Turn the Key and Go Racing Front aero splitter and tall rear wing tell you that this Mustang means business. By Steven Cole Smith, Contributor Date posted: 03-10-2008 Twenty 2008 Ford Mustang FR500S racecars crank up and pull onto the track at Miller Motorsports Park in Toulee, Utah, idling around for the cameras and the small crowd that has come to see the birth of what could turn out to be one of the most important road racing series in years. Alan Wilson, who designed this track and presently serves as the general manager of the facility, smiles and says, "It's nice to be in on the start of something, isn't it?" The 2008 Ford Mustang FR500S is the key component of the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge for the Miller Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires. But you can think of it as one rung in a Ford Racing-sponsored ladder for road racing that begins at driving school and ends at the Rolex 24 at Daytona or maybe even Europe. Hand over $75,000 for Ford Racing Part# M-FR500-S and you receive a turnkey racing car (actually push-button prepared, as the key opens only the trunk) for a racing series in which a strict set of rules guarantees that the best driver will win, not the team that spends the most money. It Says Racing Right in the Name, Doesn't It? This is a Mustang stripped for racing. Dan Davis, the head of Ford Racing in North America, envisioned a race series for the new-generation Ford Mustang when the fifth-generation car went into production for 2005, but it took him awhile to find the right formula. First, Davis' young engineers built the Mustang FR500C "Boy Racer," which did, in fact, win its very first race, the 2005 Grand-Am race at Daytona International Speedway, the warm-up for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The fact that a race-prepped Mustang could beat race-prepped BMW M3s and Porsche 996s got the car — and Davis — a lot of attention. A batch of FR500Cs sold for about $120,000 apiece, essentially race-ready from Ford and supplier Multimatic. It offered about 420 horsepower from its "Cammer R-50" V8 engine, available from the Ford Racing Performance Parts catalog. This got some Mustangs into the mix, but the car perhaps did not illustrate the vehicle's ultimate capability. So Davis and crew built the Mustang FR500GT, nicknamed the "Man Racer." The FR500GT is a far more aggressive car, with a 550-hp V8 built by Roush-Yates, the NASCAR guys. It's about as fast and well-sorted as a racecar built from an actual production car can get. Davis figured the price would be about $200,000 a copy, if he decided to build some. Built on the Production Line There's a single seat, but you can order two if you'd like to scare your friends. That's when Davis got a call from Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, half an hour from Salt Lake City. Built on a scruffy parcel of land not much good for anything but rabbit hunting — but bordered by snow-capped mountains that are breathtaking on a clear day — the facility created by wealthy car dealer Larry Miller and his crew is undeniably world-class. It wasn't cheap. The original budget for Miller Motorsports Park (MMP) was about $5 million, which Miller promptly exceeded at a level that would make the federal government envious. He has spent close to $100 million so far — the glass-fronted clubhouse alone cost $5 million — and he isn't through yet. Miller, a ruddy, low-key man with thinning white hair, is of the generation where handshakes can replace a 30-page contract. He knows he'll never make a dime off Miller Motorsports Park, but man, what fun he's having. Just check out his museum on the grounds, packed with Ford Cobras and Mustangs. To make a long story slightly longer, MMP has its own driving school to promote itself, and it had been using slightly modified Mustang GTs as training cars with much success. But without Ford's knowledge, Miller, school director Dan McKeever and others at the track turned some of the training cars into what they called Miller Challenge cars. The key additions were minor engine modifications, a more aggressive suspension, a roll cage and a big Pep Boys-inspired rear spoiler. The idea was to create a car that would serve as the next step up for students and also be the basis for a local racing series. So Larry Miller called up Ford and asked if a few select members of the Dearborn elite would care to see his cars. They would, they did and they immediately took the idea to the next level. With cooperation from the United Autoworkers, Ford would literally stop the Mustang assembly line in Flat Rock, Michigan, to crank out some purpose-built Mustangs for racing. Racing Parts, Only Really Big Ones Your $75,000 also buys you a shakedown session at Miller Motorsports Park. The FR500S comes off the line in Flat Rock with a 325-hp, 24-valve 4.6-liter V8 that has been prepared, dyno-tested and then sealed against tampering at Roush industries in Livonia, Michigan. Then the car goes to Watson Engineering in nearby Taylor, Michigan for the addition of a roll cage and other racing bits and pieces. Finally the car arrives at Miller Motorsports Park, where an assembly crew follows a 45-step build process, turning each car into a Mustang FR500S. Every Ford Mustang FR500S is delivered at Miller Motorsports Park. Price: $75,000. The reason for buying one is the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge for the Miller Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, an eight-race series for these cars that begins May 3 at Road Atlanta and ends (unsurprisingly) at Miller Motorsports Park with a double-header September 19-21. The purse totals more than $300,000, with $5,000 to win each race and $15,000 to win the championship. As the good-humored "hero card" description of the Ford Mustang FR500S from Ford Racing makes clear, this car is as notable for what it doesn't include as what it does, and there's only enough chassis adjustability built into the car to make sure the best driver wins, not the most car. The Performance Begins Here If you're interested in road racing, this might be the place to start. This is a pretty soundly engineered Mustang. A cold-air intake, Borla headers and a recalibrated computer help add 25 hp to the basic Mustang GT V8. To handle the stress of competition, a six-speed manual transmission, an excellent short-throw shift kit and a heavy-duty clutch are matched to the V8. The rear-end ratio is 3.73:1. The front brakes feature 14-inch rotors with four-piston Brembo calipers; the rear brakes are stock, only with racing pads. Front suspension gets two-way adjustable dampers with a strut tower brace, while the live-axle rear gets two-way adjustable dampers, too. Both ends get Ford Racing antiroll bars, and the front one is three-way adjustable. The series rules call for P245/40R18 BFGoodrich g-Force R1 tires, basically DOT-approved tires with a soft rubber compound. We strapped into the seat for a half-hour practice session and found the FR500C fast but forgiving. The brakes are strong and linear, but will fade if abused. The six-speed manual transmission and shifter work quite well, and clutch action is surprisingly light. The accuracy and effort level of the rack-and-pinion steering is spot-on, while the R1 tires hang and hang and hang in the corners until they finally let go with a moderate level of predictability. We've driven the two other Mustang FR models, the 420-hp Grand-Am Cup FR500C and the fire-breathing 550-hp FR500GT, and while we might have lapped faster in those cars, we're not sure we had more fun. The FR500C is not that different from this FR500S, while the FR500GT feels slightly frantic and unbalanced, as when the rear end snapped sideways several times with minimal warning. The Mustang Ladder The Roush-prepared 325-hp V8 is meant to equalize power output by the cars in the Miller Cup. Together, Ford Racing's Dan Davis and MMP's Larry Miller have created a ladder of Mustang racing cars that can carry you right to the top tier of international racing. The MMP-prepared 300-hp Mustang GT for the Ford Racing High-Performance Driving School at Miller Motorsports Park introduces you to the idea of driving a Mustang fast. Then the 325-hp Mustang FR500S offers a chassis that's both adjustable enough and friendly enough to reward a skilled driver, and matches it with a professional racing series. Next, the 420-hp Mustang FR500C lets you step up to a race-winning ride in the Grand-Am Koni Challenge Series. Finally, the Mustang FR500GT4 is homologated for the FIA GT4 European Cup Championship. This is all about racing, and that's why Ford is adamant that each FR500S will end up on the track, not on the street. Some 77 cars have already been built, and, says Jamie Allison, manager of Ford Performance Group, "We'll build more if we need to."