Starting off the 2022 season on a positive note, NASCAR driver Hailie Deegan reacquaints herself with the Mustang GT4 she first sampled two years ago. That maiden test took place at Daytona International Speedway, where she’s returned for this excursion, again partnering with Chase Briscoe in a Ford Mustang GT4 for the Michelin Pilot Challenge.
Though most of Deegan’s experience has been on ovals, and much of that on loose terrain, she’s proven herself capable of acclimating to road racing. An aggressive driving style—the kind that helped her win three races in the K&N Pro Series West—is helpful in overcoming some of the teething troubles that transitioning into a new format entails, but a successful switch requires more than that.
In this footage, Deegan demonstrates a sharpened driver’s intuition and the critical willingness to experiment—most specifically with the braking dynamics of a car made for road racing. Compared to what her usual ride—a heavyweight, manually-shifted stock car—is capable of in braking and corner entry, the Mustang may as well be a prototype.
Forgive the mild exaggeration, but the way one corners in a GT4 car takes a different approach. The engine braking of a smaller motor—contrast the GT4’s 5.2-liter against the Camping World Truck’s 6.4-liter—has less of a disruptive effect on the driven wheels while simultaneously braking and downshifting. The gearbox also plays a part, and so does the ABS, but without getting mired in the mechanics of it all, suffice it to say that one can brake later, downshift faster, and roll more entry speed with the GT4.
So much so, that, unlike the Camping World Truck, Deegan’s able to use the engine braking to help slow the car. Rapid downshifts at the first third of the braking zone—the area where the car’s downforce gives it additional grip—help to shorten braking distances. In contrast, when driving the Camping World Truck, downshifts must be spread very slowly and carefully over a longer braking zones to avoid “wheel hop.” By condensing her paddle-facilitated downshifts, Deegan trimmed half a second from her lap times.
Having traction control at the corner exit softened the gradient of the learning curve, but to think that having this takes all the talent out of driving off the corner is ridiculous. Getting the car rotated nicely and pointed in the right direction in the mid-corner phase is still required for the ideal launch off the corner, even if all the driver needs to do with their right foot is mat the throttle. Some might assume it’s easier doing this sort of racing with the systems present, but that’d be overlooking the amount things Deegan must learn and remain cognizant of during her long stints in this data-driven venture into the world of IMSA road racing.