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"The team had to re-think how to take advantage of the power by optimizing the axle ratio and transmission gearing. After looking at minimizing the number of shifts at some of our favorite tracks, the team selected a combination that would allow our customers to get out of the hole without breaking the tires loose and continue on down the track, taking full advantage of all 662HP."

Ford Shelby GT500

by Ziva & Michael Allen

 

GT500eLots of folks modify their cars themselves out of parts catalogs or with the help of their local shop, but why not rely on the full engineering power of the Ford Motor Company and go with the Ford Shelby GT500?  This car was developed and tested by Ford and has track-worthy features such as a 5.8 liter supercharged aluminum V8 with 662 horsepower and 631 pound feet of torque, Brembo brakes with 6 piston calipers and 15 inch discs up front, a splitter and gurney flap for down force, a Torsen limited slip differential to help it around the corners, cockpit adjustable Bilstein dampers, oil, transmission and differential coolers, launch control, traction control that can be turned off and Recaro seats with slots for safety harnesses available as part of option  packages.  We spoke to Alex Przebienda, SVT GT500 Program Manager with Ford Motor Company about the development of the GT500. 

 

SVT stands for Special Vehicle Team and is the successor to Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO).  This is an arm of Ford and, like Mercedes AMG, BMW M, Audi Sport and Chrysler SRT, the SVT is responsible for developing high performance vehicles.  They have developed the 2010 F-150 SVT Raptor high-performance off-road truck and the SVT Mustang to name just two.  Remember the SVT Contour?  SVT also markets performance parts through dealer networks (now known as Ford Racing Performance Parts, or FRPP).  So what does an SVT Program Manager do?  Przebienda explains that “Basically everything that runs through the program flows through our office.  When we were developing the GT500, Program responsibilities included aligning the studio with functional styling changes required to meet our performance objectives, teaming up with our marketing to create hardware packages like the performance and track packages, establishing sub-teams with manufacturing and engineers to not only design for function but also for assembly, all while never losing sight of the bottom line. I treated the GT500 project as a business from making sure the project is on track all the way to the customers’ acceptance of the vehicle.”

 

The GT500 is a formidable automobile with impressive track related features.  Of course we cannot complain when a major manufacturer builds a track car, but we wondered what motivates the effort for a company like Ford.  According to Przebienda, “We already had a great foundation to start with, which was the 2011 GT500 we were working off of.  In fact, in the evolution of the Mustang, I’ve always been amazed by how far we’ve come off of the original platform and yet have been able to maintain a certain consistency along the way.  The bottom line is that our team has the drive to continually improve our vehicles with each successor.  We think, ‘wow that was great!’  And yet we go back, set new targets for the engineers with higher goals and the next thing you know we’ve moved that bar once again.”  It is SVT’s desire to push the engineering envelope with its performance leader, in this case the iconic pony car.  Engineers are challenged to reach higher performance heights.  This then causes the gauntlet to be thrown down for competitor manufacturers.  A halo around the entire Mustang brand is created.  And the track day driver yields the benefits. 

 

In speaking with a program manager for a project like the GT500 and with an organization with the resources of Ford Motor Company, one realizes that there is a large professional team involved in the design and testing of the vehicle and that this proceeds over a significant period of time.  These resources go way beyond those that may be brought to bear by a small shop or an individual picking and choosing from a parts catalog.  Przebienda talked to us about the challenges involved in getting 662 horsepower to the ground in a useable way.  “Horsepower is king so when we ended up with 662 horsepower; the team recognized that just putting that power to the ground was going to be a challenge.  Quite frankly, with that much power it is easy to over-saturate the tires and just lose traction.  Unfortunately package space to fit a larger rear tire was just not in the cards. The current Mustang body only had a few more years in its life cycle. The team had to re-think how to take advantage of the power by optimizing the axle ratio and transmission gearing.  After looking at minimizing the number of shifts at some of our favorite tracks, the team selected a combination that would allow our customers to get out of the hole without breaking the tires loose and continue on down the track, taking full advantage of all 662HP.  Quite frankly I think that was one of the things the team did an outstanding job with.” 

 

Przebienda loves to talk about solving problems at the extreme level of the performance envelope so he continues here:  “I don’t know if you had the opportunity to get in one, but it pulls like a freight train and just keeps going.  Knowing we wanted to take this GT500 to speeds never seen before, we decided the brake system improvements were a priority from the start of the project.  We set out with our horsepower target at 650hp and a vmax (maximal velocity) limit of 200MPH and the team exceeded them both. There was extensive testing to insure our vehicle was going to be reliable at the limits of it capability.  We needed to have all the systems in place to deal with high speeds.  A carbon fiber drive shaft, stiffer transmission castings, brakes and tires are just a few changes needed for high speed.  People do not realize that tires and even the wheel valve stems don’t lend themselves to going over 150 miles per hour.  You have to test everything because at those speeds a standard tire starts ballooning and valve steams leak.  Let’s just say, small things can become a BIG issue.  Cooling is also a priority when driving above 150mph.  Things really heat up fast so we had to make sure we had proper coolers in place to deal with running at sustained high-speeds.  You have to consider how the vehicle behaves under extreme braking conditions and take advantage of chassis tuning to manage how the vehicle behaves under high speed breaking.  We made a performance package available as an option which has cockpit adjustable shocks.  This allowed  specific settings for the track with very stiff spring rates to optimize performance and once you are off the track it can be put in a street mode to reduce the harshness of the road.”  The average person who might consider modifying their car may not realize how much testing is involved in order to create a standard GT500.  Here are the questions one would need to ask:  How big should my brakes be for my particular car?  How stiff should the springs be?  How wide should the tires be?  How much contact patch does the car need?  How big should the cooling systems be for the engine and for the other components?  If I were driving a 662 HP beast on the track and under severe conditions, I would want to feel secure in the knowledge that a major manufacturer put their engineers on it and came up with a tested system. 

 

The GT500 comes with two optional packages for track day use.  We asked Przebienda to explain their purpose and the reasoning behind the two options.  “TheGT500 400x262c ‘performance package’ contains the cockpit adjustable shocks and a Torsen limited slip differential.  ‘The track package’ comes with axle, transmission, and oil coolers.  The bottom line is not all of our customers will take their cars to the track.  Our SVT dynamics team knows serious racers want added cooling to keep their car performing reliably and consistently.  So if you’re planning to track your GT500, the coolers that come with the track package are a necessity.  But if you’re not going to track your car, do not burden your pocketbook.  Adding weight to a performance car has to be carefully considered and reserved for track day customers.  The track package has five separate cooling circuits for the engine water, engine oil, supercharger, transmission and axle.  Each cooler was designed to not only keep its component cool, but was optimized to keep the added weight to a minimum.”  I know I worry about cooling issues, from brake cooling to the transmission.  It is good to know I am not alone because Ford has it covered. 

 

Przebienda got specific about development and testing when we asked if team members had track experience.  In a project like this one, there is an entire team of engineers who focus on vehicle dynamics.  Here is what Przebienda had to say about track testing:  “Members of our dynamics team are all very familiar with the track.  In fact, the car was developed by our SVT dynamics team at the track.  We did a lot of analytical testing on computers of course and we use chassis dynos to simulate road courses to optimize our shocks.  The team is always studying test data to be ready for the next track week by selecting the perfect bars, springs, dampers, bushings, tires, etc.  But ultimately there’s nothing like putting it to the road.  Our team members from dynamics go to the tracks to continually dial in all of the chassis components and they’ve got quite a lot of experience with being there.  Just about every one of our SVT members has their own cars that they take to the track as well as going home and playing video games.  They just can’t get enough of it.  Gene Martindale is our top driver.  He was involved in the development for the Raptor and the Ford GT super car.  When we need a consistent lap, we turn to Gene Martindale.  Consistent laps are essential to making sure our cars are actually delivering.  There are no big changes delivering 1 or 2 second lap time differences.  Sometimes changes bring a few tenths of a second and it’s the cumulative of those tenths of a second that ultimately make you a leader.  So Gene, being an excellent and consistent driver, would go out and turn laps to tell us what was working on the car and what was not.  Gene is very critical to the development of all our SVT projects coming out of North America and is Ford SVT’s top test driver.” 

 

Since the GT500 can potentially be used at the drag strip as well as the road course, Ford SVT tested the car at a variety of performance driving venues.  Przebienda added that “the testing was not limited to road courses.  We’ve done development at Granton, Sebring, Road Atlanta, VIR,  the Nurburgring and Nardo, as well as drag strips (one of our other key features is launch control).  We have done drag strip testing at Milan, Speed World and Atlanta Dragway.”  Nurburgring lap times are becoming a benchmark for vehicle performance and bragging rights for manufacturers.  Here is what Przebienda said when asked about the GT500 Nurburgring lap time:  “I can just say I’m very proud of what the car does at the Ring.”

 

GT500cThe GT500 press materials boasted that “The 5.8-liter V8 aluminum-block engine produces 662 horsepower and 631 lb.-ft. of torque, making it the highest horsepower engine ever produced in North America.”  There has been a new development in the muscle car wars and this is Dodge’s comment about it:  “The all-new 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT, with its supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI® Hellcat engine, produces an unprecedented 707 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. of torque, making it the most powerful Challenger ever, Dodge's most powerful V-8 ever and the most powerful muscle car ever.”  In other words, we’ll call that bet and raise you 45 HP.  We elicited a squirm out of Przebienda when we asked him to comment on this latest salvo in the horsepower war.  He says, “I’m a car guy first and foremost so I’ll tell you I’m excited that the public is buying and expecting more and more out of their performance vehicles.  Is it a war?  Well, if it is, I’m happy to be part of it.  I don’t believe I’d really call it a war though.  I’d say every one of these vehicles has its own benefits and I’m very happy with what we’re putting forward to contribute towards that.”  This is one smooth SVT Project Manager.  

 

One of the major advantages of buying a track car out of the box from a major car maker is the warranty.  We all worry about invalidating our warranties and auto insurance by tracking our cars.  We asked Przebienda about the Ford Motor Company warranty and its applicability for cars when taken to the track.  “I will say that what I’m most proud of is all the road course and drag strip testing we did on this project.  You know it’s not hugely uncommon in the aftermarket to see these parts in a catalog that can get you to the same horsepower numbers and performance aspects that we achieve but what our team has done is to put parts on and refine them.  We took the cars to the track with the purpose of not only tuning them to get the best performance but to find the issues.  In fact, we did a 24 hour track durability test which is actually quite brutal on a vehicle – 24 hours in a row – never having an opportunity to cool back down but just keep sending it back out.  It’s that type of development that makes me proud to say that the vehicle has been developed for the track and quite capable of going there provided you’re using our vehicle as we developed it.  If it were to come back with an issue, we do repair them.”  At this point Jayson Demchak, Performance Communications Manager, Ford Motor Company, who arranged and sat in on the interview, offered a clarification:  “The track cooling packs and other components are durable, have their quality and are strong parts, so they can withstand track use.  There’s always going to be wear items with a race car and there will always be something that goes wrong.  But I think this car is quite durable and can handle the rigors of track driving.  I think it comes down to individual situations.  I mean if the car’s abused, not maintained or put in situations where they are driven a certain way; I think that the dealer could determine if it was abused.” 

 

So if we read between these lines, my takeaway is that the warranty will be taken on a case-by-case basis and that if the car has not been modified and so, by definition, has not been raced, the end user is likely to get warranty coverage, even if the car is taken to the track.  And this car is meant for the drag strip and track day road course events.  Not often can you get a car that can go over 200 miles per hour and is designed to be balanced with all systems working together to ensure grip, safety and longevity.  And where else would you drive such a beast to its potential, assuming you are capable of handling 662 HP?  By the way, did we mention that the traction control system can be turned off?

 

Here is a build summary for the GT500 with the Performance and Track Packages and Recaro seats:

 

Model

 

2014 Ford Mustang® Shelby

 

GT500® Coupe, 5.8L 4V SC V8

 

Engine, 6-Speed Manual

 

Transmission

 

$55,110

 

Packages

 

821A $3,495 (Performance Pack)

 

SVT Track Pack $2,995

 

19” (F) and 20”(R) Painted

 

Forged-Aluminum Wheels

 

RECARO® Leather Sport Seats

 

(Shelby®)

 

$1,595

 

Base MSRP $55,110

 

Total of Options $8,085

 

Destination Charges $825

 

Net Price $64,020

 

Specs 

 

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