First Track Drive: 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R


Ford Performance has embarked on a somewhat secret, kind of invitation-only, but everyone can register program to promote the all-new 2016 Shelby GT350 called the North American GT350 Track Tour.

There’s a website, you can register for future dates. But if and when you will get an invitation depends on a lot of things not stated. None the less, there is an air of exclusivity to the program which travels around the country to different venues and gives a rousing ride and drive in the new Ford Shelby GT350 and GT350R.

I got an invitation to one here in Phoenix, Arizona held at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, formerly known as Firebird Speedway. The campus is well known as home of Bob Bondurant who was once a Ford player, then Chevrolet, now sporting Dodge vehicles in their school.

In the morning presentation, we were walked through various stations with top Ford Performance representatives like Jim Owens who had his always entertaining and deep rooted historical perspective on Ford Performance as it were.

Then Mustang product and brand manager Mark Schaller was on hand too, giving a detailed walk around on the Shelby GT350, literally walking the group through every nut and bolt that’s different from the Mustang GT. There’s a lot of them.

Who else was there? This is a consumer event. The local Ford Pantera club was there, and our local group of ad-hoc auto journalists from the Phoenix region. Craig Jackson of Barrett-Jackson came out for the morning drive as well to hang out and talk cars with the homies.

When track time arrived they suited us up with hybrid harnesses and helmets, then sat us in a GT350R complete with technology package and black roof – all the bells and whistles of course. It was finally time to drive this car for the first time.

First impression is starting it up. It sounds raspy and has a tone that sends vibrations through your skin and muscle tissue. Nice. Revving the engine and getting into motion was easy enough. Even though this thing has one hell of a heavy duty clutch, it doesn’t feel like a truck. Trucks all have automatics these days anyway.

To make a long story short on the driving experience, let me simply say that I had in my mind as a benchmark the 2014 Shelby GT500. This was arguably the pinnacle of Shelby performance in the last generation Mustang. Don’t do that.

This car is not a GT500 in any way shape or form. I should have gone out there on the track expecting the next BOSS 302 as that is really where this car builds from. It’s lighter on its front wheels than a GT500. It turns better than a GT500. Wrapping it through corners is quieter on the tires than a GT500.

The engine revs happily to 8250 rpm, singing and wailing a song that’s so sweet. It’s linear because there isn’t a supercharger or turbocharger pushing it around. That’s a good thing on one hand, but if you miss the GT500 you will miss its push in the back you got from low end torque.

The payoff however from this linear power curve is a predictability laying on the power out of curves that gives you the confidence to go balls out without too much worry the thing is gonna go all ape-shit into a wall on you.

Brakes of course, good. Chassis refinement, oh hell yes! No more solid rear axle getting squirmy on rough exits. After all, here at Wildhorse Pass a.ka. “The Gravel Pit” you don’t want to dance on our pot holes or loose marbles on curves with that old beam axle.

Three laps came and went and my consumer experience was over. While I felt like a true driver pushing the car to its limits, I was slapped back into my place when I swapped seats with the instructor who promptly added easily 20-30 mph to my average speeds. And even he wasn’t making the tires sqawl like the GT500’s used to.

This is a sports car now, not a muscle car. Now, to get more than 2.5 minutes behind the wheel. Check out theNorth American GT350 Track Tour for yourself. And good luck getting in.