The new GT 350: A race car even I can drive

This is the Ford Mustang Shelby GT 350 I drove at Atlanta Motorsports Park just outside Dawsonville. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

This is the Ford Mustang Shelby GT 350 I drove at Atlanta Motorsports Park just outside Dawsonville. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

I’m well into my 43rd year of living, and only this week did I learn what a “head sock” is.

If you’d have asked me before this week, I’d probably have told you it was what you do after you body sock ‘em while playing Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

One good head sock, and the other robot’s head would spring right off his shoulders.

So now we’re talking about a different kind of head sock. This is the kind you actually put on your head, and you feel ridiculous doing it, because, hey, I’ve got nothing to hide, and hey, it’s hot out here on the asphault. And then you put on your racing helmet.

At least they don’t call it a head stocking, because I do have standards, and at least all of this preceded getting to go left-seat in a new Ford Mustang GT 350 on track at Atlanta Motorsports Park.

And here I go again, not finding the right words to describe exactly how it felt to sit in that Recaro seat and power through that road course with full control of a 526-hp sports car.

The best I can do is say it felt like rolling front-seat down the first hill of Goliath at Six Flags over Georgia and deciding at full speed to take control of the coaster yourself. Except in this case full speed for me on AMP’s straightaway was just shy of 100 mph before entering turn one.

And Goliath is a great example for a comparative roller coaster, because it is so fast and so smooth no matter the attitude (look up ‘attitude’ in an aviation dictionary). It doesn’t throw you all over the place, and it doesn’t make you look forward to getting out of the car.

I was ready to go once my head sock was fitted. (Staff selfie by Danny Harrison)

I was ready to go once my head sock was fitted. (Staff selfie by Danny Harrison)

Cindy, my instructor, sat right seat (because only a two-year-old will fit in the 350 back seats, and the 350-Rs don’t even have back seats). She encouraged me to keep my eyes down the track, keep the car in third gear, and maybe start braking a little sooner on this one 90-degree turn.

But even pushing the GT 350 a bit too hard into that turn proves why this is just about the perfect sports car: the tires barely barked. The weight distribution, the aerodynamics, the insanely capable braking system, and the suspension make this a barely-street-legal car that is actually designed to dominate the road course at any track.

It’s also a car that anyone can drive, assuming you’re up to speed on manual transmissions. I had never before driven anything so fast, and I had never before driven on a road course.

I did drive my 1998 Grand Prix GT around Atlanta Motor Speedway’s oval a few times more than a decade ago, but anyone else who has done so knows that cruising at 80-100 mph on that track pretty much feels like coasting through the parking lot.

This new GT 350 is comfortable and equipped with all the normal car stuff you’d want in your daily driver, and yet it becomes a race car on the race track.

By my third time approaching the relatively short straightaway, I was still cautious approaching it out of that last tight turn, which meant I only got up to about 97 mph before entering Turn 1 again, and I was disappointed. Never mind, I’ll nail it next time, I thought. But then as we made our way around the track and back to that final turn, Cindy instructed me to enter pit road.

Gutted.

But only for a second.

And really, as much as I enjoyed driving the GT 350 myself, as a true journalist first and a car enthusiast somewhere after that, I wanted to experience the car being put through the wringer by a professional race car driver. So within a second or two of Cindy’s call, I was antsy to jump out of the car, call shotgun, and see what she could do with this beautiful, red ‘Stang with white stripes.

We weren’t even completely off pit road yet before Cindy rocked the GT 350 down that first hill so hard my eyes bulged forward when she applied the brakes. And then my eyes wanted to pop out of the back side of the helmet when she floored it up the next hill.

And on and on and on we went, into this curve and back out, and over that hill and good grief, this is an amazing car beyond words.

Let me say this, though, seriously, if you buy one of these and go crazy with it like Cindy did, please makes sure you and your passengers have on helmets and Hans Devices (neck protectors) like Cindy did. When you’re being driven by someone as skilled as my instructor, you may not feel like you need it, but they were reassuring in particular when I was behind the wheel.

So, how much does this car cost? MSRP on the GT 350 is $56K. If you go for the GT 350 R, you lose the back seat, gain carbon fiber wheels and other go-faster options, and you pay about $63K. Both have the same engine and drive train.

Ford has always brought fast cars to the table, which has been super fun for drag racers and such, but not only is this their fastest car yet, it is also the most agile and responsive around the road course.

According to Ford Performance team leaders, the new lineup of race-ready, street-legal Fords have been made better partly because all of the globally detached performance groups within Ford are now unified under one Ford Performance banner, and that gives them a huge advantage over competitors.

Ford Performance Marketing Manager Jim Owens told us his Chevrolet counterparts were as surprised as anyone when the GT 350 rolled off the line and smoked their more expensive lineup. He said Chevrolet promises to come back to the track soon with something street legal that will beat the GT 350.

And then Jim grinned, and his eyes narrowed, and in a sideways, unofficial kind of way he announced that Ford Performance already has another car in the works that will beat Chevrolet’s car in the works.

Let the new arms race begin.

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About

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.


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