The Ace of Laguna Seca
Carroll Shelby would be proud. No question. Were the Godfather of factory performance still here to take one of these out for a rip, he’d be impressed. Undoubtedly. Perhaps even in tears. They’re that good. The 2016 Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R are not only the most powerful naturally-aspirated ’Stangs Ford has ever built, they are the best. Full stop.
Shelby, as you probably know, is infamous, and he’s been involved with some of America’s most famous muscle and performance cars since Shelby American was formed in 1962. Does the Cobra 427 S/C sound familiar? The AC Shelby Daytona Coupe? How about the Series 1? Shelby GT? GR1? Dodge Viper? The Super Snake? No!?! Go ahead and slither back under your rock, will you?
The ex-racer turned factory tuner was 89 when he died on my birthday in 2012 – the same year I got my first taste of Shelby’s prodigious performance with track tests of the then-new 2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and Boss 302 at Calabogie Motorsports Park near Ottawa. The latter was considered a benchmark for these latest Shelby models.
The new version pays homage to the original 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, and not only builds on Shelby’s original idea of transforming a great every-day car into a dominant road racer, but takes it to even greater heights with the “R” version. Like the ’65 Shelby GT350 Competition Coupe, this thing is practically ready to race.
Following its week in the spotlight during Monterey Car Week where the GT350 enjoyed its 50th anniversary, Ford chose the nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca raceway for its media launch event. Though I have turned thousands of virtual laps in the Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo and iRacing, this is my first time at Mazda Raceway in real life. And before long I find myself buckling into a the GT350R for a couple hot laps. Upon firing the ignition, the rumble of the exhaust hits me in the chest like a stampede of wild mustangs as I slowly exit pit lane. After rejoining the track just before turn three’s right-hander, it’s on like Donkey Kong!
The car takes off like a shot and, after just a few corners, I’m feeling comfortable and even more confident. The chassis feels well-planted and fast with virtually no understeer in any of the 11 corners. There’s also no lift because it has actual downforce, and the brakes are powerful, very consistent and maintain reliable pedal feel under hard braking. It pulls hard heading up the hill on the Rahal Straight, and it doesn’t wiggle or squirm under braking when setting up for the world famous Corkscrew. Perhaps even more impressive with respect to the brakes is that they didn’t fade or show any signs of warping at all despite a heavy workload throughout the day.
I am pretty pleased with my unofficial for-real Laguna Seca 1:44.5 lap time. Make no mistake, the 2016 Shelby GT350R is faster than me. Faster than its predecessors too. Of all the street-legal wannabe racers I’ve driven, this is the most serious. Probably because it’s not a pretender.
It’s pretty good on the road, too. Steering, braking, accelerating (sounds amazing!) and shifting are all superb, and that clutch feels perfect! Sport mode adds more grrr, and the car actually feels quicker than base GT350 with same power – carbon fibre wheels do make a difference. The ride is a bit bumpy, but not to the point of annoyance or discomfort. Feedback through the chassis and steering wheel is excellent. Considering what it can do on the track, it’s almost hard to believe this is a street car. Sure the interior is a bit cheapish (it is a Mustang and not an R8) but the driving dynamics and actual performance more than make up for it. No smoke and mirrors here.
Continue reading more about the 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R on the IGNITION MAGAZINE website!