2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang track drive review: Flat-plane geometry and monster brakes

2016 Ford Shelby 350GT Mustangs line up for track drives.

2016 Ford Shelby 350GT Mustangs line up for track drives, a 350GT in front with 350GTRs further back.

There’s a sort of chicane, and the 2016 Shelby GT350R Mustang tags the curbing on the right and then the left and then there’s a straight ahead. Put the hammer down. There’s a slight rise so the next corner can’t be seen, but it’s a left and the braking points are marked with cones. The revs build quickly, the distinctive growl of the flat-plane crank V-8 pitch rises as the tachometer’s needle swings past 6500, 7000, 7500 and on towards the 8200 rpm redline.  Orange-red dots flash on the base of the windshield, moving pincer-like, the HUD saying it’s time to shift.

Into fourth. The lever slides as if by magnet from third to fourth. Revs drop. Back on the throttle. The speedometer is academic. Braking point. Stand on the Brembos. The GT350R sheds kinetic energy and would stop dead before the turn-in point if the brakes weren’t released.

Giggle.

2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang

2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang (click to enlarge)

Heel-and-toe down into third. Hit the apex oh-too-slow and then back on the power. There are apexes yet to be hit.

We’re at Pocono International Raceway, not on the tri-oval that NASCAR uses but rather an infield course, one of a number that can be configured, for the North American Track Tour for the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang and Shelby GT350R Mustang. Our track time is limited. We have to share. But it only a handful of laps to discover that it’s one of the best street-legal track-ready—or is it track-ready street-legal—cars we’ve ever driven.

Thank the current cold war with hot cars—as the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, Camaro Z/28 (next generation caught testing—and crashing—at Nurburgring), BMW M4—and the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang. Ford unleashed Ford Performance to release not just a can of whoopass but a whole case on the trackable ‘Stang.

5.2-liter V-8 is the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang engine

The 5.2-liter V-8 is the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang engine is the most powerful naturally-aspirated engine Ford has ever made. (click to enlarge)

Here, at length but still not everything, is what they did. The Mustang is a worthy platform to exploit for the new GT350, well balanced, good basic aerodynamics and finally a independent rear suspension system. Into this went a high-performance flat-plane crankshaft 5.2-liter V-8. The flat-plane crank—where the crank throws are all 180 degrees apart instead of at 90 degrees—yields an even firing order, which means even pulses in intake and exhaust and better breathing at high rpm. The arrangement of the crank throws also means the crank counterweights can be smaller and lighter, allowing quicker revving and because of less mass moving around, an engine that can wind out further. Max revs for the GT350’s engine? Redline is 8200 rpm, and it will stay there all day.

2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang grille

To improve aerodynamics, the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang grille has a smaller open area than the regular GT350. (click to enlarge)

The lighter crank throws also allows lighter pistons and connecting rods, and vice versa. The pistons are forged aluminum and have reduced tension piston rings for reduced drag. The connecting rods are forged steel with cracked caps, stronger and lighter than conventional connecting rods and caps. Again, higher revs.

The 5.2-liter V-8 just isn’t bigger for bigger’s sake. The cylinder heads are all new, CNC-machined, with the ports optimized using computational fluid dynamics.  The GT350 engine’s bigger bore means there’s room for bigger valves, and to get the most out of bigger valves they had to be relocated outwards, so the valves are not only bigger, they’re at a different angle. Extra weight was also machined off the head where it wasn’t needed.

2016 Ford Shelby GT350 flywheel and clutch

The 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 has a dual-mass flywheel and dual-mass clutch for reduced mass and smoother take-up. (click to enlarge)

Weight came off the other end of the engine as well with a single-piece integrated oil pan, with the windage tray, oil pickup and baffle all one piece. It can hold about two quarts more oil but is 20 percent lighter.

Ford Performance engineers chased weight everywhere. One obvious place was in the suspension and brakes. While retaining conventional ventilated and cross-drilled cast iron brake discs, the discs were mounted on an aluminum center via pins to reduce heat transfer that would eventually get to the wheel bearings during enthusiastic track use. (Discs are positioned over the hubs and pins inserted from the inside).