All Fours: From Track to Mountain Peak at Fordís Focus RS and Raptor Driving Schools
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All Fours: From Track to Mountain Peak at Fordís Focus RS and Raptor Driving Schools

This is a discussion on All Fours: From Track to Mountain Peak at Fordís Focus RS and Raptor Driving Schools within the News forums, part of the Site News category; APRIL 24, 2017 AT 3:54 PM BY TONY MARKOVICH At their cores, Fordís Focus RS hatchback and F-150 Raptor super pickup are toolsĖtools designed to ...

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Thread: All Fours: From Track to Mountain Peak at Fordís Focus RS and Raptor Driving Schools

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    All Fours: From Track to Mountain Peak at Fordís Focus RS and Raptor Driving Schools

    APRIL 24, 2017 AT 3:54 PM BY TONY MARKOVICH


    At their cores, Fordís Focus RS hatchback and F-150 Raptor super pickup are toolsĖtools designed to perform at the highest levels on- and off-road, respectively. Unlike the far more common vehicles from which theyíre spawned, theyíre capable of being pushed to limits most drivers arenít necessarily equipped to reach. Of course, capability is pointless if the wielder of said tool doesnít know how to exploit it. Enter Ford Performance Racing School, where instructors are tasked with making sure the tools arenít wasted by the people purchasing them.

    With every purchase of a Ford Performance vehicle such as the RS and Raptor, the buyer gets a free course at the school. Travel and lodging are not included, but vehicles, fuel, and tires are part of the dealĖso you wonít have to drive your own baby. Itís kind of like every car and truck has a Willy Wonka golden ticket in the glovebox, except instead of a guided factory tour with Mark Fields in a top hat, owners get a full day of professional training and practice at a top-of-the-line facility.

    There are currently five vehicles you can purchase that qualify you for four different Ford Performance schools. The Focus RS opens up the RS Adrenaline Academy, the Fiesta and Focus ST the ST Octane Academy, the F-150 Raptor the Raptor Assault, and the Mustang GT350 and GT350R the GT350 Track Attack. The Raptor and RS are the most recently introduced, so Ford invited us to northern Utah to get a taste of these programs.

    The exclusive home base for Fordís programs and our venue was the 511-acre Utah Motorsports Campus, which opened in 2006 in Tooele, Utah, under the Miller Motorsports Park name. The facility includes an Alan Wilsonódesigned road course and has hosted events under the NASCAR, American Le Mans, Pirelli World Challenge, FIM Superbike World Championship, AMA Superbike, and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series banners, among others. The Ford programs are typically full-day affairs, but the plan for us media was to cram as much of both RS and Raptor programs as possible into a single day.

    Learning to Kick RS

    The morning was devoted to the Focus RS curriculum, and, after a brief chalk talk and van tour of the track, we headed out ourselves in a racing suit and helmet provided by the school for some lead-follow laps. This allows attendees to get comfortable with being on track, and each lesson is intended to allow all levels of drivers to go at their own pace. Although the RS is a high-performance car, its buyers could range anywhere from people who track their car every weekend to those who simply want a slightly more exciting commute to work and have never been on a road course before.

    The air was clear and cool, and a pack of Ford-provided Shadow Black, Frozen White, Nitrous Blue, and Stealth Gray Focuses sat in pit row, with two instructor-piloted Mustang GTs keeping them at bay. As we started the car and let out a deep breath, the air crystallized into icy clouds while the exhaust burbled to life. In the distance, majestic snow-capped mountains poked toward the sky in seemingly every direction, a gorgeous and enthralling sight for those of us who come from the flat Midwest. It made focusing on the blacktop a bit of a challenge, to be sure.

    Groups are kept small, and although thereís no one in the passenger seat, hand signals keep the lines of communication open. Strategically placed cones along the outside of the track mark the optimal places to turn in and guide you to cones placed at the apexes. The most frequently repeated tip was to keep your eyes looking far ahead down the trackĖeven if it means looking out the side windowsĖand where you want the car to go, rather than at whatís directly in front of the bumper. Unlike some other track-based driving schools weíve attended, Ford allows drivers to settle in and get comfortable with quickly lapping right off the bat. After each trip around the circuit, the front RS would pull to the side and fall to the back, giving each person the opportunity to set a pace with the lead driver.

    Once that was complete, the professionals hopped into the passenger seat for individual instruction and then gave each attendee ridealong hot laps so that owners can truly see what the car is capable of. The rest of the morning was spent on a black lake exploring the 350-hp, all-wheel-drive RSís other capabilities, including launch control and Drift mode.

    The RSís launch control is activated by using one of the steering wheelís control pads to explore the Driver Assist menu on the digital screen in the instrument cluster. With the clutch pressed and the car in first gear, drivers can stomp on the gas, and the car will hold at redline with a ruckus that could qualify as hard rock. Drop the clutch, and the AWD system, traction control, and dampers work together to maximize the launch. Itís so simple, a newb could do it.

    Drift mode isnít as easy as that to nail, but itís still straightforward. We staged around a circle of cones on water-drenched pavement (to save the tires and make achieving yaw easier) and switched the RS into Drift mode with the drive selector. The torque-vectoring AWD system can then shift up to 70 percent of torque to the rear axle, read inputs from the driver to determine if the car is under control or not, and correct faults or lay off. To help us experience this, the instructors had each person start slowly around the cones, punch the gas, and attempt their best impressions of Sean Boswell from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

    Then it was Raptor time.

    Running with the Raptor


    Unlike the RS program, the Raptor session extended beyond the campus and out into the nearby mountains and surrounding terrain. A short tutorial was given to point out controls in the Raptor and gave some guidelines for trail driving before we got into the activities. Two quick rock-climbing exercises demonstrated a couple of the truckís most helpful features for action out in the wild. A built-in menu provides data for the angle at which the truck is tilting in all four dimensions and the degree at which the steering wheel is turned. We carefully drove across an incline that tilted us up to 30 degrees to the side, which felt like everybody in the cabin was about to be dumped out of the open driverís-side windows. But the truck shrugged it off.

    The Raptor also has a camera built into the front bumper to make it easier to clamber up a steep hill when the windshield is filled only with blue sky and clouds. It felt unnatural to look at an infotainment screen while doing something so nerve-racking, but it was extremely helpful, even more so with rocks ahead. Once over the crest, the instructors told us to tuck our feet into the seat and keep off the pedals. That didnít seem like the best idea while facing a fence just beyond the pathís sharp left turn at the base of the hill, but the automatic hill-descent control coasted us down, no problem. It was useful practice before experiencing similar situations involving foreign obstacles on the trail.

    The final portion of the event saw us venture through a few small Utah towns (the caravan of 10 Raptors was only slightly out of place) on the way to off-road trails in Rattlesnake Canyon. The Raptor has a six-mode Terrain Management systemĖwith Normal, Sport, Weather, Mud/Sand, Baja, and Rock Crawl modesĖand there were conditions to try them all.

    The trails offer challenges for drivers of all abilities, but while none were especially wild, they werenít basic backcountry dirt roads either. On the way up the mountain, there were plenty of moments of low-level rock crawling; maneuvering through deep, muddy ruts; splashing through large puddles; and using the features introduced at base camp to negotiate severe inclines. In the trickiest areas, Ford put spotters along the path to help navigate.

    Once back in the valley, the last activity was some good, old-fashioned desert running. Here, cones didnít shape the course; rather black brush, yuccas, and sand sagebrush created the boundaries. With the standard grille LEDs and rear-facing lights on the accessory roll bar turned on for extra visibility, the pack picked up speed, creating a seemingly miles-long dust cloud that made it almost impossible to see where the next turns were. Channels from previous drives made it a challenge to keep the wheel steady but proved reassuring when they served as our only guidance for where to point the truck.

    The trail time with the Raptor seemed like it would be the most helpful to owners. Tracking in the RS was a thrilling learning experience, but it requires buyers of the car to have a nearby track and money to cover the usual consumables to continue to rack up experience. The Raptor could cart the family to brunch, then straight to the local ORV trails. Extra cash and special venues arenít necessarily required, beyond perhaps a permit. Towering mountains elevate the fun, but no matter where you wheel it, the factory-built, tackle-anything truck delivers unique accessibility to adventure.

    And thatís what Ford offers with its schools. It recognizes that buyers of its performance vehicles have a taste for adrenaline, and by showing them whatís possible with the Mustangs, Focuses, Fiestas, and F-150s they drive, Ford not only is creating an additional connection with its customers, itís pushing them to find adventures on their own.

    We Attend Ford's Focus RS Academy and Raptor Driving Schools| News | Car and Driver | Car and Driver Blog
    Last edited by Hoonigan; 04-25-2017 at 06:58 AM.
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