Fiesta Track Analysis


            Thursday April 30th, 2010 saw the last outing for the Fiesta at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven Michigan. The 2 mile, 11 turn complex is where I have been running my cars since 1997. Knowing that the Fiesta would be going back to Ford within the next few days, I drove the car a little harder than normal. The result was the car performing even better than it did last summer when I ran more reserved.

            The only change I made to the Fiesta for this session was to adjust the tire pressures to what I thought they should be. Last July, I ran pressures based on Mission Control’s cold PSI recommendation of 42 psi. Adjusting for a hot target of 42 psi on all corners made the car feel less connected to the track. The traction control was very active with trying to control wheel spin, and after a few laps, the tires became too greasy to continue. I decided for this attempt I would set the pressures to 37 psi hot for the fronts, and 42 psi hot rear. Lowering the fronts reduced the tendency to understeer since I effectively lowered the wheel rate. Keeping the rears at 42 psi hot allowed for more oversteer since the wheel rate was increased. The result was a car than handled considerably better and I was able to run 9/10ths for an entire 20 minute session. From a driving standpoint, I changed my braking habits as I was getting brake fade last summer. I focused on going deeper into the corner, braking harder, but staying on the pedal less. This would allow for maximum cooling times between corners.

            Session 1

            I ended up gridding first, which meant the entire field was behind me at the start. There was a large group of vintage racers who where there to practice, and I really did not want to hold them up. Our group was for everything under 2.0L of displacement and a roof. After the first warm up lap, I let the field go by on the back straight so the racers could practice without traffic. That left a newer VW Golf GTi and a Civic Si for me to run with. The GTi was actually faster than all the racecars and lead the session. The Civic Si was at the back of the racers, so I ran with him. For 20 minutes, I was able to keep a constant distance behind the Civic. He was faster on the long straights, but I would catch him thru the slower corners. I adjusted my driving style to be more aggressive with my braking and turn-in. Instead of staying away from the curbs and rumble strips, I was aiming for each of them. I braked much later and was on the throttle much sooner than normal. Under hard braking I would get ABS engagement just as I was beginning to let off for trail braking. At mid corner on the longer sweepers or the 5-6 complex, I would lift throttle or touch the brake with my left foot to encourage rotation.  Turns 3, 10, and 11 are possible places to use 2nd, but I kept it in 3rd and that slowed my lap times. The traction control may have come on in 2nd around those corners, which would be worse than leaving the car in 3rd and exiting at a lower RPM.

            The traction control and stability control was much less active for this session, which I think was due to the tire pressure changes. The high speed esses of 8-10 would cause the stability control to engage, but it was not overly obtrusive. Since the system was there, I decided to exploit it by running more aggressive and just let the computer keep the car under control. Traction Control engaged only a few times, and mostly at corner exit when the track was bumpy. The tires kept their grip for the entire session and I felt no need to let them cool down mid session and take a few laps slower. I kept the car running hard for the entire session. Brake fade was present, but not bad. The pads seemed to fade to a point and stayed there for the session. My Mustang requires me to run a few laps at 8/10th and then a few laps at half speed to let the brakes and tires recover. The Fiesta needed no recovery time, it just begged to go faster. At the end of the 20 minute session, I was still behind the Civic Si. I was not fast enough to pass, but was able to keep a good distance. Besides, it is way more fun to chase than to be chased.

            Session 2

            The final session was cut short after a Mustang in the previous group suffered a mechanical failure and was stranded on track. Finally the car was removed and we could go out. The Civic and GTi were not on course, so it was the Fiesta and a collection of vintage race cars. I let the faster racers go by on the back straight, but did find one vintage race car that I could chase. The Fiesta was faster, and I would let off the throttle and coast down the straights so I did not have to pass him. I wanted to focus on my ability to follow closely to another car during the corners. The vintage car had more lateral grip thanks to slicks, but suffered down the straights. The session was cut short by diminishing sun light and only lasted about 10 minutes. I enjoyed chasing after the vintage racer, even if it meant slower lap times. I watched his line thru the course and tried to follow his or use my normal line to see where we ended up. The Fiesta is easy to drive at speed, and that allowed me to focus more on the correct line and braking points rather than fighting for car control.

            Final thoughts

            So many reviewers say the Fiesta needs more power. After running multiple sessions on a race track, I don’t think it needs more power. The car is perfectly balanced the way it is. More power means faster speeds, which means you need bigger brakes to slow down, which is more weight, and then you need a beefier suspension. It becomes an endless circle of change to get back to the car being balanced. The Fiesta is the perfect balance of power, gearing, braking, tire selection, and driver feedback. With less power, the driver can focus more on momentum and following the proper line. Lower lap times with the Fiesta are a result of being smooth and accurate with your driving. A high powered car can use brute force to make up for poor handling or car control. My Mustang is blistering fast on the straight, but suffers everywhere else. The Fiesta may suffer on the straights, but is a blast to drive thru the turns. The steering is deadly accurate as well. I could pick a spot at the apex I wanted to hit, and I had no problem putting the car on that spot. Braking was well controlled, and fade was minimal. Leaving the car in 3rd and 4th eliminated the issue of the sloppy gear lever and I did not worry about going from 2nd to 1st or 5th instead of 3rd. With the pressure changes the tires performed much better and I had little sidewall rollover. Traction Control was less obtrusive with the lower front pressures, and the stability control wasn’t fighting understeer with the adjusted pressures. Overall, the Fiesta has proven itself to be a worthy track car, an outstanding daily driver, a predictable winter traveler, and does it all at a fraction of the cost of most cars.

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