Ford Track Days: A taste of the wild side
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Along with sheep, New Zealand is also densely saturated with racing circuits -- from the technical Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, to the picturesque Highlands Motorsport Park, to the old school knock-em-down drag-em-out Pukekohe Park.
But despite their prolific nature, our nation's tracks are often considered an exclusive haven for the wealthy, rather than a facility for the community to enjoy. This is something various groups are hoping to help change, and included in this list is Ford New Zealand.
Ford has launched its Performance Track Day Experience; a module-based day of blue-oval circuit education and lunacy for Ford's most loyal customers -- and occasionally media plod like me.
We met at a wet Hampton Downs Motorsport Park last week. Some brought with them their own cars; a squadron of current-generation Mustangs, plus one lonely Ford Falcon GT. For the rest of us, Ford had arranged a generous spread of V8 and EcoBoost Mustangs and Focus RSs, one humble Ford Fiesta ST, and a humbler still Titanium-spec Ford Focus.
The cars spanned four modules. The skidpan would give us a taste of what the Focus RS could do in the hands of D1NZ regular "Fanga Dan" Woolhouse. The newly built club circuit had us attack the clock in the Focus Titanium. And two track modules allowed us track laps in both flavours of Mustang.
It's all great fun of course, but there's a trick to getting the most out of these days. For one, you've got to try to sneak into the smallest group during sorting. Fewer people often means more time on track per person.
Also, go thin on your food intake - you can only punish your body with so many runs through a slalom course before the joys of nausea take over.
I've said it before, but the skill required to drift a car is something you can only truly believe if you're in the privileged position of sitting in the passenger's seat. And that remained true on the skidpan where my meagre group of four's day started.
Fanga's at the wheel of the Focus RS, twirling the wheel from lock to lock, while simultaneously ripping the hand-brake to within an inch of its life and tap-dancing in the pedal box.
Halfway through our session, he trades the RS for an EcoBoost Mustang and is instantly in a happier (and smoother) space.
Less handbrake, more flow and weight-shift based slide action ensues, and I'm extremely glad I went with a light breakfast.
Back-to-back track sessions followed; a follow-the-leader style recce in EcoBoost Mustangs first, before a full-on V8 track attack with a trainer in the passenger seat.
"How's it feel to drive?" asks my passenger.
I'd never driven the EcoBoost Mustang before, so the question was one I had been mulling over internally anyway as we sat at the back of our train during the recce. In all honesty it felt great, especially through the corners. This was despite persistent rain.
My only real blank was on how well it was able to get the power down.
"The next time we get to the carousel, I'm going to put my foot flat and see what happens," I tell him. A guilty response to what was a quite innocent question. I had a fair idea the back would kick out, but I hadn't allowed for turbo lag. A rookie error.
Naturally when the time came, we did more than just break a bit of traction.
After no initial bite came a big lump of power, all in one hit. Before I knew it I had chased the Mustang all the way across the road sideways before managing to catch it on the edge of the grass.
You feel a right muppet at the time, but the race track is far and away the best place to make these kinds of high-speed mistakes.
Ford's hoping that its Performance Track Day Experience can help more of its customers experience the full potential of their machines.
My view is a much simpler one; let's produce better drivers, and let's utilise these big ribbons of tarmac more and more often.