Growing up in Italy, Alex Sensoli had motorsport coursing through his veins. His father started him in motocross at a young age, but when his father passed shortly after Alex’s sixteenth birthday, his racing stopped. One needs to get their kicks somewhere, so Alex shifted his focus to another love: rugby. His dedication and passion for the game pushed him to the professional level, but eventually he chose another career path and moved to the United States to work in the medical equipment industry.
When Alex relocated from Rome to the Bay Area in California, he tried to relive some of his former glories through American football, but lingering rugby injuries kept him from playing at the level he was used to. He sought a cushier form of competition with less tackling, and decided to try motorsport once again. In relative comfort inside his new Dodge Challenger Scat Pack, he found his adrenaline fix in the fall of 2017 when he started attending track days.
After his first stab at Laguna Seca, he went home with a respectable time of 1:51 and a smile; he’d found those kicks his chiropractor told him he’d have to live without. However, the size of the car could not be ignored, and that impressive power was compromised by its heft. To mix it up at the front of the pack and prevent poorly driven Vipers from firing off into the distance, Alex thought it might be wise to buy a nimbler car in his price range.
It seems that some greater power agreed. While Alex was considering the alternatives, his Challenger was stolen and returned damaged. Taking that theft as a sign from the heavens, he decided that it was definitely time for a new steed. He toyed with the idea of a GT500, but some of his track-day friends urged him to avoid forced induction. So, seeking something with a little less power but plenty of potential, he chose a 2018 Mustang GT with the Performance Pack and the 10-speed automatic gearbox. Though still a bit porky by track toy standards, this 3,700-pound pony car promised more involvement and potential to run 1:40 laps at Laguna Seca. As few people had tracked these cars extensively at the time, he was also something of a pioneer. “Guinea pig is a better title,” he corrected.
His first outing at the famous Monterey, California, track was encouraging. With the same lines and level of commitment, Alex managed an impressive 1:45 around the 2.2-mile track. An auspicious start for the new ride, surely. The car was approachable, confidence-inspiring, and quick. The only real difference he recognized between the two, other than the difference in weight, was the way in which the Mustang delivered its power. The Coyote V8 required quite a few more revs to access the meat of the powerband, which encouraged Alex to use a lower gear and roll some additional entry speed. With plenty of speed out of the box and a challenging character which forced Alex to adapt, the pair were a perfect match.
Within a few weeks, he started addressing some of the platform’s shortcomings—most notably those in the braking and tire department. With the addition of 19×11 LMR SVE wheels at all four corners and the Vorshlag camber plates needed to fit them, he could plant a much larger footprint—the kind his heavyweight Mustang needed. Now, the 305-section Nitto NT01 tires could be fully exploited. With more grip came greater demands on the braking system, so better rotors, pads, and fluid were the next step.
Alex chose G-LOC R12 brakes for the front and R10s for the rear, which, when coupled with DOT4 brake fluid, were just about enough for full sessions in anger. Previously his charge at the tail-end of some sessions was hindered by a slightly spongy brake pedal, but he could now run the majority of his laps without the sort of fade, worry, or hesitation that would keep him from reaching the limit. These changes to the footwork chopped an additional two seconds off an already impressive baseline time at Laguna, but he still wasn’t totally satisfied.
Constant Cooling Issues
Now able to push harder for longer, he ran into another headache. The tendency to overheat plagued him on exceptionally hot days. His first step towards rectifying this issue was adding a Mishimoto oil cooler, which he mounted just in front of the factory transmission cooler on top of the grille. While this lowered his oil temperature, the proximity between the two coolers soaked the transmission cooler, and transmission temperatures were getting as high as 250°F. This was far too much for the ten-speed, and soon the gearbox started hesitating. It was not long for this world.
Soon after, the heat seared the clutches and the gearbox coughed its last. Thankfully, it was covered under warranty, but the experience had him questioning the sense in proceeding with this temperamental car. Ultimately, he decided the Mustang held enough promise, and that with better temperature management, he would be satisfied.
Funnily, the next step involved relocating the oil cooler to below the grille, just beside a new Setrab 25-row transmission cooler. The problem was that these two items obstructed airflow to the larger Mishimoto radiator. Even with Trackspec hood vents in place, Alex still struggles occasionally with overheating issues, but the matter has been improved enough to give him the peace of mind to push for a long string of laps. As of last week, he fabricated his own water sprayer system to try and remedy this situation once and for all.
Pushed to Perform in the American Muscle Cup Series
A lifelong athlete, Alex craved more than the carefree ambiance that the monthly track day could offer. After just a year into it, he decided to take the leap into time trials. The Southern California-based Muscle Cup provided a realm of real competition he could step into without having to cage, strip, and ruin the resale value of his car. The series is comprised of five different classes, and he opted for the most modest of the five.
Street Class is designed around strict tire regulations and a few allowed modifications. The tires need to be 295-section width or narrower, and with a 100 treadwear rating or greater. Drivers are then allotted ten points to pick and choose modifications with. For example, a set of coilovers is worth two points, a large rear wing is two, and an engine tune is two. The cars competing in Street Class could be described as optimized but near-stock in operation. That simplistic approach, in addition to saving on costs, allowed Alex to focus almost exclusively on his driving.
With the aid of thirty-minute training sessions on Project Cars 2 (a video game, for those unfamiliar), he shod his ‘Stang in a set of Bridgestone Potenza RE71 tires and drove the eight hours to Willow Springs for the first event of the 2019 season. Though he hadn’t actually driven the track in real life, his preparation and confidence in the car took him to victory. He had speed in spades—he even beat the entire Modified Class, save for the fastest two! His preparation, pace, and confidence took him to the front of the pack and ahead of much quicker Corvettes and Camaros. It looked like sticking with the Mustang was the right decision.
Though mechanical maladies prevented him from attending the second round at Chuckwalla Raceway, he returned to Willow Springs for the third and won comfortably. Work conflicts kept him from the fourth round, but when he came back to Buttonwillow—a course he’d driven once before—the following month, he again topped the time sheets. Pushed harder than ever before, he’d grown more sensitive to the handling issues of the car at the limit and made a few adjustments.
The addition of a BMR sway bar in front, a stock GT350R sway bar in the rear, and Ford Performance shocks stiffened the platform and gave him a little more reassurance through switchbacks. He also upgraded his braking system with AP Racing two-piece aluminum rotors at all four corners, as well as Ferodo DSuno pads and ducts in front. The result: an entire second off his time at Buttonwillow. “The suspension mods helped the most in fast transitions; in the Bus Stop, Turn 3, and Phil Hill the car was able to change directions beautifully,” Alex added.
Soaring on confidence, he returned for the sixth round of the season and again took the win. Baffled at his ability to dominate out of the gate, I asked him what his secret was. “Muscle Cup forces you to push,” he began. “There are Spec Miata champions here and people who are scary fast, but still friendly.” He took advantage of every source of information available.
The warm atmosphere in the Muscle Cup pits fostered a few friendships with the more experienced drivers—some of whom were willing to show Alex the quick way around on a white-knuckle lead-follow lap. They also shared their information willingly. With access to some of the others’ data, Alex could determine exactly where he needed to make adjustments in his style. “I had to practice some more restraint,” he conceded. With a more linear, deliberate throttle application, he could avoid the stabbing and subsequent lifting which often ruined his corner exits. “I used to treat it like an on-off pedal,” he said, “but now I use it more like a dimmer.”
This sensitivity helped him in brake modulation as well, and those changes, coupled with some improvements in vision, have made him an unstoppable force this year. Despite missing two events, he’s still in contention for the title; the series only takes the best seven results from the nine rounds of the year. With rounds at Chuckwalla, Willow Springs, and Buttonwillow in the months to come, he stands a good chance of taking home the biggest trophy. He still has to remain sharp if he wants to clinch the title, but his daily sim sessions, regular tinkering, and fevered commitment show he’s grinding that saber as often as he can.