Pony Wars: $15K In Mods Will Take Our 2017 Mustang To The Next Level

Pony Wars: $15K In Mods Will Take Our 2017 Mustang To The Next Level

If you’ve been following along with the Pony Wars saga (and shame on you if you haven’t) you know that this season of Horsepower Wars pits two bitter rivals against one another in a winner takes all competition. The two contestants in this battle are a 2017 Camaro SS and a 2017 Mustang GT, and after $5,000 in mods the competition is tight. Only one point separates the two cars.

You also know that our stallion started out a bit behind due to the cadence of product update cycle. The Camaro brought more power, an active suspension, and less weight to the table. In the end, it took the drag strip and dyno competitions and our Mustang won the braking and road course battles.

While the Mustang definitely saw greater improvements over its baseline in that first phase of the competition, our plan all along was to build a foundation on which we could really build some serious performance. As such, we focused on engine breathing and modest suspension mods.

This time we are going all out with braking, driveline, power adder, and suspension modifications that Fred Cook at Evolution Performance helped us configure. They are designed to make the most of our $15,000 budget — based on Summit Racing pricing — and beat that rival Camaro. To make the most of our money, we cut some corners and focused on the areas that could see the biggest improvements, but we are also relying on the stock Coyote engine’s boost-friendly demeanor in order to stretch our dollars to cover as many bases as possible, so follow along as we round those bases.

One thing that didn’t count against our budget was labor, so we had the team at the Horsepower Wars garage swap a more boost-friendly stator into the TCI torque converter we installed as part of our first $5,000 in mods.

Braking Zone

While it might not seem like a huge deal, the braking competition is worth one point and braking is obviously a huge part of the road-course contest. While our pony wears the top-tier factory Performance Pack-spec Brembo brakes, we wanted to ensure its braking improved a bit to help offset its massive increase in performance.

The number one reason EradiSpeed rotors are superior to factory rotors is weight. — Rick Elam, Baer Brakes

To do so without breaking the bank, we chose a set of Baer Brakes’ two-piece Eradispeed rotors, which are designed as a direct replacement for the factory one-piece rotors, which are quite hefty.

We opted for Baer’s 15-inch Eradispeed front rotors to shed some weight and improve the braking of our Pony Wars Mustang.

“The number one reason EradiSpeed rotors are superior to factory rotors is weight. In larger sizes like those on a modern Mustang, the difference per rotor is as high as seven pounds,” Rick Elam, of Baer Brake Systems, said. “On a road race track the car is accelerated and decelerated dozens of times and that weight reduction allows faster corner exit and later braking which can reduce lap times by seconds. Finally, the reduction in unsprung weight, the weight on the road side of the springs, means the tires and wheels will follow the track surface better–also improving lap times.”

Both cars got fresh stock rotors (if they weren’t upgraded), new Hawk Performance pads, and a fresh fill of high-temp brake fluid for this round of the competition.

Reducing weight will definitely help performance in a number of areas, but these two-piece rotors should also improve the Mustang’s stopping power as well, especially during those banzai track laps.

“While weight reduction is the most noticeable performance benefit of two-piece rotors, there are several other advantages. They resist heat transfer from the cast iron rotor mass through the hat and on into the hub, bearings and wheel far better than one-piece rotors,” Rick said. “The aluminum hat sheds heat more effectively than the solid center part of a one piece rotor and the dissimilar materials, mechanical barrier (where bolted together) and even the anodized finish all contribute to keeping the heat in the rotor where it can best be absorbed and dissipated through the curved vanes.”

To endure all out track laps, both cars received the same pads from Hawk Performance, which are designed to deliver improved braking in performance environments. The DTC-60 front pads (P/N HB805G.615) are a fairly aggressive track day pad to resist brake fade, while the HPS 5.0 rear pads (HB774B.650) offer a bit more bite for trail braking. The combination is a bit more ideal for hot lapping Buttonwillow, though less street friendly than what we ran previously. For the safety of the driver and cars, this was a trade-off we had to make.

Beefing Up The Drivetrain

As you add performance to any vehicle, it is likely that you’ll begin to find the weak links in the chain. Trying to launch a supercharged Coyote at the drag strip has often created two main casualties — the stock driveshaft and halfshafts. We didn’t want to lose a competition due to breakage, so we decided to upgrade these two areas, starting with a carbon fiber driveshaft from QA1.

Carbon shafts are lighter, stronger, and safer than their metal counterparts. — Scott Elmgrin, QA1

“These one-piece, bolt-on driveshafts replace factory two-piece driveshafts and provide as much as 50-percent weight savings over stock,” Scott Elmgrin, of QA1, explained. “In addition to being lighter, they are stronger — rated to 1,500 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque. They are wound in-house specifically for Mustangs with a 3M Matrix Resin specifically for high-temperature applications where the driveshaft and exhaust co-exist in close proximity in the driveline tunnel.”

We shed weight and added strength by replacing the heavy, stock two-piece driveshaft with a one-piece QA1 carbon fiber driveshaft.

They are obviously rugged, but also a lot safer in the unlikely event that there is a failure when the ’shaft is caught between a blown Coyote and a Mickey Thompson slick digging into the drag strip.

“Carbon shafts are lighter, stronger, and safer than their metal counterparts. A metal driveshaft might twist or break, causing some serious damage to the car and driver when it fails,” he added. “A carbon fiber driveshaft will just splinter saving your car, and you from injury. Because of their torsional rigidity, they absorb impact and return back to form better than metal driveshafts which can extend transmission and differential life.”

Of course, the lighter driveshaft also has the pleasant side effect of reducing the driveline weight as well, which should allow more power to make it to the rear tires.

“Regardless of the venue, because of the reduced weight, carbon fiber driveshafts will provide quicker acceleration and more power to the ground as less energy is lost trying to spin a heavier unit,” Scott added. “Additionally, on the drag strip, they absorb the initial hit for more controlled and consistent launches. On the road course, you’ll notice quicker acceleration out of the corner and smoother gear changes.”

On the business end of the QA1 ’shaft, the stock Super 8.8 is a rugged unit, which we already upgraded with 3.55 gears. However, the stock halfshafts have proven a weak point when wedged between big power and sticky tires. As such, we opted to replace them with a set of rugged replacements.

“Completely redesigned from the ground up, the all-new GForce Engineering Axles for the S550 Mustang are unlike any entry-level axle on the market,” Jesse Powell, of GForce Performance Engineering, said. “This axle set uses CNC-machined billet CV internals, one-piece CNC-machined inner and outer stubs and the strongest axle bars available in this configuration.”

So we don’t snap a stock halfshaft at the track, we upgraded the factory Super 8.8 with a set of GForce’s 850-horsepower-capable halfshafts.

Not only do these units slide right in, but they are built to withstand the kind of power we plan to create with this round of modifications.

“They are a direct replacement for factory half-shafts and are designed for cars with mild bolt-ons to those running superchargers and turbos,” Jesse said. “These axles are rated to 850 horsepower. If you think you will approach these power numbers or eventually eclipse them, we encourage you to look at the Ford Performance Outlaw axles we also manufacture as a potential upgrade.”

In addition to the increased strength, the 850-horsepower axles feature anti-wheel hop technology. — Jesse Powell, GForce Performance Engineering

Not only are these units stronger, but they also might just help us put that power down to the track better than the stock units did.

“Machined from proprietary aerospace billet alloy, the 850 horsepower axles feature a 28-spline axle bar and custom built CV joints. The larger diameter axle bars and premium aerospace alloy make GForce entry-level axles the strongest available,” Jesse added. “In addition to the increased strength, the 850-horsepower axles feature anti-wheel hop technology. Originally brought to market by GM several years ago, all GForce axles feature this same technology and offer a significant reduction in wheel hop during hard launches.”

Bolting On The Boost

The cornerstone mod for both vehicles in the $15,000 phase of Pony Wars is a ProCharger centrifugual supercharger. In this case, both teams opted for the company’s latest X-series technology, which is specifically designed for today’s high-revving modern muscle machines.

Think of our X-series as making something great, even greater! — David Turner, ProCharger

“We love the Coyote 5.0-liter engine! This baby loves to rev and is a great match for our ProCharger superchargers like the D-1X and P-1X superchargers, which build boost as RPM climbs higher. Putting power to the ground is definitely a challenge even for the stock Mustang, even more so when you combine the six-speed transmissions and 300-horsepower gain from the ProCharger supercharger,” Erik Radzins, Calibrator and Social Media rep at ProCharger, said. “What’s remarkable is that we are adding more power than Mustangs came with total from the factory just over a decade ago while creating an amazing driving experience. And you can get in your Mustang and cruise to the grocery store or go sit in traffic, no problem. All stock driving habits are retained, that is until you put your foot down on the loud pedal.”

That is especially true of the free-breathing, high-revving Coyote engine family that powers the latest Mustangs.

Designed to flow up to 1,500 cfm and produce a maximum of 1,000 flywheel horsepower, the ProCharger D-1X is designed for higher adiabatic efficiency and reduced parasitic loss resulting in 10- to 15-horsepower gains over its popular D-1SC head units.

“Think of our X-series as making something great, even greater!” David Turner, Marketing Director at ProCharger, explained. “Just like the TiVCT control on the Coyote 5.0-liter allows it to make great bottom-end torque and top-end power, we took that same approach with the P-1X design. Taking all of that midrange grunt people loved in the P-1SC-1, but gave it the upper-end charge to be a real powerhouse (well into the 900-horsepower range).

Because of the engine’s dynamic flexibility and its modern control system, Ford’s modern V8 engines are well suited to benefit from these superchargers.

“The Coyote 5.0’s slightly lower compression ratio and aggressive Ford calibration using spark knock sensors (to give the engine as much timing as it can handle) lets the Coyote 5.0-liter push itself as far as it can handle boost,” David said. “Don’t get me wrong, the Camaro will perform quite well, we just can’t push it as hard and therefore should see a slight hit in performance numbers versus the Mustang. Just like we talked about above using that VCT cam control to really make this Mustang have the widest powerband possible. Frankly we can spin this motor till we all cringe and it’s never going to stop making power with this super-efficient head unit.”

To make the most of our largely stock Gen 2 Coyote, we opted for the company’s Stage II tuner system with the optional race intercooler to keep those boost temps down on the track.

In addition to opting for the Stage II system, which includes a dedicated belt drive for the blower, we also upfit our system with the three-core race intercooler, which offers nearly three times the capacity of the standard HO ’cooler at 1,296 cubic inches.

“Our Stage II system allows the Mustang Coyote 5.0 to push boost even higher, from 8 to 10 psi, and offers another 10-percent power gain on top of our powerful HO system for a total 65 to 70-percent power gain — an almost unheard of level for stock engine, exhaust, cams, and heads,” Erik enthused. “Our Stage II intercooler is 75 percent larger in size than our HO intercooler helping those air particles get back to nearly ambient temperature. Yes, just wait till you see the intake air temps on this car. One of the compliments we hear most often is that of our customers raving about cool charge-air temps, even in ultra-hot climates and at elevated boost levels. And we will take those compliments any day of the week. And for those wanting to perform their own custom tuning and push boost even higher with higher octane fuels, our tuner kits offer even more power potential — true race car performance in a daily driver street car.”

In order to supply enough high-octane fuel to feed a high-revving, supercharged Coyote we augmented the factory fuel system with JMS’ FuelMax fuel pump voltage booster and a set of DeatschWerks 1,200cc fuel injectors. The FuelMax ramps up the stock pump to deliver up to 85 percent more fuel flow, while the DW squirters supply ample fuel to feed power over four digits.

We are definitely counting on those cooler discharge temps to dispatch the rival Camaro on the chassis dyno and racetracks.

“The 2017 Mustang is fast in stock form, but we’re talking about moving into supercar territory,” David added. “An extra 300-plus horsepower on top is a nice problem to have and this car responds well with a supercharger upgrade. Not sure on exact numbers improvement, but they should be substantial. And again, is going to be through the entire rev-range which is going to come in really handy on the road course and drag strip.”

Power To The Pavement

Knowing we are battling a rival with a modern, magnetically adjustable suspension, we knew our base Mustang was going to need some help hooking on the drag strip and handling on the road course. While, we started addressing these shortcomings with a few upgrades in our first round of mods, we decided to really step up the car’s suspension game with a full complement of Steeda upgrades.

Limiting deflection by replacing the factory components with parts by Steeda is a critical step in lower e.t.’s and better traction. — Glen Vitale, Steeda

“The parts in phase one were utilized to get a foundation for better forward bite or less wheel hop at launch and low speeds. With phase two we are now building on that by eliminating almost all possibilities of that rear subframe moving and creating wheel hop,” Glen Vitale, Vice President at Steeda, explained. “In addition to reducing the wheel hop and increasing forward bite we are also working on lowering the weight of the rear assembly with such items as the billet camber arms. In phase two, we are also now addressing weight transfer and its negative effects on the Mustang by reducing it with springs and sway bars.”

To stay within our $5,000 budget for phase one, we left the factory front suspension untouched. This time around, we went all out, adding Steeda’s adjustable front struts, lower control arms, front sway bar, and more.

Our 2017 GT did surprisingly well on the road course in our first round of testing, and we expect that this package will really help the more powerful S550 car up the course.

“It is hard to say how much of an improvement this will make due to results will differ based the course you are on,” Glen said. “One thing is for sure though it should be a very noticeable improvement for what the driver feels behind the wheel. It will also give the driver more confidence as he will feel more connected to the car. This should help reduce those lap times.”

We didn’t leave the rear suspension alone, however. Last time we added Steeda’s adjustable shocks and diff bushing inserts. This time we further augmented the IRS with its subframe alignment kit, braces, and supports. We also dialed up the suspension with its lower control arm bearings, rear sway bar, and rear camber arms.

Likewise, these enhancements will further enhance the factory independent rear suspension so it is better equipped to put down big power.

“…Yes there will be more benefits at the drag strip. Stage 1 was just that, the basic parts to help limit the movement of the rear IRS. Now we added our IRS braces, lower control arm spherical bearings, toe links and camber arms,” Glen said. “All this will help greatly with traction on the S550 as the first 60-foot is always the most important for drag racing. Limiting deflection by replacing the factory components with parts by Steeda is a critical step in lower e.t.’s and better traction…”

Hooking It Up

At this heightened power level, we knew it was time for a switch to dedicated drag wheels and tires. While our competitors are still streetable, they now pack the potential for low e.t.’s. We started by contacting WELD Racing for a recommendation on our Mustang setup.

“Today’s modern cars look great with oversize wheels on them, and those are great for the street. But when it comes to running at the drag strip, those big (often heavy), wheels do not perform well. In order to optimize your launch and 60-foot times, you need put a lightweight ‘skinny’ wheel and tire on the front to cut down on rotating weight and rolling resistance. Along with that, a smaller diameter wheel on the rear will allow you to use a tire with more sidewall height to it so you can hook at the starting line much easier,” Josh Hamming, Drag Race Specialist at WELD Racing, explained. “In this case we went with a 17-inch rear wheel to clear the larger brakes of these modern muscle cars. They will work great for an occasional fun night at the track, but if you are going to compete with the car more often, you may consider using one of the several ‘small brake conversions’ available in the aftermarket to allow you to use a 15-inch rear wheel. This will allow for an even taller sidewall, a larger variety of tire choices, and much better consistency at the track.”

On the road course our car will run with the same combo it rolled with during the $5,000 round, but with a lot more power on tap this time around, both cars were spec’d out with Weld RT-S S71 (18x5-inch/high-pad/2.10-inch backspace on the front and 17x10-inch/low-pad/8-inch backspace on the rear) drag wheels and Mickey Thompson [Sportsman S/R 28X6.00R18LT (PN 90000032430) in front and P305/45R17 ET Street R tires (PN 90000024660) out back] that will help put all that boosted power down to the drag strip.

For our application, we chose the RT-S S71, which is a popular design on Mustangs of all years thanks to its stylish looks and rugged performance.

“The RT-S S71 is WELD’s take on the classic five-spoke design, with a little bit of a modern touch to it,” Josh said. “You can never go wrong with a great-looking five-spoke wheel on a Mustang! We offer them in many different diameters and widths, as well as a full polish or the WELD signature black and machined contrast finish to accommodate almost everyone.”

With these wheels, our 2017 Mustang GT not only looks great, but it is ready to take on that evil Camaro at the drag strip.

“…Even though these are still considered a street/strip wheel that is perfectly at home on the street, they are much lighter that most other street wheels so they will shave some rotating weight off the car, while allowing you to run a better drag-race oriented tire for optimum performance,” Josh added.

Sounds like a plan to us, but light wheels are only part of the equation. We needed more hook to corral over 800 rear-wheel horsepower. To put those ponies to the pavement, we turned to Mickey Thompson for a recommendation. A spankin’ new, like fresh out of the mold, set of sticky rubber was the suggestion.

“The radial sizes in the ET Street R use the same construction and compound as the popular ET Street Radial Pro,” Jason Moulton, Tire Engineer at Mickey Thompson, said. “The primary difference is the amount of tread pattern. It has just a little more than the ‘Pro,’ but we kept it minimal for optimum traction at the track. The ET Street R also includes some bias-ply sizes targeting clutch and Pro Street applications. These particular specs use the latest technology from the ET Drag line.”

These tires sound like the ideal stickies to hook our supercharged pony’s 800 horses to the starting line.

“The ET Street R is a race tire that can be driven on the street, albeit we recommend them for dry conditions only. It is a great tire for high horsepower applications that need a tire to absorb the power and put it to the ground,” Jason explained. “The radials work best on automatic applications, but have found success on some clutch applications. If you want to leave the starting line buy side-stepping a clutch at 5,000 RPM or have a ‘big-tire’ car, you’ll want to lean toward the bias-ply ET Street R.”

Given the TCI converter-equipped 6R80 six-speed auto in the tunnel of our Mustang these tires should work great on our application.

“The unique construction and compound will absorb power on the starting-line improving 60-foot times translating to quicker overall e.t.’s,” Jason added.

Sounds good to us. Let’s go show that Camaro what’s up.

Tuning It Up

To tie this new combination together, we once again called upon the calibration specialists at DiabloSport, who called one of the company’s top tuners, Matt Kesatie, to generate custom calibrations for our competitive venues.

“The most important part will be the fuel calibration and the spark timing. With added boost is added cylinder pressure that requires optimum fuel and timing,” Matt Barker, Category Manager at DiabloSport, said. “Also, with the Mustang, the VCT needs to be optimized for adding boost pressure. Both cars will also need transmission changes to handle the added power of the superchargers. And, both cars have an extensive torque-management systems that must be modified to allow the cars to work properly with the added power.”

DiabloSport tuner Matt Kesatie will create custom calibrations for our supercharged Mustang combination to maximize its performance while ensuring its durability.

Since we are relying on the boost-friendly nature of the Coyote engine, keeping an eye on all the engine’s vital statistics. To do so, Diablo relies on its own data recording features to track the air/fuel ratio, timing, and other parameters to ensure the calibrations are safe.

With added boost is added cylinder pressure that requires optimum fuel and timing. — Matt Barker, DiabloSport

“With the CMR custom performance tunes, we can use the data-logging features on the inTune i3 to keep an eye on relevant parameters and ensure we aren’t pushing the vehicle too hard or too hot,” Matt explained. “The logging is going to allow us to keep an eye on WOT fuel and timing as well as knock-sensor level to ensure engine parts stay inside the engine where they belong.”

How about them gains? With just boost, custom tuning, and minor fuel system enhancements, our Pony Wars stallion put down 809 horsepower and 586 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels — which doubled its naturally aspirated output —but will it be enough to best a Camaro with internal engine mods and the same blower?

Because the inTune i3 can store a number of calibrations onboard, Matt will create calibrations for the drag strip/dyno and the more stressful road course.

Pony Wars 2017 Mustang GT Phase 2 Mods

• Baer 15-inch 2015-2018 Mustang GT PP EradiSpeed front rotor upgrade (PN 2261042; $995)

• DeatschWerks 1,200cc fuel injectors (PN 16MX-23-1200-8; $1,199)

• GForce Performance Engineering half-shaft axle assembly (PN FOR10102A; $1,299)

• JMS PowerMax FuelMax fuel pump voltage booster (PN P2000PPM15; $489)

• ProCharger D-1X Stage 2 D1-X System w/ D-1X and Race Intercooler upgrades (PN 1FW202-SCI; $6,752)

• ProCharger T-bolt clamp upgrade ($80)

• QA1 REV Series carbon fiber driveshaft (PN JJ-21206; $1,347.99)

• Steeda Rear Lower control arm bearing (PN 555-4117; $159.95)

• Steeda/Ford Performance knuckle-to-toe-link bearing assembly (PN 161-M-SA460-M; $75.95)

• Steeda Competition dual-rate springs (PN 555-8246; $399.95)

• Steeda front lower control arms with extended bal joint and bump-steer kit (PN 555-4915; $334.95)

• Steeda front and rear swaybar kit (PN 555-1017; $459.95)

• Steeda front adjustable shocks (PN 555 8155; $341.05)

• Steeda S550 subframe alignment and support kit (PN 555-4450; $169.95)

• Steeda S550 Mustang rear IRS subframe support braces (PN 555-5754; $239.95)

• Steeda stainless braided brake line kit (PN 555-6027; $269.95)

• Steeda S550 billet non-adjustable rear camber arms (PN 555 4127; $369.95)

Total: $14,983.57

“For this situation we will want two calibrations for each car. Both of them will have awesome street manners and drive like stock,” Matt said. “The main difference is a drag strip tune can be more aggressive as you are only under a high-load situation for a short period of time. On the road course, you are beating on the car for a much longer period of time, so you need less aggressive fueling and timing to prevent detonation or heat damage.”

We definitely don’t want any Mustang carnage. We just want to beat up that Camaro, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out how it all plays out.

Backed by some of the biggest names in the automotive aftermarket —including ARP BoltsBMR SuspensionCOMP CamsCovercraftDiablosportDyna-BattE3 Spark PlugsFragola Performance PartsHolley Performance ProductsMahle North AmericaMahle MotorsportsMickey Thompson Tires & WheelsProCharger SuperchargersPRWQA1 SuspensionRoyal Purple Synthetic OilSummit RacingTCI AutomotiveWeld Racing, and others — this competition will get crazy over the next few months as these pony cars wage war toward the final battle.

Article Sources

About the author

Steve Turner

Steve Turner brings decades of passion and knowledge in the world of Ford performance, having covered it for over 20 years. From the swan song of the Fox Mustang to the birth of the Coyote, Steve had a front-row seat.
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