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Track star

06 Jan 2016
Kevin McKenna, National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report

The arrival and continued success of the Cobra Jet Mustang, Drag Pak Challenger, and COPO Camaro factory race cars in NHRA Super Stock and Stock competition provides a strong indicator of the level of dedication and enthusiasm that Detroit automakers have for drag racing. Not surprisingly, much of the technology that has been gained from development of the factory race cars has found its way into the street versions of those cars, and there is no better example of that than the Track Apps feature in select '14 to '16 Ford Mustangs.

The in-dash Track Apps feature boasts a variety of high-tech goodies, including an accelerometer, simulated Christmas Tree starting system, launch-control program to help regulate the car’s torque output, and even a line-loc to hold the front brakes during burnouts. In short, new Mustangs have almost every feature that a part-time drag racer could want.

Given the innovative nature of the Track Apps feature, Ford officials decided to show it off by producing a short video feature as part of its ongoing You vs. You series. The video showcased the line-loc and launch-control programs, and when it came time to choose the on-air talent for the production, they went with 17-year-old Michelle Bongiovanni. An experienced Jr. drag racer and aspiring Stock eliminator driver, Bongiovanni is also the daughter of diehard Ford racer Anthony Bongiovanni, which made her the perfect choice for the role.

“The whole experience was awesome; it was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Bongiovanni. “We went to Palm Springs [Calif.] and shot for three days. It was fun to drive the 2009 Mustang, but the new [2015] Mustang was even better. It was so cool to see how they improved it and what they did with the technology.”

At the time the video was filmed, Bongiovanni had plenty of experience in her Jr. Dragster, and she had made runs in her father’s Super Stock and Stock cars, but she had never done a burnout in a manually shifted car. That particular exercise proved to be her biggest challenge.

“When I tried to do a burnout in the 2009 car, I had to use one foot to hold down the brake pedal and the clutch while I got the rpms up. I have small feet, so that was a problem,” said Bongiovanni. “When we used the Track Apps, you can set the brake pressure, and as soon as you press the throttle down, it will hold the front brakes for about 15 seconds. You can then just let go of the clutch and roll out of the burnout. It’s much easier. We also used the onboard timers to get our 0-to-30 and 0-to-60 mile-per-hour times, and you can even record eighth-mile and quarter-mile times which simulate what the car would run on a dragstrip. All that information is right there on the dashboard.”

Bandito Brothers, the production company that filmed the Need for Speed movie, was hired to shoot the video. It began with a visit to the Bongiovanni race shop in New Jersey, but by the time the group arrived in Palm Springs, the size and scope of the production became evident with more than 80 crewmembers and multiple cameras as well as chase cars and helicopters to capture the action from every angle. Since the video was shot in early 2015, it has been seen by millions of people across the world.

“One day, we shot eight burnouts in a row, so they had to change the tires on the car for the next day,” Bongiovanni said. “The whole idea of the video is to show that these programs are very user-friendly and with a little practice, anyone can use them. I’m sure that’s why they picked a 17-year-old girl like me. It was just an incredibly fun thing to be a part of.”

The fact that any current production model would include something as drag-race specific as a line-loc is a strong indicator that the factories still view drag racing as not just a proving ground, but also a valuable marketing asset. It’s also no coincidence that many of the Track Apps-equipped Mustangs eventually find their way to the nation’s racetracks, either for test 'n' tune days or other organized events.

“We’re using advanced controls technology for the new Mustang to provide some of our most dedicated fans with an industry-first feature they can use when they go to the track,” said Dave Pericak, former Mustang chief engineer and current leader of Ford Performance, during a 2015 interview with SVTPerformance.com. “With electronic line-loc, customers who drive their Mustangs to work all week and then compete on the weekends will appreciate not having to modify their brake systems to be able to do effective tire prep at the dragstrip.”

Bongiovanni’s career is also moving forward. Last season, shortly after her 18th birthday, she made the move from Jr. Dragsters to “big cars” behind the wheel of her father’s Micro Strategies Super Stock Cobra Jet. At her first event, the Division 1 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Atco Dragway, Bongiovanni qualified for the special eight-car shootout, which was determined by reaction time. This season, Bongiovanni plans to split her time between the dragstrip and her studies at Penn State University, where she’s a marketing major.

“We have spring break coming up in March, so the plan is to go racing in Florida to start the season,” she said. “Even if I’m just making some test runs, I want to get more seat time. Then I have the whole summer off, so I really hope we can get a lot of races in before I go back to school in the fall.”