5.0 Mustang & Super FordsHow To Chassis Suspension
Ford Mustang - S197 Chassis - Flight ’Line
The latest Mustang flies past the cones with Whiteline gear, AmercianMuscle.com Wheels, and Nitto tires
Horse Sense: GTR High Performance's punishment for doing such a great job assisting us with tech stories is to help us with more tech stories. Gonzolo and Ricardo Topete at GTR did especially yeoman-like work on this Whiteline story, helping find the test car and test venue, and turning the wrenches. Thanks, guys.
We'll admit it. We spend too much time working ourselves into a lather over what's under our Mustang's hood—especially when it's a Coyote—than we do rejoicing over the immense improvements Ford has made in the Mustang's wheelwells with the S197 chassis since its debut in 2005. Today we're here to make some of that right as we take a new '13 Mustang to the autocross, and better yet, pump it up with Whiteline USA suspension bits and a set of sticky Nitto track tires.
Whiteline is a longtime suspension specialist from Australia, where the company caters to Ford and Holden enthusiasts. Making a bid for the U.S. market in recent years, Whiteline is offering a full range of bolt-on suspension components for '05-and-up Mustangs.
The company specializes in suspension geometry parts such as control arms, sway bars, Watt's links, and so on. It specifically stays out of the spring and shock market figuring such parts are somewhat specialized and there are already plenty of good examples on the market. For our introduction to Whiteline gear, we're starting simple, sampling an affordable mix of adjustable control arms and sway bars. Besides the usual look-see at the hardware and hitting the installation highlights, we're also sampling the goods at their handling limit on a Speed Ventures autocross.
To ensure we get all the bite the Whiteline equipment can deliver to the ground, we also added a set of Nitto NT01 track tires to our mix. Extensive previous experience with this impressive tire has shown it to offer great grip and iron-like wear. Perhaps even more important for this suspension test, it's an easy tire to drive without an overly peaky limit. That makes it reasonably repeatable while still sticking like glue.
To save the hardly worn OE Pirelli all-season PZeros, we mounted the Nittos on a handsome set of charcoal AMR wheels from AmericanMuscle.com. Stretching for a set of dedicated track wheels and tires like this is admittedly pricey initially, but in the long run dedicated street and track tires get the most mileage and performance from both fitments.
Our track experiences are detailed in the sidebar, but for those wanting to know the bottom line, we found the Nitto tires even more impressive than we remembered, and the Whiteline gear was as useful in its adjustability so we could balance the front and rear axle grip to our preferences. Together they hacked about 12 percent off our autocrossing lap times—a major improvement for sure, but one that put more grip into the driver's fun center than the numbers alone show.
Biggest of the tangible improvements from the Whiteline gear was the ability to independently adjust the swaybar stiffness, something the stock suspension doesn't allow. Our test did not employ every suspension improvement Whiteline offers—notably we did not have time to install its Watt's link—but even our simple swaybar installation gave us useful adjustablility and increased roll resistance.
Furthermore, these swaybar adjustments are easy enough to perform track side. If desired, a daily driver Mustang could be tightened up for a track event, then softened back for the street. However, we bet you end up leaving the sway bars tight all the time. Either way the ride remains near-stock, though bumpy roads, and especially wet roads, are best traveled with soft-as-possible swaybar adjustments.
All told, the combination of track-oriented Nittos and Whiteline suspenders did wonders to transform our Mustang GT at the autocross. Tossed at the cones in stock trim, the GT was on the edge of sloppy handling. "It was like driving in the rain," said Ricardo Topete of GTR Performance.
With the tires and suspension, both total grip and chassis precision were unmistakably improved, taking our autocross experience from just OK to a charging good time. That's exactly what we were looking for, so keep reading to see how we got there.
Bravely stepping up with his new '13 Mustang GT was Gus Figueroa, a regular customer at GTR High Performance. Gus was already interested in handling improvements, having made a couple of suspension bolt-on changes to his car prior to this test. Those bolt-ons were replaced by their stock counterparts so we could get a showroom-stock baseline for our test.
Other changes to Gus's car were minor and typical of an enthusiast's daily driver Mustang. A set of Steeda sport springs gave an approximately 1-inch lower ride height and minimally increased spring rate. The shocks were stock. Underhood a C&L intake, 85mm BBK throttle body, SCT tune, and a Flowmaster American Thunder after-cat were on-hand. Rear gearing was the stock 3:31 with a manual transmission.
The stock tires are Pirelli P-Zero Nero all-season rollers measuring 235/50ZR-18 all-around. They have a treadwear rating of 400, so they are not particularly sticky but offer good all-weather traction and wear well. Tire pressure was set at 34/32 psi front and rear respectively.
On the Autocross
Test day at the Speed Ventures autocross event at California Speedway in Fontana, California, dawned bright, clear, nippy, and windy. The Santa Ana breezes were howling through the nearby Cajon and Banning passes, whisking paper entry forms hopelessly into the distance and rolling steel trash cans across the paddock. It wasn't a gale, but a row of loaner open-face helmets were sent rolling drunkenly around the paddock and the event was delayed 45 minutes because the cones had to be doubled up to avoid blowing over. You could say it was breezy.
At least the wind was not a factor in our autocross driving. Both Ricardo Topete of GTR High Performance and I drove the test car so we'd have two impressions to work with. Both of us agreed the car was essentially hopeless on its stock suspension and tires. There was little grip anywhere, with the car swinging wide in the sweepers from excessive understeer. and rolling over on itself through the slalom sections. Luckily the course was simple—two sweepers at each end with slalom sections connecting the two—and thus easy to learn and remain somewhat consistent on.
Our best stock times were in the low-43-second range for both Ricardo (a tenth faster) and I. We each could have gone just slightly quicker given more laps, but once it was clear we were stuck in the 43-second range, we moved on. No matter what we did to the chassis, the tires were at their limit and were not going to deliver significantly faster times even if the suspension was heavily augmented.
Bolting on the Nitto tires was a godsend. Like flipping on the light switch in a dark room, they made an immediate, dramatic difference. After three laps to re-adjust our lines to the increased grip, we lowered our times a flabbergasting 4.98 seconds (that's huge on such a short course). I'll admit to getting lucky and putting together one better-than-average lap to clock a 38.05 second tour. That would haunt us as we tried the Whiteline suspension parts because that one exceptional lap proved tough to beat!
But lucky or not, the Nittos were worth at least 4 seconds a lap. There is little wonder why. The Nittos are larger than the stockers, so all considered, they simply had more rubber on the road. But mainly the Nitto NT01 is a dedicated ultra high-performance, dry-weather race track tire with gum eraser soft compounding (100 tread wear versus the stockers 400 treadwear rating) and specialized construction.
Besides the greater grip, the Nittos were a big step forward in accurately placing the car and driving a tighter, shorter line. This was especially true at the east end sweeper where I found I could enter at the same speed as the stock tire, but tuck tightly around the cones to cover less distance, a tactic worth a half second by itself.
During the lunch break the GTR crew installed the Whiteline suspension parts. We opted to set the sway bars to full soft, which we figured was likely as soft as the stock suspension, or at the most, offering little increase in roll resistance.
Back on course body roll might have been reduced, but not much. Trying to opt for the largest change possible (makes it easier to feel the difference when suspension testing) I asked to re-adust the sway bars to their stiffest positions. This got garbled in the wind and the bars were set to next to full hard front and rear.
Not to worry. The increased roll resistance helped, but we still couldn't beat that one 38:05 lap. So we tightened the front sway bar completely and left the rear bar at its next-to-stiffest position as we could all too easily dial in oversteer with the throttle any time we wanted. Again this helped, but still not enough to get past that low-38-second lap.
Analyzing our driving, I realized the combination of increased grip from the Nittos and more precise, faster turn-in from the Whiteline suspension would allow charging into the critical east sweeper a little faster, then holding a slightly wider but faster line through the turn, followed by a straighter, faster shot at the subsequent slalom section.
This was exactly opposite of what had gained us the half second in the morning, but the car's handling had improved such that a different, faster line was now possible to control. And with only the final run of the day to prove our theory we put down a technically correct, zippy 37.62 lap.
Critical to our success was the ability to balance the car front to rear with the adjustable sway bars, as well as the increased grip from the track tires, of course.
Even better, it was fun dialing in the combination, which is what it is all about, after all. I'll finish by noting our near-stock Mustang GT was one of maybe four cars below the 40-second range at the slalom, and that included many prepped Lotus Elites, Subaru WRX's and Corvette Z06s.
By the Numbers
Here are the Whiteline parts used in our autocross test. All are labeled for '11-'13 Mustangs but will fit '05-and-later cars.
|KPR037||S197 Mustang adjustable Panhard rod||$199.90|
|KSB729||Panhard-bar chassis brace||$110.00|
|KSB653||Upper strut-tower brace (twin spar w/logo)||$229.99|
|KTA140||Rear lower control arm||$299.90|
|BFR65Z||Rear adjustable sway bar, 27mm||$249.90|
|BFF55Z||Front adjustable sway bar, 33mm||$249.90|