Don't bring a knife to a gunfight. What's a more perfect place to put our ongoing Project PHR Mustang to the test than at Hotchkis On-Track Day? If it was a month later, it would be even better! But, we can't make excuses-we didn't win. Things went pretty well and we had a blast, but not getting that ATI ProCharger system on board or at least swapping out the rear end ratio for 3.73:1 gears guaranteed our honors as "First Loser" at best.
PHR has been covering the annual Hotchkis On-Track Day since its inception, as it's the biggest and most prestigious event of its type on the West Coast. In the past, the event has been a place for car guys, industry folks, and handling-crazed enthusiasts to drag their stuff up to Central California's Buttonwillow Raceway for a day of brake melting, tire eating activity. For 2003, Hotchkis Performance and its supporting cast (including Baer, Flowmaster, and Yokohama, and associates at Axis Wheels, Centerforce, K&N, MagnaCharger, Optima, Red Line Oil, SEMA, and Sparco) created a special Media Day in addition to the traditional day for everyone else complete with timing and scoring. Put the clock on magazine editors and something dumb is bound to happen.
Actually, it was a well-run competition for a first try. Multiple categories were created for 24 entries, splitting the editors and their project cars into classes for front or rear-wheel drive, modified or stock, and a catchall class for exhibition vehicles (read racecars). To compete, the car had to be a true project vehicle with modifications "made on the pages" and the driver had to be an actual staffer on the book-no ringers allowed with car or driver. Though there were a few odd classifications, it was a fair shootout, and the results surprised many. The Media Day featured slalom, acceleration, braking, and road course testing to see what magazines have the fastest project cars and what editors have the best skills at the wheel. Comparisons between the sport compact cars and both the early and late street machines are often tough to make, but this would be our best shot-here, the stopwatch is god. Featuring amazing power to weight ratios and a nimble handling in a small package, these little cars are hard to beat in these scenarios. As you'll see, we hung in there pretty well. Since this editor has the most competition experience and has overseen the Mustang's buildup, I got the driver's honors. I think that's using the term "honor" quite loosely.
SLALOM MIXED COURAGE WITH GRIP
While you'd think that the road course category would demand the most skill from the entrants, the slalom test isn't far behind. We were given four runs down the 600ft course-two each direction-and hitting a cone added a second to your time. Experience in this category plays a big part, as those with the testing experience know how to squeeze little bits of speed out and can get the car on the edge.
Our Mustang should have had a huge advantage over every musclecar in the park thanks to our Maximum Motorsports Grip in a Box suspension setup and the Yokohama A-032-R rubber. However, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords editor at large Tom Wilson brought out their red racer with the same suspension, a 3.73:1 gear set (which we needed!), and grippier Nitto NT-555RII tires. Their car had a little more fine tuning and many more track days than ours, but it was pure courage that gave them the nod over PHR-Wilson's runs at just over 60 mph (with one DNF and a cone hit) was barely enough to edge our run.
I pussyfooted on the first pass, recording only a 57 mph average, but picked it up with two more runs over 60 mph for 9th overall. HOT ROD's Dave Freiburger also wimped out on the first pass, but picked it up a bit and finished just behind us-his 2001 Mustang Bullitt's best lap averaged 60.07 mph where our Mustang went 61.24 mph (Wilson's ride stormed to a 63.13 mph best!). Chevy High Performance and Car Craft's big cars weren't even close to the Ford product (likely due to stock GM steering boxes with slower response). The winning Honda recorded a 67 mph pass with a 65 mph average, to give you an idea of just how much quicker a light and nimble car is over the big domestic product.
WHERE'S THE DRAG STRIP?
For the acceleration tests, the Hotchkis boys used the same mile-long piece of pavement that stretches through the back of the road course for both the slalom and the 1/4 mile tests. It's fitting, actually, as many magazines are using regular pavement (not prepared drag strips) for their acceleration tests due to track rental issues. The numbers are a little less impressive, but they're very good showing at the relative difference in all these project cars. We had two tries to record our best effort, but some didn't need two runs.
This was our car's poorest finish at 10th overall, a result we predicted. With less than 270hp at the rear wheels and almost 3,600 lbs. to push, our SOHC 4.6L Mustang was no match for the project cars with more power. We recorded a 14.42-second pass at 98.31 mph with 3.27:1 gears-a shift into fourth gear would lose momentum, yet leaving it in third faced the fuel cutoff and rev limiter. Oh, well. Jeff Smith, editor of Car Craft, ran his well-sorted '65 Chevelle with its 420ci Lingenfelter small-block and a complete Global West suspension package to the front of the pack in the drag race with a 12.76-second ET at an impressive 116 mph. The next two best passes were posted by import cars, Dave Coleman's turbocharged '89 Nissan Silvia (13.14 at 108.95 mph) and Pablo Mazlumian's turbo M3 (13.26 at 112 mph). The big-time speed on these runs lead on to the limited traction.
BRAKING: ABS OR NOT?
The technology that anti-lock brakes brings to the motoring world divides the testing at Media Day into two groups-it's not that those who have it go to the front of the list, but that they don't have to work as hard to get there. For the ABS cars, ours included, the braking exercise is a no-brainer since you mash the pedal as hard as you can! Many didn't have it so easily, as cars that had been scoring well in the other exercises went to the bottom of the order with flat-spotted tires.
Our Mustang scored 6th overall in the braking exercise, with an 60-0 mph stopping distance of 119.96 feet, averaged over two runs. That's not bad for a relatively heavy car in a field loaded with lightweight stuff that should have waxed us! The best runs were less than 10 feet shorter, That Brembo Cobra R kit worked well with Hawk's HP+ pads and Yokohama's sticky rubber. We almost swapped for the Hawk "Blue" pads that are designed for track day activities, but without a chance to build temperature, we wouldn't have done as well.
READY FOR THE ROAD COURSE?
All of the other events created interesting numbers over which to ponder, but it was the road course activities that had everyone excited. That's where a mix of courage, skills, car prep, and engineering could combine (or collide) to show off each magazine's true merit. The other three events took much longer than anyone figured so actual track time was quite short, involving a quick lead and follow to learn the driving line, a short practice session, and the actual timed session. Hotchkis sent us out four at a time in consecutive order by car number, with a rough mixing of car order to put the obviously faster cars in front (thus avoiding passing, which still occurred...). We were allowed a warm up lap, two "flying laps" to be timed, and a cool down lap. That was it.
The first session was impressive, as Jeff Smith's Chevelle set down a stellar lap of 2:15.11 seconds around Buttonwillow. As a comparison, Freiburger, in Hot Rod's slightly hopped up Bullitt, ran 2:23.21 and 2:25.31. In bone stock trim around the same circuit (one year earlier), our Mustang went 2:26 and with race tires, we went about 2:21.00 seconds. All I knew was that we had to beat Jeff Smith. I was aware that the European Car M3 was blindingly fast and was in the session right in front of me, but the bragging rights and subsequent embarrassment of losing to that car don't cross over into our domestic performance industry. The M3 dipped into the 2:08s, but I didn't hear of it until my session was over. I drove my first lap hard but safe, as I kept telling myself, "Just post a time, then let one rip!" I had posted a 2:10.40 and was storming on the second lap until my plan failed-climbing up "Magic Mountain," I ran out of fuel! What was I thinking, trying to save 10 pounds in a 3,600-pound car? That made for an interesting exit off the hill, where the throttle needs to be fully matted for a controlled slide through the next kink! A few swerves to slosh fuel and stall or two later, I'd run 2:10.59 seconds.
Surely my second lap would have been a least a second or two quicker, but my aunt would be my uncle if she had....well, you get what I mean. We'd beat the other musclecar books in the best category, but weren't the quickest car. Dave Coleman in Sport Compact Car's Silvia replica went into the 2:07s! PHR was third on the road course and sixth overall, losing out by a hair to 5.0 Mustang's better passes in the slalom.
FUN, BUT FRUSTRATING
Looking back, there's no way they could have beat us with a blower on board, and they might not have beat us with a little more ratio-that car drives like it's always in the wrong gear! Other than that, you can't argue with the exercise we touted a year ago. We wanted to judge a car with the road course as a measuring stick, and starting in the 2:26s and ending up with conservative laps in the 2:10s (exactly one year later) shows the potential of Ford's design. Adding another 150hp to the rear wheels ought to put this car into another dimension and it will still drive well on the street. Thanks to Auto Meter, B&M, BBK, Brembo, Corbeau, Discount Tire Direct, Hawk Brake Pads, Magnaflow, Maximum Motorsports, Red Line Oil, Yokohama, and most of all, Ford Motor Company's Team Mustang, for getting us this far. We hear the Hotchkis Media
John Hotchkis has taken his career as one of America's best young road racers (with time i
Tom Wilson's Mustang, representing 5.0 Mustang had nearly the same suspension package, but
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Hot Rod staffer Matt King experienced a slight mishap in his '65 Biscayne. King ran out of
Our Mustang really does handle well-experienced spectators came up to us saying, "Boy does
Our Mustang never promised to be a drag racer, but it's getting better. We went 14.42 seco
Dave Anderson and Pontiac Enthusiast's '66 GTO drag car, the "GeeTO Tiger," ran in the Exh
If there was any controversy at Hotchkis Track Day, it was over Jeff Smith's Chevelle and
Super Chevy ad manager John Barkley got a first hand lesson in tire management at Buttonwi
With the exception of the road course competition (which was hand timed), a Stalker radar
Sport Compact Car's Dave Coleman is an accomplished rally driver and probably does more te
On the road course, our Mustang really shined. With the amount of work that's in it and th
Here's the overall winner, Pablo Mazlumian in his fantastic '95 M3 entered by European Car
TRACK DAY: THE FUN DOESN'T STOP
The formula works. For a reasonable fee, drag out your car and lap it for a day. If this sound likes fun, your common sense is showing itself. We're almost tired of telling everyone how cool Hotchkis Track Day and the similar events can be and they're only getting better.
With all of the magazine people burned out from Friday's activities, Saturday's traditional Hotchkis Day at Buttonwillow had a lighter crowd than usual. That was part of the plan, as they closed entries much earlier to ensure that each participant had his or her tongue hanging out by the third session. When the fourth came around, they'd gotten their money's worth and had to concentrate hard to keep it on the track and "bring it home" without a scratch. This driving stuff is hard work.
The turnout had plenty of trucks, including an impressive Chevy and more than a few Dakota R/Ts showing up to prove their point as Mopar's only late model V-8 product. A few C5s were in attendance, including Mark Richter's always-changing black beast and the MagnaCharger blown Centerforce ride built by RK Sport. Though there were a few Mustangs pounding around, the late-model F bodies had their numbers (and had them covered in numbers).
Are you looking for an East Coast version of this event? How about a round at Mid Ohio? We'd like to see a Track Day at the new Barber track in Alabama. Let the mail pour in! Be sure to drop us a note and visit www.hotchkis.net to let them know you want them to spread the wealth. In the meantime, check out www.nasaproracing.com or www.tracktime.com to see if there's a similar event in your area.