While technology hastens the design, development, and production of go-fast parts, there is simply no substitute for real world testing to verify and refine those products. In the case of Steeda, the company heads from the street to the race track and back again often in the name of creating better parts. We recently caught up with their team competing on Sebring International Raceway’s famed road course in the name of product development — and a little fun too.
This was no open-track session, however. The Steeda team entered the Sebring Long Course Cabin Fever Cure hosted from Feb 9-11, 2018 by theCentral Florida Region of the SCCA. The event offered testing on Friday and Saturday, with qualifying and racing taking place on Sunday.
Not only was the Steeda team investing in product development at Sebring, they also showed some young enthusiasts what racing is all about. Gino Cianciarulo, Nicholas O’Bryan, and Zach Orlando all chipped in to help with the winning effort.
Steeda President Dario Orlando and Vice President Glen Vitale work to be vital parts of the development process. Just like many of the other members of the team, Dario and Glen are intimately involved in multiple facets of the product cycle. In their case, both are also skilled racing drivers, who have won multiple events together and individually.
“It’s important to actually experience the changes that you are going to have,” Dario explained. “You can tell right away what direction you’re going in because of the lap times, tire temperatures, etc.”
“We are running the new twin-valve damper, for jounce and rebound adjustability, and also we’re running a new extended ball joint, which Steeda is famous for starting with the Fox body through the early S197,” said Orlando. “On this S550 we’re testing our newest extended ball joint. When you lower car the front roll center actually goes right into the ground. It induces more roll because you have a higher lever point now, and what we do is bring up that roll center to eliminate some of the roll induced by lowering.”
We are running the new twin-valve damper, for jounce and rebound adjustability, and also we’re running a new extended ball joint… — Dario Orlando, Steeda
While lowering a car can certainly help handling, picking the right spring rate and style to get the job done is key. Interestingly, the Steeda #20 racer, which is the seventh “20 car” in the company’s lineage, was equipped with 300 in-lb linear-rate springs in the front and dual-rate springs in the rear.
Central to the new combination were a set of Motion Control Suspension three-way adjustable dampers with remote reservoirs. Up front they were teamed with Steeda’s linear-rate springs, adjustable sway bar, spherical-bearing front control arms, extended ball joints, and caster/camber plates. The latter off just fine-tuning of the caster, but big camber adjustments. “At Sebring and you got to be over 3 degrees here if you’re serious. …What’s nice is the Mustang already 7 degrees of positive caster and our plates have enough to fine-tune it within a degree, but when you’re at the track you know it’s a lot easier to move one point than two points,” Dario Orlando explained. “When you go home you can back them out, and reset the tow, which if you’re accustomed to it you can do it in a matter of minutes…”
“If we could put dual-rate spring in the front, packaging-wise, we would. We can’t because the diameter of the spring is only 2 1/2-inches and it’s hard to engineer and come up with a dual rate for the front…” Dario told us.
Dual rate springs start out at one rate and switch to another at a predetermined amount of travel, which is not to be confused with a progressive rate spring, which offers a gradual change in rate. Either is far more difficult to engineer and build than a linear-rate spring. Both have their advantages, but the thanks to adjustability of the Steeda front suspension, the pairing seems to work.
Raising The Roof
“Here in Sebring the track’s pretty rough, so you want the initial rate to be a little bit softer to be compliant going through the different elevation changes,” Dario said. “There’s a reason why Ford, which has outstanding engineers, chose a linear up front and progressive or rate spring in the rear, so you know it’s a good combination.”
With the ball joint keeping the geometry in the right place and those springs helping with the weight balance by evenly lowering the car, the Steeda team dialed in the car during the Saturday test session, where we followed along. Glen raised the rev limiter to an eye-watering 8,000 rpm in an attempt eliminate two shifts on the long Sebring course and Dario ran the session to validate the new parts.
The second-generation Coyote 5.0-liter under the hood of the Steeda 20 car is still naturally aspirated but wears some induction upgrades in the form of a Steeda cold air intake.
“Basically the rev limiter was set at 7,700; by raising it to 8,000 we still did not have enough to reduce the amount of times we needed to shift per lap,” Glen explained. “Moving forward, we have decided that for Sebring we will be switching back to a lower gear ratio, which will eliminate the whole ‘do I shift or lift’ scenario at the end of certain straight-aways at Sebring.”
That session ended early when the car hit an oil slick going into the hairpin. Fortunately Dario learned all about saving a car in a spin when he worked as a test driver for Ford back in the day.
Things went a bit more smoothly when Glen took over the reins in competition, where he took top honors in Sunday’s race.
The testing and the practice that took place on Saturday morning was really instrumental in getting us hooked up for the two races… — Glen Vitale, Steeda
“The testing and the practice that took place on Saturday morning was really instrumental in getting us hooked up for the two races that we had on Sunday,” Glen said. “By doing that, we were able to fine tune the car so that when we showed up to the track on Sunday, the car was spot-on in terms of where it needed to be for me to be comfortable.”
Aside from the suspension bits, the 20 car also picked up a new clutch to help handle the rigors of running flat out on big course like Sebring.
Dario Orlando (left) did some test-driving on Saturday to validate the parts and the setup, but Glen Vitale (right) took over the driving duties on Sunday to win the SCCA T1 class.
“It seems like every time we take this car out it gets a little faster, a little more comfortable and a lot more fun to drive!” Glen enthused. “One of the big changes this go-around was the addition of the Exedy Stage 2 clutch. As can be expected when racing, certain OEM parts just don’t hold up and we were experiencing clamp-load deflection at the end of a session due to the heat being generated. The Exedy five-puck disc in this Stage 2 kit offers a sprung center damper and utilizes a proven cera-metallic friction material, for the better performance in high heat/high torque racing applications.”
Steeda 20 Car Mods
• Race wing, PN 476-STEEDA-WING-15
• Front splitter, PN 283-S550-GT-PP
• Anderson Composites carbon fiber rear deck lid
• Kohr Motorsports Competition carbon fiber hood
• Braided brake lines, PN 555-6027
• Wilwood Aero 6 nickel-plated, six-piston front calipers and 14-inch disc rotors
Engine and Driveline
•Stock 2015 5.0L Coyote (10831 miles on the odometer)
• Stock MT-82 Transmission
• Ford Performance half shaft upgrade kit, PN 161-M-4130-MA
• Billet idler pulleys, PN 555-3366
• C&R Racing Ford Mustang GT radiator
• ProFlow cold air kit with Steeda tune, PN 555-3202
• Billet sway bar mounts (front and rear), PN 555-8149
• Bumpsteer kit, PN 555-8133
• Camber plates, PN 555-8139
• Motion Control Suspension two-way adjustable coil over shocks and struts
• Non-adjustable rear camber arms, PN 555-4127
• Adjustable rear toe link, PN 555-4120
• Rear sway bar endlinks, PN 555-1041
• Billet rear shock mounts, PN 555-8152
• Rear adjustable sway bar, PN 555-1016
• IRS subframe alignment kit, PN 555-4438
• Differential bushing kit, PN 555-4439
• IRS subframe support brace, PN 555-5754
• Adjustable rear toe links, PN 555-4120
• IRS subframe bushing support system, PN 555-4437
Wheels • Forgestar CF-5, 18×11-inch
Of course, the development is ongoing as Steeda pursues its goal of building the fastest production-based cars with bolt-on parts. To further dial in the 20 car, its team is set to return to the track in the near future to build on this past weekend’s success, which will include adding some more power under the hood.
In back, the Steeda race wears the company’s IRS lockouts, dual-rate springs, fixed-link billet camber arms, and billet vertical links with polyurethane bushings. Steeda tried Delrin and spherical bearings in the vertical links, but found that it made the suspension to reactive and the handling somewhat unpredictable, so having a bit of compliance there helps. “We discovered on the S197 20 car that too much control in the suspension (solid suspension mounts like heim joints) gave instant feedback to the driver but did not allow much time for the driver to react that same feedback before something bad was to happen, like a loss of traction,” Glen said. “We validated this same discovery on the S550, and because of that, we purposely swapped out many of the parts to the actual parts that we sell for the street that utilize urethane and Delrin bushing material. This past weekend we tested the final iteration of that setup and I am confident that we will be sticking with it for the rest of the season. There was a hint of understeer at corner entry, but the good thing about that is we can adjust that out by making sway bar or strut-valving adjustments rather than having to physically change parts out.”
“…We have the handling almost where it needs to be, but we are lacking in the horsepower department. We are working on the horsepower by building a purpose-built engine to the specs that T1 allows in the SCCA rules,” Glen explained. “In addition a car that is well-balanced is crucial. By that I mean the corner weights are very important. The closer we can get the weight more evenly distributed at the four corners of the car the easier it is for the driver to extract every last bit of horsepower and grip the car has to offer.”
Lots of cars in the “faster” classes saw this yellow Mustang in their mirrors at Sebring. For a production-based car to hang with purpose-built race cars is impressive, and that’s just what Steeda is going for with this effort.