From careering through chicanes to slaloming through cones at 100km/h: CHARLIE COË finds out just how hard it is to drive a performance car around a professional racing circuit
- Ford’s Mustang Mach 1 is the latest edition to manufacturer’s performance range
- Daily Mail Australia went on a 200km/h lap with race driver Andre Heimgartner
- Also tried to navigate winding track at Sydney Motorsport Park in a Mustang GP
- Quickly found out difference between average person and elite Supercars driver
Slaloming effortlessly around cones on a race track in a highly-tuned Ford Focus ST, you could have forgiven me for thinking I had suddenly transformed into a professional touring car driver.
That was until I pulled back into the pits, where our guide informed me I had completed the circuit a full second slower than the two other average Joes trying out the souped-up version of some of Ford’s most well-recognised models.
‘A second is a lot of time in racing,’ one of the other drivers reminded me.
I soon learned driving to the shops and navigating a professional circuit in a car capable of cruising at speeds of more than 200km/h are worlds apart.
Don’t quit your day job: Daily Mail Australia tried its hand at driving some of the most highly-tuned performance cars in the world around Western Sydney Motorsport Park, with mixed results
That difference was no clearer than when Supercars driver Andre Heimgartner took me around the chicanes at Western Sydney Motorsport Park on a rainy Thursday afternoon in Sydney’s outer west.
Moments earlier I had barely reached 80km/h in Ford’s Mustang GT on the open straights – speeds Heimgartner would routinely hit through the corners during our ‘hot lap’ in the newly-released Mustang Mach 1.
The professional racing driver said there was a marked difference between the Mustang and the heavily-modified vehicles he drives on race day – but that the Mach 1 was was one of the best models available for the average road user.
‘It has a slightly different suspension and gearbox [to the cars he races] but as far as car handling this one allows you to push a lot harder and be more comfortable,’ he said.
‘It’s not a race car but its one of the better road cars out there.’
The first deliveries of the Mach 1 – the latest addition to Ford’s performance range – were being made as we spoke, with a limited number of units being sold in showrooms across Australia.
I quickly found out the difference between an average person and elite racing driver during a ‘hot lap’ with Kiwi Supercars contender Andre Heimgartner
‘Its for people who like to drive for work and then at the weekend can take their car to a race track like this,’ Ford Australia’s Product Communications Manager Ben Nightingale told me.
‘The Mach 1 is what we call the ultimate revolution of the Mustang in Australia. It takes the base GT and adds different suspension, wheels, tyres, aerodynamics, transmission and power. It’s a very track-focused car.’
Almost as foreign to me as the hot lap was attempting to manoeuvre Ford’s Ranger Raptor pick-up truck over the park’s bespoke off-road driving facility.
Navigating the Raptor around the muddy paths dug into the hills above the circuit was as alien as the terms I needed to know to make the most of the car’s various features.
Different ball game: Moments earlier I had barely reached 80km/h in Ford’s Mustang GT on the open straights. Heimgartner would routinely hit those speeds through the corners during our ‘hot lap’ in the newly-released Mustang Mach 1 (pictured)
I’d never heard of the phrases ‘diff lock’ – outside of the steady stream of Ford ute commercials on Kayo – and ‘driveline’ before that afternoon.
Thankfully there was no need to try for myself the hair-raising move our guide demonstrated to us moments before when he sent the Raptor plunging into the dirt at a 90-degree angle.
The Raptor’s 33-inch, all-terrain tyres were the only thing stopping the car’s front grill slamming into the dirt at the bottom of the slope.
Not so fast: Our guide informed me I had completed the cone slalom circuit in a Ford Focus ST a full second slower than the two other average Joes trying out the manufacturer’s range of performance cars
Similarly heart-stopping was flying through the air in the 4×4 after mounting a bump in the hillside to the side of the circuit.
You would likely land yourself with a hefty repair bill if you tried the same stunt in a humble Ford Fiesta, but the Raptor handled the landing with ease.
The question is though how much the average Australian would pay to experience the kind of motoring luxury afforded by Ford’s range of performance cars.
You could have forgiven me for thinking I had suddenly transformed into a professional racing car driver moments earlier as I swung around the cones at the Sydney racing track
The Ranger outsold all other 4x4s in Australia in 2020 but comes with a steep $77,690 price tag – $20,000 more than the volume-selling dual cab XLT ute.
Ford has given the Mustang Mach 1 meanwhile a $83,000 starting price, a step above the $40,000 the average Australian spends on a new set of wheels.
This writer was a guest of Ford Australia. To find out more about the Mach 1, visit the Ford website.