After sliding sideways in the hottest of hatches and tipping a 5,600-pound truck on its side, you could forgive me for having a near permanent grin on my face. As one of 10 media members getting a preview of the latest Ford Performance owner experiences, we’ve been given a crash course in the capabilities of the 2017 Focus RS and 2017 F-150 Raptor (without any actual crashing) and we loved it.
Beginning this week at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah, owners of these two diverse machines who signed up for the RS Adrenaline Academy and Raptor Assault — included with their vehicle purchase — will learn the true capabilities of their vehicles. After our condensed preview, we’d have to say they will come away with a new respect for their rides.
“With the launch of the RS and the Raptor programs this spring, we now have an owner program for all the Ford Performance vehicles, so it’s becoming part of the fabric of what it means to be a Ford Performance vehicle owner,” said Mickey Matus, primary consultant at Matus Company, who helped setup these programs when he was with Ford Performance.
Are You Experienced?
We arrive at the impressive racing campus, formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park, and enter what used to be a museum and is still filled with some impressive Ford Performance hardware. It is now a reception area for the Ford Performance Racing School, which offers complete driver training in prepped Mustang GTs of the current vintage. The school offers one- and two-day schools as well as competition licensing, but a mainstay of its offerings are these Ford Performance vehicle ownership experiences.
This is about the experiential element and there is no better Walt Disney theme park for enthusiasts than the one offered by the men and women of the Ford Performance Racing School. — Jim Owens, Ford Performance
“The RS program was a natural extension of our ST Octane Academy,” Ford Performance Racing School President, Dan McKeever explained. However, the Raptor class required more work to put together a compact experience that highlights all the unique facets of the versatile truck.
That, of course, is the trick with these owner programs. They aren’t designed to turn participants into instant race car drivers. Rather, they allow participants to experience all these machines have to offer in a safe, encouraging environment. Better yet, they get to do it in the school’s vehicles, rather than beating on their own new machines — though they will certainly want to afterward.
“This is about the experiential element, and there is no better Walt Disney theme park for enthusiasts than the one offered by the men and women of the Ford Performance Racing School,” Ford Performance Marketing Manager Jim Owens enthused.
Shot Of Adrenaline
We had a fast pass through that amusement park that began with a quick overview of what owners of the Raptor and RS will experience in their full day sessions. Then we got a brief rundown of the procedures and track-flag meanings, and then we headed out to the 12-turn UMS East track for lead-and-follow laps in the Focus RS.
Having driven these cars on the street, we knew they were capable – but on the track, they imbue drivers of any skill level with confidence, especially when you select the proper drive mode — Normal, Sport, Track or Drift.
Barreling down into the Agony turn, the Brembos are more than capable of slowing things down, and returning to the power through Ecstasy leads to gleefully gliding through the Attitudes before surging into the power again. After a few laps and some well-placed tips from the brave instructor in the passenger seat, we were turned loose on our own.
By the time the 25 minutes of track time was winding down, our confidence was rising. Then we got to feel what the car was truly capable of by strapping into the passenger seat and riding with an FPRS instructor. He practically glided around the track at the edge of traction. Tires squealing slightly, he was only off the power long enough to breathe on the brakes and get right back to the power.
As we pulled into the pits, he enthused about how fun the Focus RS was and we have to agree. Even if you own one, you’ll be thrilled to learn the full capabilities this car delivers right off the showroom floor.
Still stunned from the RS’ awesomeness, we hop behind the wheel and drive to the wet skid pad. We enjoy watching drifting and have ridden with the master himself, Vaughn Gittin Jr., but we have never tried it. Now it’s time to engage Drift mode. They might as well just name this “Fun” mode.
The instructor coaches me up. With Drift mode on, we circle slowly. He tells us to cut the wheel and put our foot to the floor. The rearend comes out and we start countersteering. However, we quickly learn to fight the urge to modulate the throttle as our drift peters out. This time we cut the wheel, floor it and keep the pedal to the floor, counter-steering our away around the skid pad. We are having the time of our lives.
Jim Owens was right. This is an amusement park for enthusiasts…
The last stop on the RS ride was the UrbanX course, which combines autocrossing and Gymkhana style obstacles. It began with another eye-opener — Launch Mode. With a few menu clicks, it’s on. With the clutch engaged, put your foot to the floor and it holds rpm at 5,000. Dump the clutch and the EcoBoost 2.3 snaps your head back and the car lurches forward with minimal tire spin. Oh. That was fun. Then we were sliding through cones and around obstacles, where the RS again shows its prowess.
And just like that, the morning is over and it’s time for lunch. RS Adrenaline Academy students get to do this for a whole day with the option of paying for another day and moving into the school Mustangs.
In the afternoon we switched gears to the 10-speed-automatic-equipped Raptors. After a brief overview, we’re paired up with an expert in the passenger seat to help guide us through the Terrain modes — Normal, Sport, Weather, Mud/Sand, Baja and Rock Crawl — and the trails. In our case, it was the gracious, John C Wicks, Ford Performance program manager.
The experience in that truck is phenomenal. They show you every different aspect of what you can do in that truck. — Ryan Busse, Ford
What makes these programs so effective is the curriculum is designed to quickly build driver confidence. The first thing we did in the Raptor was the simplest, but the most amazing. We were guided to drive the truck right up on an incline and stop. This was an incline so steep it felt like we should be rolling over, but the Raptor was rock solid.
We soon were ascending hills, climbing over rocks and descending inclines with no feet on the pedals. The hardware and software in the Raptor combine to deliver amazingly flexible performance. Driving from trails to pavement and then up a rocky path, the trucks gobbled up whatever was in their paths, and we learned a bit a about two-footing it up over the rocks to control the travel of the tires over obstacles.
It turns out that the activities owners will enjoy during the Raptor Assault aren’t that far removed from what the engineers did in developing the vehicle. The terrain is a bit different, but the experience is similar.
“What you are going to see in a half a day, we do throughout the development,” Ryan explained. “We do very close to what you are going to see today as far as the terrain you go through, the speeds you run and the coaching you go through.”
If you are going to travel all the way out to Utah to take part in these amazing owner experiences, you should definitely consider sticking around for a second day of Ford Performance Racing School instruction in Mustang GTs. According to the school, the second-day upgrades offer…
• Small class size
• Drive a track-prepped 2015 Mustang GT
• Begins with classroom session
• Heel/toe braking techniques
• Vehicle dynamics (skid car)
• Premium catered lunch
• Track session with lead and follow
• Track session with instructor ride-along
• Solo track session on our world-class track.
If you attend the RS Adrenaline Academy or Raptor Assault you can upgrade to a second day for $1,495, which is $200 off the regular one-day school price.
“The process of developing just the shocks alone is incredible because you are doing on-road, off-road, mud, snow, dirt, gravel and you have one shock,” Ryan said. “You aren’t going to give the customer six different sets of shocks. Luckily we have FOX in our corner to help develop the nine internal stages.”
It really was amazing to see the truck take on rocks, hills, roads and trails with such ease. As our wonderful day waned, we were blasting through some desert trails. The truck gobbled up the bumps and still handled well. When it was over, we transitioned to the pavement. With the windows rolled up and the A/C on, the Raptor was so quiet as we headed back the Utah Motorsports Campus, it was if it had quickly changed personalities, but all we did was change from Baja to Sport mode.
Amazingly, the take rate for these classes — which are free to owners of Fiesta STs, Focus STs, Focus RS, F-150 Raptors and Shelby GT350s — is relatively low. The only program that is finished, the Boss 302 Track Attack, had about 27 percent of owners sign up, which seems way too low. Sure, you have to get yourself to Utah to take advantage of the free owner experiences, but it’s well worth the trip and you can bring a friend for a reasonable rate, which makes the adventure even more fun.
So, if you own one of these cars, be sure to sign up as soon as you can. The RS Adrenaline Academy sold out of its available spots for this year in just 48 hours, but there’s always next year…