Posts Tagged gingerman

Fiesta Open Track Review

By Bryan Redeker

            Is there anything the Fiesta can’t do? I figured it could do ok at autocrossing, but thought there is no way that the Fiesta could hold up under open track conditions. I predicted massive amounts of brake fade after a lap or so, the tires would overheat and lose their grip, and every corner would be met with understeer. I mean really, the Fiesta is not an open track car; it is a B-segment commuter that is designed to get good mileage. The Fiesta is not a STi, EVO, or M3. The Fiesta was not engineered to be a street car that goes to the track on the weekends. Or was it?

            Hiding beneath is Kinetic Designed sculpted body lies some real engineering. Under the bonnet is a 1.6L DOHC engine that feels to be way more powerful than 120hp. The futuristic cell-phone inspired dash and cockpit provide the perfect office to control the 2200 pound rocket. The Fiesta is not just a pretty body and a fancy dash stuck over a lackluster chassis, it is instead a total package of beauty and function. I know the car is outstanding on the street from the 3 months I have spent with it. However, for me, a good car needs to do more than just look pretty and do well on the streets; it needs to work on the track.

            That brings us to GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan. The 11 turn, 1.8 mile road course is one of my favorite tracks and has been a proving ground for everything I have owned. If it can’t handle the track, then I don’t want it. The track provides some great places to really test out a car at its limit. Two straight-aways have hard braking zones at the end, usually resulting in overcooking the brakes. Turn 2 is a decreasing radius sweeper which can send cars either plowing nose first into the weeds or spinning around. The braking zone in T3 is bumpy causing the ABS to come on or stalling out the engine if you lock. The 5-6 complex is one of my favorites because they create a 180′ turn in which different lines give you a totally different feel for the corners. T7 is a simple corner that leads into T8 and T9 which are long esses that seem to always catch me off guard. Get yourself out of shape at the T8/T9 right-left transition and the car will spin. I know, I have done it. T10 leads onto the back straight, and then to the scary T11 with pit entrance a wall in front of you. The only run-off is to dive into the pits if you get that corner wrong, otherwise the wall is there to take part of your checking account.

            I prepped the Fiesta by checking the torque on all of the lugnuts, then reducing the tire pressure to 37 psi cold in the front and 40 psi cold in the rear. My estimates are that they will heat up and be at 42 psi hot, which is the upper spec for the tire pressure. Helmet on, gloves on, engine started, time to get on track. Gradually I began to increase speed as the tires and brakes come up to temp, and I start to see how the Fiesta handles the track. I like to get a good idea of how the car behaves before really trying to push it. Schumacher said he finds the limit first, and then backs off. Right, I will just gradually work up to it instead. Once things are up to their proper temps, the fun begins. Each lap gets a little faster and faster, but the Fiesta doesn’t seem to protest. The brakes stay firm, and the tires howl just enough to tell me they are at their limit. I throw the car hard into the corners, and it stays neutral. No plowing understeer into the weeds, and the backend doesn’t step out during transitions. I am fairly sure the stability control kicked in a few times because the car felt like it was about to break the back loose and then instantly centered itself. The deeper I braked into the corners, the more the ABS would come on. Traction control would then activate coming out of the corners, which I wish it would not have. While the engine did not fall flat on its face as much as the SVT Focus does at the first hint of wheel spin, the Fiesta did seem to slow down for a second before going again. Most likely a case of the traction control cutting spark or retarding timing to regain traction at the front wheels. Eventually, the Pirelli tires would get hot and greasy. Time to come into the pits and let her cool down.

            In the pits I checked the tire pressures, and they were spot on 42 psi hot, right where I wanted them to be. To my surprise, the front wheels were not black as the night sky from being on track. The Fiesta smells like fried brake pads, and I love it.  One fear is that the drums would overheat and fade, but that never became an issue. Perhaps the front pads would be overworked and fade. After all, these are not track pads, they are production brake pads. I can get most cars to fade on the street and boil the brake fluid. Not the case with the Fiesta, there was some fade, but nothing compared to what normal cars exhibit on the street. The pads seemed to fade to a point, and then stay there until I was done. Steering response stayed precise for every lap, and the car always maintained its handling neutrality. There was very little understeer at turn-in or when the throttle was at WOT coming out of a corner. Suspension stayed firm even as the dampers become very hot. Clutch and gearbox handled the abuse well with no ill effects. Under hard braking the car kept its composure and required very little steering input to keep it straight. Really, there aren’t any complaints after being on track for 3 sessions. The Pirelli’s were the first to want to retire, but they were seeing abuse like they have never seen before. Considering these are factory installed tires, they exceeded my expectations on the track. Many street tires get hot and throw chunks of their tread blocks, not the case with these tires at all.

            So what improvement does the car need? That is usually the question that I go to the track to answer. Pushing the car to its limit is where you find what works and what doesn’t. The number one issue is the shift gates. Just as was the case in autocrossing, I needed to drop a gear in a few spots on the track to keep the engine revs high. The shift gate is too vague to allow a quick shift from 2-3 or from 2-1. I knew I could downshift into 2nd, but the upshift could leave me in 1st or 5th. Both would be bad, so I left it in 3rd and lap times suffered. Next, the traction control needs to have an on/off switch along with the stability control. While I did not have any issues with stability control on the track, it will become an issue in the winter when the handbrake is used for every turn. The traction control still robs too much power and slows the car down; a way to turn it off is a must. More seat bolstering would be nice as well. The car creates enough mechanical grip that I struggled to stay in the seat. Whoa, a commuter car that provides enough grip that I need more bolstering? Damn I love this car!

            Does the car need more power? Of course, but what doesn’t? Actually, the nice thing about the Fiesta is that it doesn’t make so much power you are afraid to push the car. My Mustang makes enough power to get me in trouble. I need to constantly feather the throttle to avoid wheel spin. The car also gets going really fast on the straights, so it eats brake pads trying to slow down. Get a downshift wrong in the Mustang and you spin. With the Fiesta, you can concentrate on the proper line, focus on your braking zones, and stay ahead of the car. I never felt like I was a passenger, but rather the pilot of one of the greatest compact cars to exist on the planet. The Fiesta passed the test on the track, and has earned the right to live at my house. Ford has created something amazing, and as long as the North American team doesn’t screw it up, they have a winner.

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