Walter Mitty wins at Le Mans!!!
A follow up story from the
6 Days at Heffner Performance
One of the great things about owning a Ford GT are those moments when this
rare and special car allows us, like the fictional character in James
Thurber's short story, to live out a fantasy. And, when enhanced way beyond
the capabilities of the stock car with sticky Hoosier race tires, stiffly
sprung Penske coil overs, and an additional 300 hp courtesy of Jason Heffner
and his twin turbochargers, the Ford GT becomes one of the fastest and most
capable street legal cars that has ever worn a license plate. In a race to
200 mph, even the Bugatti Veyron would be humbled.
Last weekend, at the Spring Mountain racetrack outside of Las Vegas, Nevada,
I spent a day living out some real Walter Mitty quality fantasies. But the
day didn’t start out that way. I was nervous. My primary goal on this day
was to drive away at the end of it with my beautiful yellow GT in pretty
much the same condition it was in when I got here. Were 843 hp going to get
me in over my head? Relax, take it easy, and enjoy the track.
While getting my GT ready for the first session of the day I was approached
by a camera crew from thesmokingtire.com. They wanted to plaster seven
cameras all over my car, and mount a GPS tracking unit inside. Uh, I don’t
think so. Then we want to see if you can be faster down the straights than
some other guys who have driven this track a bunch of times before. One of
them will be driving a Lamborghini Gallardo Balboni Edition, another in a
specially modified supercharged Audi R-8 on race tires. Great…..that sounds
like a prescription for disaster. This guy with giant sideburns then offered
further encouragement by telling me that if I did go off track and destroy
my car, they would have great video of it from all angles.
I ultimately did allow them to mount the cameras on my car and I decided I
would give it my best shot. On my first drive before the cameras were
mounted I went out with Ralphie as my instructor. He really knows his stuff
and he showed me the proper racing line. Then I went out as a passenger with
Mark McGowan in his 5.0 L Mustang. Mark’s racing line was identical to
Ralphie’s. Mark passed a lot of big power supercars in that 5.0 Mustang.
The intermediate and advanced group was combined all day and contained a mix
of track only race cars, and a fine bunch of exotic supercars. Lots of
Porsche GT3s, GT2s, Turbo Carreras, R-8s, Gallardos, Ford GTs, BMW M cars,
and others. I expected my Ford GT to close the gap on many others down the
straightaways, but I was surprised at how much harder it cornered than just
about anything else on the track that day. My car is very stiffly sprung and
when you look at the amount of lean angle and the inward deflection of the
tire side walls that look like the rim is about to punch clear out of the
tire in the picture below, it gives you a pretty good idea of how
tenaciously the Hoosier R-6s gripped the track. My flying gives me a pretty
good sense of G forces, and my GT felt like it was pulling close to 1.5
lateral Gs in the turns. Late in the day I was bouncing off the 7200 RPM rev
limiter in third gear which put me over 140 mph at the end of the straights
and braking later and later. With the stock Goodyears on my car at the
track, the tires were constantly squealing and I was constantly sliding.
With the Hoosiers I was cornering and breaking far harder and the tires
never made a chirp. I felt much more secure riding on those slicks.
On every straightaway I was able to reel in other supercars like they were
dragging boat anchors, gaining an easy 50 yards on other six-figure exotics
between corners. At 4:50 into the video below, watch how quickly I am
overtaking the Porsche GT2. Braking hard into the corners I was able to
carry more speed through the turns than just about anything I encountered as
well. It was a blast. On this day, Elmer Fudd got to feel like Superman.
So what does all this prove? It is confirmation that Alex at T&A Shocks, the
GT Guys, and Jason Heffner really know what they’re doing. The vast majority
of the participants at Spring Mountain last weekend were far better drivers
than I am. I have no formal training and had only been on a race track four
times prior, at Rallies III and IV, and 2 one day track events in Arizona. I
made a ton of mistakes and often found myself on the wrong side of the track
with a corner coming up. No matter. Brake hard, turn in, point the nose down
the straight, and pull the trigger. And an 840 hp velvet hammer would slam
me back into my seat and vaporize the distance between me and what ever was
Here’s the world-famous Ken Miles bearing down on that orange Porsche GT3.
Press close in behind him in the turn and then rocket by him on the inside
down the straight. There’s the Balboni Edition a football field ahead. Two
turns later, he’s in the rearview mirror.
Like a quality automatic camera that gets excellent results for rank amateur
photographers, my twin Turbo GT was equally easy to use. Just point and
shoot. And consider this.....Ken Miles' Ford GT Mk II had only half the
horsepower that was propelling me last weekend, shod with tires that had
less than half the traction that my Hoosiers provided, and with brakes that
were probably only half as good as well. Ken Miles and Dan Gurney never
experienced the type of acceleration while racing at LeMans that shot me out
of every corner at Spring Mountain!
The smooth onset of the cars enormous power makes it easy to take advantage
of. The Hoosiers allow a lot more of that power to generate forward motion
without wheel spin.
In addition to all of the mistakes I made driving on the track, I’ll let you
in on one more. With my Simpson helmet on, I was not able to see the center
console. I detected a bit of a burning smell and my car didn’t seem to have
all of its normal snap during my drive with the cameras and GPS mounted.
When I set the fastest time of the day down the straights, I had done that
the entire track session…….with the emergency brake on!!!! On
subsequent drives, without the cameras or GPS, I was going noticeably faster
with the emergency brake off!
Finally, I know that a large number of drivers attending last weekend would
have blown my doors off if they were driving a car like mine. But they
weren’t. So the old man got to have his day. Walter Mitty wins at LeMans!!!!