Heard around the IMPA test days paddock:
The GT500 is too fast, it shouldn’t be here.
That thing is a beast, somebody’s going to hurt themselves in it.
What a handful.
I must admit that it was a little bit strange that the car was there by itself, without a handler. You see, there were 3 cars with true supercar performance in attendance at Pocono Raceway that day. The Viper GTS and the 911 Turbo Cab both had driving instructors firmly planted in the right seat, keeping auto hacks from balling them up. The 500 horsepower Shelby was just handed over to us journo types without a word. You’ve gotta remember that being able to write about cars doesn’t mean that you’ve had any training in how to drive them fast, and 500 hp can make an awful lot of fast.
With those words in mind, I did up my seatbelt, tucked my hat in my backpack and trundled up pit lane, with more than a few butterflies. When the horse and I were waved out onto the track, I peddled slowly and carefully out to the first turn, not wanting to mess up the very pretty steed. Who am I kidding? I hammered that puppy like an old mule! Oh yeah! Man, is this thing fast!
First entry in pit lane notes: Parnelli Jones Baby!!
Not only does the GT500 have the most horsepower Ford has ever stuffed in a production Mustang (until of course they built the GT500KR) but it is honestly the fastest car I’ve ever driven. Bearing those earlier paddock comments in mind, I used a pretty soft foot when exiting the first turn to make sure I didn’t spin off into the weeds. Once in a straight line, I was back on the throttle hard and was just amazed at how fast this car is. The blower makes the most incredible sound as the revs build and the car gobbles up track at an amazing rate. The first few corners went this way, with me braking gingerly, coasting through the apex and hammering the throttle in a straight line. Exiting the tight right onto the banked section, I was careful not to stuff the back end into the wall and then got hard into the loud pedal while working up through the 6 speed box. Did I mention the GT500 was fast?
On the first pass down the straight, I was late into the throttle, yet I still managed to see the high side of 125 miles per hour by my early braking point to the infield section. While the car does have giant Brembos on the front, I was still wary of the Mustang braking reputation and didn’t want to overcook things. I needn’t have worried, as the Shelby’s brakes are more than up to the task.
Through the infield section, I was feeling pretty comfortable and decided to turn things up a bit. Just so long as the driver has control over his cajones, the handling is completely neutral. The only time the back end will let go is when the experience driver wants it to, or when the inexperienced driver gets too hard into the gas. Things were getting fun!
I now feel like I know how Trans Am drivers of the Sixties must have felt when they tossed those incredible cars around the track. The GT500 is happiest at speed and loves to be manhandled around a track. When entering a corner, I found that I was most successful when braking hard in a straight line and beginning to feed in small amounts of throttle before the apex, allowing a gentle drift out to the exit of the turn. As the car comes straight, smoothly apply full throttle and the GT500 fully explodes towards the next corner, where the process begins all over. The car is so controllable in a drift that I actually didn’t have a single moment during my time in it and I pushed pretty hard. Even though I was impressed with the supportive seats, the GT500 is a very physical car to drive. The side loads, acceleration and incredible braking cause the driver to be thrown around a fair bit. The car is incredibly rewarding to drive fast, but afterwards, you are completely aware of how hard it made you work for it. If I were to buy one as a lapping day weapon, I’d want to install harnesses and a racing seat.
The final section in the car had to have been the highlight of the day. 135 mph on the bank of Pocono Raceway, 6 feet off the back bumper of the Viper GTS, watching the white 911 about 20 feet off my stern. Down into the infield, I lifted a bit, expecting the instructor in the Viper to make the guy slow down, but he stayed in the throttle. I chased the Viper through the infield section, while being chased by the Porsche. The Viper driver was hitting apexes nicely and was pushing hard enough to drift the big car in the same places I was drifting the GT500. It was definitely the coolest moment of the day!