By definition, a pony car is an affordable American two-door car including exceptionally styled coupes and convertibles with performance to match. These rear-wheel drive vehicles can be ordered with a high-powered V8 engine and can easily be spotted by their long hoods and short deck-lids that give them an aggressive look. These cars come from the factory with no shortage of accessories to customize the look and performance of each vehicle.
Pony cars were the pinnacle of performance and styling in their day as the Big Three fought for the market. In 2019, not much has changed in this sense other than the cars themselves. Today, these vehicles are better in every aspect, including performance, luxury, and dependability. If you converse with a pony car owner, they will quickly educate you on why their specific make and model is the best on the market, which has helped fuel this age-old rivalry.
In the first season of Pony Wars, we saw the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang going head to head in a close competition. Even though both cars put up a good fight, the Camaro was the victor beating the Mustang to become our first Pony Wars champion. For Pony Wars Season 2, there was a twist. Instead of just the Mustang and Camaro, a Challenger was added — literally. Now we will be able to see all three 2019 pony cars duke it out. Would the Camaro be able to edge out the Mustang and the Challenger to be the Pony Wars 2 champion? There is only one way to find out.
Armed with a bad ass ProCharger of their choice and a Summit Racing budget of $10,000, Teams FordNXT, Vengeance Racing, and Arrington Performance selected the best parts to improve the performance of their vehicle giving them a shot at winning this competition. We will tell you that the tensions were high and no team wanted anything less than First place.
Team FordNXT Mustang GT Premium
It’s no surprise that the new 2019 Mustang GT platform is nothing short of spectacular from the factory. With the addition of the ProCharger P-1X, Stage II Intercooler, and Race bypass valve, Team FordNXT was looking to crank out 850-900+ wheel horsepower to be in the running. All of this power was to be made on the stock engine, too. They are the only team that didn’t rebuild their engine with forged internals because they simply didn’t need to. One remarkable detail about the Coyote engine is that it can make some serious power in stock form. This allowed FordNXT to focus on the car’s suspension setup, instead of throwing hoards of money at the engine bay.
Team Vengeance Camaro SS
Vengeance Racing showed up, and from day one, they were all business. It seemed like they had the engine ripped out of the Camaro and were going back together with the stock block before Team FordNXT finished lunch. The 2019 Camaro SS received a set Molnar rods and forged MAHLE pistons to beef up the stock bottom-end. These modifications guaranteed that the 6.2-liter engine could handle the added power generated from the D-1X ProCharger. Like the Mustang, the Camaro received a Stage II Intercooler and Race bypass valve while gunning for that 900 horsepower mark.
Team Arrington Challenger R/T Scat Pack
Mike Copeland, the owner of Arrington Motorsports, had a lot of the same ideas as Team Vengeance – building a bulletproof bottom-end and hitting it with as much boost as a ProCharger D-1X could muster. The team used MAHLE forged pistons and Manley rods to strengthen the 392ci bottom-end and get it ready for the ProCharger. Arrington also used the Stage II intercooler from ProCharger and the Race valve. They made way over 800 rwhp in testing, and had a lot more in the tank.
With the cars buttoned-up, dyno tested and tuned, it was time to see what they could do. All three vehicles were shipped out to Muscle Cars At The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the shootout. This would serve as the battleground as each car would go head to head in autocross, 60-0 braking, 1/4-mile drag race, and a dyno challenge.
Rules: Each team will share one full day of autocross. The winner will receive 2-points and the runner-up will receive 1-point.
The autocross was the first event where our competitors would see the builds in action. A hired gun was brought in to pilot these machines to the quickest times possible. The man of the hour was Johnny O’Connell, Toyo Tires‘ professional driver. O’Connell is a decorated driver that has 41 wins with Corvette Racing, 22 wins with Cadillac in the World Challenge, and he is a 4-time 24 Hours of LeMans Champion. O’Connell raced with General Motors for 19 years, but he promised to go as fast as he could in each car despite bribes from an unnamed team — it was Chad from FordNXT already trying to secure a win.
Racing Byrds was putting on the autocross event at Muscle Cars at the Strip and allowed us to use their course and timing equipment to get accurate times on all three cars.
Our teams were allowed to choose from two different sets of tires from Toyo. They could either select the Toyo RRs or the Toyo R888Rs. Team FordNXT and Team Arrington both opted for the Toyo RRs in a 285/35/20 on all four corners for the autocross and the braking challenge. Team Vengeance took a different route and decided to run the TOYO R888R 285/30/20. Larger-than-stock wheels were needed for the meatier rubber.
It’s Go Time!
Since the Camaro is our returning Pony Wars Champion, Team Vengeance was up first on the tarmac. Although Vengeance is known for straight-line performance, Ron and his crew were positive that with O’Connell driving their car, it would do great. In preparation for this event, Ron and team pulled out 200 horsepower to try and tame the vehicle down for the course. Even with the power removed, O’Connell had is hands full as he tried to figure the car out.
The first pass for the Camaro netted Vengeance Racing a time of 42.88-seconds and some serious input for the team from O’Connell. O’Connell stated, “It was a good beginning, but as you can see in this corner right here, we have way too much understeer. We have got to get the front working a little bit better in the middle of the corners.” Another problem was the amount of traction control and factory assist from the Camaro was actually slowing O’Connell down. The team decided to turn off the traction devices on the Camaro and just let O’Connell use his skill set and drive.
Up next, it was time for O’Connell to make a pass in the Mustang. O’Connell wheeled the ‘Stang to a 42.732 edging out the Camaro for the fastest lap. When talking to the FordNXT team, O’Connell stated that he loves the steering on the Mustang and the way the brakes felt. O’Connell then said, “Right now, my biggest problem is controlling the power.” James Lawrence and Chad Reynolds had already consulted with Diablosport to pull as much power out of the ProCharged 5.0L Coyote as they could, but it was still a problem. They were using about 50% of the electronic throttle, and had already pulled out some boost. But the powerband was peaky.
Finally, it was the Challenger’s turn to give the course a go. No one expected this massive pony to run remotely close to the Camaro or the Mustang. With O’Connell behind the wheel again he was able to better the Camaro and the Mustang times with 42.179-second lap time. Surprisingly, O’Connell said that the Challenger was the closest to the sweet spot. According to O’Connell, he thinks that the Toyo RR tires selected for the Mustang and Challenger are vital for the autocross. O’Connell stated, “There is a very similar feel to what Team Arrington had and what the Mustang had.”
With O’Connell’s notes close in hand, all of the teams made adjustments to their cars to try and better their lap times. The question is, would all of these changes work, and would the Camaro come around with the Toyo R888R tires?
On the next round, the Camaro managed to run a quicker lap, putting it back in the hunt, but O’Connell took out a cone, which, after what seemed to be a heated debate between Ron Mowen and Chad Reynolds, was a 2-second penalty and not a .2-second. While the lap would have bumped the Mustang to last place, the penalty forced Team Vengeance to sit in the dreaded third position.
As the Challenger hit the course again, it looked like it could be on a pass. Mid-run, the Mopar pulled up lame, and O’Connell aborted the run. After some brow ringing, Mike hopped in the car and drove it back to the pits for further inspection.
O’Connell hit the throttle on the Mustang again and looked extremely smooth in all areas of the autocross. Evidently, the changes made to the GT were working well. The car stopped the timer with the fastest pass yet, registering a 41.128 on the board – putting the Mustang in First place.
No one on Team Arrington could find anything wrong or broken on the Challenger, so the call was made to take it back out for another run. O’Connell wheeled the car with no problems. When the time clock posted a time of 40.990, it was apparent that nothing was broken on the Mopar. This lap was the first of any car to break the 41-second barrier.
The Camaro was up next, and Team Vengeance made even more adjustments to the BMR Suspension – adding more camber to the front for a better turn-in rate. The changes to the suspension worked as Team Vengeance popped off a 40.626, the fastest lap of the day so far. This time would put the Camaro SS at the top of the board once again.
O’Connell told the team he needed more negative camber in the GT, so Chad and James decided to throw all the negative camber they could at it. Surprisingly this strategy paid off, and the Mustang ran its fastest time of the day with a 40.452 moving it to the number one spot.
It was time for the heavy Mopar to take its final voyage around the autocross to see if it could make up some ground on the Mustang and the Camaro. Unfortunately a 40.958 was all that O’Connell could squeeze out of the Challenger, leaving it in Third place.
It appeared the Mustang took a First-place finish in the autocross with the Camaro in Second and the Challenger in Third.
However, this was based on the fastest single lap performed by each car. After looking over the Horsepower Wars rules, Ron was less than happy at what he found. The rules state, ” The autocross winner will be determined by the average of three of the fastest laps of the day.”
It had addressed in the Autocross morning drivers’ meeting that the fastest lap would win, though there was never an “official change” in the rules. There was a dispute over what was said in the driver’s meeting. It was up to Scott Parker, Executive Producer, and his team to figure it out. The production crew and competitors made the difficult decision of deciding to stick with the original rules based on the three fastest lap time average.
This decision drastically changed the results putting in the Camaro in First, the Challenger in Second, and the Mustang in Third. The Mustang team was not happy about it, going from first to worse, flipping the script.
Autocross Three Lap Average Scoring
First Place: Camaro – 40.640 Average 2-points
Best Laps 40.626, 40.643, 40.652
Second Place: Challenger – 40.970 Average 1-point
Best Laps – 40.960, 40.961, 40.999
Third Place: Mustang – 41.046 Average 0-points
Best Laps – 40.452, 41.228, 41.458
60-0 Braking Challenge
Rules: The winner will be determined by the best 60-0 test conducted and will receive 1-point.
All three pony cars are equipped with factory Brembo brakes, but the brake pads were replaced with a set of Hawk Performance DTC-30 pads giving them better-stopping power. After several attempts with each car, all of the pony cars were fairly close until the last round.
The Camaro was able to stop in a distance of 91-feet 8-inches, and the Mustang was able to decelerate in 91-feet 0-inches. After a 103-foot 7-inch stop, Team Arrington decided to disable the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), which paid off big time. The Mustang was in First place prior to the final run.
On the last run, leave it to the Challenger to surprise everyone yet again with a stopping distance of 78-feet 1-inch taking the win in the braking portion of our competition!
Brake Challenge Scoring
First Place: Challenger – 78’1″ 1-point
Second Place: Mustang – 90’0″ 0-points
Third Place: Camaro – 91’8″ 0-points
Rules: Each team will share one full day at the drag strip. The number of runs is unlimited, and the quickest e.t. shall determine the winner who will receive 2-points, and the runner-up receives 1-point.
Since Team FordNXT saved a plethora of money by not having to build the engine, they had a complete drag suspension setup from Steeda. The crew headed over to Revolution Street Cars to make some suspension changes to the Mustang before the drag race. They changed the front and rear springs to a Steeda set that were designed for the drag strip, giving them stiffer rear springs and softer fronts. They also reunited their ProCharger P1X with a 3.700 blower pulley to make as much power as possible. With the Mustang sitting in last place, they needed to win the drag race and dyno challenge to pull off the Pony Wars 2 victory.
All of our competitors were allowed to change tires and wheels as well. The teams all ran Weld wheels with Toyo Proxes TQ 315/35/17 drag radial tires.
Team FordNXT chose to run a set of Weld RT-S S71 wheels. The fronts (PN 71HB8050A21A) measured 18×5 with a high pad and 2.10 inches of backspacing. The bead-lock rears measure 17×10 (PN 71LB7100A80F) and are a low pad design with 8-inch backspacing.
Team Vengeance decided on Weld Racing Black Alumastar (PN 88B-1806256) 18×6-inch fronts. These wheels are a 1-piece piece design and offer 3.2-inches of backspace with a 5x120mm lug pattern. For the rear of the Camaro, Weld Racing black S71 wheels (PN 71HB7100N72F) that measure 17×10-inches. These rear wheels offer 7.2-inches of backspace, high pad, black single bead-lock, with a 5x120mm lug pattern.
For the front wheels, Team Arrington went with the Weld Racing S77s (PN 77HB8050W21A) in black, which measured 18×5-inches and offered 2.1-inches of backspace, high pad, and 5x115mm lug pattern. S77s (PN 77HB7100W67F) were also used on the rear of the Challenger in black. The rears measured 17×10-inches and had 6.7-inches of backspace, high pad, black single bead-locks, and 5x115mm bolt pattern.
Vegas was hot, and the climate was rough. We’re talking 5,000 foot of air, and almost 100 degrees. These were not great conditions for quick lap times. In the morning, even though the cars had never gone down the track, each team had an opportunity to take advantage of some better (and cooler) weather.
The first round of passes looked promising for all of the cars. The Camaro ran the quickest e.t. with a 10.59 at 136.21 mph with a 1.80 60-foot time. This was a big opening statement. The Mustang came in with a softer approach, left easy and still managed an 11.03 e.t. at 131.83 mph with a 2.03 60-foot time. The Challenger ran an 11.51 e.t. and a slower mph at 119.58 with a 1.83 60-foot time. Before making any more passes, all three teams went to the pits and started tuning on their cars to dial in the e.t. and sixty-foot. These were some easy passes from the Mustang, and there was early concern that the Challenger might have hurt something because the MPH was off compared to what it should have run based on the 800+ RWHP dyno numbers.
Team FordNXT decided to skip round two and work on tuning, plus they had a few little new race car blues to fix up. The Challenger picked up slightly with a 11.15 at 122 mph and a short time of 1.75-seconds, which was better than its first pass, but still way off power/E.T. wise. Team Vengeance pulled up in the Camaro…with a lot of confidence. Still with about 83-degrees of air temp, which was pretty good, Ron ran a crisp 10.18-second pass at 139 mph. This was a big step up, and with the weather and temp climbing, likely the best e.t. until the sun went down. Both teams headed back to the pits to look at their data log and make the necessary adjustments.
With the field covered, Team Vengeance decided to sit this round out because frankly, they could. With a gap in e.t.’s, there was no need to beat on the car, especially while the weather was getting worse. The Challenger was up again and unfortunately was lined up out of the groove, running an 11.47 at 121.72 mph with a 1.87 60-foot time.
The Mustang stepped it up with a 10.83 e.t. at 131 mph with a 1.80 60-foot, but there was something still wrong, as the Mustang didn’t want to make the 5-6 gear change. Team Mustang was on the horn, working with some of the best tuners in the business, but there was a fear that there likely was something more sinister afoot.
With changes made to both cars, the Mustang was the first to the water box. Team Mustang raised the launch RPM, but the starting line was over 140 degrees, and it proved to be too much. The Challenger earned the smokey burnout award, but ran another hit in the 11s. After an hour and a half of diagnosis, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and for fear of damaging the car, they decided to pack it up on the dragstrip rather than hurt anything further with the dyno portion of the competition coming up the next day.
With only the Mustang and the Camaro left in the drag race segment, the Mustang needed to run faster. On run #6, James stepped up with a 10.64 at 134+ mph to stay within shooting distance in the competition. The problem was even on that run, continued transmission woes – it, again, skipped 5th gear going straight into 7th. There was a consensus at this point that the big power the Mustang was making was too much for the trans. But they kept at it. Team FordNXT needed to run quicker than the Camaro’s 10.18 to stay in the hunt.
For the final run, Ron pulled out the Camaro to see if they could better the Camaro’s best time. Instead of a single pass, Ron and James decided to race the Camaro and the Mustang at the same time. In true street race fashion, the guys started joking about taking bets and then Ron said he would give James the move.
The two cars did their burnouts and pre-staged and then staged. When the bulbs came down, James launched the Mustang with the best 60-foot time of the day and leaped way out in front of the Camaro. By the 330-foot mark, it was game over for the ‘Stang as the car refused to shift, yet again. The Camaro sailed past the Ford effortlessly and secured the drag portion of this event – and the win – for the second year in a row.
Drag Race Scoring
First Place: Camaro – 10.18 e.t. at 139 mph 2-points
Second Place: Mustang – 10.64 e.t. at 133 mph 1-point [Mustang later ran 10.35 @ 136]
Third Place: Challenger – 11.15 e.t. at 122 mph 0-points
Rules: Each team will get three hours on the Dynojet chassis dyno at Revolution Street Cars; the number of runs is not regulated. The winner shall be the car with the highest peak horsepower. Tiebreaker will be torque.
Next up on the dyno was Team Arrington and gremlins continued to challenge the Challenger. The team wanted to figure out what was going on with the car in hopes of winning the dyno segment. They had previously made WAY over 800 rwhp with the 392 and the ProCharger D-1X.
In Vegas, fears were confirmed, as the first pull only made 595.1 horsepower and 606.52 lb-ft of torque to the wheels. Something was wrong, and the knock sensors were pulling timing from the engine and trying to keep it alive. The call was made to unhook the ProCharger and try the car naturally aspirated to diagnose the problem. The team made a second pull with the ProCharger belt removed, but the knock sensors kicked in once again signaling something was hurt internally on the Hemi. The Challenger was down more than 40 horsepower from the previous naturally-aspirated pulls. Team Arrington decided they were done and it was time to take the car home and see what was wrong with the engine so they could fix it.
First Place: Camaro – 1-point
950.54 Horsepower and 781.52 lb-ft of Torque
Second Place: Mustang – 0-points
903.07 Horsepower and 636.54 lb-ft of Torque
Third Place: Challenger – 0-points
595.1 Horsepower and 606.52 lb-ft of Torque
Vengeance Racing already had the competition wrapped up before the dyno session, but Ron and team had one plan coming into this challenge, and that was to “Win.” Team Vengeance did just that by taking first place in the autocross, drag race, and the dyno portions of Pony Wars 2. This team was unstoppable as was the Camaro and Vengeance Racing is our 2019 Pony Wars champions. Regardless of what happened on the autocross, the Mustang and the Challenger teams just couldn’t get it done in all three phases. While we will never know would have had happened if the Mustang hadn’t smoked the 10R80 transmission, and if the engine in the Challenger had stayed healthy, it was clear – on this day, the Camaro took the victory.
Final Points Tally
First Place: Camaro – 5-Points (1st in Autocross, Drag, and Dyno, 3rd braking)
Second Place: Challenger – 2-Points (1st in Braking, 2nd in Autocross, 3rd on Dyno/Drag)
Third Place: Mustang – 1-Point (2nd Drag, 2nd Dyno, 2nd Braking, 3rd Autcross)
The reality of this competition is any of the three pony cars could have won. Everyone expected the Camaro and the Mustang to do well, but no one bet on the Challenger due to its size and weight. The Mopar did hold its own. The same goes for the Mustang, without the transmission problems it likely would have been neck and neck with the Camaro at the drag strip. The Mustang’s transmission is fixed and upgraded now, and we’re going to see soon what it would have run if the 10 was healthy.