Ford will be Focus-ing on its racing program during the upcoming Chicago Auto Show. Quite literally, as it pulls the wraps off its Focus TrackSTer project car.
It’s one of three special track-ready versions of the popular compact “hot hatch” the maker is developing in partnership with gymkhana star Ken Block and the tuner firm fifteen52. The TrackSTer harkens back to some of Ford’s classic racing efforts while also showing off the capabilities of the Focus ST performance model.
The Ford news conference will also reveal the maker’s new Fiesta ST GRC race car which the maker hopes will give it a leg up in the Global RallyCross Championship series. It’s all part of an effort to position Ford’s small cars as serious performance competitors to better-known European and Japanese models.
The ST designation has been a familiar one for European motorists but only recently jumped the Atlanta as part of the Detroit maker’s expanding effort to globalize its product line-up, a central theme in the One Ford business strategy.
The maker is hoping it can build brand awareness by using motor sports to put the spotlight on the Focus and Fiesta ST street cars.
“Chicago, if not the entire Midwest, seems to have more than its fair share of hot-hatch enthusiasts, and there’s just something so right about coming to (Chicago) – in the dead of winter – and unveiling the hottest Focus ST anyone’s seen so far,” says Brad Beardow, co-owner of fifteen52, a firm that was originally known offering high-end accessories for European products, especially those from Volkswagen and Audi.
It has been working with Ken Block for several years and now has teamed up with Ford on Project ST, which will ultimately turn out three distinctive Focus ST project cars.
Street-legal but track ready, the Focus TrackSter will get an extensive makeover including a short throw shifter, a performance-tuned exhaust system, an engine tune-up that includes forged rods and pistons, a performance intercooler, a Quaife limited-slip differential and specially designed four-piston front brake calipers.
The partners claim the one-off is “possibly the ultimate all-around Focus ST.”
Ford is also hoping the same superlative will be applied to the Fiesta ST GRC which will race in four different countries as part of the RallyCross Championship this coming year.
“Global RallyCross has been a great series for us to demonstrate what Ford’s small performance cars can do,” said Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing. “With great drivers and teams, and now a formal manufacturer partnership with OlsbergsMSE, Ford Racing’s commitment to Global RallyCross is quickly growing.”
Ken Block will pilot the Fiesta race car in the GRC program for 2013. He claimed the silver medal in last year’s X Games. Also campaigning the new car will be Brian Deegan and Tanner Foust, himself a two-time Global RallyCross champion.
While Ford has long been active in a variety of motorsports efforts, in the U.S. it is perhaps best known for campaigning vehicles like the Mustang and Fusion. With increasing interest in smaller products, especially among younger American motorists, the company is hoping racing will help better establish the credibility of products like Focus and Fiesta — and help them target better-known European and Japanese hot hatch models.