While anticipation builds towards the race debut of the Ford GT next year, the Detroit manufacturer recently unleashed an all-new racer for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge that’s already been making waves in the paddock.
Having made its competition debut in last month’s Continental Tire 150 at The Glen, Ford’s Shelby Mustang GT350R-C is the latest pony car to hit the race track, and one of the biggest steps forward in the history of the legendary platform.
It’s also one of the first products to have come out of the Ford Performance group, which sees the brand’s high-performance vehicles and motorsports activities now aligned under the one roof.
“The timing for the GT350R-C program was actually very good with the creation of Ford Performance,” Ford Performance Motorsports and Advanced Engineering Manager Mark Rushbrook told Sportscar365.
“When we brought our motorsports activities into Ford Performance, my team was able to work directly with the street car teams.
“We were able to take their learnings they had through the end of the year with everything on the street car and were able to start the race car development program, working with our partners at Multimatic.”
Rushbrook, who previously worked on Mustang production cars, is now overseeing the brand’s motorsports engineering department, which for the past eight months has included development of the GT350R-C.
The Multimatic-built car, the successor to the race-winning Mustang Boss 302R, shares a direct correlation to the race-inspired GT350R, which was launched at the North American International Auto Show in January.
“We’ve been able to make some rapid improvements to get that to be a good, solid car,” Rushbrook said. “There were new things to learn there but certainty with the tools and knowledge, we knew the right knobs to turn and able to get it pretty quickly.”
One of the biggest changes from previous-generation Mustangs is the adoption of fully independent rear suspension, which has given the GT350R-C a whole new stance, as well as increased flexibility in setup options.
“[We’ve been able to turn] the knobs for the independent rear suspension and even the new front suspension with the multi-link lower control arm, and being able to know what bushings to stiffen up or where to put a cross-axis ball joint, and make small geometry changes,” Rushbrook said.
The other important aspect of the GT350R-C is its flat crank, which has made the 5.2-liter V8 the most powerful normally aspirated engine Ford has ever produced for its production lineup.
“That was a critical part to have in the race car,” Rushbrook said. “We obviously had to make some modifications to the engine, within the rules, but we wanted to keep it as stock as possible.
“With the GT350R, it’s intended to go to the track and it does very well there. So to go race it, in a true racing series, we just wanted to put a few small improvements in it.”
While producing 526 horsepower on the street, the GT350R-C’s engine had to be detuned to make it legal for competition in the Continental Tire Challenge GS class.
Other changes, such as a move from controlled to two-way adjustable shocks and aluminum wheels instead of carbon, also had to be made to conform to IMSA’s tightly controlled regulations.
The car has been through a rapid development schedule, having only had a total of eight on-track test days prior to its race debut, thanks in part to the direct transfer between the production and race car platforms.
“From the point we decided to go to get to here has gone incredibly fast,” Rushbrook said. “But it’s been very exciting, given what the car is, given what the engine is.
“IMSA has been very excited. They want this car to be here. It’s good for the series to have new entries, new excitement and new products and continue the rivalry.”
The GT350R-C is the second all-new car to have been recently built for the top category of Continental Tire Challenge, following the debut of the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R last year, which has dominated the GS class.
Ford’s new weapon could change that, although Rushbrook has reiterated the focus for the remainder of the season is on development, with no timeline having been established for customer deliveries.
However, with a debut pole earned by Scott Maxwell and both of the Multimatic Motorsports-run cars leading laps and finishing inside the top-10 in its debut at Watkins Glen last month, there’s plenty of potential for further success this year.
“We want to show the speed capability and durability of the car, so we obviously want to do well in races,”Rushbrook said. “We know that it’s a new car.
“We’ve done a lot of development but new things can crop up at any point in time. So we want to assume that as anything crops up, we want to identify and fix it and continue with it.
“We’d like to win some races and showcase what Ford Performance is capable of doing.”