The FR500S, the latest in a growing collection of special-edition Mustangs, has hit the track. The first event in the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge for the Miller Cup will have run at Georgia's famed Road Atlanta racetrack by the time you read this. You can read more about the development of the FR500S and the series in this month's In the Spotlight interview (see page 92) with Alden Rix from Miller Motorsports Park and Andy Slankard from Ford Racing.
In general, a "spec" series is intended to provide lots of excitement by keeping the competing cars as closely matched as possible. This means driving skill is the distinguishing factor among competitors. Compared to Grand Am Racing's Koni Challenge series, where performance leveling is accomplished through the use of intake restrictors and weight additions, the Mustang Challenge series restricts the use of vehicle components. For example, all cars must run on BFGoodrich g-Force R1 racing tires, as provided with the car. All of the 4.6L V-8 engines are dyno tested by Ford after assembly and sealed to prevent any further modification. FR500S is the first race car in Ford Motor Company's history to be built at a production facility and then made available to racers through the Ford Racing Performance Parts catalog and at authorized Ford dealers.
According to Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology, "This new car gives customers and racers a chance to get into a high-performing vehicle that is durable, reliable and competitive." The 325hp FR500S Mustang was co-developed by Ford Racing and Miller Motorsports Park, based on the Mustang GT used by the track's high-performance driving school. With a 4.6L, Three-Valve, fuel-injected V-8 production engine, featuring a Ford Racing cold-air intake and Borla long-tube headers, the FR500S also includes a six-speed transmission with an upgraded clutch and a Ford Racing short-throw shifter. The FR500S uses the same braking as the Mustang FR500C Koni Challenge car, along with unique, two-way adjustable front dampers with coil springs and an adjustable anti-roll bar in both the front and rear suspension.
Ford has been building the FR500C race car for three years now, and all of the lessons learned during that time have been applied to the new car. This was aptly demonstrated when two of the prototypes finished First and Second in their class at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill race last fall.
"We ran the cars hard," says Lynda Randall, series director for the Mustang Challenge, "and they never skipped a beat. We wanted to really put our systems and components to the toughest possible validation test, and we had no problems at all. The BFGoodrich R1 tires far exceeded our expectations for speed, durability, and wear, and all of our driveline components supplied by Ford Racing were flawless." That kind of reliability will let individual and team owners concentrate on driver development and team logistics. It's expected that some of the current Koni Challenge teams will participate in this series, and Rehagen Racing, out of Livonia, Michigan, was the first to sign on.
"Given our experience with the new Mustang in other Grand Am-sanctioned road-racing events, it only seemed natural that we contest for the Miller Cup with our current car owners and drivers, Jim Click, Mike McGovern, and Jamie Slone," says Rehagen Racing's Dean Martin. "Completing our four-car team will be car owner and driver Mike Harvison, a participant in both Porsche Club of America and Koni Challenge events. Our goal is to set the standard of performance in the series. Considering this is a spec series, we will rely on our preparation and chassis setup expertise to give our drivers every opportunity to win races."
Experienced teams may have a slight initial advantage, but that's likely to be short-lived. The Sporting and Technical Regulations that have been issued for the series are very clear in explaining that "in any 'spec' class, technical infractions are viewed with particular disdain." Since allowing the car to fall out of spec runs against both the spirit of the series and its regulations, the sanctioning body clearly states that "the more deliberate the infraction, the more severe the penalties will be." Penalties can include disqualification, loss of race or series points and monetary fines.
The FR500S racer is built on the regular production line at the AutoAlliance International assembly plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. But the process is quite different from a standard build. For example, no sound deadening or body seam sealer materials are used. If you end up racing in the rain, you might get a little wet. Oh well. A special wiring harness was also developed for the car that removes all nonessential circuits for reduced weight and cost. Engines for the cars are built in Ford's Romeo Engine Plant, sealed and sent to Roush Industries, in Livonia, Michigan, for output verifi-cation. It's reported that a variation of only 3-4 hp has been seen among the engines.
After the assembly work is completed in Flat Rock, cars are shipped to Watson Engineering in Taylor, Michigan, where interior work and rollcage installation are completed. Watson also does the 'cage construction for the other Mustang racers, including the FR500C. The last leg of their journey takes the FR500S cars to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, where all of the remaining equipment is installed and verified.
Driver safety is a top priority in the FR500S Mustang. The car comes with a complete suite of safety features, including an integral side head-restraint seat, a six-point HANS-compatible restraint harness, a steering wheel with a quick-release hub, a fire-suppression system and window net, as well as a master electrical cutoff switch.
As a Ford Racing catalog item, the FR500S can be ordered through Miller Motorsports Park or from your Ford dealer. The car sells for $75,000, which is about $50,000 less than an FR500C Grand-Am racer. Production is currently capped at 77 units. While the initial emphasis for the car is the Mustang Challenge series, it can be used in other road-racing series. The FR500S Mustang is eligible to compete in the Sports Car Club of America (B-Prepared National class, ITE Regional class), the National Auto Sport Association (American Iron class, Super Touring class, Super Unlimited class), and in the Miller Park Racing Association (MPRA) at Miller Motorsports Park.