Tom Wilson
December 1, 2002

Heading home from Las Vegas on Sunday morning, we were definitely sorry to have the OTC end. By then we figured we had traded family, dog, and mortgage for a life of lapping with our new gypsy friends, and we had grown rather used to it. Still, we've always come home when we got hungry. NASA promises another OTC next year, and we're hoping to see you there. The mortgage and three bosses can wait.

Getting StartedWe have to say thanks to Maximum Motorsports for continuing to undo the ravages inflicted on our open-tracker in its former life as magazine drag-car project. Going over the striped wonder in preparation for the OTC, Maximum found a 111/42-inch crack in our Ford Racing Performance Parts headers, which were hauled out and repaired. Maximum was dreading the job, but with the company's new K-member in place, the task didn't require the hours and hours of labor to swap the header as with a stocker because the access was so much more open. It took only 30 minutes for two guys to remove the header.

Other replacements included a dry and squealing belt tensioner and idler bearings. As for the stock oil-pressure gauge that has never worked, the bad guy was determined to be the gauge itself, but time constraints meant we'd rely on auditory rod knock for low-oil-pressure indication.

Tires, Always TiresGet around road-course folks and all they seem to talk about are tires. That's because tires are (1) the fastest thing on the car, (2) the most expensive consumable, and (3) definitely consumable. Nothing helps a car get around a road course better than a good set of tires, and it doesn't matter if it's a race car, an open-track machine, or simply a new-car test. Tires matter.

For Touring class OTC partici-pants, the tire question was partially answered by the rules. NASA required DOT-approved tires at all times, with a treadwear rating of at least 60. Just as there are DOT drag slicks, DOT road-course tires can become aggressive, and so the 60 treadwear rating helped keep out the slicks-disguised-as-street-tires in favor of ultra-high-performance street tires that just think they are slicks.

Nitto was kind enough to supply us with two sets of its latest 555R2 road-course specialty tire. Nitto's 555R2, 555R drag radial, and 555 street tires all share the same tread pattern, but they offer different internal construction specific to their use. We found the 555R2 predictable at the limit when run at full tread depth, and most importantly for the long OTC, consistent during a large number of heat cycles. Each day we heated and cooled the Nittos four times on track and on the long freeway jaunts. They hung in there nicely for four days, or at least 16 heat cycles, before finally baking into low-grip stones. As the tread was just about worn off by then anyway, it's clear the Nittos give good grip for the entire life of the tire.

The Nittos also worked well with moderate air pressures, which shows they have good structure built into the tire carcass, and they are priced competitively. None of this would matter if the Nittos didn't grip, but they do. Comparing notes with other Mustangers, it seems the Nittos may be just behind the stickiest track-happy DOT tires, but those "faster" tires are faster for only one or two heat cycles, then they settle down to at or below the Nitto's grip level. That makes the Nittos a good choice for open tracking, where the last ounce of cornering traction isn't absolutely necessary, but a long, consistent lifespan is.By the way, those are 275/40-17 Nittos under our car.

That's a real steamroller, which resulted in light, acceptable rubbing with our combination of ball-peen fender-lip massaging, tire spacers, lowering, track and wheelbase increases (the Maximum Motorsports K-member moves the wider front suspension forward). Ultimately, the inevitable off-roading excursions meant the right front inner fender liner came adrift and now rubs during sharp turns, but that's road racing. Reattaching the liner will eliminate the rub-until we go off-roading again.