2006 Ford GT: The Road To 300 MPH!05/31/2019
This 2006 Ford GT became the first piston-powered production to car run 300mph in the standing mile.
Unlike the airport runways that standing mile racers compete on, the road to 300 mph was anything but straight. Faced with pitfalls and tribulations, this historic feat was accomplished in Mach 2019 by a small team. Aerodynamics, an astronomically powerful engine, a transmission built of granite, and luck all had to be in their favor. Many before have tried, including supercars along with a myriad of custom-built cars, but until now, all had failed. This is the story of that team’s run to 300 mph in the standing mile.
IN THE BEGINNING
Standing mile fan, Mark Heidaker, bought his 2006 Performance White Ford GT in 2007. He quickly began modifying his car, having Hennessey Performance install their compound boost TT/SC kit. Hennessey’s man in charge of special projects, Kevin Kesterson, fabricated the kit, and that is how Heidaker and Kesterson met.
Heidaker’s GT made 850 hp back then when he first attended a Texas Mile event. “I became interested in the mile while attending a Ford GT forum rally that is put on every couple years by Dave Bannister. They were doing one in Austin Texas that year. I met Ray Hofman there along with Naoto Negeshi who now tunes my GT. Ray had the fastest car at the mile [a yellow Ford GT], and we were barely pushing 200 mph. After that event, it became a thing to get cars over the 200-mph mark, and from there, I decided a twin turbo through the stock blower was not enough to do what I wanted, and the idea of modifying began,” says Heidaker.
He went back to Kesterson to have him design him a new twin turbo system so that he could run faster speeds. This began the two men’s shared vision of conquering the Texas Mile. They visited events together as a team, working and perfecting the car in a quest for a higher mph.
Kesterson fabricated a full cage for the GT and installed a full containment ButlerBuilt NASCAR seat. Sean Kennedy was tapped to take over piloting the GT down the track in events. An amateur racer, he grew with the car, but later he was replaced by professional race car driver Patrick O’Gorman once the speeds eclipsed the 260-mile mark.
Still, Hofman’s yellow GT was still faster, and Heidaker remembers how they battled at the Mile, saying, “Ray was always the one, at the beginning, with all the resources to do crazy things like this, and he had the best builders [and] tuners available. I was a small guy trying to just have fun and it turned into a very competitive event, seeing who could go the fastest but it was always a friendly rivalry. I would say it was sort of like David vs Goliath, and for sure, I was the lessor learning the ropes.” The two men shared the goal of pushing their cars into the 300-mph range.
Hofman died in a plane crash in 2014, and that death effected the Ford GT racing community; his yellow car sat in an airport hangar. For Heidaker, he lost a friend that shared a passion for trying to attempt what many viewed impossible—a 300 mph run. “When Ray passed it was a very tragic event… with his passing I felt like this was left to us to do it,” he says.
THE TEXAS MILE
“The Texas Mile started in 2003 by Jay and Shannon Matus as a way to help curb the epidemic of illegal, high-speed street racing on Texas highways. In 2003, Texas law makers created stiffer laws to crack down on the highway racing, and the Matus’ looked to give people a legal outlet. They envisioned a place where people could push their cars at high-speed for a mile with half-mile shutdown area, in a safe, regulated environment. “It’s always been about celebrating speed in a safe, fun, well organized environment,” says Shannon Matus. They rented out an airport and allowed people to run their cars to see what top speed they could achieve in a mile. The first event only brought out 35 participants, but it has now grown to become the premier mile racing event in the world that regularly sells out every year with 220 participants per event. It is watched in person by several thousands of spectators and is streamed live on the Internet. The mile has also expanded with the creation of The US Mile Top Speed Racing Events, which runs the Texas Mile and a sister race called the Colorado Mile.
The event is held only two times a year in March and October on the runway at Victoria Regional Airport in Victoria, TX. There are no consecutive back-to-back runs like Bonneville for a speed to qualify; there is only one run to rule them all.
Building a dedicated race car requires a reliable engine built by an expert builder. The Ford GT came equipped from Ford with a 5.4L modular supercharged V8 making 550 hp. The Mod Motor, with its overhead cams has been used in lots of race cars, but only one name was synonymous with Mod Motor racing success: John Mihovetz of Accufab. Mihovetz built and piloted his own Pro Mod race car that set drag racing records, and he was the first Mod Motor-.powered car in the 5 second zone, so Kesterson reached out to see if Mihovetz would build them an engine.
“I knew of John MIhovetz. I always used Accufab throttle bodies. I knew he was the guru on the Mod Motor—John’s name is synonymous with Mod Motors, so I gave him a ring,” says Kesterson.
Mihovetz’s steep price of $60,000-$70,000 for a race engine, scared them away. Kesterson and Heidaker had a shop located in Florida build an engine before working with a local Houston builder, but both engines lay in a pile of parts after their inaugural run at the Texas Mile. Heidaker eventually said, “Call John! We’ve already spent what he wanted for the engine in the first place, and we’ve only [been able] to make two passes in the car before the engines let go,” says Kesterson.
While Heidaker and Kesterson struggled to keep an engine together, Hofman’s yellow Accufab powered Ford GT was setting records. “I called up John, who told me ‘You know what? I talk to [people] like you all the time, you call me—tell me I’m crazy, it’s too much money, but you always come crawling back don’t you’,” laughs Kesterson reminiscing on the conversation. He recalls John saying, “‘I don’t normally just build engines for people, I like to have some input and I like to be in on what’s going on.” At the time, John was using Shane Tecklenburg of Tuned by Shane T, so he hooked us up with Shane to do the tuning and put a Motec on the car. That was one of his stipulations,” says Kesterson.
John talks about the engine, saying that he originally built for Hofmans’ yellow GT. “The engine for that car started out as being the third engine for the yellow car. We had a deal to do three engines for [Hoffman]; the first [engine] ran so well [that] we never even ran the second one, so there wasn’t any particular need for the third one, so it became available,” said Mihovetz. So Heidaker’s Ford GT inherited the third engine.
Mihovetz’s engine utilized the stock aluminum block. John’s philosophy is, “Bigger isn’t always better. In the case for this, it needs to live for a mile. You have to be able to keep it together. If the bore is big, then the head gasket becomes smaller, and the pressure against the head gasket becomes greater as well, you have to be able to keep a head gasket in it. The bigger stuff- I just haven’t seen anybody be successful with that,” says Mihovetz.
The engine includes JE pistons, Manley rods, Comp cams, Total Seal rings, and a Bryant Racing billet crank. The turbo kit was also rebuilt to mirror the setup on Mihovetz’s ProMod drag racer. Kesterson fabricated the kit to incorporate a pair of Precision turbos, 2-inch headers, and 3-inch connection pipes between the twins. At the time, we were running Precision 8285 turbos (82 compressor, 85 turbine side) with a .86 AR midrange turbo with 3.5-inch downpipes, because at the time, that was similar to what John was running on his [ProMod drag] race car. John’s race car has a lot to do with the progression of the car. He was like ‘my car has 2-inch headers, my car has these turbos,’ so we felt like this was a good place to start. Obviously, the power delivery is a lot different between a drag car and a mile car. Originally, we were running the car on C16 race gas, and we broke the motor a lot at the beginning” says Kesterson.
TUNE IT UP
Changing over to Motec ECU, requires a MilSpec wiring harness, a stipulation that comes with a hefty cost: systems routinely run into the tens of thousands of dollars, not including wiring.
Naoto Negishi of NCS Designs, who later took over the project in 2014 from Tecklenburg, speaks on why Motec is such a must to a record-breaking project like this, “I have my own wiring harness in there that I designed and engineered for the Motec system, so (1) I fully have 100% grasp of the electronics system in there, and what that enables us to do is really have an ability to do on-the-fly changes. [So, I can] add sensors, do a lot of calculations and maps, and do things of that nature on the fly. There were times [where] me and Kevin were asking ‘why is the car doing this thing?’ As long as we had a couple sensors and wires around, I could just add it in at the track. It was something where we are able do it right away and get more data. On the control side, we’re using a little bit older generation Motec ECU, but it’s a tried-and-true ECU that I’ve ran on some other vehicles for many years, [and] there is hardly ever a question of hardware or software reliability. That, in itself, makes it something that is easier to diagnose and implement things that you trust that you are using, versus computers, systems, or data that your second guessing whether it’s true or not. Those are at the top of list of for why Motec shines, and why it helped us achieve that goal.”
Prior to the Accufab engine, M2K had only managed a 215-mph run. On the first time out with the new engine, they ran 236 mph, which was the new record for the Texas Mile.
Since no one has run 300 mph in the mile before, there was a huge learning curve involved, “At the beginning for all of us, we would get to a point with the tuning where we were being too aggressive, and we would tear it up, and then John would pull it apart,” says Kesterson.
“John was like ‘Damn, quit tearing it u! Every time you go to an event, you tear the motor up,’” laughs Kesterson.
“[John] was also progressing with the mile. He knew the setup that worked for the drag stuff. [In] drag racing, you’re going for 5-6 seconds. For the mile, you are wide open throttle for 25 seconds. We were definitely on a learning curve together, and that’s how the whole team thing came together. We were always on the phone bouncing ideas off of each other. John was trying stuff, and we were trying stuff- trying a different tuning strategy or traction control strategy,” says Kesterson.
For Mihovetz, the knowledge to build an engine for the mile was achieved in his previous work with a five-mile car. “We already had the experience from Bonneville with Danny Thompson and Brent Hajek, and basically we were able to put it on the dyno and run the engine for 5 miles, just like you would in racing [conditions]. We ran that thing for a minute and a half flat out! So, [the] stuff for the GT was a spin-off or variant of that. We already had success in five miles, so if we could do it for five miles, we could certainly do it for one mile,” says Mihovetz.
Regardless of previous experience, the one thing that rang true was Mihovetz’ adage about going faster: It gets exponentially harder every couple miles an hour. During that time, Mark and Kevin decided to move the car out of Hennessey and go out on their own.
“We moved the car from Hennessey to Mark’s garage at his house. It was a pretty big size garage, so for one-mile event we were actually working out of his house, and then we starting thinking ‘Let’s find a little shop, and we’ll work out of there’”. This new location eventually became their business, M2K Motorsports (M2K). That name is a mash up of the two owners’ names “M” for Mark and “2K” for Kevin Kesterson.
FILM NOT PAINT
The Ford GT is covered in vinyl film, which is odd at first because most race cars have beautifully painted exteriors, but there is a reason for this that Kesterson explains, “The mile is pretty hard on paint because of these runways are gravelly, so at high speed, it tries to sandblast the paint off of the car, especially the rear section of the car. It’s one of the things where you have to clear -bra the car or paint-protection the car”.
Originally, the first vinyl wrap was to stop the car from being mistaken for a friend’s car who also raced, “We had a customer who went by [the name] Mullet (his real name was Jason Stevens). Everyone would ask, ‘Oh is that Mullet’s car?’ So, we thought, ‘we’re going to wrap the car, so people can’t get them confused,’” says Kesterson.
The car’s first worldwide media coverage was while the car wore a camouflage- inspired vinyl wrap that bore Hennessey Performance’s name. Although, Hennessey was not contributing to the project other than allowing Mark and Kevin to use the shop after hour. “Mark still felt it was the right thing to do, because they were letting us use the facilities,” recalls Kesterson. The car claimed the Texas Mile record with a 276.6 mph run while wearing the Hennessey livery. Changing from the camo coincided with the two men starting their own shop. It ran a black and maroon silver-striped scheme to differentiate it from its prior Hennessey association. They only ran this wrap for one race.
The team struggled with what to do next for a wrap theme. Eventually, M2K found inspiration in past 1960s Ford GT40s. “We thought that in the whole world of racing and Ford, the Gulf livery was the best. We put some of the original stickers from the [Le Mans] car and added some of the new modern stuff like Accufab and Motec. Everyone loved it, so we stuck with it,” described Kesterson. The Gulf wrap featured the fastest speed that the car had run in the white roundel that adorned the cars doors, hood, and rear clamshell.
The car was now running over 270 mph, but the suspension remained stock, albiet at a lower ride height. M2K utilized lowering spring perches. “It’s an adjustable sleeve that allows you to lower the car, and the ride height is about 1 ¾” lower than stock,” says Kesterson, adding, “We started looking at the suspension at Beeville, because it was pretty bumpy. You would see some gnarly shots out the back from the GoPro of the car moving around. We ended up being contacted by a gentleman named Scott Ahlman of Ahlman Engineering. He was one of the original Ford suspension engineers who worked on the GT, so he knows everything there is to know about the suspension geometry. He had been doing some coilover kits [on his own]. He teamed up with Öhlins to make his spec deal for the Ford GT. We ended up giving him some data on the car. We have ride height sensors on the car, and he said at 175-180 mph, that thing is on the bump stops, because there is no suspension at that speed. Based on what the car weighed, he built us a set of Öhlins shocks, and they were $15,000,” exclaims Kesterson.
Ogorman, who drives the car, described the GT as going from scary to controlled after change to the Öhlins’ shocks, “When I first started driving the car, it was in the mid-250 range. With that setup, you go into fifth gear, your last shift, probably around the half-mile mark. When the boost comes back in, it’s dependent on the attitude of the car- whichever way the car was pointed was which way it was going. At that time, it was if everything went well enough, and if the car was pointed straight as the power came back in it, I could stay in it,” says Ogorman, adding, “At those speeds, you really can’t steer. You can make small steering inputs, but it’s not like you can just completely correct it. A lot of times I would have to get out of it, let it straighten back up and then get back in it. The biggest thing with changing to the Öhlins was that it just got so much more stable at that speed. It presented a new problem because, with the stock shocks, our half-mile times and traction on the front of the track was a lot better, because the car transferred weight like a drag car, there wasn’t a lot of suspension travel. The best way I can describe it was like a Fox Body Mustang on drag radiald without a sway bar. The thing just transferred weight, you could feel the front end just stand up like crazy once the power really came in, in second and third gear. The Öhlins really settled that down because it stiffened it up a lot, and that made it more of a challenge on the front end because it really wasn’t transferring weight. That is really the only thing that made it possible to put all the power down on the big end at that speed.
The new shocks may have provided a better more controlled ride, but traction was now suffering. Mihovetz recalls when he asked M2K about traction discrepancies he was finding in the data: “Initially it was just too stiff, but drawing from my drag racing experience, I can tell you that too stiff, doesn’t work well. There is a point where you need it stiff, and a point where you need it flexible and compliant.” M2K had the Öhlins recalibrated, and the traction issues went away.
RUBBER ON THE ROAD
300 mph speeds require rubber that can survive without overheating or exploding. For their chosen tire, M2K equipped the car with Hoosier R7 Road Race Tires, a tire that has a speed rating of only 186 mph.
In conversations with Hoosier reps, they offered to sell the team the tires, but they wouldn’t condone what they are doing in order to avoid any liability. The GT was a test case for the Texas Mile event organizers. The fact that the Ford GT ran faster than 250 mph on R7s, made the Hoosier tire the official tire required for any speed over 250 mph at any Texas Mile officiated event. Although they have run over 250 mph on this tire, Kesterson still has to explain to people why the car does not run on specially made tires, “What people don’t understand is that this is not a car that we are trying to sell to the masses. It’s racing; there is a little bit more associated risk with it.” He claims that the Hoosiers have never shown them any issues at speed, and that they do not even get that hot “you might see a one to two-pound rise in air pressure, and that tells us that they don’t get very hot,” says Kesterson. Still, the team changes the tires every two to three runs if speeds exceet 270 mph. Interestingly, the rear 315/45 R19 size was discontinued, so M2K has to order them from Hoosier forty tires at a time at a cost of $20,000.
TRAILS AND TRIBULATIONS
Beginning in 2013, the car developed an ignition problem that prevented the car from exceeding its previous 278 mph run. The problem stayed around for two races, hampering any progress. Naoto Negishi of NCS Designs joined the team to replace Tecklenburg who had to leave because of other commitments in the Persian Gulf. “Naoto re-wired the car, and we changed up the ignition system,” says Kesterson. That fixed the popping and banging issue, and the car could now continue its quest for faster speeds.
Despite having a new tune and new wiring, the car was still not really ready to attempt a 300-mph run because its engine was due for a rebuild; however, a new exhibition event in Arkansas was beckoning the team to compete. Knowing the engine was on borrowed time, the team debated going and competing. Kesterson recalls the dilemma, “Every four events, we are supposed to take the engine out and send it to John. We had an opportunity to run an event out in Arkansas. The motor was up for a refresh, but we ended up going anyway.” There, the car ran 280.1mph [June 3-5, 2016], which was an improvement, but when they turned up the wick for the next run, they destroyed the egine. Kesterson says, “It wasn’t a tune issue, we just broke a rod. We pretty much destroyed that motor. We had to redo everything.”
During the course of the engine rebuild, they sent the turbochargers back to Precision to be inspected. Precision suggested they use their new generation compressor that, though it utilized a larger compressor wheel, offered quicker spool-up times.
Mihovetz also suggested a few changes based off successes that he had in his race car. They built four-inch downpipes from titanium and switched to running methanol to reduce the exhaust temperatures. The chages worked, according to Kesterson, who says the engine picked up several hundred horsepower on the same amount of boost. Now, they were at the limit of what the stock transaxle could handle. Kesterson explains that the stock synchros were the liability. “People would always comment on how slow the driver was shifting. He looked like he was on a Sunday drive, but you really couldn’t shift it any faster or it wouldn’t go,” he says.
The answer came by way of the Australian transmission company, Pfitzner Performance Gearboxes (PPG), known for making sequential and dog ring engagement gear sets. Once again, the M2K Ford Gt was the recipient of parts that were meant for Hofman’s yellow GT. “[The gear set] belonged to Ray, so after he passed away, I bought that stuff from his wife,” says Mihovetz.
The PPG gear fit inside the stock transmission housing; it retained the H-pattern shift sequence, but allowed the driver to shift a lot faster. The first time out, with the gear set was the October 2018 Texas Mile. “We were only able to make one run, but it went 293 again. Looking at the telemetry they realized they could have reached 300mph if we would’ve left it the transmission in fifth gear instead of shifting to sixth.
THE 300 MPH ATTEMPT
The team determined that they would hit 300 mph in the March 2019 Texas Mile event. They reset, pulling the engine for a refresh, double checked the transmission, and planned their strategy.
Naoto describes the discussion, “We learned that we either needed to leave it in fifth gear, and rev the engine a lot more than what John initially wanted us to, or we would have to shift it into sixth gear and pour in a lot more boost than John would’ve wanted. That was a collaborative decision between John, myself, Kevin, and everyone to really decide if we were going to spin the engine to 9,500 rpm or put it into the sixth gear and give it a lot more boost.”
“Naoto and John were it needs 50-51 pounds of boost to go 300,” recalls Kesterson, “but we didn’t want to just throw it out there, so we decided on somewhere in the middle” at 47-48 pounds of boost.
At the 2019 March Texas Mile Event, on Sunday March 24, the team attempted a run at 47-48 pounds of boost. In their first run, in the morning the car ran 299.2 mph. “It was bittersweet,” exclaimed Kesterson, “because we went 299 from 293, but we were a whole mile an hour away from going 300. We knew at that point that if we turned the car up to 50-51 pounds the car would go 300, as long as it was a clean run and the driver could stay in it.”
The team reset the car for their second run in the afternoon and raised the boost pressure to 51 psi.
Around 1pm in the afternoon, the car ran again. The run was clean, the transmission held, and when they crossed through the finish line, the signs read 300.4 miles per hour. The car had broken into the 300-mph zone. It was the fastest piston powered car ever to run the mile event, crossing the speed traps at 9200 rpm.
“Two-ninety-nine was uneventful,” says Ogorman, “We were progressing over the years, and we worked up to it. They made some small changes that gave the car more power, but a lot of it was [issues] with the stock gearbox. Every time you run a next ten miles an hour, in my mind it’s like ‘what’s the next ten going to feel like?’ Then you do that, and it definitely feels a lot different and faster, but you do it a few times and you get used to it. By the time I got to 299 I was pretty used to what it felt like. The 300 pass, wasn’t as stable. Honestly, I started moving over just about the point to where I was going to have to lift because I wasn’t sure I was not going to run into the timing equipment at side of the track, but around the ¾ mile mark, it started to straighten back up, and I was able to stay in it.”
THE STANDING MILE LEGEND
Although the 2005-06 Ford GT never had great success as a Le Mans racer like its predecessor, it has become synonymous with standing mile racing. Kesterson believes it’s due to the car’s aerodynamics and engineering, saying, “We made it all the way to 270 mph on stock suspension and lowering perches. We weighed the car when it got back from the mile, with the driver it weighed 4140 pounds. Even though it looks like a race car, the car is very stock. The only thing we’ve modified was to upgrade the rotors to a two-piece rotor, but it’s still the brake pads that you buy from Ford. Once, we had a parachute not open, and the driver was able to stop the car from 270 mph without a parachute with the stock brakes, so it’s a pretty good testament that the car is very overbuilt. The stock wheels, the AC compressor, the ac Box, heater box, radio—everything is still in the car. Obviously, we put a cage in the car and racing bucket in it, but everything [else] is stock.”
The stock aerodynamics were so good from Ford that no changes were needed to make the car capable to run at 300 mph. Camillo Pardo, Ford’s Chief Designer for the 2005-2006 Ford GT spoke on how Ford designed the aerodynamics of the car, describing how the key was managing air flow under the car and through the wheel openings. In particular, the front splitter controls a high-pressure area at the front of the car. He says, “What you want is the air to come together from all angles and cause the smallest pocket, the smallest puncture through air. You have to respect what [the engineers and aerodynamicists] did. They knew the car was going to do 212-215 mph. They always engineer it a little bit past the box. They were pretty sure that it would be stable at 220, but nobody in the world ever discussed the fact of this thing hitting 280, 300! It’s a 12-year-old car. It’s an old car, and they did it right. Like I say to everyone ‘It’s a built as tough as an F150.’”
Having accomplished this feat, the team members contemplate what it means to them. For Heidaker it is accomplishing a goal that sometimes seemed out of reach, saying, “There was a time where I started to doubt ourselves. We had been trying so hard for so long but were stuck in the 280’s, and I just wasn’t for sure if we could get there. This just shows you to never underestimate what can be accomplished as long as you stay humble and appreciate where you come from.”
For Kesterson it’s an achievement, but he’s looking at what’s next, “It feels very rewarding to set out to achieve a goal and come through in the end. As far as what is next we will have to see what other kind of trouble we can get into.”
Negishi says, “It is a milestone for a production-based vehicle. Obviously, it runs methanol, it’s got a race type engine, but to be able to be the first 300 mph car in the mile is something that no one can take away from us. Even if someone goes 310 mph, in the next mile in October, we were the first.”
For Mihovetz, it was a chance to close a book that originally started with the late Ray Hofman and his yellow GT, “We felt like we had unfinished business. We went out with the yellow car and we kicked ass with that thing. Every time we took it out, we tried something new, and we had great success with it. When Ray passed away, it sat for the longest time. Speaking with his wife, she decided that she’d like to see it continue. It was definitely unfinished business.”
M2K is not sure what will become of the car, whether it will be raced, whether it will retain the Gulf Livery, or whether the car’s roundels will now read 300 mph. They have talked about setting the car up for half mile competition, and they have also mulled over removing the vinyl wrap and turning it back to a street car.
This team accomplished what many initially thought was the impossible. They came together, solved the hard problems of power, traction, and aerodynamics to bring a production-based car from a dead stop to 300 mph in only one mile. With this achievement, the rule book has just been rewritten.
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