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Track Key Review

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I know most of you probably already have this, but I thought I'd put this out there for those who were still deciding whether or not to do it.
In short, it's wonderful -- especially if you take your car to the circuit. My 2c is a bit lengthy, as it's straight off the blog. But I thought it'd be a good topic to discuss for those who have not yet done it :)


"Industry First" was the term used to describe the track key by Dave Pericak, chief engineer of Mustang. One of the unique features of the Boss 302 is that 2 key options are available: A black key and a red key. The 2 keys unlock 2 different ECU tunes in the car. Black key for normal driving, red key for track use. 1 ECU, 2 tunes for 2 different situations. It sounds gimmicky at first... until you realize that the 2 ECU tunes are for real, and they are distinctly different. Dave Pericak explains the track key in the youtube link below:

The black key is a standard tune with typical drive-by-wire throttle hangs. That is, when you quickly press/depress the throttle, it the ECU actually holds the gas there for a bit, so that the transition from on the gas to off the gas is not so abrupt. The intention here is to increase EPA for better gas economy...It's standard practice now for any modern car. It's a sort of computerized attempt at hyper-miling -- minimizing the differences between acceleration and decceleration; maximizing the mile you get for your input. The Boss is quite impressive with the black key...however, the key is really a standard street tune and nothing more.

The red key get's interesting--and I didn't expect the difference to be so large. Dave Pericak stated that the red key basically brings the race configuration of the Boss 302S/R from the race track to your street car. Translation: This is a tune straight from the factory backed race car that Ford campaigns in the Pirelli World Challenge racing series. Done away are the features used to save fuel economy and assist with low speed drivability. Instead, you turn your car from a vagina cat to a lion! No kidding here - when you hit the throttle, the car rev's up. No muss, no fuss. The delay is gone. In addition, the rev counter will move as abruptly as your foot will--there is no more throttle hanging. For those who are not perfectly smooth in 1st, 2nd or even 3rd gear in low speed parking lot situations, it'll actually get you into a "bucking horse" situation where the car is jerking back and forth. With this tune, all smoothness must come from the driver--the ECU is no longer assisting you by playing with the throttle.

You also get a lumpy idle, as Ford played with the cam timing to make that a reality (IMO, a gimmick). The idle is so lumpy that the car will actually vibrate and shake at stop lights--giving the feeling of having a set of hot cams. The car no longer feels smooth and pedestrian--instead, you get an angry, responsive car that's ready to burn fuel/rubber/whatever. In addition to better throttle response, you also get significantly more powerful engine braking. Again, part of an EPA thing that typical drive-by-wire cars do these days is delay and slow down the dropping of revs. With the black key, if you're cruising at say, 60kph and decide to let off the gas to slow down...the car will actually maintain 60kph for quite some time, and very slowly drop the revs and speed accordingly. With the red key, once you let off the gas, the rev's does the speed. It's immediate. Again, any fuel saving measures are thrown out the window with this tune. Instead, the more aggressive engine braking will contribute to brake management out on the track--less brake input is required to slow the car. Once you get off the gas, the engine starts to brake and you load up your front end much quicker (and gentler) than if one were to apply the brakes. This is helpful out on the circuit.

Ford also says that an increase of mid-range torque is yielded with the track key tune. Dyno's don't show this, but Dyno's only test for WOT situations. Instead, the fuel mapping is altered enough on the track key tune that an increase in torque is yielded in part throttle situations--situations which are more readily applicable to circuit work. You aren't always going WOT on the track. For situations where one is modulating the throttle--perhaps rolling into it on exit, or in a chicane'll see an increase in response and power. Ford ended up stating that "over 200 engine parameters were changed" for the track key tune. They simply stuck with that number to maintain consistency for press releases and such. The reality is that over 600 parameters were changed--Dave once again goes into more detail about this with Jay Leno on the show "Jay's Garage".

At first I wasn't too interested in the track key, but my car actually came with the track tune (it normally costs extra). After living with both tunes for a while, the differences are hugely apparent. The track key is certainly a worthwhile upgrade for anyone who takes their Boss to the track. It quite literally transforms the car -- the car exhibits different attitudes between the 2 tunes. And what's not to like? A factory backed and tested tune with a warranty! When you want a smooth, quieter car, go with the black key and save some gas to boot. When you want to have some fun, bust out the red key. The car really wakes up.
Nice write up. I was out driving around the TK earlier today and love the sound driving around town. BTW both keys are black. One has a silver center the other red. ;)
Nice write up. I was out driving around the TK earlier today and love the sound driving around town. BTW both keys are black. One has a silver center the other red. ;)

LOL wow--good point. I Clearly don't pay attention to my keys :D

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