With the heritage and legacy of the Mustang being so deeply rooted within drag racing, it is hard to see it as anything other than a drag car. The Mustang has constantly and consistently dominated your local drag strip, even being barred from competing in certain classes due to its success. Typically, when a vehicle like the Mustang is so successful in one area, rarely is it ever a serious competitor in any other type of racing. However, the Mustang is a true outlier—the car that not only defies standards, but also expectations.
More often than not, the Mustang is quickly dismissed from all conversations about handling, with some who would even laugh at the thought of “corner carver” and “Mustang” being used in the same sentence. Looking past the few exceptions such as the Boss 302 and the Shelby GT350, a large amount of people do not take the Mustang seriously when it comes to handling, albeit in a competition setting. The truth of it is, they’re wrong.
From a stock standpoint, the Mustang has come a long way in the suspension and handling department from the old days. The factory options offered through the dealer have improved massively over the course of the past decade; Track Pack options from Ford have given enthusiasts a solid and stout foundation for either drag racing or autocross/track racing. The new S550 platform has introduced Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) as standard equipment on the Mustang, raising its status as a well-balanced performance car even more.
Shifting gears to an aftermarket standpoint, it only becomes much more apparent how well-suited the Mustang is for handling and how competent it can be in racing series that are not drag oriented. From the ever expanding aftermarket providing enthusiasts with what they need to modify their cars for competition, to your big names in racing such as Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Jack Roush Jr. leading their respective racing series, the Mustang is constantly proving itself as being one of the most track-able cars in existence.
Cone Killer Delight: Autocross Racing
One of the most enjoyable forms of amateur racing is easily autocross. All you need to compete at an autocross day is some gas in the tank, tread on the tires, and a little bit of cash to cover the entry fee (which is always reasonable). Autocross events offer enthusiasts the chance to put their cars to the test to see how they stack up against other cars, but more importantly they give drivers the chance to become more familiar with how their car handles—seat time is one of the most valuable things you can get when it comes to racing.
Autocross events are typically set up in large, open parking lots with cones serving as course guides. When signaled, racers try to make their way through the cone course in as quick a time as possible, while avoiding contact with all cones as they equate into added seconds onto your timed run. One run through the course is usually fairly short (under three minutes), but you will have several runs throughout the day.
What You Need For Autocross
Competing in autocross isn’t about having big power or a ton of work done to your Mustang. It is about being able to make a smooth and swift pass through the course; your “driver mod” will play a large role in your autocross experience. With that said, there are certain things you can do to your Mustang to improve your times as well as your overall experience. For starters, a good set of tires and wheels will take you quite far when it comes to autocrossing. Having a tire with the right amount of grip will allow you to corner and handle much better. A set of Nitto Invo tires are a great option for someone who sees daily driving as well as the occasional autocross day on the weekend.
To take your Mustang to the next level at an autocross day, you will want to modify the suspension. An aftermarket set of shocks and struts like those offered by Koni will greatly improve your handling when paired with a set of lowering springs. Throw in a Whiteline Panhard Bar and you will be tearing up the course!
Sliding Into First: Drifting
In the post-2000 years of racing, drifting went from being an off-the-wall niche sport to being one of the largest motorsports around. What many thought was going to be a fad quickly exploded into a staple of racing. Competitors will lap around a track with the intention of getting sideways around each turn, coming as close to the edge of the track as possible, while also throwing off clouds of smoke during the drift. Drifting started out as a sport dominated by small displacement import cars, but over time it has been invaded by large displacement domestic cars, with the Mustang leading the way.
From the Professional Drift circuit with Vaughn Gittin Jr to the Pro-Am circuit with Chris Allen, the Mustang has proven itself to be one of the most competitive platforms in drift. Amateur drift days that take place at your local track are no stranger to the Mustang either; Foxbodies and SN95 ‘Stangs can be a common sight at smaller events like these. Vaughn Gittin Jr. was even quoted as saying, “the Foxbody is the best kept secret in the drifting world,” but it is hard to say just how much of a secret it is anymore.
What You Need For Drifting
Like autocross, a proper drift requires a good set of wheels and tires (and plenty of them). Mickey Thompson’s Street Comp is a great tire that will allow you to really throw the rear of your Mustang into a turn for a nice smokey drift. A set of adjustable coil overs like those offered by KW will allow you to really dial your suspension in, giving your Mustang a huge boost in handling performance.
One of the most important things in a drift car (arguably any car) is predictable handling. To make your handling more consistent and refined, consider adding Whiteline’s Watts Link setup. A Watts Link setup will keep your axle centered for the best possible handling, making each drift consistent and repeatable.
First One to the Top: Hill Climbs
For almost as long as the automobile has been in existence, racing has been in existence; one of the earliest and oldest types of racing is hill climb events. Hill climbs are fairly self-explanatory given that they are a timed run from the base to the top of a hill/mountain and are sometimes done in stages or segments.
Competing in a hill climb requires that your vehicle has been diligently prepared and that the person in the driver seat is mentally prepared. Amateur hill climb racer and Time Trial Novice Instructor Steve Lewis, who competes with a 2004 Procharged Mach 1 said, “Everyone should start out with autocross to learn car control. Competing and being successful in hill climb events hinges on understanding car control.” Entering into a hill climb event should not be your first racing experience — getting a good bit of seat and track time at autocross and other events will help you maximize your fun as well as your safety.
What You Need For Hill Climbs
Following the trend with what has been mentioned previously in this article, one of the biggest things you will need for a hill climb event is a set of wheels and tires. Nitto’s INVOs are a great tire option that will have you gripping the road like glue. A set of KW coil overs will provide you with a lot of suspension adjustability that will allow you to get your setup dialed in perfectly.
To help take your handling to the next level, an upgraded differential will give you much better car control and handling, as well as take some extra abuse. Ford Racing’s T-2 Torsen Differential will maximize your performance by making sure you are always putting the right amount of power to the ground, or in this case, hill. With hill climb races not leaving a lot of room from course errors, your brakes become even more important than they were to begin with. A big brake kit like Wilwood’s is the perfect option for any upcoming hill climb racer.
From Reader to Racer: Getting Experience
While drag racing will continue to be an incredibly enjoyable highlight of the Mustang’s power and performance, there are other options out there for you to explore that can be just as enjoyable. Finding and getting involved with events like those listed above is as simple as hopping onto the computer and doing a quick internet search. Find an event, get some seat time, and modify your Mustang to get the most out of it. Taking your Mustang and pushing it to its absolute limit is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and something every Mustang owner should do at least once.