It’s crazy to think that it’s been a year since I first drove the all-new Ford Mustang GT3 around the parking lot of the Multimatic Motorsports shop in Mooresville, N.C., but it started even before that.
I was driving the road courses and doing simulator work for Ford in the NASCAR Cup Series when the talks started around the Mustang GT3 and me being a part of developing it. I was involved in the early development days of the Ford GT, as well as other Ford cars over the years, so it was a no-brainer for me.
That’s how it began, and fortunately for me, the Mustang GT3 program started in Mooresville while I was spending a lot of time at the Ford Performance Technical Center across town in Concord.
A lot of people may not know that I coached a lot of our Ford NASCAR drivers on the simulator each week prior to the race, so it made it easy for me to run down to the Multimatic Motorsports race shop.
Every time I stopped in, there was something cool happening and it wasn’t long before they approached me with a mocked-up tub, seat and steering column.
I ripped over there to sit in it, holding a rapid prototype steering wheel in my hands so they could judge the distance and positioning.
No joke: They tack-welded the column on-the-spot and said, “We’ll start with that.” Every Mustang GT3 is now built in that shop.
It was kind of a big deal to be a part of those early days. For the Ford GT, I was a part of the development, but the cockpit and a lot of the other stuff was already done. At the time, I didn’t see any of those parts, as I was busy running the Daytona Prototype with Chip Ganassi Racing. The car kind of showed up finished, so we could do the driving development.
You felt like there was more importance developing the Mustang GT3 in its infancy stages, because the idea was that this was going to be a customer car.
Every placement, from the seat to the steering wheel, became critical. At the same time, it was an exciting moment to put my touch on it, and that it was not just all about the setup.
Our first test was at Sebring, and you know, you always wonder as a driver when you come into these new cars what you’re going to get when you turn the first lap. Did they get it right?
These days, we have a lot more technology for the engineers to work with – from CAD to all the simulation, there are opportunities to get the car right before it gets built. You’re still hoping, as a driver, that “Man, I hope this thing is for me.” The first lap that I turned at Sebring, I just remember feeling so relieved.
There were a couple of things that stood out to me. After doing this for, I probably shouldn’t even mention… 33 years now… and doing nothing else, I’ve driven a fair number of cars.
As a driver, you recognize what you like and what you don’t, what makes you fast and what doesn’t.
The front grip and the feel from the front of the car turning into the middle of the corner, immediately stood out to me. I always like to have a car that has exceptional front grip and that reacts to the steering. It also had great in-line traction. Like in Turn 7 at the hairpin of Sebring, it really powered off there nicely.
The sound, power and torque were incredible. I’ve done NASCAR racing, so I know power and torque. But in sports cars, the last thing I drove was the Ford GT, which had good power but not as much torque. This was a proper V-8 feeling torque.
I mean, I got out of the car, high-fived them and said, “Guys, we got something here.” Like, if you told me we had to go racing next week, we could have done some dial-in and probably been able to race.
The way Dirk (Mueller) and I work is that we focus on the race car. When I say race car, I don’t mean physically. We focus on a race car-handling-car, that does the race – does long stints and can be put offline by traffic and still be a comfortable car to drive.
Isn’t that obvious? But not everyone does that. Most will cater their car and tuning in the direction of speed.
We want speed, but we’d like to have a raceable car – especially for the 24-hours at Daytona. You can make a car edgy, that will do two-to-three laps very quickly, but when you look at longer runs, that edgy car normally doesn’t do as well.
There’s more pressure for a guy involved in the development, especially when it’s a customer car designed to run – to win – the biggest races around the world.
That’s Nürburgring, Spa, Daytona, Le Mans, Bathurst, and Sebring among others.
Yes, there’s pressure. But for me, having the Ford family – Mark Rushbrook, Kevin Groot, Bill and Edsel Ford and even Jim Farley – encouraging me to help start this development, there’s a lot of pride in that.
To be driving such an American icon by Ford and having them have so much faith in you to be involved in this, is special. There’s pressure, but there is also pride.
When I talked about comfort in the car, there’s something to be said about comfort outside of it. The relationship Multimatic has with Ford is incredible – in more than motorsports, which makes this program so strong.
Larry Holt has been the glue to this – finding success in the Ford GT and various other projects with Ford – and I’m a big believer that all our trust in him and this team has garnered success coming into Daytona.
The relationship between Mark and Larry, and Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports, will continue to be successful because of the trust we have in one another.
This is the most excited I’ve been starting the season for as long as I can remember, because I’m coming back into full-time racing and it’s especially exciting that I’m doing it with a new car that I helped develop.
Whether you have a 1966 or 2024 Mustang – or any year in-between – one of the most special pieces of this is not only racing for us, but also for our fans and Mustang owners worldwide.
It’s a great time to be a sports car racer, and it’s a damn good time to be a Ford sports car racer.