Pony Wars: Road-Course Rumble At Buttonwillow Raceway Park

As you know, Horsepower Wars kicks off with a battle of the pony cars — 2017 Mustang GT versus 2017 Camaro SS. However, before we get to the meat of Pony Wars by adding parts, we traveled to one of the premier road racing and testing facilities in the United States, Buttonwillow Raceway Park. There, we set out to find out just how responsive our stock 2017 Ford Mustang GT is on the road course.  While there will be plenty of Mustang vs Camaro racing action as well as full track results, our focus this week was getting the stock Mustang GT out on the track.

This is the perfect opportunity to find out just how capable a stock 5.0 Mustang can be at the track. — Drake Kemper, pro driver

Located 28 miles northwest of Bakersfield, California, the Buttonwillow track was the perfect Southern California venue to put the Mustang (and its Brand X rival) through its paces. The track’s versatility also makes it a popular destination for open-track clubs, motorcycle racers, and professional race teams.

HP Wars

Temperatures were in the low 70s for our track day at Buttonwillow and our Race Red 2017 Mustang GT looked stunning with the new 20-inch wheel and tire upgrades from ROUSH Performance and Toyo Tires.

Setting The Stage

We could not have picked a better day for our first day at the track with our 2017 Mustang GT. The weather in SoCal was picture perfect with the temperature hovering in the low 70s and just the right amount of cloud cover. As soon as the car showed up to the track, our jaws dropped as the Mustang’s bright red paint scheme made it look like it was ready for battle. The 20-inch ROUSH Quicksilver wheels along with the sticky Toyo R888Rs only added to ponycar’s aggressive demeanor and we could not wait to click off a few warm-up laps.

2017 Mustang GT Equipment Group 300A

• 3.15 ratio limited-slip axle

• P235/50R18 tires (upgraded before testing)

• Cloth seats w/ six-way power seats

• Raised-blade decklid spoiler

• 18-inch Magnetic aluminum wheels (upgraded before testing)

• Six-speed automatic transmission (optional)

• Tire inflator and sealant kit

For our testing, we enlisted the help of professional drivers Drake Kemper and Rob Krider, to guarantee that we get the most of out of both cars. These pilots will ensure that we get fast consistent laps and some great feedback on both vehicles dynamics.

“This is the perfect opportunity to find out just how capable a stock 5.0 Mustang can be at the track,” Drake Kemper said. “Besides the aftermarket wheels and tires, this car is still very much a stock vehicle.”

Upgrading all four corners of our Mustang with the ROUSH 20x9.5-inch Quicksilver wheel and Toyo R888R tire ensured out Pony would have plenty of grip come track day.

Track-Day Upgrades

To make sure our base model 2017 Mustang GT with the 300A equipment group was more evenly matched for its showdown with the 2017 Camaro SS on the track, we replaced the stock wheels and tires. We contacted ROUSH Performance, which suggested outfitting our Pony with a new set of its 20×9.5-inch Quicksilver cast aluminum wheels. The company uses theses wheel on its supercharged ROUSH Stage 3 Mustangs, so we know they are built to handle the added power that our stock Mustang will be receiving in the coming weeks.

Once we found the right set of wheels, it was time to pick a set of tires that would keep both ponycars firmly planted to the pavement. We chose the Toyo Proxes R888R DOT Competition Tires. The dependability of the R888 line of tires are proven on the track and outfitting both cars with matching rubber ensured consistent lap times and superior handling for both vehicles. Toyo offers this particular tire in a variety of sizes, and we were pleasantly surprised that the tire was offered in six different sizes for our 20-inch ROUSH Quicksilver wheels. We installed the 255/35ZR20 front and went with a 285/30ZR20 out back.

Toyo Proxes R888R Features

• High-grip race compound

• Reaches optimal operating temperature quickly and provides consistent performance

• Improves grip for excellent cornering performance

• Optimized Contact Patch

• Improves dry traction in braking, acceleration, and cornering

• Large tread blocks on outside tread

• Maximizes lateral grip for improved cornering

Since the 2017 Chevy Camaro SS already featured the factory Brembo brake package and our base Mustang did not, we decided to add Ford Performance Parts six-piston 15-inch Front Brake Upgrade Kit. The upgrade is the original equipment on 2015-2018 GT Performance Package vehicles and will fit all 2015-2018 V6, EcoBoost, and Mustang GTs. The upgrade easily cleared our 20-inch ROUSH wheels and gave us all the stopping power we needed for a full day at the racetrack.

After a quick safety check, it was time for Rob Krider to hit the track in the 2017 Mustang GT. His mantra is “Race Anything, Win Everything” and Rob is a multi-champion driver who currently competes in the NASA Honda Challenge series.

Buttonwillow Raceway Park offers many racing and testing configurations on the main road course and the kart track. All of the track configurations can be run in both the clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. On this particular Friday, the track was configured in the Open Test 1A counter-clockwise configuration. This allowed us to take test our stock Mustang on the complete course, taking advantage of both the East and West loop.

HP Wars

Buttonwillow Raceway Park was the perfect venue to test out our stock 2017 Mustang GT. On this particular day, we ran the Open Test #1A CCW course which features 12 prominent features including tight turns, long straightaways, and even has changes in elevation.

After a few quick hot laps around Buttonwillow, we caught up with professional driver Rob Krider to find out what some of the strengths and weaknesses were to the stock Mustang at the track.

Although the Mustang likes the throw it in, gas it out style of driving, it may not have the juice in stock form that the Camaro is displaying. – Rob Krider

“We had to make some adjustments to not overdrive the car,” said Rob. “Itdefinitely a little behind the Camaro right now. It does not want to be overdriven. Once I smoothed out the driving style in the Mustang, I found myself kind of between gears on some of the corner exits.  It seemed like the automatic transmission on the Mustang did not like that sort of driving style.”

After stopping in the pits to perform a few adjustments,  Rob jumped back behind the wheel of the stock Mustang to give it another go.

After we made a few adjustments to the tire pressure, the car responded well to the more aggressive driving style. Although the Mustang likes the throw it in, gas it out style of driving it may not have the juice in stock form that the Camaro is displaying.”

Both the Mustang and the Camaro put down some impressive times at the track. Stay tuned as we will release the full results as well as feedback from both drivers.

Once we establish those baselines, it’s time to start modding these pony cars. Horsepower Wars is backed by some of the biggest names in the automotive aftermarket — including BMR SuspensionCOMPDiabloSportDyna-BattE3 Spark PlugsHolley Performance PartsMahleMickey ThompsonProChargerQA1 Royal PurpleSummit RacingTCI, and others — and it’s going to get nuts as we let these ponies go to war. You won’t want to miss a moment of the action. To catch all the lastest Pony Wars fun follow along right here and on the series’ official site.

About the author

Kelly Getz

Kelly is a SoCal car enthusiast and skilled driver. His “get out and drive” obsession began after attending his first high-performance racing school while serving on active duty. Since then, he has attended numerous military and civilian driving schools across the country to help fuel that passion.
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