses solid rod ends for more positive action than stock rubber or even urethane bushings—standard race car stuff.
P90744_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Cooling_Duct
Stock Cobra brakes are upgraded with a variety of Hawk racing pads and this cooling duct (from the fog light holes in the front valance).
P90745_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Quick_Release_Brake_Line
Here’s one of the trickest parts on the whole car, an air-tight quick-release fitting for the brake lines. One at each caliper allows for lightning fast caliper and pad changes in the pits, without having to bleed the system. Steeda has a couple sets of pre-bled calipers with pads, so when Joe comes into the pits during an endurance race, crew chief Steve Chichisola can swap all four calipers in the time it takes to fuel the car. At almost $400 a corner, they ain’t cheap, but if you want to go endurance racing, it’s part of the game. You wouldn’t need these at the typical half-hour regional race.
P90746_image_large
How hard is endurance racing on brakes? These photos were taken after a 45-minute race at Sebring. Notice how scored the rotor is—that’s surely due to the gnarly material of the short-duration brake pads.
P90747_image_large
And check out the bent pad (arrow). This was caused by Joe getting on the brakes too hard too fast, but is a function of the extreme heat that the brakes are subjected to. Dario stresses that with a full-bodied car with “street” brakes, you have to ease into them, instead of jumping on them all at once.
P90748_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Fuel_Cell
More safety stuff: a fuel cell, just in case the inevitable happens.
P90749_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Interior
The interior is not someplace you’d like to spend three days on the road, but it’s livable. The cage is intrusive and makes life hell for passengers, but everything is still there. A Cobra race bucket and a five-point Simpson harness keep Joe in place.
P90750_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Interior_Dashboard
The airbags are obviously removed in this application, and the steering wheel was replaced with a Grant wheel. The button on the wheel is for the in-helmet radio, so Joe can talk to the pits during the race.
P90770_image_large
During their dominating regional race at Moroso, Joe and helper Ken Perkins (left) kept strict notes of tire temperatures, pressures, and lap times. You can go road racing by yourself, but it’s much easier to have at least one crew member.
P90771_large 1995_Ford_Mustang_Steeda Front_View

Street-driven dragrace cars are so commonplace that they’re 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. That’s 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, that’s true. A fast road-racing setup demands no compromises in the name of comfort. It is, however, possible to build a street-legal—and truly “street driveable”—road race Mustang. Don’t 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 that’s 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 you’re not familiar with it, is where a lot of the Formula 1 drivers come from, and that’s 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 wasn’t quite that easy.

The car was originally built for IMSA’s Grand Sport class, but Joe couldn’t 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 Joe’s 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, you’re calling b&*% sh@$ on us, but it’s 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 can’t 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 “It’s not very comfortable, since there’s no air conditioning, no stereo, and the springs are so stiff, but it’s not as bad as you’d think. And when we were running Grand Sport, it didn’t have any windows , so if it rained, you got wet. But that’s 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 you’d expect. Let’s start with the obvious deviation from stock, the suspension. Hey—check it out—it’s 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 double–A-arm front ends and three-link rears. The most radical thing in Joe’s suspension is a pair of 1,000–lb-in front springs. Those’ll 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, “It’s stiff, but it’s 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 Steeda’s aluminum lower control arms and heavy duty uppers, an adjustable swaybar (working in conjunction with the stock bar), 240– to 260–lb-in variable rate springs, and Tokico five-way shocks. And that’s it. It’s 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, don’t try this at home), and he said the infinitesimal gain isn’t 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 BFG’s to 275/40-17 Hoosiers. Joe tells us the Hoosiers have softer sidewalls, which work much better with the suspension setup they’re 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 don’t 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 Joe’s 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 they’re followed by a Steeda Hi-Flow exhaust with an X-pipe and a pair of two-chamber Flowmasters. Rear-wheel horsepower is 330, so it’s obvious that this isn’t 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 don’t screw around when running wheel-to-wheel at 150 mph, so a full-boogie rollcage intrudes into every aspect of the cabin. But we’ve driven dragrace cars with more annoying door bars, so it all depends on what you’re willing to deal with to go fast. The stock airbag steering wheel was chucked—who 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 Joe’s butt sits in a tight Cobra race bucket.

And that’s it. That’s what it takes to build a highly competitive SCCA T-1 road-race car. We don’t want to minimize the effects of the experience and professional tuning that went into this car, but we’ve 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 Bove’s ’97 Cobra T-2 car. We’re already hatching plans to build our own version.