Mustang Mania – A Day With RTR, Ruapuna and Radisich

The passion that exists for the Ford Mustang cannot be understated. Ever since the first was unveiled to a stunned public at the New York Worlds Fair on April 17th 1964, the Mustang has inspired a fanbase which spans generations.

Fast forward 58 years or so to Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna and we can clearly the evidence of why the Ford Mustang continues to be coveted by legions of petrolheads. A track day on Sunday 26th of June 2022, organised by the 300 strong Canterbury Mustang Owners Club, was a chance for the faithful to either go for a cruise or go hard with all eight, sometimes supercharged, cylinders on full song.

When Club President Garry Jackson and John Hutchinson of Team Hutchinson Ford got in touch extending an invitation for this motoring scribe to take a new RTR tuned Mustang GT to the club track day and spend some time wringing its neck at the lunch time break, the naturally response was a resounding yes please.

Having collected the RTR from Team Hutchinson Ford the previous day, I arrived at Ruapuna to find a simply epic collection of Mustangs past and present. All variants of Dearborn’s pony car were in attendance and the variety was pretty impressive.

From an early 1965 260ci coupe with original patina, to the latest Shelby GT500s, Roush and RTR Mustangs. In between you had a 1970 Mach 1, a 1971 Mach 1, a 1968 Fastback, a Roush tuned 427R, a rare Dan Gurney Edition Saleen and a menacing black supercharged Shelby GT500 Super Snake pushing 850hp to name a few.

After a few parade laps, the track activity was divided into two groups. One for beginners and those just wanting to cruise around the circuit and the other for those who wanted to go hard. Standing on pit row and seeing Mustang and a handful of classic Falcon’s barrelling past at breakneck speed was a sight and sound to behold. One bright orange Shelby GT500 came past with its sports exhaust turned up to 11 and sounded simply awesome.

When not on track, Mustang owners could be seen exchanging banter and laughs while soaking up each other’s cars. There should always be camaraderie in every local car scene and the Canterbury Mustang Owners Club is no exception.

Then came lunchtime, my time on track was about to begin. As it happens, I would not be giving the RTR a hammering alone, for Garry had invited an instructor to join in on the day’s festivities. This instructor turned out to be none other than Kiwi racing icon Paul Radisich.

Winner of multiple rounds of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and V8 Supercars throughout the nineties and noughties, Paul’s CV of national and international motorsport success made him the ideal tutor for the Mustang owners and, as it happens, me. Paul and I agreed he would do a couple of laps in my RTR first. This allowed me to watching the man at work and take note and get his thoughts on the car.

Sliding inside, Paul was quick to put the RTR in Race mode, naturally. “I think we will stay in Race mode today,” he says with a smile. Rolling out of pit lane and onto the main straight at Ruapuna, the RTR surged forward under Paul’s right foot. The sound of Coyote V8 bellow engulfed our surroundings. It wasn’t long before we felt the presence of turn one, of which Paul managed to negotiate as smoothly and as cleanly as possible.

Paul has turned in many a lap here in his time and, coupled with his 30 years of helming racing cars gave me no reason whatsoever to doubt his ability to handle the RTR. On the brakes firmly for Hulme hairpin and we kissed the apex just right before barrelling out with that V8 on full noise. Paul made it look easy as we made our way around the next right and left hander.

The amount of grip generated by the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres was phenomenal. Coupled that with what I would describe as a very well sorted chassis and 25mm lower springs and sportier dampers over the standard Mustang GT, the RTR offers yet more proof to counteract the scoffers who claim that “a Mustang can’t go around corners.” Well, news flash, it can, and very well too.

Soon Paul brought the RTR down pit lane and we swapped seats. Now it was my turn and I must admit things got off to a poor start. In my over eagerness to get stuck in, I entered turn one a tad too quickly and as a result, missed the apex of the corner by a bit. As Paul said, “focus on getting you lines right first, then worry about pace later.” Taking on board what the icon said, I settled down and started to focus on getting that technique right.

While doing this I began to be really impressed with just how engaging the RTR is as a track car. Its 339kW is a considerable amount of grunt in anyone’s language but it is incredibly manageable when you push hard. I had already driven an RTR Series II earlier in the year but this was on public roads and I couldn’t give it that extra oomph like you can on a track. Here it is perfectly manageable and that RTR tweaks underneath, as mentioned previous, result in a bonafide muscle car which can eat up corners incredibly well.

The 10-speed auto box shifts well but mostly I just left it in auto, “in sport mode it just takes care of itself,” said Paul.  Steering weights up beautifully and you have a good indication of just what those rear wheels are doing at any give moment. With Paul’s guidance, I did my best to use as much of the track as possible. Slow into the corners and fast out is the key to putting in a good lap.

Burying the throttle down the main straight, the revs continued to rise with each gearchange and the stunning view of the snow-capped Southern Alps moved closer and closer as we ventured past 200km/h. Then seconds later, it was hard on the anchors with the ABS on full alert and before you knew it, we were round turn one again and headed at full chat towards the next corner.

Then as soon as it had begun, it was over. I pulled the RTR gingerly into the pits. I certainly am nowhere near Paul’s level when it comes to talent, but the experience of having him teaching me how to be a better and faster driver is an experience I won’t forget.

A big thank you to the Canterbury Mustang Owners Club and Team Hutchinson Ford for marvelous day.

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