Fast learner.

Keep smiling xxx

We were doing well over 100mph in a dark blue Focus ST when we came across the brow and met the obstruction…

Yup, I’m back at the Henry Ford College for more Ford Motor Company indoctrination, I mean product knowledge, and after a classroom based morning learning about Ford finance, latest technology, Internet selling and showroom etiquette we’re onto the practical stuff, learning about Ford and their competition, plus a couple of items of entertainment, hot laps in a high performance Ford being one of them.

The racing driver sat next to me in the driving seat went from full throttle in fourth to hard braking with a delicious crackle from the twin pipes. A beautifully smooth shift into third, flick flack through the coned chicane and back onto the power to a hard warble from those twin exhausts. More firm braking and the car is tipped into a tightening right-hander at a frankly unfeasible speed, and I’m pressed hard into the left-hand bolster of the Recaro passenger seat, weight of my crash helmet pulled toward the window as the power goes back on and the car dances through the apex of the curve in a perfect four wheel slide. My very own personal Stig apologised that it wasn’t a Focus RS this session, but from where I sat, grimly hanging onto the grab handle, it felt plenty quick enough.

Two minutes later we’re back in the pits and I’m getting my breath back as the next victim climbs in. I stand and watch as the car moves gently out of the pit lane onto the track and the back end dips slightly as full throttle is applied once more. The car rockets off up the straight, banshee howl punctuated by a fast change into third at the red line and then fourth followed by a stab of brake light as it disappears over the crest toward that coned chicane. Awesome!

Prior to that I’d been driving the track myself in fast convoy with about twenty other cars, half of them Ford Fiesta’s, half VW Polos. The idea was to highlight to us the superb driving dynamics and superiority of the Fiesta over the competition, and the Polos had been drafted in to make the point. The Fiesta is a really great car on the road, and so it proved on the track, instructors at each end of the convoy were the racing drivers piloting the Focus ST’s that were to provide the hot laps later, and they weren’t hanging about. I drove a Fiesta first and just as on the road it sits on tip toe, steered by the fingertips and instantly responsive to input. It would be interesting to see how the Volkswagon compared. After a spirited lap we trailed back into the pits and all swapped cars, Fiesta drivers piloting Polo’s and vice versa.

But as I sat in the Polo waiting for the off I noticed something interesting. The Fiesta’s were all Zetec S’s, the sports model with the biggest engine (1.6 turbo diesels in the cars provided), bigger wheels with wide low profile tyres for enhanced grip, and lowered stiffened sport suspension for flatter keener cornering. Just the job for track work. But what were these Polos? Plastic wheel trims were the first clue, asthmatic engines the second, they’d pitched the sporty Fiestas against Billy Basic bottom of the range Polo’s, narrow of tyre, soft of suspension and three cylinder petrol of engine. Not that far off half the price of those top spec Fiesta’s then, so hardly a shock that they didn’t compare out on the track. Come on Uncle Henry, have the courage of your convictions, if you’re going to sell us on the Fiesta’s superiority at least go like for like. Would a base model Fiesta Studio with the equivalent 1.25 60hp petrol engine have put up quite as convincing a case? We’ll never know.

I did smile to myself as I spotted the ESP button in the little VW though, that much trumpeted safety feature of my last Ford experience, standard in the most basic of Polo’s, and, err, optional extra on even the top end performance Fiesta… (In fairness they are going to be bringing this in to the standard specification shortly, and rightly so).

Car football was a welcome and fun diversion. Intended to demonstrate the nippiness of a Ka we were given a target time of 40 seconds to punt a huge inflatable football down a course, 360 degrees around an inflatable Fiesta, and then punt it into an inflatable goal. My time of forty one seconds had to be unassailable. Three people got it in dead on forty…

Other highlights were a road drive comparison test of a Focus against key competition. I tried a Peugeot of some sort, pleasant enough car but fair enough, the Focus bests it. Then a similar set up with the Ka against small car competition. A Vauxhall Agila was my steed for this event, and the Ka does feel and drive better, but it’s hard to argue against the back doors and extra space in the Vaux. Tiny bit cheaper than our Ka too (and interesting, incidentally, to see that Vauxhall offer a “price guide” to download from their site, not a price list. Doesn’t smack of confidence).

All in all an interesting visit, albeit with a degree of overlap to my last course (which was intended purely for newcomers to the marque, this one an update for all Ford sales employees).

That should be about it for training in the short term, back to the showroom now to put into practice my newly generated enthusiasm for all that is Blue Oval.

Quite fancy a Focus ST though, wonder how many cars I’d need to sell before I could negotiate one of those as my company car..!


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