We Take Project Apex To The Track With Great Results

No matter what form of motorsport you participate in, the ultimate decider of whether progress is being made or not, is the track. In our case, we knew we had to get our 2001 Cobra project on the road course before we continued to modify it, or winter hit. So, with truck, trailer, and race car in tow, we headed southeast, down Interstate 22 from Tennessee to Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park. We weren’t there to see the motorcycle collection or locate the best pulled pork, we were there to set a baseline with our first few rounds of modifications on Project Apex.

If you’re just catching up, our 2001 Cobra started its journey on Ford Muscle as a roller. While an engine and transmission were included, the mileage and lack of maintenance essentially deemed those items boat anchors, rather than usable parts. Instead of Coyote swapping our Cobra, we decided to see what the four-Valve engine had in it. As our engine was being built, we dove headfirst into the chassis, addressing issues ranging from fuel pumps to brakes and suspension to safety. Our attention to detail rejuvenated our 215,000-mile chassis, transforming it from a driveway dead spot to a weekend warrior.

Project Apex

After a long make-it-run process, we finally have Project Apex ready to slay the track. We were ready to put the newly rebuilt four-valve engine, TREMEC Magnum transmission, and rehabilitated chassis to the test at beautiful Birmingham International Raceway

Hotter Than Hades

The south is not known for brisk cool summer breezes; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. When we arrived at Barber Motorsports Park, we instantly felt the 92-degree heat and sun beating down on us. Making things worse, the humidity remained near the 70-percent mark. We were immediately concerned about cooling issues with our Cobra because of the less-than-ideal ambient temperature that was punishing the driver, car, and crew.

After a three year hiatus from road racing, Ivan Korda, the owner and pilot of the 2001 Cobra, was hopping back into our untested car. We made sure to equip Project Apex with great parts. However, it was only a matter of getting some seat time before the learning and testing curve would eventually dwindle down and we could see some respectable times. We also had an electronic trick up our sleeve with a Garmin Catalyst Driving Performance Optimizer coaching us.

Thrown To The Wolves

It didn’t take long for Ivan to get acquainted with Barber’s layout, and after the first session, we had our first sub-two-minute lap time of 1:59.18. This was not the time we were hoping to see, but it was still the data we needed to establish the driver’s skill before we began to use our Garmin Catalyst to further develop our driving capabilities.

After the first session, we reviewed our data and video feedback from the Garmin Catalyst unit to learn where we could see improvement. One thing we quickly noted was what appeared to be tire spin on corner exits. We addressed that by lowering the tire pressure to 31 psi in hopes of keeping grip upon acceleration. The Garmin Catalyst also addressed where we could brake deeper in the corners and optimize corner angle approach for better exit speeds, hopefully without tire spin.

project Apex

Aside from checking the perfect temperature of meat, our Longacre Racing Products Accutech Pyrometer informed us of tire temperature. We were able to check the in-board, middle, and out-board area of the tire to determine that we needed to reset our tire pressure to 31 psi.

The advice from the Garmin Catalyst did not take long to pay off. Our second session saw a drop of 5.54 seconds in lap time compared to our first. The difference in lap times pushed us to further trust the Garmin, and it quickly became our digital driving coach for the weekend.

Session three placed us on track during the lunch hour, which aside from having us hungry for better lap times and substance, it was also the hottest part of the day. We decided this would be a good test of our Cobra’s cooling capabilities. Unfortunately, the combination of engine temperatures combined with traffic resulted in fewer laps where we could really push the car. Although the track conditions were not favorable in any direction, we still managed to knock 1.20 seconds off our times.

We once again went to the Garmin Catalyst to review data. It became obvious that we needed to work on our speed and braking zones to perfect a proper line. Much of this could be attributed to Ivan’s early braking, which trimmed speed and made us rely on the V8’s low-end torque to carry speed through and out of corners. Although not as apparent on track or from Ivan’s GoPro, the video from the Garmin Catalyst combined with showcasing braking points and the best lines clearly showed there were several instances where we could lower our lap times.

Redemption Day

Day two was scheduled to be our redemption day. After rigorously reviewing the data from the Garmin Catalyst throughout the night, we were eager to get back on the track. Thankfully, being early risers helped and the track remained clear for session one. Implementing the knowledge we learned from the video allowed us to trim another 3.38 seconds off our fastest lap time. We were extremely proud of the 1:47.xx, as we were able to compete with fully prepped track cars in our essentially still street-able Cobra.

Project Apex

Aside from track testing the Cobra, we were also testing out the emperor’s new fire suit.

During our second session, we continued to find more traffic than openings, and had to abort several clean laps. Even though we were driving through the hottest part of the day, we remained on a consistent 1:48-second pace. Our new pace was a drop of almost 12 seconds from our start day. Although no one enjoys leaving the track, we were extremely satisfied and proud of what we managed to accomplish. Not only did Project Apex perform well throughout the weekend, but we dropped some serious lap times over the course of only a few sessions.

Driver Focused

The majority of our attention all weekend was aimed at making Ivan a better driver, but our 2001 Cobra was the unsung hero. After being thrown onto a track with only a few street miles under its belt, it did extremely well. There was no oil consumption or other fluids noticed. The TREMEC Magnum transmission was shifting crisp and our four-valve engine was making great power throughout the RPM range without a hiccup.

While Project Apex remained strong all weekend, we did notice a few areas in the cooling that could be improved. We plan to box in the radiator, add hood vents to allow air to escape, and take a tech tip from the 2000 Cobra R with brake cooling ducts. On the street, these modifications would have minimal gain, but on the track will have tremendous benefits and maybe even add life to our brake rotors and pads.

The original 4-Valve engine was sent through the wringer via the previous owners. Thankfully, we were able to secure a solid build to make sure our track days go through without any hiccups.

We’ll also be adding a few more refinements to monitor our fluids’ temperature. Our SCT X4 does a fantastic job of monitoring vitals through the OBD II port, but unfortunately, the oil temperature is not a sensor recognized. Although we trust our Road Race 1 oil cooler and relocation, having the ability to check temps after extended track sessions is a must-have capability.

Our Personal Coach

Over the weekend we quickly learned just how powerful the Garmin Catalyst really is. While it came preloaded full of road courses worldwide, we had the option to add courses as needed. On track, we could view the best lap time, number of laps, and total session time. Similar to having a driving instructor in the car, the Garmin Catalyst provided real-time audio cues.


The Garmin Catalyst was more than just a lap timer for us. We were able to diagnose and dissect our laps on video without having to export video files. In addition, the Garmin was able to inform us of the best possible route through each corner, both off the track and during our sessions. This powerful tool provided us the ability to shave over 10-seconds from our first session to our last.

After getting back in the pits, we were able to perform a segment analysis that reviewed our racing line, speed, and acceleration/deceleration. While pairing this data with the camera footage and on-track location, we could use this as a guide for future laps via visual memory. Since the Garmin Catalyst allows direct video playback, we didn’t have to worry about exporting content to a computer for review. 

Once we arrived back home, we realized a new update was out for our Garmin. Instead of having to focus our attention on the device for data gathering, we were able to extra it to the phone. Aside from video, we could see G-force, lap times, speeds through the track, and more. The only downfall was Ivan was no longer paying attention to any of us, as his eyes stayed glued to his phone mentally preparing for our next track outing. I don’t blame him though, after 12 seconds were shaved from the lap time, we could not have been more pleased with the Garmin Catalyst and will continue to use it at every track day.

Project Apex Testing Compete

Our first track outing was a huge success. Instead of track side repairs and adjustments, our chassis and engine did so well that we were able to maintain focus on driving the car. With the help of Garmin Catalyst, we hope to continue to show improvements after each installation. We’re excited to further push Project Apex on-track with new products from Maximum Motorsports and more!


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About the author

James Elkins

Born into a household of motorsport lovers, James learned that wrenching takes priority over broken skin and damaged nerves. Passions include fixing previous owners’ mistakes, writing, and driving.
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