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Unread 08-16-2016, 11:34 AM
Fair!'s Avatar
Fair! Fair! is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
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Default Re: Vorshlag Ford Focus RS Development Thread

Project Update for August 15, 2016: So my last post was not received well by some folks - it came off a bit inflammatory, but that's not what I had intended. The simple fact is I don't sugar coat my comments about any car. That last series of posts has been shared and read thousands of times in just a handful of days. Some folks just watched the videos, and probably took some things out of context (short attention span Facebook addicts who cannot be bothered to read detailed posts).

Lots of comments on social media, ranging from thanks to hate mail. Many aspects of our track testing were questioned, so this post is a quick follow up to my last one to hopefully better explain our test process and first hand opinions, as well as explore some technical aspects that were missed by some.


I wrote my posts from a very narrow point of view of track worthiness in stock vehicles. Most cars in showroom form have several flaws right out of the box that hold back their lap times and/or their on-track reliability, just like the RS. There are only a handful of sports cars built today that DO work well on track right out of the box: C7 Corvette Z51 (but not the supercharged Z06), Mustang GT Performance Pack (the base brakes can be killed quickly), and the Porsche GT3 to name a few.

I have a good example for this in a similarly priced car that I can share. One of the more track-able cars right out of the box when they were new were 6-speed Brembo packaged 2011-14 Mustang GTs (priced from $32-38K). We have done a lot of track testing in theses and of course they have their own unique track issues in stock form, that need to be fixed. In 2012 I bought a base model 2013 GT (for $25K new!) with the 420 hp 5.0L engine (which made 377 whp, shown above right) and the 6-speed trans. This car weighed very close to what the Focus RS did (3518 pounds, see above left). We purchased it without the optional Brembo brakes - it was a stripper model that was priced about what a Focus ST costs now.

This base model GT came with 235mm all season tires on 18x8" wheels. The the grip level of these tires with this power and weight was a complete joke (the Brembo equipped GTs came with 19x9" and 255 tires, which were a bit better but still too small). This 2013 had the base GT 13.2" front brakes (twin piston sliding caliper) and matching 11" single piston rear discs. To try to get a decent baseline "stock lap time" on the same set of wheels we had planned to use later, we installed a set of 18x10" wheels and 295/35/18 NT05 tires (2" wider wheels and 60mm wider tires, yet 6.8 pounds per corner lighter per corner). We also installed an AMB transponder, some class letter/number decals, and then I entered the car in a NASA Time Trial event at Eagles Canyon Raceway back in October 2012 for its very first track miles.

The car was a handful of days old, still had paper plates, and the stock brake pads were brand new and at full depth. I did one 15 minute TT session to get a feel for the car, and it seemed to be working OK as I increased my speeds. It did have a bit of understeer (lacked front camber, like nearly all cars in stock form) but it was manageable. In the second TT session I turned it up a bit and pushed my braking zones, running a string of three 2:07 laps in a row (which is fairly quick for a nearly stock car at ECR). The problem was the brakes...

On lap 7 of the 2nd track session, with an otherwise brand new car and brand new brakes, the front pads came apart. The material had worn so low that the remaining chunk of front pad disintegrated and essentially exploded as I braked after a 125 mph straight into a very tight corner (T7). There was no warning; the pedal just went right to the floor then I went for a ride about 150 yards off track. Not fun! I limped it back to the pits and all of the pad material was sitting inside the front wheels (see above left). The rear brake rotors on my wife's 2011 GT also "popped" that day - both rear rotors cracked clean in two! Granted, she was on race tires with full suspension and aero and running 1:56 lap times, putting more heat into the rear brakes. We later noticed that this rear rotor issue was a chronic failure and developed a 13.8" rear disc upgrade kit for these cars. On the black 2013 GT we soon upgraded the front brakes to the factory Brembos and that plus brake cooling, better fluid, lines, and better pads and it never had an issue with brakes again.

My point here is - MOST cars have some Achilles heel, some initial flaw that only comes to light when driven hard on a road course. In my last post I pointed out several issues we noted on the Focus RS, when driven how I drive any car on track. Mostly I was disappointed in the factory suspension design, the understeer heavy handling, tires that were too small for the weight and power, the computer controlled "RDU" rear axle that didn't do what it was supposed to do, the high oil temps, and the somewhat lackluster lap times. The track performance we saw first hand just didn't seem to live up to hype and real world costs for these cars ($45K is a common price I see for a lot of RS cars), in my view. It had more issues than most, but I doubt it has anything we cannot "fix".

One thing to note, the two drivers who have tracked this RS - Todd and I - are not your typical casual Novice group HPDE drivers. We are both comp licensed NASA Time Trial racers, which means we are both pushing the HELL out of this RS in stock form. At most NASA events, the TT run group tends to have the fastest lap times of the entire weekend, as we are essentially always running qualifying laps. So not everyone will likely see the same issues to the same degree - oil heat, major understeer - as we did in the RS. Todd avoided LFB on track when he drove it but still noted serious understeer in autocross and road course use at both Optima events he has entered.

Also, the RS wasn't all bad. I did say that the RS comes with great brakes, but I neglected to mention that it also has really good ABS programming as well - at least with the 300 treadwear tires we have used on it so far. Ford seems to do a much better job than most companies with their ABS programming scheme. So many other modern cars have somewhat lackluster ABS functionality (I'm looking at you, GM). I cannot overemphasize how well these brakes worked on stock pads and stock fluid. Normally I can ruin brand new factory brake pads and boil brake fluid in a session or two (my 2013 Mustang GT example above is not unique) but not this RS. The brakes were "Fair Proof", heh.

The factory clutch also seems to be holding up well. Todd mentioned this in his Optima @ COTA overview video (the tail end of my last post), as he has now done dozens of "launch control" standing start launches. The AWD functionality seems to work fairly well from a stop. AWD is very important for Speed Stop and Autocross runs in Optima, where those two competitions and their specific course layouts tend to heavily bias AWD cars' launching performance. The image above showed the time slips autocross and speed stop runs he did in one day - a testament to the durability of the RS clutch system.

Todd did say that the complicated steps you have to go through to engage the launch control were hard to do via the stalk mounted controls with gloves on. If you moved the car one inch you had to go through this multi-step process again. A little clumsy, but he is working with COBB to see if he can make that easier to engage (like the factory EVO launch control).

Again, we feel that our criticisms were well earned by the RS. The rear diff did not work right when I track it. The tires were too small. The suspension is sloppy and needs help. In the sections below I will try to explain in more detail what is needed and why. I will even explain why we used the tire pressures we used - because several folks questioned even that.


I have avoided the dumpster fire that are the Focus forums, especially after my 2nd post. Why? Because I'm not really writing this thread for the typical fans of the RS. Those are folks who were deeply in love with the RS long before it was built, and made their minds up about this car long ago. Some will see any non-glowing review as apostasy. I am not going to ever shake loose some rigid opinions of how the RS handles or works on track - even if the majority of fans have not even driven one. I can't help those folks, and don't care to.

My Focus posts were written for readers who were open minded about all cars that might have an interest in buying an RS primarily for track use. Many have told me via the Book of Face that they appreciated our honest assessment of the track capabilities of this car. Others agreed to wait for any fixes we and other shops come up with - and these issue WILL BE FIXED, one way or another. We have an outlook optimistic, as we know there will be many improvements to handling performance and reliability in this car, just like we've seen on other chassis. I went back and re-read our development thread on the EVO X and it also had many flaws in stock form that were fixed. You can read about that in a section below.

There are many things we have been blamed of "doing wrong" to elicit the understeer, odd behavior of the stability control, and high oil temps on track in the RS. First, apparently I don't know how to press a button to switch between the car's "driving modes" (Track, Drift, etc). Next, I don't know how to press and hold a button to disable traction and stability control (this is the first thing I learn about any car). I also don't know the "right tire pressures" for a Michelin PSS tire. My Left Foot Braking technique was "wrong" and blamed for disabling the "RDU". Some even said I entered turns too fast, and should "enter slower and let the AWD pull you through!" A decent chunk of the comments were hard to decipher because of keyboard rage - but basically, I suck at driving and everything wrong I noted on track with the RS was my fault. "You're doing it wrong". Memes were even made...

Look, I won't ever convince some folks that the world is round, much less that a bone stock Focus RS needs some help to go around a road course in a decent time without overheating. But you know what? I am fine with not being believed by a large swath of people - people who will never push their cars on a road course, nor ever need to use the solutions we will offer. It just is what it is. Some people just like to hard park, its cool.


This is another claim many have made - that the $37-45K priced "RS is the fastest car available for the money". Of course that is very debatable, and when presented with other 2016 model cars that cost the same or less and DO go faster around a road course (see two below), the qualifiers come in.... well, "I live at the North Pole and I need AWD for driving in the snow". Or, "I need a back seat with 4 doors to haul my dogs". And on and on.

We get it - these two pony cars are in a completely different market segment than an AWD hot hatch

There are several choices in this price range that have faster lap times in stock form. But what about similar "hot hatches"? I mentioned several 4 door AWD competitors in my first 2 posts. Sure, that is the one thing I could have done differently, if we had the time and resources at our first MSR test day - I would have track tested some other hatch back turbo 4 door cars that day. This would be a logistical nightmare, but I will try to track down a few of the RS' competitors and wheel them around MSR under similar conditions on their OEM rubber. I am reaching out to some of our customers with similar turbo AWD or even FWD "hot hatches" to see if we can put them to the test at MSR and compare lap times. Because, in the end, the lap times are what matter most to me. How the car deals with the heat of road course abuse (cooling, brakes, and tires) could also be compared with these cars, too.


One of the many things people have questioned about our initial track test in the Focus RS (and the list is long!) was the tire pressure we chose to begin the testing with. And the basis for their reasoning I have seen posted is all wrong. Let me explain.

Left: Do not count on this sticker for track pressures! That is for MAX LOADING ONLY

To get to the initial tire pressure settings we started with, we looked at the recommended tire pressure decal on the door frame, shown in this video. The numbers that Ford publishes are 46 psi, which are laughably high. These are actually there to prevent people from running their cars fully loaded at the rated gross vehicle weight limits on nearly flat tires - remember the Explorer/Firestone tire fiasco? The 46 psi numbers are the highest pressures they recommend when the RS is FULLY LOADED TO MAX CAPACITY - with 5 people, a tank full of fuel, and the hatch area full of luggage. But these numbers are not for normal street driving and definitely NOT FOR TRACK DRIVING.

We noted that this car had 60 psi in all 4 tires as delivered from the Ford dealer, which was part of the reason why it rode so poorly in our initial street driving tests. This was a mistake on somebody's part - no sane person would run 60 psi on these MPSS tires for any sort of use. This particular RS likely had a porter or tech that performed a sloppy "make ready" service at the Ford dealership, and I suspect they should have lowered the pressures when this car came off the transporter down to a more reasonable 35 psi for regular street use.

Instead of of the "recommended for max load" 46 psi number, we started by setting all 4 tires to 30 psi cold (the car was trailered to our first MSR track test, as shown below, so the tires had no heat in) and we were hoping to see 40 psi hot on the front tires after coming in from hot laps (they did). The rear tires do so little work on this Focus that the pressures back there don't matter as much, but we still started with 30 psi cold and they got up to 38 psi hot, too.

This was an educated guess learned from nearly 30 years of tracking cars, testing tires, and building suspensions systems. We test a lot and have learned some good starting points for a variety of tires on a wide selection of cars - and more importantly what to look for to adjust pressures after they are up to temp to try to find ideal settings. Cold settings don't mean much, what we are concerned with is HOT tire pressures.

We always adjust the hot pressures AFTER the first track session, where we also inspect the tires for shoulder scrub. If we noted the "tire scrub" line rolling down onto the shoulder, below the tread cap, we would add more pressure. If the scrub line was higher, and didn't use 100% of the tread blocks, we would lower the pressure to use more of the tire's working tread area.

Short video
showing outside tire wear on Focus after first 8 laps

As you can see in the video above, which was taken with 83 street miles and only 8 laps on track at MSR (after my first track session), front tire wear was visible yet the rear tires almost had no wear. Most of the front tire wear was on the outer 3 tread blocks, yet the outer shoulder scrub line looked good. From that we knew we were pretty darn close on the tire pressures for the 235mm Michelin PSS, yet we had a long way to go to get this car to go faster on track (see suspension discussion, below).

continued below

Last edited by Fair!; 08-16-2016 at 12:46 PM.
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