Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
April 18, 2011
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Key to Power

Incredible as the Boss and Laguna might be, there is one feature launching on this vehicle that has far reaching potential beyond the Boss 302. Currently, only the Boss 302 can enable the optional TracKey feature, but we can’t imagine that this feature will stay on just one Mustang for long.

What started out as a concept to take advantage of twin independent variable cam timing for a simple lopey-idle button on the Boss, sent engineers off and running with the concept of combining extant MyKey technology with performance tuning. Soon Boss 302 owners can enable this feature at a Ford Racing dealer for only $302.

“We installed the 302R software on the same PCM that held the stock Boss software,” Jeff Seaman, Mustang powertrain engineer. “Then the controls engineers developed a software system to activate one or the other, depending upon which key was used to start the vehicle. Really, all the parts to make this work existed—the Ford MyKey system was already using the PATS transceiver to perform specific actions based on the key used to start the car, and the PCM was flexible enough to handle multiple control modules. It was just putting everything together.”

Perhaps most impressive about this system is that it functions using the same Copperhead PCM controlling all post-’11 Mustangs. No additional memory or processing power was necessary, yet enabling the TracKey alters no less than 400 parameters to tune the Boss 302 for maximum performance on pump gas. “Anything that could possibly affect all-out performance is deleted from the TracKey calibration,” said Dave Pericak, Mustang chief engineer. “Throttle limiting and torque management—any daily driveability enhancements are removed and replaced with a pure Ford Racing competition calibration.”

As you would expect, the TracKey cranks up the aggression the ignition timing, adds some overlap to the variable cam timing, and deletes the skip-shift. However, besides the numerous tweaks for more performance, TracKey also adds a launch control feature, like a two-step. You just run through some settings with the steering wheel controls, set your launch rpm, and then mat the pedal. It will hold your rpm at the preset level till you dump the clutch.

This feature was first seen on the Cobra Jet, and while it seems a bit out of place on the road-racy Boss 302, but it is cool as ice. If you are buying a Boss 302, TracKey is a must-have option.

Treasure Map

Boss 302 legend largely stems from Parnelli Jones showing the competition the proper way around the track in the original Boss. So, it was not only appropriate that Ford consult Parnelli for a blessing on this new Boss, which was received, but that they also develop an even racier edition named after the famed track. Yes, if a Boss 302 isn’t enough for you, there is the Boss 302 Laguna Seca edition. A race car with license plates.

“When we built the Boss, we had to step back and ask ourselves, ‘How do we improve on this?’” said David Pericak, Ford Mustang chief engineer. “That car is so strong we realized the Laguna Seca package was going to have to be just a fraction of a step back from the Ford Racing 302R to top it. So we went back and threw daily driver practicality out the window, cut some things we couldn’t cut on the volume model, like the back seat, and built it the way we would set up a production Boss for pure competition.”

The Laguna Seca edition is most distinguishable by its red accents and rear badge emblazoned with a map of the legendary track. However, much like the base Boss, the Laguna is no sticker package. There is plenty of substance behind that flashy style. Take one peek into the Laguna cockpit, and you’ll know it is built for business. The rear seat is gone, supplanted by a red chassis brace. There are three Ford Racing gauges on the dash, and the Recaro seats are standard (you can option them on a base Boss).

“Balance is the key on Boss, and even more so on Laguna Seca,” Dave said. “A winning race car has to do everything well, and we’ve had the ability to test all the engineering that went into Boss Laguna Seca on the Ford Racing 302R. It’s not for everyone: It’s stiffer, there’s no back seat, and the aero package is designed for downforce, not speed bumps in the mall parking lot.

Oh, and balanced it is. The Laguna rides on R-compound Pirellis, rolls on unique damper valving, and grips with a standard Torsen differential. For long life on the track, the Laguna adds to the already upgraded Boss cooling system with additional cooling ducts for the brake and transmission. Essentially, this car is as tuned as closely to the race-car edge as it can without losing its street-legal status.

After the track, I actually wheeled the Laguna on a street lap and found it perfectly acceptable on good roads. It’s more evocative on the rougher pavement, but I could drive it everyday without complaint. Everyone has a different level they can take, but this car is no buckboard wagon. It is far more compliant that the Cobra R, and we sure haven’t heard the wine-and-cheese crowd complaining about live axles in a while!

Intoxicating is the only way to describe the Boss 302 Laguna Seca. It simply amplifies all that’s good about the Boss and makes it better. Granted, my time in the Laguna was also my time to experience the more aggressive TracKey calibration, but with more power, more grip, and a lopey idle to boot, the Laguna is catnip for corner carvers. Once I drove a TracKey’d Laguna on its namesake track, I simply didn’t want to drive any other car. Even with more of everything, that familiar balance and control remained.

Eventually, I just had to cut myself off cold turkey. If I kept driving the Laguna, I was going to need one.