Ivan Korda’s Project Apex 2001 Ford Cobra is coming along quite nicely. From an abandoned rolling chassis to a fresh runner, it has completed its initial shakedown laps and had some safety equipment installed. With a solid track day test in the books at Barber Motorsports Park with the OEM suspension, it is time to upgrade to improve performance. It was time for us to get the Cobra back on the lift and install a Maximum Motorsports‘ Road and Track Box.
While Ivan was working the Cobra around Barber Motorsports Park, he could feel deflection in the front suspension. The car wasn’t predictable, as the suspension geometry was changing while the car was entering corners. To solve this problem he enlisted the expertise of the folks at Maximum Motorsports, who have been building custom Mustang parts for decades and have numerous lap records to prove that its products work. Based on the end goal of Project Apex being a vehicle that can handle the track, Maximum Motorsports suggested its Road and Track Box suspension kit. This kit is specifically designed for the 1999-2004 Cobra.
Chuck Schwynoch, owner of Maximum Motorsports, was kind enough to spend some of his day chatting it up with us here at FordMuscle to explain how they came up with the goodies and bits that come in their Road and Track Box.
“We aimed at optimizing the stock suspension for good street performance, which would also be suitable for track use,,” Chuck said. “We designed the kit to be as stiff as most people can tolerate for a street car with good track performance. Our testing has shown that anything over a 700 pound-per-inch spring rate in the front is just too much for driving around town. Our front spring rate for the Road and Track box comes in at 650 lb/in. We also add chassis stiffening, camber plates, Bilstein dampers, and stiffer bushings.”
What is key about the Road and Track Box is that it improves upon the stock suspension. Everything in this kit is relatively easy to install, and the differences between the stock suspension and Maximum Motorsports’ suspension will be immediately noticeable to the driver. This is especially so for a car like Project Apex that has really old rubber bushings which aren’t doing the job they were originally designed for due to age and rot. Replacing all of these bushings with polyurethane really tightens up the suspension and makes the car much more predictable on track.
The big advantage of the Road and Track Box is the Maximum Motorsports camber/caster plates for the front struts. This is the game-changer for the 2001 Cobra. In stock form the best negative camber you could get out of the front suspension was around 1.8 degrees. This is insufficient for a track day alignment. As a vehicle goes through a corner the body leans to one side, you want the tire to be level or slightly angled in towards the corner.
We discussed performance alignment specifications with Craig Watkins, the owner of Smart Racing Products, who builds alignment tools. According to Watkins, more negative camber allows for more tire patch to be in contact with the ground under cornering load for more control (and faster corner speeds). If the tire is angled the wrong direction (positive camber) you will have a smaller tire patch contacting the roadway and lower cornering speeds. The Maximum Motorsports camber/caster plates allow you to put in more negative camber, like 3-plus degrees, so when the vehicle leans into a corner the tire is aligned optimally for a solid and larger contact patch.
For the struts in their Road and Track Box, Maximum Motorsports uses Bilstein. The struts have a custom Maximum Motorsports’ valving for optimal performance, which they figured out from years of testing. “We have been using and selling Bilstein since 1998,” Chuck shares. Through their testing they wanted a spring and damper package that felt like a sports car, similar to a BMW feel, but didn’t overwhelm the driver while cruising around town.
The rear of the Cobra is where things get interesting. In this generation of chassis the Mustangs came with a solid rear axle, but the Cobras came with an independent rear suspension (IRS). This was a first for Mustangs at the time, and it allowed the Cobra to corner better than the standard Mustang. Schwynoch and the engineers at Maximum Motorsports put this concept to the test. They had their test mule Mustang that they had hundreds of laps with and upgraded it to the IRS rearend. In this process they were very careful to make the car as similar in specifications as it was with the solid rear axle (same track width, same brakes, etc.).
Their testing showed a two-second-per-lap improvement after installing and fine tuning the alignment on the IRS. “What we found with the IRS is that it allowed the vehicle to go over bumps much better,” Schwynoch says. “However, our testing showed that when the alignment was not correct with the rear of the car it became spooky for the driver. It was important for our engineers to upgrade the bushings which connect the IRS to the subframe to keep things lined up correctly. When the rear tires start arbitrarily steering for you, that’s not a good thing.”
The Road and Track Box for the 2001 Cobra is set up for the IRS and the kit has options to upgrade certain components. Based on the advice from Maximum Motorsports, Ivan chose to add the subframe bushings for the IRS to Project Apex to keep things tidy and predictable in the rear of the car. To install the bushings, the entire IRS unit was lowered from the car.
With new bushings, lowering springs, Bilstein, and camber/caster plates installed it is time to hit the alignment rack and then get the Cobra back out onto the track to compare the Maximum Motorsports Road and Track Box kit against the stock Cobra suspension.
Although we could see just how well the car was working, we decided to give Ivan the microphone to let us know how he felt from the driver’s seat.
“Overall it was amazing how much confidence the suspension package gave me. By removing the rubber bushings in the front lower control arms, adding solid steering rack bushings, and the new Maximum Motorsports dampers, the Cobra felt much more predictable,” says Ivan. The other thing worth mentioning is that the overall chassis stiffness really made the car more predictable on track under load, it’s amazing how much the subframe connectors stiffened the chassis. The total improvement was 1.62-seconds based on the good laps I could put together, but I am confident that there is another second left on the table based on the optimal lap prediction that our Garmin device showed.”
While we have to give Ivan some credit for piloting the Cobra, the car performed flawlessly and we couldn’t be happier with the performance it gave throughout the weekend. Stay tuned for our next article where we dig deep into why Forgeline GS1R race wheels were a necessary addition to Project Apex from a performance and safety perspective.