Once you’ve built a racecar from scratch, you can appreciate a factory built racecar. Who wouldn’t want to fill out a form, check all the boxes, write an extraordinarily large check and then take delivery of a racecar that was built by the factory from a body in white?
Ford has been on a tear over the last decade in offering factory racecars. Of course, in Ford’s case, the “factory” in factory racecar might mean Multimatic, the full-service design, engineering, analysis, prototyping and motorsports company headquartered in Markham, Ontario, Canada. Multimatic was responsible for developing the FR500C that ran in the Grand Am series. The FR500S was developed through Ford Performance Racing with input from the Ford Performance Racing School at what was then Miller Motorsports Park.
Those cars led to the development of the current Mustang FP350S, a factory-built racecar that the Ford Performance Racing School uses for competition at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Toole, Utah. The team also campaigned an FP350S at the 2018 25 Hours of Thunderhill. They added a 28-gallon fuel cell, some additional lighting and a few other custom touches, but that was about it.
“It arrives essentially ready to race,” McKeever said. “It doesn’t come with race wheels and tires, but we had a partnership with Signature wheels, so we had the car delivered with stock GT350 wheels and tires. So, we put our own wheels and tires on and we added a fuel cell, knowing we were going to run the 25 Hour, so we wanted to have enough fuel to go a reasonable distance.”
There’s nothing wrong with the saddle tanks in the car, but FP350s’ fuel consumption would have the team stopping inside of every hour to add fuel, so the added capacity of the fuel cell was a must. The team added the fuel cell, front dive planes from the GT4 version of the car, and took it to Thunderhill for testing prior to the 25 Hour.
“The year before, we brought the Boss 302s, and our Boss 302s handle so well here in Utah. That’s the only place we run them, so we’ve got a pretty good setup,” McKeever said. “It turned out that setup wasn’t even close for Thunderhill. It really needed some different springs and we needed to make some bigger changes, but we never prepared for that. We took the car out in October to make sure we didn’t show up come 25 Hour time and have a setup that wasn’t going to work.”
When the team arrived at Thunderhill, they had the right setup. They qualified seventh of 47 cars on grid, and they ran in first, second and third places in the ES class throughout Saturday afternoon and evening. By 6 o’clock the next morning, they were running solidly in third place, when the car broke a valve spring, which ended their race.
“We sent the spring off to be analyzed and it was a flaw in the material the valve spring was made out of, so it was a bit of an anomaly,” McKeever said. “When they (enlarged the image), you can see where this particle had gotten into the metal and created a weak spot. It was a little crushing because that piece shouldn’t have broken.”
Till that point, the car ran without the slightest hiccup. The team did, however, have some issues with exceeding sound limits as night fell. As temperatures dropped and the moisture levels in the air increased, they got black-flagged for sound. The team had brought the usual complement of tailpipes that point away from the sound measurement device, but the infraction cost them time in the pits.
“We just did not anticipate the decibel levels changing that much with the temperature going down,” McKeever said. “We were fine during the day when the temperatures were reasonable, but once it got down to a certain temperature, we ended up hitting sound.”
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill is great way for the team at the Ford Performance Racing School to get together and have some fun. They spend their racing season focused on customers racing at the Utah Motorsports Campus, so it’s an opportunity for them to come together as a team and have compete.
“When you have a customer car, then we put everybody sort of in a customer service mode,” McKeever said. “Having just our own car, it can really just be about us. We spend our entire season based on customers, so it was nice to get out of that customer mode and just kind of enjoy ourselves.”
The FP350S is a fantastic platform, but it doesn’t necessarily slot in well with the endurance classes. For example, it’s a bit of an underdog in ES in terms of pace, but if they were to try to class it in E0, that would limit how many tires the team could change at a time and how much fuel they could start the race with, and the manner in which they can fuel the car, all of which are limiting. It’s better to class it into ES and add the fuel cell.
“It’s very difficult to understand how grueling this race is until you actually do it. We all, sort of in our own little areas, learned the things that you need to do to sort of manage the time period,” McKeever said. “On the driver’s side, just trying to catch a little nap, figuring out a way to sort of tuck yourself away and make sure everybody knows to leave you alone for a little bit of time so you can get a little bit of sleep. Our crew know that you’ve got just sort of relax, especially through the nighttime period. You can’t have too many highs and lows because that takes a toll on you mentally. You’ve got to just sort of settle in and let things happen.”
|Owner:||Ford Performance Racing School|
|Weight:||3,380 lbs. w/o driver|
|Engine/Horsepower:||5.2-liter DOHC V8/560|
|Transmission:||Tremec 3160 6 speed|
|Suspension:||Front: Sachs Coilover|
|Suspension:||Rear: Sachs Coilover|
|Tires:||Front: Michelin S9M 30-68-18|
|Tires:||Rear: Michelin S9M 30-68-18|
|Brakes:||Front: AP Racing Radi-CAL six-piston, two-piece, 372mm rotor|
|Brakes:||Rear: AP Racing four-piston, two-piece, 340mm rotor
|Sponsors:||Ford Performance Racing School, Michelin, Signature Wheels, Castrol Edge, RECARO.|