Focus RS Track Day

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At work yesterday, a message from the front range Miata club hit my inbox mentioning that there was a cheap last-minute track day at Pueblo. I get these all the time, but for the last 5 years or so all the tracks in the area have decided to not allow Miatas on the track without a rollbar. I’m not putting a rollbar in my street Miata because I’m not going to wear a helmet on the street, which means a rear-end collision might kill me. Then I remembered we have a new Ford Focus. Jonah said she wanted to do it with me, so I signed up.

Since I’d decided to do the track day with about 24 hours notice, I did exactly zero preparation and the car is completely stock. After all, Ford says it’s good on the track for 30 minutes as-is, right? Showed up with about 2,300 miles miles on it (still the factory fill oil, even), and the OEM Cup 2 tires with 42/39 PSI cold. Figured I’d err on the high side with pressures on these tires hoping that would prevent them from chunking apart. Ambient temps were in the mid-60s, the track is a 2.2 mile road course with a dozen corners. 91 octane fuel, since that’s all we can get out here in Colorado.

I spent most of the first 30 minute session coming to grips with the fact that it had been 8 years since I’ve been on a track and my mediocre skills were quite rusty. 25 minutes into the session, I got the AWD Off message, and drive mode went back to normal. If the oil temp gauge can be believed, the oil temps were up to about 280F. Since I’d never previously seen it climb over halfway, I was surprised how quickly it got up there. Figuring that 25 minutes was nearly Ford’s 30 minutes, and about time for a cooldown lap anyway, I wasn’t too upset with the performance. Checked tire pressures and they’d climbed to about 56PSI. No pyrometer or anything fancy, so I bled them off to about 44PSI all around, figuring that was probably still slightly higher than I’d want for maximum grip, but would keep me from sidewall roll.

Jonah drove the next 30-minute session, and as she’s a complete track novice who took it pretty easy, the oil temps stayed around 3/4 and the AWD didn’t disconnect. The next session, things got a lot more interesting. I was finally getting back in the groove and pushing the car to the limit. I had a blast discovering that it while it completely understeers off the throttle, I can, instead, get on the gas and the AWD system will work its magic and the car goes around the corner like I actually had some skill. I drove in track mode both with ESC in “sport” and completely disabled. I almost never got the tail to hang out, partly because it wants to understeer, partly because even when I’d think I was at the limit, full throttle at the apex wouldn’t upset it at all. There were dozens of situations where my (sometimes-intentional) gorilla-like driving absolutely would have spun my Miata, but didn’t phase the RS and its magical computers at all. Sadly, 19 minutes into that third session, AWD off appeared, and I wasn’t having any fun in FWD.

I pulled into the pits, restarted, and the message went away. Selected track mode and headed back out. Managed another half-dozen laps before I ran out of fuel.

I felt silly, but fortunately I was able to coast to a convenient place to pull off. The fuel gauge read 1/2 when I started the session, so I was sure that I’d be able to get through the session just fine, since I’d managed two in the first half tank. Sadly, that gauge isn’t even close to linear. When the warnings came up that I had 0 miles to empty, I ignored it figuring that like my Miata, the fuel gauge was completely inaccurate on the track. The miata will read empty even with well more than 1/4 tank because the fuel is getting sloshed around so much. The RS, it turns out, reads bang on. I managed another lap after “0 miles to empty” before it quit. Thinking maybe the inlet had simply come unported, I tried to restart after coming to a stop. Nope, nothing. So, the good news is that the fuel gauge works on the track, and that it won’t quit before it actually runs out, but boy does it suck down fuel.

A fellow track rat came to my rescue with a couple gallons of fuel and it started right up. Ran another 2 sessions with stupid-expensive 104 octane race fuel from the track (I’ll come prepared next time). Didn’t notice any extra power compared to the 91. I kept getting faster and the AWD system kept disconnecting.

Also: the stock brakes did a lot better than one might expect stock brakes to do, but were not at all up to the task. I was averaging about 110mph at the end of the straight, but eventually had to quit doing that because I couldn’t count on the brakes. Pretty significant fade after about 15 minutes, and then pedal would start to go squishy. I’m guessing Ford fills it with pretty mediocre fluid that starts to boil pretty easily. When I got to the track, the brake pedal was rock solid, but it’s pretty squishy now, which is typical after fluid boils even a little. I’ll be flushing it out and replacing with ATE Type 200 tomorrow.

I definitely won’t go back to the track with stock brakes. The Cup 2 tires actually did really well. They were thoroughly melted, but no signs of chunking or delamination, and held up really well. They were a lot noisier than I like out of track tires, but it was rather communicative. You definitely know there’s a lot more they have to give if they’re not screaming. I’d definitely be fine using them on another track day. Sadly, the requirement for 18″+ tires makes this way more expensive than it needs to be. I like $100/tire R-compounds.

In a lot of ways it’s a great car for a track novice. Jonah did everything wrong on her first session from completely missing the line, missing braking points, DEEP trail braking, and the car just let her do it. I was initially terrified, but eventually started laughing. It’s nice to have the confidence that it’s not going to kill you, on the other hand it’s a bit harder to explain to a newbie what she’s doing wrong when the car covers for her so well!

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