Listen, I’ve spent enough time with a pocket protector and graphing calculator to know cool engineering when I see it. So when Ford invited me to Grattan Raceway to check out their 2016 GT350R, I kept my eye out for some engineering goodness. I was impressed.

First let’s talk weight, because that’s been a... shall we say, controversial issue with the new Mustang. The base GT350R weighs in at 3650 pounds. This car gets no air conditioning, rear seats, or stereo system. Heck, even the exhaust resonators were removed to cut down on heft.

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That weight puts it down about 57 pounds from a GT fastback with a manual gearbox. Not massive, but not bad either. Lighter’s always better. Here’s how they did that, plus more engineering goodness.

Sexy Lightweight Wheels

That carbon fiber wheel you see above weighs under 20 pounds, and provides nearly 15 pounds of weight savings over an equivalent aluminum wheel. Ford had a wheel on display, and it was scary how easily I could lift it. There are tons of benefits to lighter wheels. They have lower moments of inertia, making them easier to accelerate. The 60 pounds of overall vehicle weight savings minimizes centripetal forces on the vehicle and also help with braking and acceleration.

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Lighter wheels also help to minimize torques that arise from gyroscopic action, which can make the car difficult to steer. These torques, governed by the law of conservation of momentum, make turning a rotating wheel pretty difficult (try turning a spinning bicycle wheel with your hands). But probably the most important benefit is the drop in unsprung mass, which allows the suspension to better accommodate irregularities in the road and keep the tires planted to the surface.

Slick Air Intake

See that little grille opening to the right of that grille divider? That entire opening is devoted to the air intake duct. By isolating it away from the main radiator grille opening, Ford is preventing against “recirculation,” a phenomenon where hot air leaks around the seals, out through the grille or other holes. This intake’s position means it’s likely to get nice, cold air.

The air box is well sealed to the hood, and the path from the intake grille opening to the airbox is short and direct. By keeping the ducting length down, less heat is transferred from the hot underhood to the air running through the duct.

This means that “Rise over Ambient,” a term used to describe the difference in ambient air temperature and air temperature that enters the engine, remains low. This is good, because engines like cold air.

Air To Oil Cooler and Transmission Oil Cooler

On either side of the GT350R, there sit two remote-mounted heat exchangers. The car is naturally aspirated, so they’re not intercoolers. Perhaps remote mounted auxiliary radiators? Nope, one of them is a transmission oil cooler and one is an air-to-oil oil cooler. These are totally unconventional heat exchangers to find on a street car.

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Usually cars have oil to coolant oil coolers and usually manual transmissions are cooled via underbody convection only. To have a dedicated heat exchanger out front for engine oil and manual transmission oil just goes to show that this is a legit track car.

Rear Differential Cooler

And it doesn’t stop there. No, the GT350R even comes with a dedicated air to oil differential cooler. Those ducts you see in the belly pan above funnel air into the heat exchanger to keep that 3.73 rear end nice and happy.

Enormous Two Piece Brake Rotors

The GT350R comes with 394mm diameter front brake rotors and 380mm rear brake rotors. Oh, and you’ve got six piston calipers to go along with those giant front pizzas. Big rotors not only maximize friction between the rotor and the pad, but they also increase the moment arm of the brake force- this essentially gives the brakes a “mechanical advantage.”

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The biggest benefit though, is the additional heat capacity of those giant rotors. Keeping brakes cool is crucial if you want to maintain good brake feel and performance lap after lap.

Aerodynamic Goodness

Want downforce? Look no further than the rear wing, which was optimized up to the very last minute in design. Each change to the body or trim can affect the wing’s effectiveness, so dialing it in is an always ongoing process. Here’s Ford’s blurb on the rear wing:

The wing moves the vehicle’s center of pressure rearward while improving downforce and lift balance – ideal for high-speed track work.

There’s also a hood vent, which removes air after it has picked up heat through the cooling module. The vent also reduces front end lift and likely decreases underhood pressure to provide better radiator airflow.

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The GT350R has plenty of underbody belly pans to keep down drag. See those shark gilles on the front fenders? Those are there to vent the pressure from the wheel wells to minimize drag and maximize brake cooling. The wheel arches were designed with “air curtains,” whose job it is to funnel air around the wheel wells to prevent turbulence and lower drag.

All in all, the car has some sweet hardware to go along with the aggressive, handsome good looks. I was able to ride along in the GT350, and I will say: The Shelby’s hardware all seemed to work well as a system, as the car was a total riot around the racetrack.

More on that later today. Get excited.

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