It used to be that vehicle weight approaching and exceeding the two-ton mark was a trait that, quite conclusively, defined purpose and limitation.
There isn’t a hard number, and opinions vary – mostly according to personal brand and performance car preferences – but safe to say somewhere in the mid-3,000 lb. range a vehicle has traditionally become disqualified for certain performance car activities like track (road course) use.
Cars over 4,000+ lbs./two+ tons – that’s the domain of GT cars, Autobahn sedans, crossovers and SUVs. Why?
The laws of physics can’t be cheated. Weight can be disguised but it’s impossible to truly overcome. And the more a vehicle pushes the performance envelope, the more weight comes into focus. Approaching the limit, heavy cars begin to overwhelm all the components designed to rein them in – suspension, brakes, and tires. A heavy car reveals its excess when pushed deep into brake zones, hard around corners, and especially through transitions where the vehicle’s weight transfers can be its undoing.
“Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” – Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus
Chapman’s age-old philosophies on performance vehicle weight still ring true. Except, do they?
Perhaps no vehicle stands to challenge conventional wisdom on weight more than Ford’s 2020 Shelby GT500. At first glance and according to the specs, the new Shelby GT500 looks the part of the older version of the same model, which is to say, it’ll do a fine job accelerating in a straight line if you can keep it pointed straight. (Plenty of Mustang-burnout-gone-wrong videos out there, if you’ve got some free time.)
According to conventional wisdom, the GT500’s headline figures of 760 horsepower, 625 ft-lbs. of torque, and a curb weight of 4,255 lbs. put it firmly into the “dragster” bracket right alongside some of the other insane 4,000+ lb. projects to recently emerge from Detroit. (The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat comes to mind.)
Further supporting the idea that the new Shelby GT500 is probably more at home on the drag strip than the road course is the Mustang GT350R, which does a very fine job as Mustang’s flagship track model.
But as it turns out, the Shelby GT500 doesn’t care whatsoever about performance car weight preconceptions, or that it’s treading on little brother’s turf by being shockingly competent on a road course.
And shockingly competent is the takeaway from the first legitimate evidence of the car on track. In the video below, pro racer Randy Pobst pilots the Shelby GT500 to virtually match the lap time of the 991.2 Porsche 911 GT3 RS. That’s right, the 4,255 lb. Mustang runs in contemporary GT3 RS territory, “mano a mano,” in back-to-back testing on California’s Chuckwalla road course.
So, what’s going on here?
As vehicles have become progressively bigger and heavier, performance car engineering wizards in Detroit and elsewhere have been working to cancel out weight disadvantage with precocious damper (suspension) technology called MagneRide. It’s hyper-responsive to the road and driving conditions. It’s capable of damper adjustments and responses up to 1,000 times per second. What this means is a MagneRide-equipped car can deliver a luxury quality ride over imperfect roads, and yet with the right testing, tuning, and development methodology, it can also massively advance performance limits. MagneRide permits the accomplishment of two disparate engineering goals – luxury comfort on-road and standout track performance.
“MagneRide provides ultimate chassis performance in any situation, isolating the driver from rough road surfaces while at the same time reducing body roll and improving road feel. At work or play, under dry, wet, or icy road conditions, MagneRide delivers a safe, comfortable ride without compromise.” – MagneRide.com
Four distinct suspension modes in the Shelby GT500 dial up the MagneRide to whatever conditions you’re facing: comfort, normal, sport, and track modes. How the suspension behaves is drastically altered in each of these modes, especially in track mode, where body roll is counteracted to an optimum degree.
In Colin Chapman’s defense, lightness hasn’t been completely dismissed. The Shelby GT500 can be ordered with a carbon fiber Track Pack, which ditches the rear seat, adds carbon wheels, as well as carbon fiber aero pieces like the rear wing straight from the GT4 race car. Even still, the new Shelby GT500 won’t see the healthier side of two tons.
Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires sync with the MagneRide tech to seemingly accomplish the impossible. (The same tires equipped to the GT3 RS, by the way.)
Will the Shelby GT500 actually be a serviceable track car for “DE” enthusiasts? Surely owners will have to keep ample funds on hand for tires and brakes. It won’t wear on “consumables” like a Miata.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Ford Performance engineers and MagneRide have seemingly defied the laws of physics, and rewritten the performance car rulebook by making a two-tonner both a comfortable cruiser and a track athlete.