There was a time when drifting was the domain of high-winding import machines. These days, however, it is just as common to see a Mustang taking on the world in this tire-smoking automotive ballet that pits driver skill against the track, his competitor, and the discretion of the judges. It is in the ultra-competitive world of Formula Drift that you’ll see Justin Pawlak doing battle in his 2015 Roush Mustang.
The new S550 Mustang chassis is amazing! — Justin Pawlak
“The new S550 Mustang chassis is amazing!” Justin enthused. “It is definitely the best chassis Ford has developed to date.”
We caught up with Justin Pawlak and his 1,000HP 2015 Roush Mustang at VMP Performance in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where VMP’s Justin Starkey tweaked its calibration before the Formula Drift event in Orlando, Florida.
Thanks to the level of performance afforded by the latest Mustangs and the success seen by their drivers, the Mustang is now an accepted machine in the drifting world, much as it is in any other motorsports venue, but for a while it was seen as an upstart.
“I definitely think with the success of myself, Vaughn Gittin and now Chelsea DeNofa, we have solidified the acceptance of the Mustang into the drifting industry,” Justin said.
Now that there are three Mustangs competing in the series, it’s hard to ignore them – but like most drifters, Justin got his start in a Brand X machine before transitioning into the saddle of a Mustang.
Delivering the kind of tire-shredding performance that drifting requires is a Ford Performance Parts Aluminator crate engine boosted by a Roush Performance TVS 2300 supercharger. It churns out 1,000 horsepower at the crank and has proven durable enough to withstand the rigors of Formula Drift competition, but it’s not far removed from what you could run in a street ’Stang.
“The first time that I ever saw drifting back in early 2000s I was immediately attached to it,” Justin explained. “Being able to slide a car around that looked like a car that should be on display at a car show looked amazing! It was a total display of style, one that incorporated both expression of car design, building prowess, and driving skill. I knew it was for me!”
And that it was. Justin quickly built his own car and entered the world of competitive drifting, though on a much smaller scale than he competes today.
A Sparco seat keeps Justin locked in place while he works the pedals, steering wheel and the Hot Line Performance hydraulic handbrake.
This was a life-changing opportunity on so many levels. — Justin Pawlak
“I started drifting back in 2005 with an RX-7 that I built in my two-car garage at a house I was renting,” Justin said. “After a couple practice events that year and the next I entered my first competition at Just Drift in 2006. I learned quickly and was able to win my first competition that year along with clinching the series title later that year. I took a year to practice and work on developing my car to take it to the next level — Formula D — in 2008.”
Pulling Justin into the next level was the offer to join a competitive team backed by a major tire sponsor. It’s what drivers dream about. Getting called up to the big leagues.
Justin’s Mustang features a full complement of AEM Performance Electronics gear, including a CD-7 Digital Racing Dash Display, an AQ-1 datalogger, and seven AEM gauges. “The partnership with AEM has been great,” he said. “Little-known fact: I actually worked at AEM when I first started drifting back in 2005! But, yes, being able to keep tabs on all of the engine data as well as easily monitoring it via datalogging has been great. The AEM system is very simple but very effective.”
Making power with the Coyote Aluminator platform and Roush Supercharger is really easy. — Justin Pawlak
“I secured some sponsorship to help fund my rookie season and was able to put my RX-7 on the podium twice that year, once in a Formula D exhibition and again at Irwindale the final round of the 2008 series championship,” Justin said. “Fast forwarding to 2010, I was offered a position to drive for the legendary Falken Tire team, driving a 2010 Ford Mustang. This was a life-changing opportunity on so many levels. First off I was finally able to make money chasing the dream I had been after since the early 2000s when I was first exposed to drifting. Also I was on my way to more Formula D podiums and creating partnerships with some of the biggest names in the automotive industry!”
Since strapping into a Mustang, Justin hasn’t looked back. However, it was a chance meeting with someone from Roush Performance that turned into something bigger and put him behind the wheel of a 1,000-horsepower Roush Mustang.
Clad in carbon fiber panels, Justin’s 2015 Roush Mustang puts down the power via Falken Azenis rubber mounted on Weld RTS wheels.
Brakes: Wilwood calipers w/ Hot Line Performance dual-caliper kit
Wheels: Weld Racing RT-S S79, 18×10.5-inch
Tires: Falken Tire Azenis 615k , 295/40-18
“It started out small back in 2014 and has grown since,” Justin explained. “I randomly met a regional sales manager at a Mustang event in Hollywood and after meeting the rest of the team we were able to work together for it to be the great partnership that it is today.”
Delivering that tire-shredding performance is a pretty straightforward combination of a Ford Performance Parts Coyote crate engine, a Roush 2300 TVS supercharger and a VMP Performance-enhanced front-engine accessory drive.
“The drivetrain is fairly simple, but making power with the Coyote Aluminator platform and Roush Supercharger is really easy, so most of my attention was toward the suspension,” he said. “The suspension is definitely tuned for drifting. Getting 74-plus degrees of steering angle isn’t easy.”
During the course of the 2017 season, Justin has continued to tweak the car for performance.
A teardown of his drift-tested crate engine showed the blown Coyote is definitely up to the task, so he continued to concentrate on improving the car’s on-track handling.
“I made some small adjustments to my front-angle kit and some spring changes on the coilovers. Just minor adjustments to make the car faster and drive easier,” Justin explained. “It has been performing better and better each round,” Justin told us during the season. “Developing a new chassis is never easy, especially when you’re pioneering new ground. But the things this car does are amazing. I feel each and every event gets better and better!”
As the season came to a close during the finalé at Irwindale, California, Justin ranked 14th in the Formula Drift standings and he’ll be looking to improve upon that next season.
Since 2010 Justin has piloted Mustangs in the Formula Drift world and he says the S550 is the best chassis yet. With 1,000 horsepower on tap and a host of suspension upgrades, including the Hot Line Performance 74-degree angle kit, which allows for the increased steering angle needed to carry maximum angle while sliding around the Formula Drift course.