Vaughn Ride Lead Art

Ever take a test that features a question so easy you can’t believe it has fallen into your lap? Well, that’s just what happened when your author received an email from one of Ford Performance’s public relations reps.

Would you like to take a ride with Vaughn?

“Would you like to take a ride with Vaughn?” she asked.

If you weren’t aware, the Vaughn in question was none other than multi-time drifting champion and Professional Fun Haver, Vaughn Gittin Jr.

It didn’t take long for me to shoot back a “Yes!” Now, for many, this might be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, this scribe has been fortunate enough to slide around in a Mustang with him before. It’s a lot of fun, but those experiences were never in the competition Monster Energy Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D.

At Formula Drift’s Uncharted Territory event at Orlando Speed World, we had the opportunity to ride shotgun in Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s Monster Energy Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D.

At Formula Drift’s Uncharted Territory event at Orlando Speed World, we had the opportunity to ride shotgun in Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s Monster Energy Ford Mustang RTR Spec 5-D.

The Real Deal

We really wanted to stay naturally aspirated. Fortunately, Ford Performance and Roush-Yates have some magic for us, so that’s been amazing. — Vaughn Gittin Jr., RTR

This was a chance at riding in the real deal. You know, the one you see competing in Formula Drift that’s powered by a 1,000-horsepower Roush Yates small-block. Moreover, it was to take place on the day after my birthday. This was a present that one simply does not turn down.

“All my other vehicles run the amazing Coyote, but out here, where torque is such a big thing, I am running against 1,400-horsepower four-cylinders with nitrous and turbos and 1,000-horsepower six-cylinders with turbos. Everyone is like, put a blower on the Coyote, but we have done that,” Vaughn explained. “The issue becomes heat for us. With the amount of grip that we put in the car, after the first run we are down 100 horsepower and then the car won’t pull that grip. So, we really wanted to stay naturally aspirated. Fortunately, Ford Performance and Roush-Yates have some magic for us, so that’s been amazing.”

Fortunately, the chance to experience that magic was right down the road at Orlando Speed World, so I hopped in the car and met up with the RTR Motorsports team in the pits.

Before we strapped in, Vaughn and his new teammate made a few test laps around the OSW track. This event is hosted on what is traditionally a circle track, and Formula Drift sets it up as a figure-eight drift course that allows fans to watch from around the perimeter of the entire track.

“Our big, big improvement, though, is our new engine. We work with Ford Performance and Roush Yates to effectively take the FR9 NASCAR technology — which is traditionally 358 cubic inches in an iron block — and we have 455 cubic inches with an aluminum block,” Vaughn said. “So, the car makes about 1,000 horsepower, naturally aspirated and it is just unbelievable. It’s like 650 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm.”

“Our big, big improvement, though, is our new engine. We work with Ford Performance and Roush Yates to effectively take the FR9 NASCAR technology — which is traditionally 358 cubic inches in an iron block — and we have 455 cubic inches with an aluminum block,” Vaughn said. “So, the car makes about 1,000 horsepower, naturally aspirated and it is just unbelievable. It’s like 650 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm.”

Competition Tuning

New to the RTR Motorsports team this year is Uwe Ostmann, of fuel system specialists Xtreme-DI LLC, who is providing tuning support for both competition Mustang RTRs.

“I was introduced to Vaughn Gittin Jr. by a friend of ours. We started working together on the GDI high flow pumps almost two years ago already,” he explained. “The work on the racetrack for Vaughn’s Race Team RTR-Motorsport is the next step in the co-operation between Xtreme-DI and RTR.”

Uwe supports all the electronics on the car including tuning and analyzing the data from those onboard systems, including the Bosch Motorsport System, MS6.1 ECU, DDU9 Display, PBX90 power control module, LT2 Sport Lambda Controller, genuine Bosch Motorsport high flow EV14 injectors, and XDI-GPS18 GPS sensor.

While Uwe is best known for his work with direct injection, he is pleased to be dialing in EFI on the big-inch Roush-Yates small-blocks.

“I am happy that we at least have port injection on these cars! You know how long it took NASCAR to do the switch,” he said. “I am a fuel system and engine control specialist, direct or port injection does not matter. Most of my race projects are still port-injected V8 cars and boats. The complexity and cost of a modern direct-injected engine still scares a lot of teams.”

When it comes to drifting, the tuning focuses on the responsiveness of the engine.

“I am still new to the drift world, but it obviously has its own challenges as every motorsport,” he added. “I just try to give Vaughn and Chelsea engines that run smooth and respond instantly. One big key advantage is having way more data from the car now, that the team can work with, especially with two almost identical cars.”

“Some of the biggest news for us this year is the addition of a teammate. Chelsea Denofa. He is 29 years old and he has been a killer competitor, but being that he was a team owner, an engineer, and a driver for himself, he had just been really struggling,” Vaughn said. “He is someone that I have battled with and seen come up through the years that has the passion and we just really wanted to bring on a second team for commercial reasons, but also it just feels good to give someone a shot.”

We were totally fine with the duo clocking some practice before we rode shotgun. Your author has covered this event in years past, so we had perspective of what it’s like to watch the cars slide around the photo pit. We know the line and how the cars should behave, but watching it from the outside is one thing…

Living The Dream

After suiting up in a legit RTR Motorsports driving suit replete with all the sponsor adornments, we climb over the cage and slip into the Recaro racing seat. Harnessbelts are buckled, cameras are mounted, and we chat with Vaughn about camera technology while waiting our turn to head onto the track.

Just as he would for a regular run, Vaughn rumbles his Mustang up the ramp onto the oval and takes a hard right, where he warms up the tires for the run. He isn’t simply driving, he put the RTR Mustang on the spin cycle and cut a few doughnuts to ensure the Nitto tires were ready hold on for dear life.

You might assume that a 1,000-horsepower Mustang sliding around a circle track might be a rough ride. That’s not the case at all. The car is well mannered and Vaughn’s driving is smooth as glass. (Photo Credit: RTR Motorsports)

“As soon as we entered the track, I just went up to get a little bit of heat in the tires to just get the mold release compound off and get them scrubbed up a bit,” Vaughn said.

That doesn’t sound as fun as it was, but cleaning off the Nittos was just the beginning. Vaughn pulled into the launch box and waited for the go-ahead.

Ready. Set. Gooooooooo.

The 1,000-horse stallion leaps out of the gate and glides through the chicane, which kicks off each Formula D run. Soon, Vaughn gracefully flicks the car sideways and we are riding the wall. From my low-slung vantage point, I know we are close — just not how close. Vaughn is nonplussed as he does his thing.

As soon as the car starts to rotate, I am out of the clutch and back on the throttle and very committed in throttle, looking at the wall. — Vaughn Gittin Jr., RTR

“We pull up to the line. We leave the line in second gear. This car has a four-speed dog-box transmission in it, so we leave the line in Second gear, go through the chicane and accelerate pretty hard, which you probably felt (I certainly did —Ed.),” Vaughn said. “Then I throw it into Third. Throw it into Fourth and do a slight, little weight transfer up toward the bank, clutch in, and yank the handbrake. That makes the car rotate. As soon as the car starts to rotate, I am out of the clutch and back on the throttle and very committed in throttle, looking at the wall.”

At this point, we are approaching speeds of 70 mph as the car is slideways around the OSW oval. You might think it’s violent, but only on launch or when Vaughn flicks the car around the first clipping point is the anything approaching harsh movement. He is so smooth and it’s amazing to consider this powerful machine is in a controlled slide for most of the lap.

Offered the opportunity to ride in Vaughn’s competition drifter the day after my birthday, I couldn’t say no to that present. It was a lot of fun to watch him slide the car around the track and we only wished we could have taken several laps.

“We were about six inches off the wall the whole time. So, I am just watching the wall, watching the wall, and I have a mark on the wall and after that mark I change my eyes to look down at the first clipping point. Once we come off the wall, there is a big dip, so we had a pretty good hit, and as the car rebounds from that hit I am fully committed to throttle and flick the car back left to that big left hand sweeper,” Vaughn explained. “Once again, that left-hand sweeper I am on the wide line, just staying committed on throttle and just keeping it there. There is not really much acceleration or deceleration you can do there, but you just want to stay right on the line and conserve tires for this track.”

What Just Happened?

And just like that it was over. It was only a ride-along, so there were no additional laps or tandem runs, but it was amazing to see the blend of man and machine at work up close and personal. We just couldn’t get over how smooth the whole run was, but Vaughn says that’s just the way it has to be driven.

Believe it or not, we felt the car moving, but there wasn’t a distinct feeling when it got up on three wheels. Vaughn’s S550 strikes this pose often, but his team has been working with BC Racing and its coilover dampers to give the car more grip while one tire lifts off.

Believe it or not, we felt the car moving, but there wasn’t a distinct feeling when it got up on three wheels. Vaughn’s S550 strikes this pose often, but his team has been working with BC Racing and its coilover dampers to give the car more grip while one tire lifts off. (Photo Credit: RTR Motorsports)

“These cars are set up to do this. So, from the outside you will see there’s a lot of work going on. We were on three wheels a couple times, so I am very dialed with the car. I am ahead of it, so I am able to keep the car smooth and doing what I want without everything being so abrupt,” he said. “That’s kind of what you have to do here, ’cause if you are choppy and abrupt on the bank, it is going to hook up and drive you down off the bank. So, you have to stay committed and smooth and make little inputs that I might feel but a passenger wouldn’t.”

Mustang RTR Spec 5-D Highlights

Brakes: RTR Motorsports drift-spec brake package

Exterior: RTR Spec 5-D widebody, RTR carbon fiber body panels, RTR chin, RTR spoiler, RTR rocker splitters, and RTR grilles with integrated lighting

Engine: 1,000-horsepower Ford Performance/Roush Yates-built RY45 small-block

Interior: ASD hydraulic handbrake, Recaro seats and Takata Racing harnesses

Suspension: BC Racing HR Series dampers, inverted double-adjustable

Tires: Nitto NT05

Wheels: HRE Tech 7

I certainly didn’t feel those finite adjustments. What I felt was a man at one with his machine. As soon as the lap was over he was reporting back to the crew about potential adjustments to make the car better, but I was still trying to shake that stupid grin off my face. Did he say three wheels? How amazing was that!

Of course, if you followed the exploits of Vaughn’s then new S550 last season in Formula Drift, you know that seeing the car sliding with one front wheel off the ground was a common occurrence. Obviously, the car still does it, but the RTR Motorsports team is striving to make the most of the latest car’s ample grip with the addition of coilover technology from BCE Racing.

While it was obviously close, it wasn’t until after the lap that I learned the car was mere inches off the wall during my ride. With Vaughn under complete control of the 1,000 Mustang, it wasn’t the least bit frightening.

While it was obviously close, it wasn’t until after the lap that I learned the car was mere inches off the wall during my ride. With Vaughn under complete control of the 1,000 hp Mustang, it wasn’t the least bit frightening. (Photo Credit: RTR Motorsports)

Putting It In Perspective

“…We made some changes to our S550 chassis in the off-season. Last season was our first year competing with it and we learned a lot,” Vaughn explained. “We made some changes to front end. We were driving on three wheels a lot, so we’ve added a little more grip while only on three wheels; we added a little more contact patch to the tire in the front and added a little more grip in the rear.”

Well, whatever changes they made, the Mustang RTR Spec 5-D seems to be working quite well. Sadly, Vaughn only placed fourth at the Orlando event, but he is still ranked in the top five for the points chase, so we wish him well for the rest of the season. For me, the 2017 Formula Drift season will always be the one where I got to ride in the car.

As we wrapped up our visit, Vaughn put the Spec 5-D’s performance in perspective.

“Do the math,” he said. “These things are 1,000 horsepower and 3,000 pounds. That’s nine seconds all day long with the proper tire.”

Yes, so if you can imagine what it would be like to slide around a track in a 9-second drag car just 6 inches off the concrete barrier, you’ll have a good idea what our ride was like. In a word… awesome!

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