Racing Future, Unraveling Ford's Latest Road Racer
By CURT CAVIN
(All photos © 2003 Walter Kuhn)
Tim Evans followed a group of people wearing Multimatic team shirts into the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express on April 24 and introduced himself as AutoWeek’s test driver. Sean Mason, manager of the group’s Ford Focus Daytona Prototype, was skeptical. “I’m not sure you’re going to fit in the car,” he said.
It was not an unusual moment for the six-foot-five Evans, a native of Northville, Michigan. As a former Can-Am and Trans-Am racer, the 53-year-old has wiggled into many sleek machines over the years. His first had to be cut in half and lengthened seven inches to accommodate him. That wasn’t what Mason wanted to hear, so he decided to reserve judgment until Evans and the prototype hooked up the next morning at the Putnam Park Road Course in western Indiana.
Of course, this wasn’t just any prototype; this was the Multimatic Ford Focus, the car that won the pole and its class in the 24 Hours of Daytona with Scott Maxwell, David Brabham and David Empringham at the wheel—the car that represents the Blue Oval’s toe dipping back into U.S. road racing.
Critics say the Daytona Prototypes aren’t a terribly good-looking group, but Evans said the Focus looked better than he thought it would.
“In pictures the car looks kind of homely, sort of a squashed VW Bug kind of look with no real features other than the arch look,” he said. “But when you look at it in person, it looks good and very effective for its purpose.”
What the car can do is run. The power comes from a Robert Yates Racing-built 5.0-liter Ford modular V8. At a bigger track such as Daytona the prototype can be pushed to 8600 rpm and 185 mph. On this day, the chance to drive it has attracted many people to Putnam Park, including Jim France, CEO of International Speedway Corp., Porsche rival (on the Grand-Am circuit) and former Indy 500 runner-up Scott Goodyear, and an assortment of sports car drivers, interested journalists and prospective customers.
“From the top view the engine appears large because the aluminum heads look big and bulky,” Evans said, assessing the design. “The engine also sits down low in the chassis, which shows how small the bottom end is and how compact the engine actually is. The starter motor sits on top of the bellhousing in what looks to be an odd but convenient location.
“The transmission looks to be the longest piece on the car, hanging out behind the rear wheels for what appears to be an immense distance as compared to the rest of the engine compartment.
“The front of the car is straightforward, with nothing terribly extraordinary in most areas. A couple of things that stick out are the shim-type camber adjustment and the air inlet for cockpit and defrost air. There is a cockpit adjust-able door to control the amount of air brought into the cockpit. The radiator is laid down almost horizontal and air inducted from bottom to top.”
Evans didn’t know if he could fit in the 2000-pound car. The extra padding was pulled out and the seat was moved all the way back on its track.
“The seat sits close to the center of the car, so you have to get your feet over the wide sill and over the high seat sides,” said Maxwell, who was there to help the new drivers. “Slide your feet down into what seems like an unusually narrow footwell, and then slide into the seat.”
Easier said than done.
“The seat felt tight getting in, but once all my parts are in place it’s very comfortable and supportive,” said Evans, knees braced against the bottom of the dash as he touched the pedals. “And best of all, I fit.”
The dash on the prototype has enough switches, fuses and adjusters to confuse a 747 pilot. The shifter sits to the right of the steering wheel and up fairly high. And forget the standard H pattern; the gearbox is a sequential six-speed.
“The engine display is mounted on the steering wheel,” Evans said. “It’s a big unit that sort of gets in the way of the steering wheel, so if you try to grip the wheel anywhere around the top you end up covering the display with your thumbs. I guess that’s why there are readouts for all sorts of things: oil pressure, rpm.”
It will take some getting used to.
Evans particularly liked the row of lights on the top of the display to indicate shift increments. As the rpm increases, the lights blink from outside to inside in different colors.
Evans, who has raced showroom stocks since 1990, grabbed the starter button, threw in the clutch, pulled once on the shift- er, fed some throttle and... stalled it. “The clutch pedal feels like one of those old floor-mounted dimmer switches cars used to have,” he said. “It is like click, click and that’s it. So much for having the feel.”
There is no flywheel to speak of in the prototype, just enough metal to bolt on a small-diameter racing clutch.
He refires. With more throttle this time the car started moving. Evans applied more throttle and released the clutch. “You soon figure out why everyone does burnouts leaving the pits,” he said.
Now out to the 1.76-mile track for a nice, easy warm-up lap.
“The car feels good, the controls are tight,” Evans reports. “Everything responds like it’s waiting for me to get my act togeth-er. I figure it’s show time, and I push the throttle to the floor.”
The response was immediate and strong. There was no tire spin, no pulling to the side, just straight on and fast. He reached the end of the long front straight- away, hit the brakes, downshifted, turned the wheel and fed the throttle. “Man, this thing is like it is on rails,” he said. The hardest thing to get used to here was the gearbox, which had about the same feel as the clutch. Evans found himself holding the lever longer than necessary because the shift was quick. “Not a big deal,” he said, “just something you would get used to.”
The handling seemed excellent, he said, and Evans tried to push the car to its limit. The car gently reminded him when he was there. “If you turn in a little too fast, it tends to understeer a little,” he says. “If you let off the throttle in the corner, it tends to oversteer a little. At all times it is predictable and forgiving.”
The light show on the engine display is never-ending until fourth gear. The Yates engine pulled strong right up to the rev limiter and the brakes did their job with no complaints.
Evans ran six laps before pitting. Then, other drivers got their chance. Second stints were allowed. For four hours drivers climbed in and out. The car never complained and was fed nothing but fuel.
“It’s better suited to a longer track; Putnam is kind of short and choppy,” Evans said. “It could really show its speed at a place like Daytona or a Road Atlanta. But all in all it’s a superb race car, the kind that makes anyone look like a pro.”
Even tall guys with a few miles on ’em.
(Photo) Tim Evans, our Multimatic Ford Focus test driver, has raced showroom stocks since 1990.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....