Pete Epple Technical Editor
March 2, 2010
Photos By: Marc Christ, Stacy Reynolds

Over the past few months, Project Shake 'N Bake has begun to take shape as a competent multi-purpose vehicle. With solid performances on the street and at the drag strip, it's time to see how our Mach 1 handles the twisties at Virginia International Raceway.

Since last month's suspension installation, we've had the chance to clock a bunch of street miles on Shake 'N Bake. We've tried a slew of different shock and strut adjustments, trying to find a set-up suitable for everyday driving (soft enough to be comfortable, yet stiff enough for improved handling). The Tokico D-Spec shock and struts offer more than enough adjustment to find the setting that suits your individual driving style.

Once our new Steeda suspension components had some time to settle in, our Mach 1 drove and handled like a whole new car. The car feels much more balanced and doesn't push through the turns like it used to. A very slight understeer now exists, and the car can easily be manipulated by using the throttle. The Mach's body doesn't roll over nearly as much as it did previously either. Although Shake 'N Bake is primarily used as daily transportation, it was time to see what it can do at the limit.

After mounting a fresh set of Nitto NT01s on our Steeda race wheels, we loaded the Mach up in the trailer and headed to Virginia International Raceway (VIR). The SVT Cobra Mustang Club (SCMC) was nice enough to invite us up to take part in its open track event that coincided with the 2009 Super Stang Fest. The club took to the full course at VIR, which consists of 20 turns over the 3.27-mile circuit. With 130 feet of elevation changes, VIR offers more than enough technical track sections to put our new suspension to the test.

Although we upgraded the brakes on our Mach 1, we weren't comfortable using the Hawk Performance HP Plus brake pads we normally run on the street. The HP Plus is a great pad for street and light race use, but we knew we would quickly exceed the pad's temperature rating on a track as fast as VIR. To remedy this issue, Hawk Performance sent us a set of its DTC-70 racing brake pads. At first glance, there isn't much difference between the HP Plus and DTC-70 pads, but as soon as you start to talk about compounds, the differences become very apparent.

"There are about 60 different components that make up a brake pad compound," explains Todd Miller, product specialist for Hawk Performance. The compounds consist of metals, resins, and various fillers that are combined to make a single brake pad compound.

"Changing the amounts of these components changes the heat ranges that each compound can properly operate in," adds Miller. "Different compounds also offer different levels of initial bite, or torque, to suit specific driving and braking styles, as well as different weight vehicles.

"The DTC-70 is designed to work in a temperature range of 400 to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, and offers Hawk's most aggressive level of initial bite, which works well on heavier vehicles. The DTC-60 pad, on the other hand, operates in the same temperature range but has less torque to accommodate a different weight vehicle or a less aggressive driving style, where initial bite is not as critical. The HP Plus pad is a great crossover pad. They work well on the street as well as on track, but start to fade when you exceed 800 degrees."

There are three basic types of brake pads: organic, ferro-carbon, and sintered metallic pads. Organic pads were previously manufactured using asbestos as the friction material. This was due to its ability to dissipate heat efficiently. When the dangers of asbestos dust became apparent, companies switched to different friction materials such as glass/rubber blends, resins that are able to withstand high heat, and Kevlar. These types of brake pads are still used in commercial truck applications where large amounts of weight are consistently on the brakes.

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Ferro-carbon pads, like our Hawk pads, are constructed using a mixture of different metals and resins. The ferro-carbon pads come in many different compounds for applications from street to full-race designs.

Sintered metallic pads are used when grip is extremely important. They are used on airplanes, motorcycles, and in military applications. Although these pads offer a very high level of grip, they do wear much faster than organic or ferro-carbon pads.

Once our new Hawk pads were installed, we set out to break them in, or bed them. Bedding new pads in is a very important step with any brake pad. Racing pads are burnished or bedded in using a series of decelerations from medium speed levels. After decelerating six to eight times from 45 mph without coming to a complete stop, we raised our speed to simulate race conditions. After another six to eight decelerations from higher speeds, our pads were bedded in. The car then sat for about two hours to give the system adequate time to cool.

The burnishing process is important for a few reasons. Bedding in the brake pads slowly brings the pads up to racing temperature. This transfers a layer of friction material onto the rotor surface. Now when you hit the brakes, the brake pad is actually pressing against a layer of friction material instead of the raw rotor surface, allowing for longer pad and rotor life.

Bedding in the brake pads also helps prevent the pad from becoming glazed. The friction material needs to be brought up to temperature slowly to ensure ultimate performance. When the brake pads are brought up to temperature too quickly, parts of the compound can liquefy. This breakdown in the pad's components will cause the friction surface to glaze over, which greatly reduces braking performance.

At the Track Prior to heading out on track, we set our shock and strut combination, as well as our tire pressures according to the recommendations from the crew at Steeda. With only a few adjustable components on our suspension, our set-up was fairly simple. The Tokico D-Specs have infinite adjustments between full firm and full soft. With our shocks and struts set to full firm, our front struts were adjusted by making three turns towards full soft, while the rear shocks were turned twice towards the soft side. Our new Nitto NT01s were set to 28 psi cold in the front and 29 psi cold in the rear. The only other adjustable component of our suspension is the supplemental rear sway bar. Once the sway bar was set, we were ready to head out on track.

As we headed out on the track for the first time, we took it easy to get a feel for how our new suspension would react under hard cornering. The full course at VIR offers very long straights, tight corners, sweeping S-turns, and lots of elevation changes, which really gave us the opportunity to see what Steeda's suspension is all about. After running a few sessions with our instructor and building up our confidence, we started picking up the pace. The car felt very balanced and very controllable. The car's handling was near neutral, with a very slight amount of understeer, which wasn't nearly as noticeable as it was previously. The adjustable rear sway bar would have made any changes simple, and we could have induced understeer or oversteer by simply loosening or tightening the bar.

When engaging the brakes, weight transfer was very predictable. The upgraded suspension provided a balance that allowed our Mach 1 to rotate almost perfectly through the turns. Turn-in while on the brakes was easily controlled, and this inspired confidence in the driver and the car's capabilities. The flat attitude of the Steeda suspension allowed for smooth transitions from brake to throttle while turning, which prevents the car from being upset mid-turn. As well, all four tires stayed planted as we accelerated out of each corner, and Shake 'N Bake was neither loose nor tight under hard acceleration.

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The recommended shock and strut setting as well as tire pressure setting from the crew at Steeda were extremely close to perfect for our driving style, and we only needed to make very slight tire pressure changes to dial the car in.

The Nitto NT01 tires were incredible to say the least. At no point did it feel like we were close to the limit of the tire's grip. Our pressures were initially set cold at 28 psi in the front and 29 psi in the rear, but we noticed that the front tires were rolling over early in the session. To remedy this problem, we added two psi in each corner bringing our tire pressures to 30 and 31 psi respectively. The addition of two psi all around eliminated the feeling that the tires were rolling over and worked well for the rest of the weekend.

At the end of each 30-minute session, our tire pressures grew to about 38 psi all around. With the car feeling as good as it did, coupled with our lack of seat time on a circuit like VIR, we opted to focus on getting comfortable in the car and not making further adjustments to the suspension. It was more important to hit our marks on track and become more consistent before making more changes to the car.

Over the course of the weekend, the brakes felt precise and consistent. There wasn't any hint of brake fade no matter how aggressive we got with the binders. Our Mach 1 had no problem consistently slowing from 140-plus mph to just over 60 mph-impressive given the car weighs over 3,600 pounds without a driver.

In the two-day event, we had more than our fair share of track time. We even got the point by from a few Z06 Corvettes, a Porsche, and even an ACR Viper, which couldn't keep up with us through the turns. Of course once we got to the straight section our 309 rwhp was no match for any of the aforementioned sports cars.

All in all, we couldn't be more pleased with our on-track results. We took a 309 rwhp Mach1 and ran with cars normally way out of our league. After the addition of Steeda's suspension, Shake 'N Bake has great handling, incredible braking, and is extremely controllable no matter how you drive it. Imagine what we could do with a little more power.