As Roger Eagleton watched the clock tick past 1:00 pm this past Thursday, he knew he had to make a decision. Since it was the last session of the last day of qualifying for this year’s SCCA Runoffs, he had to determine whether it would be wiser to try and put in one all-out lap, or spend his limited qualifying time trying to find a setup that would allow him to run consistent times throughout the race.
Because there’s a fair amount of mechanical attrition in his Spec Mustang group, he took the latter option. Fortunately, Eagleton understands these cars quite well — he is the 2017 Spec Mustang Champion, after all — and used his experience to plan a pragmatic course. A sensible and mature approach to racing, this gave him the opportunity to take advantage of cars breaking, as well as weaknesses in other drivers’ setups.
Though the 3,475-pound Mustang is kept stable with a Cortex suspension kit, the car still likes to move around, even on good tires. When the 275-section Hoosier R7s are absolutely shot, as they are in the footage above, they clearly struggle to administer the 4.6-liter V8’s 315 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, and Eagleton has his hands full; counter-steering several times throughout corners fast and slow. Over crests, through the adverse-cambered Turn 2, and just about everywhere else, Eagleton dials in small but regular bits of opposite lock.
“What we were searching for was a more stable set up with less body roll in the corners,” he adds, and did so by running stiffer front springs. This change “allowed the car to change directions more quickly and predictably,” which is obvious in the faster sections of Sonoma Raceway.
Its playful tail-happiness through the Sonoma’s quick esses (1:11-1:21) is manageable and helps him point the car in the right direction just that much sooner. A sharp flick of the steering into the last right causes the rear to dance slightly and nearly zero-steer the Mustang towards the apex; showing the Spec Mustang can be thrown around and still reward the driver.
Additionally, the hint of oversteer out of the daunting Turn 10 (1:34) doesn’t catch Eagleton out — the transitions of the car are predictable and friendly. With that sort of behavior, the V8 grunt, and reasonable running costs, it’s no surprise that the Spec Mustang packs are growing in size. For those looking for a rewarding, agreeable club racer with the ability to spin the rears at will, it might be time to park the Spec Miata and start perusing the local classifieds for an S197 Mustang.
“The reason we could tell that the car would be easy to manage on stickers is because these cars — on worn tires — can be a handful at the limit! A 1:50 lap time on new tires is good, and given that these were corded prior to us going out, we knew that fresh rubber would give us 2-3 seconds per lap and would be much easier to drive.”
With his car control and an intimate understanding of these friendly beasts, Eagleton should have no trouble showing the big-budget builds his taillights on Sunday.