Jeff Seaman, Mustang powertrain engineer, tells us everything you need to know about the TracKey
Undoubtedly one of the coolest things about the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is the TracKey. This exclusive feature of the Boss 302 utilizes a dual-path PCM to allow for the car to be operated in normal mode with the standard key and in TracMode with the TracKey. It’s an industry first, and proof that Ford’s engineers have the enthusiasts in mind when it comes to the Mustang.
Since its release Ford has been somewhat vague about how TracKey exactly works and how owners will be able to use it, so at the recent Boss 302 media drive we sat down with Jeff Seaman, the powertrain management team leader for the Ford Mustang, who answered all of our questions about the TracKey. Some of it you might already know, but hopefully there are a few things you might learn. Enjoy!
Explain the background behind TracKey and how it came about
The whole original concept started to take shape with a bunch of Mustang enthusiasts. This was not someone at a high level checking a box and telling us that it’s time to start pursuing this type of technology. This was a fully developed skunkworks operation. There were four amazing people that we went out and literally recruited through Ford Motor Company. We got some of the best people from the calibration side in order to develop a feature that was completely off the wall. The first comments internal to Ford were “You’ve got to be kidding me, there’s no way that we’re going to do that.” We heard that so many times that we went off into a corner and developed an amazing concept that is first in the industry.
So explain to us how Trackey works and what it does
First off, this isn’t just “modify a couple of parameters and deliver something a little bit different.” It’s not a tuned calibration. This is a completely independent dual-path calibration. So you’ve got a normal mode that operates with good drivability, good fuel economy, good NVH, no clunks, no bumps. I call it the “sippin’ your latte calibration.” You can drive, you can drink a cup of coffee. It’s tamed, streetable. If you want something off-road to go run on a racetrack, or when you just want to go when you step on the accelerator, that’s what TracKey calibration is.
What are some of the features of TracKey?
You have a unique variable cam timing schedule, which basically makes some trade-offs for stability and NVH, but it delivers power without any compromise to performance. You’ve got no skipshift, because if you’ve got to go somewhere in a hurry, you’re not going to skip shift. You’ve got a unique spark table with aggressive spark gains designed for high octane fuel. Again, everything is based on performance. There’s also lopey idle, which is done by adjusting variable cam timing to give you a certain amount of overlap. Valve overlap gives you that “babupp, babupp, babupp!” type of feel to it. If you think it’s great, then listen to it with the exhaust plate out, and it’s that much better. Launch control! Launch control was originally designed as a cookie feature, so it’s not something that is not something were you can go to the menu and select launch control. We’ll give people instructions on how to do it, but it is very much a unique, neat hidden feature that we’ve provided in the car. It makes anybody an instant drag racer.
Is the TracKey 50 state legal?
The TracKey passes emissions, is 50 state legal, and will have an EO, which means it’s legal for sale and passes emissions. That’s the only tradeoff that we didn’t make for the car.
What’s the process for Boss 302 customers to get a TracKey?
When you purchase the car you have two keys – a black key and a red key. Both keys run the exact same calibration until, after point of sale, you go to a Ford Racing dealer and they re-flash your powertrain control module. When they do that, they learn the red key to be track mode, and the grey key remains base mode. Once you purchase this from Ford Racing, you have a unique calibration for track mode and base mode.
How close is the TracKey calibration to the one for the Boss 302R?
The Boss 302R is not an emissions legal calibration, so we took that as a base, and we applied what lessons we learned – what works well in this car – to make it a racetrack-ready calibration.
About how many parameters have been changed?
When we originally started off and wrote the first press release we had a great calibration setup. We had about 200 parameters, and we ran with that number. Well, like any skunkworks operation, we never stopped thinking, we never stopped developing. When we got to the actual first evaluation of it, it was close to 300. Now it’s close to 400. What we’ve fundamentally changed are the launch control RPM limiting, which was quite significant, and a significant amount of refinement to the lopey idle to make it a robust calibration.
Are there any changes to the power delivery, such as the torque curve?
Absolutely. From an advertisement standpoint, we are not going to say that the TracKey gets you anything more than the base key. You’re welcome to go find out for yourself – it’s just the flip of a key. The low end torque is improved substantially, again making tradeoffs for basic drivability in order to deliver performance at all cost.
Is premium fuel required?
With the Boss 302 you can run on regular fuel, although premium is recommended. The TracKey is premium only.
Will there be further developments to the TracKey?
We never stop developing this car. The truth is, the TracKey will be on sale through a Ford Racing dealer soon, but we view this as a beginning.
Does this mean that software updates could be available later on?
That sounds like a great idea! We view TracKey as revolutionary. It’s really a change of anything that anybody offers. Nobody else offers the ability to run two independent calibrations on a car. You can easily sit down and come up with 50 or 60 different applications for how you would do it in the future, what content you would include and how you would tie it into additional systems. All of that is part of the skunkworks operation that will continue churning as long as there are creative, hardcore engineering folks at Ford.
What do you think the take rate will be?
Based on the feedback I’ve had so far, I’d be surprised if anybody wouldn’t want a TracKey.
Is there a reason you chose red to represent the TracKey?
That was sort of an inside joke that came from our chief engineer. There’s a movie reference in there. You’ve got the black key, and you’ve got the red key. You can be happy with the black key, or you can take the red key and maybe you won’t go back, but there’s time to walk away!
Do you consider the TracKey fairly usable for daily driving?
It really depends on what you want. My son loves the red key, but my wife won’t drive with it. There are times when lopey idle is a fun thing, and there are other times like when you are going to pick your dry cleaning up when you think “this isn’t for me.”
Do you see competitors trying to offer something similar?
Yes, we’ve already heard rumblings from the aftermarket of wanting to immediately catch up. The craziest thing is that when we were doing this, a lot of the guys were like “I can’t believe this is the first time anybody has ever done this!”
Do you see this as strictly a Boss 302 feature or do you see this making its way into other products?
I think it’s too early to tell. I think the basic concept is something that’s a game changer, and it will be interesting to see what other applications there are for it. As of right now it’s a Boss 302 exclusive feature. The whole concept of a dual path calibration is something that is very unique and very innovative, and we’ll have to see where that leads. I’ll tell you what; it’s spawned a lot of discussion both inside and outside of Ford.
One last question – how much will the TracKey cost?
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