Ford Performance Racing School (FPRS) is a high-performance driving school backed by Ford Motor Company, based out of Utah Motorsports Campus just outside Salt Lake City, Utah. With nearly 4.5 miles of asphalt available for corner-carving, Utah Motorsports Campus houses the longest road racing facility in North America.
The folks at FPRS host a slew of different programs based on the type of instruction or experience you’re looking for. This write-up is dedicated to the one-day track school piloting a modified 2015 Mustang GT prepped specifically for track use. However, if you own any Ford Performance vehicles such as the F-150 Raptor, GT350, Focus/Fiesta ST, Focus RS, Explorer ST, or Edge ST, there are driving experiences dedicated to your vehicle as well.
The Ford Performance Racing School is the perfect way to learn your own personal limits in a safe place with professional instruction. Being the only school backed by Ford Motor Company, FPRS truly speaks to Ford owners specifically in learning the limitations of their vehicle and maximizing the fun you’re able to have behind the wheel.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the One-Day Performance School in July 2019. It was a hot and dry Utah afternoon, and thankfully no passing showers allowed for a dry track to fully push the potential of the incredibly capable track-modified 2015 Mustang GTs. It was as awesome as everyone said it was going to be!
One-Day Performance School Overview
"...it all comes alive once you put that helmet on"
The Ford Performance Racing School One-Day Performance School is the perfect introduction to getting yourself on track and provides a solid base to begin developing the correct techniques to use when racing. The talented instructors at FPRS go over everything from the absolute basics like proper seating position and how to buckle yourself in a four-point harness to more advanced lessons like 100% of traction theory, cornering theory, braking, heel-toe downshifting and much more. All of this happens before you even head out on track! It’s a ton of information to take in, but it all comes alive once you put that helmet on.
In the course of 9 short hours (and a delicious catered lunch), students get a crash course on the basics on how to take a vehicle around the track:
Morning Classroom Time & Orientation Laps
As you can probably imagine, anyone who signs up for a high-performance driving school, the last thing they want to do is sit in a classroom. However, the classroom time to kick things off is extremely important to provide a solid base of knowledge to work off of throughout the day.
We learned a ton of different things over the course of just a couple hours. Everything from things as simple as the correct seating position, to more advanced topics like heel-toe downshifting and cornering theory. Regardless, it all came to life once you were sitting in the driver’s seat waiting for your turn on track.
Following the classroom time, we were able to hop in our cars for a very slow-paced lap around the track to get a feel for our car along with each turn. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with the track before trying to tackle it at speed.
FPRS Classroom Overview
|Classroom Category||Brief Overview
||With a class full of students of varying backgrounds and racing experience, it’s best to start at the beginning. The instructors go over seating position, how to strap yourself into a four-point harness, when to use the clutch and proper shifting technique on track.
||If you’ve raced in the past, you’ve probably heard the saying “keep looking ahead.” This was a primary theme at FPRS. There were actually points on track where I was looking out my driver’s side window at my apex point in order to properly complete the turn! If your eyes are looking, your hands will follow.
||Smooth is fast! One of the biggest takeaways from the vehicle dynamics portion of the classroom time was the 100% of traction theory. This means that if you’re entering a corner at 70% throttle, you can only give the steering wheel 30% before the car begins to understeer or oversteer. If it’s a harder corner, you’ll need to let up on the throttle in order to apply more steering. Same goes for braking as well!
||I learned a ton in this section. I always thought the quickest way through a corner is the ‘standard racing line.’ In almost all cases, a late apex is quicker. A late apex allows you to accelerate longer and brake later leading into the turn. You can also see your exit speed will be greater since the late apex line is straighter as you exit the turn.
||Think about coming up to a stop sign on a residential street. You ease on the brake lightly as you see the stop sign getting closer and closer, and eventually press the pedal slightly harder and harder until you come to a complete stop at the stop sign. Totally normal, right? That’s what they taught us in driving school - and it’s perfect for the street. Just not the track…
When you’re approaching a corner on track, you want to maximize your speed as long as you can. That means braking later and for a shorter duration. In order to maximize your time off the brake pedal and on the accelerator, you want to stab the brake pedal with 70-80% braking force immediately as you’re approaching your turn-in point.
||Heel-toe downshifting is probably a term you’ve heard hanging around other car enthusiasts. The idea is that when you take your foot off the brake to blip the throttle and downshift to a lower gear, you’re upsetting the suspension of the vehicle. Remember, smooth is fast on the race track, and if you’re upsetting the suspension, you won’t be able to maximize the grip of those outside tires as efficiently as possible.
In order to heel-toe downshift, you need to maintain brake pressure with the ball of your right foot, while angling your knee inwards and using your right heel to blip the throttle. Then, continue to use your right hand and left foot to downshift as normal. This way, you’re maintaining the suspension of the vehicle as you’re coming into the turn, rather than rocking it back and forth by removing your left foot, then reapplying the brakes.
Track-Modified 2015 Mustang GT Details & Specs
After seeing many photos of these modified 2015 Mustang GTs on track throughout social media, I was excited to get up close and personal with them to see what kinds of modifications they have. It goes without saying that my particular vehicle (#06) had 11,000+ very hard miles on the odometer. With that many track miles, you know that the modifications made to these Mustangs were made to stand the test of time and abuse.
2015 FPRS Mustang GT Specs:
- 435 horsepower, 400 lb-ft of torque
- Ford Performance FR3 Kit (Springs, Shocks & Sway Bars)
- Ford Performance Six Piston Brembo Brakes
- Ford Performance Radiator
- External Engine Oil Cooler
- Differential Cooler (located in trunk)
- FIA-Approved Roll Cage
- 285/35-19 BFGoodrich gForce Comp 2 Tires
- OMP WRC-R Seats
- Safecraft 4-Point Harness
- Ford Performance Exhaust With Black Tips
- Custom 6-Point Roll Cage
- Custom Rear Close-Out Panel
In addition to the advertised items in their brochure listed above, I noticed that these vehicles were using aftermarket ARP wheel studs for added strength and more aggressive track-oriented brake pads. It’s truly amazing that with only a few select modifications (outside the major safety items), an essentially stock 2015 Mustang GT is this capable on-track.
Track-Prep Vehicle Exercises
Before taking it to the actual track, many students hadn’t had the opportunity to drive a track-modified 2015 Mustang GT, let alone push the vehicle to its limits. That’s where these vehicle exercises come in where we worked on a rotation schedule in smaller groups to accomplish each category in about two hour’s time.
Track-Prep Vehicle Exercises
|Cornering & Autocross Exercise
||This was perhaps my favorite part of the morning’s exercises. Coming from an autocross background, I felt right at home carving corners through the cone slalom! The curveball that they threw at us for this particular exercise were the increasing and decreasing radius turns on either side of the course. Meaning we had to approach each turn differently to ensure that we nailed the apex and could get back on the throttle smoothly. It made for a great exercise to feel out the limits of the Mustang GT.
|Braking & Heel-Toe Downshifting Exercise
||I thought I was the only one nervous for the heel-toe downshifting exercise. Personally, I had just never mastered the art of it - always felt like an awkward movement with your leg. Thankfully, it turns out the majority of the class was nervous on how to properly perform this technique! Between this morning exercise and the hour or so of track time in the afternoon, I was able to finally nail heel-toe downshifting. Practice makes perfect!
|Skid Car Exercise
||The skid car provided a very unique experience thanks to its external frame, outriggers and hydraulic system. The instructor would be sitting in the passenger seat with a remote for the system and either move the front or rear wheels further up to reduce the contact patch of each tire. This simulates the oversteer or understeer you could experience at highway speeds, but only at roughly 8-10 mph. For example, if the instructor moved the rear wheels up and the student was to take a turn, they’d experience oversteer since the rear wheels would be fighting for traction - as pictured below.
FPRS Track Session #1 - Lead/Follow
Similar to the orientation laps in the morning, this exercise was meant for students to get a feel for the track and learn every turn. This involved a follow-the-leader type exercise where the instructor would lead three cars behind them, and each car would rotate on the front straight to be directly behind the instructor, where the other two would follow suit. This allowed each student to be directly behind the instructor and learn the proper racing line for the track at Utah Motorsports Campus.
It may seem redundant in comparison to the parade laps we did in the morning, but this session is very important to learn the track. With a 20 minute session following an experienced instructor, students are able to get a real feel for the track at a slower pace before they start adding speed into the equation. After this session, students are familiarized with the track and able to step the speed up a notch.
FPRS Track Session #2 - Instructor Ride-Along
In all honesty, this was probably my favorite part of the day. This particular reason is enthusiasts like us sign up for the Ford Performance Racing School -- for seasoned professional drivers to teach us how to drive properly. Sometimes it’s not easy being the student, but at the end of the day we all have something to learn.
Personally, I learned that I need to be smoother with the wheel and utilize all the track when exiting a turn. It was amazing when Charlie Putman, my instructor with over 20 years of worldwide racing experience, grabbed the wheel mid-corner (3:25 in the video) and steered the car out towards the other side of the track on exit. It was amazing to feel the car naturally put the power down out of the turn much easier. Granted, it took a while to nail this into my head, but muscle memory took over by the time I was out on my own in Session #3!
FPRS Track Session #3 - Alone
It all boils down to this. An entire day’s instruction and exercises all put to the test when you’re out on track on your own with a bunch of other students doing the same thing. To be honest, it was a little nerve-wracking, but by this time in the day, I was much more confident in my abilities and feel for the track and its corners.
Not being my car, and leary of my newly-learned habits and techniques on-track, I definitely took it easier from the start. Even though we had plenty of track time before this session, I wanted to work my comfort zone out a bit at a time.
By about 10:15 in the video, I felt I had caught my stride and performing pretty well given it was my first real track experience. At this point in time, I finally got my heel-toe downshifting technique correct and was utilizing the whole track on most turns. Unfortunately, there was no passing for this particular session, so I got caught in a bit of traffic towards the end.
Hot Lap Ride-Alongs With Instructor
Ford Performance Racing School is one of the few racing schools that actually let you ride shotgun with an instructor. This is due mostly to the liability involved. Regardless, FPRS allowed us the opportunity to ride along and learn a thing or two from these championship-winning instructors in real-time. It was amazing to see Charlie drive as smoothly and confidently as he did - even having a conversation through our hot lap!
In my opinion, having a ride-along like this placed at the end of a day full of instruction is more than necessary. I even cracked the joke when we started moving that doing this hot lap was going to ‘humble me out’ seeing how an experienced driver handles the same car on the same track. It certainly did! But only makes me want to come back for more and get my own Mustang out on track in the near future.
Ford Performance Racing School Graduation
After a long day of instruction, exercises, track time and cool down, it was time to head back to the classroom. The folks at Ford Performance Racing School really know how to make people feel welcome. They not only provided students with a graduation plaque, t-shirt and goodie bag, but guests (+1’s) also receive a t-shirt as well!
All in all, I learned so much more in a mere eight hours than I have through my 5+ years of autocrossing. It’s just a totally different experience than autocross, and a highly addictive one at that! If you’re on the fence about whether or not to take the time and attend this school, just do it! You certainly will not regret it, that’s for sure!
And if distance to Utah is what’s stopping you from going, Ford Performance Racing School recently made an announcement that in 2020, they will be moving all racetrack operations to Ford Performance Racing School East, based out of Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina! Off-Road operations will continue to be held at Ford Performance Racing School West, a purpose-built facility in Tooele, Utah.
Image Credit: Ford Performance Racing School | Ford Performance | Drivermod