Last weekend I had an incredible time on track with a best in class track day organizer, Chin Motorsports, at Road Atlanta. This time out I took my new 2017 Ford Shelby GT350R (chassis #75), for the first time ever, with a great group at Chin Motorsports. From full prototype race cars, to track prepared Porsche 911 GT3's, to the BMW E46's, the full spectrum of performance cars were present. And while I have a full competitive racing license with SCCA, and plenty of track days under my belt and in my background over the past 2 years, I quickly found out what others have discovered about the 350R on the track: there is much more in the car's DNA, simply waiting to be unlocked. Much more than even an experienced driver is ready to initially unlock in an initial driving experience. This car demands respect. What I mean by this is both complicated, and simple in the same breath. In short, this is a real track car. It is designed for the race track, but fully capable of being driven on the street. But make no mistake about it, this car wants -- the track. It wants to be driven hard. With almost every other car you drive, you get a sense of its temperament, and its limits. Thereafter you drive within that given bandwidth, or if you are really good, or slightly crazy, you drive right up to or on the razor's edge of that car's potential. Driving the 350R is a completely different kind of driving experience from this. This car starts out strong and well balanced, and then just keeps asking for more from there. Soon the driver realizes that the car has more depth and more legs than the one doing the piloting -- and this is said by someone with few challenges in the area of confidence or self-esteem. This is simply the truth. The car is a beast. I started off with a very sedate 1:58 lap time at Road Atlanta, as I tried to get a sense of my new track car. By the end of the second day I was down to a crisp 1:40, but once I got there (a special thank you here to my lead instructor last week Robert Towery) I also knew that I could get to 1:39. And the day after, looking at video from my driving at Road Atlanta, I also knew that I could shave a full 2 to 3 seconds more off of my lap time, and it had little to do with increased throttle. I could lower my time into the 30's with more confidence in braking and a compression of the braking zones. The car had more, and I just needed to give it permission to give it to me -- and the track. On top of this, I knew I had another full second or more than could be squeezed out of additional acceleration on the back and front straight aways, but all of this was a bonus to me. The key to more time out of Road Atlanta, for this car, was simply compressed braking. And that is an amazing statement to make! Heading into turn one, off of the front straight away, I had improved a great deal (particularly around getting back on the gas, going up the incline after turn one) but I could see a 20% improvement there. I literally witnessed myself prematurely slowing (okay coasting) up over turn 2, heading into turn 3 (one of my favorite corners and transitions back into full throttle). If I set up turn 4 better, I could see a more clean (and faster) line down through what is called 'the esses,' and up into turn 5, which I handle okay to good. The place where I gave up the most time was heading into turn 6, where for some reason I simply brake way too early. The car -- this Ford Shelby GT350R -- can handle very compressed braking into turn 6. From there you have a clean apexing of turn 6 and back on a smooth but increasing throttle, rolling into a very tight turn 7. Turn 7 is tricky, but if you do it just right and get a clean exit you can get right back on the gas early and -- make good speed and timing down the back straightaway. This will carry you all the way down into the off camber, slight inclined right bend of turn 9. The place where I know that I nailed last week at Road Atlanta, is the same place where most people find almost the most demanding on this track -- hard braking from 130 or 140 MPH+ down into what's called turn 10a and 10b. To quote my driving coach Bob Towery, a Chief Instructor for Chin Motorsports, 'John, you nailed that.' Or another one of his great quotes about my late stage driving on Sunday, 'you are really deliverying the mail now...'. And my work approaching turn 10a is my key to how I plan to refine and attack my driving for every other corner at Road Atlanta: trust the amazing performance brake design on the Ford Shelby GT350R. Period. Ultimately I was braking well within the 200 marker at 10a (there is a run up section leading into the 300, 200 and 100 markers at turn 10a). I think I can get that down into the 150-175 range in time. From there I would consistently hit the apex or both my entry unto 10a, and my exit out of 10b and on up the hill. From there I would find my driving line and charge into turn 11, under the bridge and down into the famously blind, downhill and off camber turn 12. This is not a corner to play with, and there is no doubt in my mind that I can find more lap time here as well, as I consciously drove this well within the car's limits on both days (you don't want to push it here until you really know what you are doing). Many lives have been taken, and metal bent at turn 12. That said, I was still pushing 100 MPH on my exit from turn 12 and on onto the front straight away. Conclusion: With the GT350R you don't need to add 'more throttle' early on to improve track performance. The first and easiest key to cutting lap times in the GT350R at Road Atlanta is recognizing, respecting and then trusting the Ford Performance designed braking system. And of course, trusting yourself. The car and driver must be one. The key to the single biggest increase in lap time improvement at most any road track, involves the amazing and massive Brembo 6 pin braking system on the front of the car, and the equally impressive 4 pin massive Brembo brakes on the rear. All connected to absolutely gorgeous and well designed black carbon fiber wheels all around. And then trusting that with this set up -- that you can dive deeper, stronger, more consistently, and for a longer period than almost anyone else on the track (absent a fully prepped race car). This together is a key to reducing lap times at Road Atlanta, and most any other road racing track where you find this car. Credit note: Chin Motorsports and Chin Track Days are run by Mark Hicks and his wife Maria Herrera-Hicks, and is a great combination of cutting edge HPDE (High Performance Driver Education) training and a focus on safety first. Their preparation, consistency, their obsession with excellence and professionalism at every level -- combined with their monster track access schedule across fully half of the country and the amazing cars and drivers that show up ready to be serious -- makes them a clear and easy choice to make for track day enthusiasts, and racecar drivers in training alike. Let's go... John Hope Bryant and Bryant Group Motorsports
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