5 things you learn taking a Mustang on a soaking wet track day
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Circle-work with an American hero
It's never a good sign when the date of your scheduled day of race track circle work falls on the same Thursday as an incoming cyclone. And any worrisome vibes are magnified when said track day involves prodding the performance of high-powered rear-wheel drive V8s. You know, cars that aren't noted lovers of shiny wet surfaces.
But this was the recipe for yesterday's Ford Performance Track Experience — a multi-faceted day of skids and grins held by Ford New Zealand at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.
Thankfully, the weather was a touch more restrained than forecast, meaning track sessions weren't a total bust. Here's a few minor discoveries we had while larking about on the reflective Waikato racing layout.
The four-pot is no slouch
Like a lot of other Mustang faithful, I failed to comprehend the idea that there would be demand for a 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder Ford Mustang. And on a personal level, my money my choice, that hasn't necessarily changed. Different strokes, different folks, and all that stuff.
But after experiencing one for the first time, I can at least appreciate it as a tool. Its numbers — 223kW, 432Nm at 3000rpm, 0–100 in five odd seconds — don't quite do the feel of performance the justice it deserves.
If I had to compare its sound and fashion of delivery to something, it would be that of a Subaru SRX STi. There's a bit of lag as you'd expect from the turbo, but once that's out of the way it's smooth sailing. Dare I say it, it doesn't even feel that much slower than the V8...
For the most part, the whole 'American cars can't handle corners' dialogue is almost dead these days. Much of that is down to the ground work laid down by the current-gen Mustang.
And in practice it's true. The Mustang rotates like a car much lighter (and more ... European) on track. This goes for both the four and eight-cylinder models, despite the extra heft of the latter.
Peddling the Mustang quickly is more a case of worrying about the amount of torque under your right foot in the V8 than it is about any handling concerns (particularly in the rain). It does have a tendency to snap sideways (as we found out) if you dip your toes on the wrong side of the limit.
Avoid the automatic
The other thing in the wet that will force your Mustang to skip sideways is the automatic gearbox's love for switching down a gear mid-corner.
You quickly find yourself having to drive around the gearbox with minimal, massaged throttle inputs while exiting corners. One of our hairier moments while piloting a blue V8-laden convertible came while exiting the Hampton Downs carousel — the auto swapping from third gear to second and sending us into a significant slide.
Really though, this is an easy problem to fix. Either drive it in manual mode, or just buy one with a stick. Solved.
Rear-wheel drive is the ultimate 'drift mode'
On top of the time in Mustangs on track, yesterday's Ford day also included a sample of the Ford Focus RS's skid-creating prowess on the Hampton Downs skid pan.
But while that car, its 'drift mode', and the experienced hands of former national drifting champion 'Fanga Dan' Woolhouse sound like a perfect recipe for some serious bladder-threatening fun, in practice things didn't quite roll out that way. Fanga struggled to get around the RS, with its tyres in particular seemingly not fit for the task.
Ford decided to swap his wheels for an EcoBoost Mustang, and the change in smoothness was immediate. Where in the RS he was constantly forced to ride the hand brake, the Mustang was the much more natural slider.
You learn more about driving in treacherous conditions
This might be an elementary point to some, but that doesn't make it any less true.
Track days torpedoed by rain tend to get knocked, but while the potential for car damage is increased (and the potential for quick lap times decreased), there are positives.
And the best of them is what you as a driver are able to learn about your own shortcomings, as well as your steeds. The limits are shifted in the wet, and become far more achievable for those like me who are still wanting to learn more about their own traits.
In yesterday's case, this meant triggering the ABS, generating tyre chatter, and spinning up the rears were all a more frequent occurrence than normal. The process of ironing out those bumps, smoothing out the silliness, is deeply satisfying.
Check out next Saturday's (May 20) edition of Driven for our full write-up on the Ford Performance Track Experience.