At some level, almost every car aficionado wants to get behind the wheel of a performance machine and push it to the limit--especially on the track, where man and machine become one, and work in harmony to beat all other competitors. The National Auto Sport Association (NASA), a sanctioning body that is rather new in terms of road racing, has taken this idea to the limit, with track day drivers easily segueing into a road racing atmosphere. NASA also recognizes the popularity of spec racing classes--those that take lightly modified street machinery and turn them into corner carving racecars--and with the help of Ford, recently created the Spec Focus racing series.
Spec-type series are a great way for any aspiring racer to get their feet wet in a low-cost atmosphere. The small modifications necessary for a production car to shine on the track--both in the engine and suspension areas--allows for competitive racing, at a significantly reduced cost than those associated with a full-blown racecar. The Focus seemed an appropriate vehicle to make into a spec racing machine as well--with over 2 million examples sold worldwide since 2000, there is definitely not a lack of cars out there to be had, and at a decent price (a quick eBay search returns cars in the $3000-$4000 range).
Many will scoff immediately at the thought of taking a "Fisher-Price-my-first-car" out on the track, but the facts in favor of the egg-like machine as a spec-racing car are plentiful. For starters, there are plenty of Focus models out there in the marketplace, and the series allows all of them except the wagon. Another major consideration is the stock suspension, which is, in fact, quite up to the task of road racing, and with some small modifications courtesy of the suspension kit from Ford Racing, makes for a great racing platform. Finally, the rules allow for any engine in the line to be used, with weight and modification specs tailored to keep any chassis/engine combination relatively equal in terms of horsepower and torque. The cars also run on a spec tire (Toyo R888) that also helps keep the playing field level. In short, this is a more than ideal car to get out in, on a relatively inexpensive budget, and test your mettle in the road racing scene.
Currently, Leo Capaldi Racing (http://www.capaldiracing.com/) campaigns a stable of Spec Focus machines with NASA, and we had a chance to get out to the Mid-Ohio Sports Course for two days of racing and see just what the cars can do.
From the first turn of the wheel on track, it's obvious that some thought went into the rule set the Spec Focus series maintains. While piloting a SVT model, a sedan and a hatchback are also out on track, and neither give much up in terms of straight-line speed. This is truly a driver's car (and series), rewarding smooth, consistent inputs rather than hammering the throttle and pounding the brakes.
For the first race, the bright yellow SVT snags pole (with yours truly at the helm), out running the three other Spec Focus machines. However, Capaldi, piloting the prototype five-door hatch, starts on outside pole, and is no slouch when it comes to road racing--he drove a Focus in the SCCA's World Challenge ranks, and is known to be fast. Starting deep in the pack of a mixed set of NASA racers, Capaldi and I fly up through the field at the start, and I even catch sight of him going agricultural to miss a few cars down the back straight. A welcome bump or two down the straight and we're flying away from the other Spec Focus machines. Capaldi and I battle it out over the next 20 or so laps, but a mechanical glitch in the five-door sees the yellow MMFF special take the checkered first.
My initial impressions are solidified after the race--the car is entirely predictable over a race distance, and it appears that almost anyone can get into one of these things and be fast. What Ford and NASA have essentially done is build and develop a racing car (and series) that allows for a low-cost alternative into the world of road racing, with a car that seems almost perfect for the average enthusiast. Be sure to check out all the pertinent info at http://specfocus.drivenasa.com.
Oh, and the little yellow car won the second race as well. We're starting to dig this road racing stuff.