Like Ford's Mustang, Grattan Raceway has been around for more than half a century. Twenty-five miles northeast of Grand Rapids, MI, this 2-mile course is a twisty, hilly, complex collection of corners offering a daunting challenge to anyone attempting to master them.

But Ford's development drivers and their all-new Mustang-based Shelby GT350 clearly have. Between weekend races, it is regularly used by automakers for testing and development, but rarely for press events. Yet there we were...unfortunately to ride, not drive.

Grattan has one long straight (which once served as a drag strip), and its busy 10 turns include S-curves, a fast dogleg, a 160-degree hairpin, an uphill blind apex, a "Monza" bowl and a tough downhill, off-camber curve. But our GT350R, expertly driven by vehicle dynamics supervisor Brent Clark, has clearly mastered every tricky, treacherous inch of it.

Ford's most powerful V8 ever

Belted into the passenger seat for a conservative initial lap, we note the GT350R's new 5.2-liter flat-plane V-8's unique animal growl and its willingness to rev like a racing engine, which it essentially is. Easily Ford's most powerful and (at 102 ponies per liter) most power-dense naturally aspirated road-going engine ever, it pumps out 526 horses at 7,500 rpm and a muscular 429 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 4,750 rpm, and it redlines at a Ferrari-like 8,250 rpm.

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Clark buries the throttle and the GT350R rockets down the long straight toward the first right-hand turn. He stands on the powerful brakes and bends it forcefully into the sweeping, climbing corner, then the sharper-right Turn Two, then back on the gas to the downhill, negative-camber Three, then the fast-right Four. He accelerates hard downhill, brushes the brakes over a rise, then brakes hard as the suspension settles for the right-left-right uphill esses and Turn Six bowl, then hard gas through the fast-right Seven and hard brakes for the right-hand hairpin Eight, full-throttle uphill to the blind-apex right-hand Nine and no-lift, left-hand Ten, and we're charging full-bore down the straight for another thrill-ride lap.

Track ready package

The GT350 and ultimate track-focused GT350R boast Mustang-first continuously variable MagneRide shocks on the most athletic suspension and stiffest chassis ever offered on a production Mustang. And the huge Brembo brakes (six-piston fronts, four-piston rears) are Mustang's most track-capable ever. "These cars can be driven by any driver on any track in the world with virtually no fade," Clark asserts. The GT350's 19-inch alloy wheels (10.5-inch wide in front, 11-inch rear) wear specially-developed Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tires, while the GT350R rolls on half-inch-wider carbon-fiber wheels (a first for any major automaker) and even more aggressive Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.

Both versions feature a new integrated driver-control system that tailors throttle response, steering effort, stability control, traction control and ABS braking to driver preference and driving conditions. Its five selectable modes are Normal, Sport (for spirited driving), Weather (for low-traction), Track (limit-handling) and Drag (drag-strip).

Clark provided a truly impressive demo ride on this rough, tough, old-favorite track, but we can't wait to drive these awesome new Shelby Mustangs ourselves.

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