The hybrid HANS devices is a curious thing. It straps on like a backpack but there’s no weight to it. Instead, you exhale and cinch the chest strap closed and then someone walks up behind you and snaps two straps from your shoulders to your helmet.
Then the person tightens them to prevent your head from pushing forward or too roughly side to side. Comfort is not an option. It’s all necessary when you’re about to take a hot lap in the Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang.
Ford wants this 5.2L flat-plane-crankshaft-powered muscle car to shred club tracks around the country. And it does, as personally witnessed from the passenger seat of the GT350R at Grattan Raceway outside of Grand Rapids, Mich.
The 530-horsepower V8 snarls in a deep bass like only a few other engines sold to the public. Certainly, louder and with more bravado than any previous Mustang. The brakes alone are simply amazing. Using six-piston Brembo calipers on giant carbon-ceramic discs the GT350R seemingly stops as fast as hitting a brick wall. When the driver wound out fourth gear on the short straightaway, I watched him pass the first braking cone before he mashed his foot on the brake. That’s when I remembered the hybrid HANS device that was suddenly keeping my head on my shoulders.
This Mustang flies. Ford engineers said that they benchmarked Porsche for its dynamics and performance. Ultimately, on Grattan’s two-mile track, Ford says that that the GT350R beats the 911 by .1 seconds. Of course, at first glance, the GT350R doesn’t seduce you the same way a 911 does. (Won’t cost you as much, though.) Instead of a gentle kiss through a curve that the 911 provides, the GT350R punches you in the mouth at the end of the straightaway. There is nothing subtle about the GT350R.
It does have a softer side, however, as Ford has created five driver modes for the GT350 and GT350R that adjust ABS, stability control, traction control, steering effort and throttle mapping. Transmission mapping is left up to the driver’s feet and ability to shift quickly through the six-gears in the manual gearbox.
During the first part of the warm up lap, the Ford driver kept the car in normal mode, and it felt surprisingly, well, normal. The bumps were not noticeable, the engine did not boom and ride was smooth. But with the flip of a switch, we hit track mode and the GT350R transformed into a white knuckling beast — at least for me. The driver said it felt fine. Most of the nanny devices are kept at bay — though not entirely off — and we slid around more than one corner as the back end slipped out, but the driver caught it and accelerated through the turn.
The suspension, which on the GT350R includes a number of enhancements over the regular GT350, uses MagneRide dampeners, which can adjust dampening every 20 milliseconds. To give that some perspective, at 50 mph, if the GT350R drove through a 1-foot pothole, this Mustang could react and adjust the car’s suspension before the tire left the pothole.
On the track, those milliseconds mean the car can adjust quicker than the competition. On some of the elevation changes, when the car’s suspension would unload, it would quickly regain its composure on the downhill side.
A lot has also been made of the GT350’s carbon fiber wheels. These are the first mass produced carbon fiber wheels for any car, and they save 15 pounds of weight on every corner of the car. It’s even more impressive to walk up to table and lift the wheel easily with one hand. They don’t feel real. They feel like the future.
Combined with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 high-performance tires specially designed for the GT350R, the handling appeared superb. Michelin said that the tires were developed for hard cornering and are able to handle the GT350R at 1 lateral g. Faster through corners is what crowns the king of many track days. Ford wants as many of its owners on as many of those podiums and leaderboards around the country as possible.
Of course, riding in a hot lap and driving a hot lap are two entirely different things. There was no steering feedback or even a way to revel in its high-revving acceleration. Soon enough, Motor Trend will get behind the wheel to test the GT350R to see how our numbers compare to Ford’s.
But until then, know this: The Shelby GT350R Mustang is the real deal. It’s a daily commuter Monday through Friday and then an insatiable track car on the weekend. Ford may want to include a hybrid HANS device as an option right next to the “R” embroidered floor mats. Though those contraptions are not nearly as comfortable as this Mustang.