Topic: Special Circumstances: Ridge 1 2019

If you saw the red-and-white focus at the 2018 or 2019 ridge 1 race and thought, "wow, what a cool car, I'd like to know more", well, here's everything:


History of the car
It's a 2004 2.3L PZEV manual sedan, similar to my daily driver focus (2007 2.0L) which was my goal when looking for a car.  Bought in 2018 for the 2018 ridge race.  It was sitting in a tow company's yard for a couple years, abandoned after it was t-boned on the passenger side.  I figured it just needed some hammering and a rear upper control arm; it ended up needing serious pulling with the harbor freight portable hydraulic kit and a full rear subframe.  I got the subframe on a 50% off junkyard sale so it's still a "$500 car" as far as that goes.  Added a bimarco "grip" containment seat airmailed from poland and roll cage components cage.

I had never welded or done any metal fab before but I took a TIG class at our local community college and did it myself, which was an adventure.  I don't recommend doing a cage with no experience like this but it was the right thing for me as it kept costs down and I'm not a bad welder now, and you have to start somewhere.  It did take, no joke, 100ish hours even with the pre-bent kit since I didn't want to sacrifice quality and with low skill that means tons of time fitting, setting up positions, grinding tungstens, and so on.  I don't recommend TIG for spreader plates, it's too hard to fill inconsistent gaps without blowing through thin floor metal so this took AGES, but it gave a great result on the tube-to-tube and tube-to-plate welds.  For my next car I think I'll take the community college MIG class and do MIG spreaders and TIG everything else.  Also I'm pretty sold on the "fit the cage tight to the floor, tack weld, and cut holes to drop the cage through the floor to complete the upper welds" method.  I did plinth boxes on this car to get clearance for the upper welds and it worked fine but I think the simplicity of the hole method is worth the tiny strength loss from 2" holes underneath big spreader plates.

2018 race
We ran the 2018 ridge race totally stock on ok-ish all season tires.  In my task overload I mounted two different tires on the car front/back so it had oversteer (the fronts were better), making it a little scary to drive.  The low speed radiator fan was broken going into the race (common problem on gen 1 focus, resistor goes open circuit), so the car overheated in the pits and we had to wire the high speed fan on full time (The high speed fan did work, but I suspect the ECU's turn-on temp for it is too high when running 100% water, so it's useless as far as preventing boiling).  We did 2:40ish laps (and the slowest "fast lap" of any car) before we blew the clutch and went home sunday morning.

2019 upgrades

  • junkyard oil-to-water cooler from the 2.3L ford escape's tow package (should bolt on to any mazda mzr - duratec 2.0 and 2.3, nc miata, etc.) I didn't measure before or after temps to see what it did but I consider this an awesome upgrade as it's a factory part, obviously the ford/mazda engineers considered it appropriate for the engine, the oil doesn't get piped around the engine bay and it's now locked to the water temperature, and this car has a somewhat oversized radiator that can easily keep up

  • billet front hubs from Mike Coppola.  2000-2011 focuses are known to lose wheels when racing by shearing off the front hubs so I did this as a safety upgrade (don't tell the judges, they cost more than the car)

  • fan override switches for low speed and high speed radiator fans.  after last year's overheating I wanted to be ready.  The ECU can still turn the fans on but now so can the driver

  • brakes from a 2005-2007 focus including rear discs from the ESC package (but no actual ABS or ESC).  ford upsized them in this year range vs. the 2000-2004 and they're easy-ish to fit (new spindles and ball joints if you get parts from a 2005, add new struts for 2006/2007).  The stock 2004 brakes felt pretty great last year so I just did this for heat capacity.  hawk hp+ pads, motul 600 fluid

  • deleted the AC.  this didn't save much weight so I kinda regret it. but it did open up the radiator I guess

  • smaller battery.  the autocross guys figured out the focus runs fine on a 10lb AGM battery.  having a cutoff switch helps since you don't need to worry about drains, I have daily driven with it and it's fine.  The car came with the factory audio upgrade so it had a 34lb battery stock

  • hankook r-s4 195/55R15 on stock aluminum 15x6 wheels.  these are 10% smaller circumference than stock and the car sits a touch lower to the ground

  • did a front toe alignment at the track with some fishing line and calipers, set it to zero (the only factory alignment options are front toe and rear toe)

  • everything else is stock! two catalytic converters, EGR, restrictive PZEV intake, full stock suspension, etc.  It does have a stock rear sway bar which keeps it flatter compared to my daily driver focus which lacks one (ford put rear sway bars on only some trim levels).  This would have been a no-brainer upgrade with a junkyard part if it did lack one

2019 race
I imposed a 5k RPM limit (ECU fuel cut is 6.5k) and we ran the high speed fan on the whole time which kept water temps between the 194F thermostat bypass (hit this a couple times a lap) and 208F max.  The car didn't break!  My brother did 2:17 for a few laps which showed the rest of us what it's capable of.  It could probably do 2:14ish if we disabled the 105mph ECU speed nanny and relaxed the RPM limit (3rd gear ran out a touch too early on a few turns, it would probably save two 3-4 shifts per lap).  The 2.3L PZEV has a huge power band compared to its sister 2.0 duratec and even the focus svt zetec, so by limiting to 5k RPM we gave up one of its strengths, but I was pretty anxious about finishing this year.

It was pretty floaty coming into turn 1 after hitting the 105mph speed limit on the straight (actually about 95mph because of the smaller tires).  In turns the car was perfectly balanced with some understeer when adding power.  The car has great steering (precise, zero slop) - legend has it the same steering rack was used on the 2005 ford GT.  Between the good steering and neutral handling it was really easy for us to push the car even as novice drivers.  For example, a couple of us figured out we could take turn 5 flat out if we accepted 10 feet of slide to the outside, which felt pretty heroic in a stock commuter car.  Overall, the car was toward the bottom of the field in power:weight, above only the sawzda, MG, and maybe the legacy, but punched above its weight in handling (and probably braking, but you never know how close to the edge everyone is running) and was super fun to drive.

I drove it to the track under its own power (from Eugene, OR) and since we didn't break anything this year, I drove it all the way home too.  The car is registered and insured so I had been driving it around before the race for errands for a while to work out bugs (for example - the clutch slave cylinder needs RTV on the transmission mating surface or it leaks! who knew...)  I brought spares for pretty much everything but the short block and trans and didn't need a thing.  This felt great but also a little out of place considering how many teams were deliberately running terrible cars.

Next Year

  • I think I want more rubber?  I really have no idea what I'm doing with cars but it felt a little slidey.  Wheel options for this car are limited.  Tirerack has 16x7.5 sport edition (store brand) "P5" wheels for $125 each, this would let us run 225 width tires vs. the 195s we're on now.  They have the wrong offset though so we'd go from zero scrub radius to something crappy and wrong.  Wrong offset is a common theme in tuner wheels for this car.  2008-2011 had a 17x7 wheel in a stock appearance package, those are cheap at junkyards and could do 215s, and they're OEM so they got the offset right.  I'm leaning toward those.  Unfortunately our current tires still have maybe 3 races left on them.  I could use advice here

  • I will probably switch to a 180F thermostat (this was stock in some hot climates, north american stock is 194F) and come up with a controller that lets me kick on the high speed fan at 205F and otherwise leave it off.  Running the fan full time was effective and simple but it worked the alternator pretty hard and sucked a little power

  • if I get residual value it's going into suspension bushings.  and the car needs an inch or two taken out of the springs, maybe I'll chop them.  It actually felt really awesome with 400lb of gear in it coming back from the track, so I guess that gives me a datapoint

  • we need better gas cans, we had one california no vent/plunger style gas can and spent a good 10 minutes with it at each stop, plus one pre-california with a small vent that took maybe 2 minutes.  We spent a total of 2 hours driver changing/fueling so I think this is the low hanging fruit

  • the PZEV intake is -5hp, I'll probably fix that

  • intake manifold and exhaust headers are both +5-10hp.  it's actually pretty impressive how choked the 2.3L duratec is that it can make this kind of progress with bolt-ons

  • a 91 octane tune gives 7-10hp but I want to diy this and it's $700 for the self tuner+software, which is entry level megasquirt territory which would be way more fun.  that's probably 2021 stuff.  self tuning opens up chinese turbo options too

  • I'm going to do car-to-pit telemetry, probably racecapture.  it'll make it a bunch more interesting while not driving and help monitor the car

  • I'm thinking of driving to sonoma (8 hours), meeting 3 drivers from socal, racing, and hoping to drive back, no trailer, just my tools and limited spares in the car.  I could also put on a trailer hitch, I have one on my daily driver I could move over, that would let me bring everything on a harbor freight trailer.  If we blow up I'd rent a uhaul.  Sonoma looks really crowded but maybe I've been spoiled by only 50-70 cars at ridge.  Talk me out of/into this.

Thanks to everyone who came out this year, we had fun and loved seeing all the other cars, especially the horrible american iron.  I wish I could go through the weekend again without managing the car so I'd have more time to wander and chat.  Maybe next year, the work load has gone down a bit already now that we've figured some things out.

Re: Special Circumstances: Ridge 1 2019

I can't help you with any of your questions, but good story! It sounds like you're having fun (the important part) and you have your shit together as a car owner (which is a good bonus).

I guess I can share my opinion on Sonoma. I've only driven there once, but I wouldn't take my own car there. Too much traffic for my taste, and too easy to get in trouble. (Part of this is my own skill level; I could be better about staying out of trouble.)

Command Pilot/Flight Director, Escape Velocity Racing
Index of Effluency, Heroic Fix, Class C Trophy, now hopelessly gunning for Class B.
Currently 1-2 vs. Team Fairlylame in the Class of 1964 Championships

Re: Special Circumstances: Ridge 1 2019

Thanks for sharing your story. Reading the history of your various modifications and challenges was really informative. I was a spectator at the Brainerd, MN Minneapolis 500 race and it got me daydreaming. I found lots of low-priced Focus's in Minneapolis craigslist and then reading about your path to racing made it seem possible. I'm a total newbie to anything car-repair-related but maybe...