It's a monster: up close and personal with a world-famous Mustang
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In the world of competitive drifting, the car is often just as much of a star as its driver.
The best example of that is probably 'Mad Mike' Whiddett's fleet of rotang beasts. They each have nicknames, their own storylines, and their own fanbases across the world. Together, they've helped reignite the world's interest in rotary engines — an engine format long dead in the eyes of skeptics.
And there are famous drift cars everywhere — even a couple in New Zealand that are making waves of their own.
But pretty much all of them have to bow down to what was unwrapped at South Auckland's CTB Performance and Accessories on Friday...
It is of course the weapon of three-time World Drift Series champ Vaughn Gittin Jr's Ford Mustang RTR — a 700kW terror, that's set to send smoke through the trees of Rod Millen's Leadfoot Festival ranch this weekend in Hahei.
Vaughn is himself a bit of a celebrity, as one of Monster Energy's strongest athlete ambassadors. But the engineering smarts of RTR (a company co-owned by Vaughn and Kiwi engineer Ian Stewart) have played a big role in that too.
"It's bloody light," exclaimed 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse. The two-time D1NZ champion will be taking the American beast off Vaughn's hands after Leadfoot finishes up, with the aim of setting D1NZ alight from round two of the season onwards. Click here for our full story on that.
At the time we were pushing the Mustang around the CTB shop floor to find the best angles for photos, and yes it's a light car. Much lighter than Woolhouse's activation Mustang that supports it in pictures. That car still utilizes a plethora of production parts, whereas the Monster Energy machine looks like an almost completely bespoke exercise — with Mustang panels tacked on top.
Beyond the weight saving, the other big thing you notice straight away with the RTR is its stance. Contrary to most drift cars, which sit on the ground, Vaughn's machine sits loudly and proudly in raised position. Like a tiger pouncing on its prey, or an SUV picking up the kids from school.
Part of that comes from its enormous Nitto tyre stock, and this forms a big part of the car's on-track persona. The first thing you learn watching vision of the Mustang in full flight is that it loves going up on three wheels. This is a car that is clearly happier running a softer set-up. It seems to help the big Muzzie make rapid transitions; snappy enough that it can keep on the toes of the smaller platforms that fill the American Formula Drift grid.
Inside it's a traditionally spartan affair. There's no zip-ties to be seen, either — this is a professional machine built to the standard of just about any top-shelf race car. Recaro buckets keep driver and passenger bolted in securely, a golf-ball gear knob conjures accidental Volkswagen Golf GTI nostalgia, and a huge metal hand brake sticks out of the floor pan just waiting to be ripped.
Then there's that Ford Performance V8 engine.
The name Roush Yates scores prominence, and for good reason. If that name is familiar, that's probably because it comes with a whole catalogue of motorsport history of its own — including time spent in Nascar and in international endurance racing (yes, including the Ford GT that Kiwi Scott Dixon helped guide to victory at the Daytona 24 Hours race over the weekend).
The engine itself is one of the most exciting out there. It revs to 9,000rpm, and sounds like a blender full of chainsaws. It sounds bloody marvelous.
Perhaps most interesting is how far back the engine is mounted. This helps the car's weight distribution and balance, as well as making it easier to flick into a drift on a dime. Perhaps more important than all of those things is that being mounted that far back (and protected by that much bracing) helps ensure that it will be safe in the case of a front-on fender bender. Remember, drifting is a contact sport.
It is an incredible car, and the fact that it's here to stay on Kiwi soil only makes it more incredible.
Some will question whether entering a pro-grade car like this in D1NZ is putting the 'cat among the pigeons', so to speak. But, this is the direction that the sport has been travelling for a few seasons now. The builds are getting better and better. Heck, there's a Nissan Silvia with a rebuilt Toyota V12 built by Nelson Hartley on the grid.
Drifting is just about the only form of motorsport these days that encourages backyard hotrodding, even at its highest level. There's no strict regulations, no cookie-cutter silhouette body shapes ... and cars like this new RTR machine only serve to strengthen those values as people chase more and more speed, more and more grip.
So, Mr Gittin Jr sir. I welcome your Mustang. I hope it likes it here.