The Way of The FiST – Part 2: Drag Tested

One month into owning our 2019 Ford Fiesta ST, known as “The FiST,” we have been happily zipping it up and down the California Coast to break in the engine. Once we were satisfied that the car was properly broken in (our mantra — break ‘em in fast to go fast) we changed the oil and promptly took it to the racetrack.

In our first installment of The Way of The FiST, we detailed why we chose the quick little hot hatch as a new project car and the different dealer options we selected when purchasing the car (almost none to keep the car lightweight). Next it was time to benchmark the Ford Fiesta ST in bone-stock form and see how it performed. This would help guide us through what changes we would like to make to the car to turn it into an SCCA autocross H-Street class winner. First, we wanted to see how the car accelerated on the drag strip.

DRAG RACING

“Race the strip, not the street” is the appropriate catchphrase for Redding Dragstrip in Redding, CA, where we took the Fiesta ST on its first pass down a quarter-mile. Drag racing photos courtesy of Mason Newsome.)

There is no easier benchmark to compare one car to another like a quick trip down the quarter-mile. Drag racing times reveal the acceleration characteristics of a car, which come from the vehicle’s power-to-weight ratio and ability to gain traction at the starting line. Sure, you can Google search drag racing times for a Ford Fiesta ST or scroll through different Fiesta ST forums to see what other owners have accomplished, but I have found this data is often flawed. Historically, automotive print magazine quarter-mile tests are always faster than what the average person can pull off with a car purchased at a dealership. This can be attributed to a couple of things: outstanding drag racing drivers who test cars for a living, specific tracks used (at sea level), and some have even speculated that special, more powerful “media cars” have been doled out from the factory to be tested for media love. And when it comes to forum boys bragging online about their best e.t., sometimes those cars are modified from stock form prior to posting drag racing times. Since neither of these sources can be trusted, it was time to hit the dragstrip ourselves with the FiST.

Here is the bone-stock 2019 Ford Fiesta ST making its first quarter-mile pass at Redding Dragstrip. The 0.169 posted on the board is my reaction time (which, admittedly, could have been better).

For just one single $20 bill freshly yanked from an ATM machine I could run as many times as I wanted at Redding Dragstrip during their NHRA Street Legal Style Drags night. After a quick tech inspection to make sure the car had a solid battery mount under the hood (which Ford kindly provided from the factory in stock form), I was lined up in the left lane, ready to see how fast the little Fiesta was. Three yellow lights on the Christmas tree dropped (of course, I left on the last yellow), I dumped the clutch, hammered the gas, and I was on my way down the track. The car hooked up pretty good at the starting line, with a little wheel hop from the front Michelin tires. As I grabbed Second gear, I heard the wheels chirp, and then endured a horrendous BANG as the stock rubber engine mounts couldn’t really hold in the power from the 197-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter engine. It sounded like the entire drivetrain was trying to come through the firewall. Not good. I finished the run and picked up my time slip. I ran a 15.495 at 88.83 miles per hour. Hmmm . . . we can do better.

I pulled back into the lanes and inspected the engine mounts. They seemed to still be attached. I had heard from other ST owners that the rear stock engine mount wasn’t awesome — and it turns out they were right. My 15.4 quarter-mile time wasn’t what I was looking for (especially since one magazine test had claimed half of a second faster at 14.9, but we know about those tests). Redding Dragstrip is at an elevation of 557 feet above sea level which isn’t bad and I had a half tank of fuel (so, a little more weight than I needed but nothing crazy). I looked down at the dash and saw that during the run I had left the air conditioning on and forgot to turn off traction control. Stupid!

By holding down the ESC button (Electronic Stability Control) on the center console for a few seconds you can turn off traction control and ESC. The back-up camera/SYNC screen lights up with a handy progress bar indicating how much longer to hold the button down (which is very helpful). Once the system is turned off, you will see at the base of the speedometer the illuminated “traction control off” symbol.

I decided to get my act together for the next run and ensure the car was ready for a righteous trip down the strip. This time there would be no traction control, no air conditioning, and I was determined to get a better reaction time (not that reaction times count toward the vehicle’s quarter-mile time, but the racer in me wanted to be faster). I was so darn determined to get a better reaction time that I red-lighted the run with a -0.020 reaction. Shoot! (I didn’t say shoot in the car.) As I approached the finish line, I was getting close to the redline in Third gear. I was hoping to cross the stripe without shifting into Fourth, but before I hit the line, the rev limiter came on, slowing the car down and goobering up the run. I went slower during my second run, which was the complete opposite of what I wanted to accomplish. Back to the drawing board.

My second run down the strip resulted in a red light, more ugly noises from the soft motor mounts, and me hitting the rev limiter right before the finish line. Not awesome.

NEW RUN – NEW PLAN

With one baseline run down and a screwed up run in the books, it was time to get serious. My second run was a slow 15.867 at 86.94 miles per hour — shame, shame. I realized the car needed a Fourth gear upshift. For my next run, I decided I would power-shift the car, leaving the throttle planted as I pushed in the clutch to change gears, just to keep the turbo spooled through the gear changes. I decided to stage a little shallower to try for a better time for the car. I thought about chucking out the spare tire and tools to save some weight. I had all sorts of ideas to go faster, I just needed to execute them.

The FiST lined up at Redding Dragstrip trying to find more speed. The license plate “DBLNKL9” is a nod to my road racing team, Double Nickel Nine Motorsports.

As I was waiting in the staging lanes for my next run, something great happened. I was called out for a grudge match. Redding Dragstrip had a wide array of cars at the Street Legal Drags, from 1960s muscle cars to ‘90s imports, and me in my bone-stock Fiesta. At the event, there was a large contingent of Acura Integras in different stages of modification. One of the Integra drivers came up to me and asked if I was interested in lining up against him for a grudge match. I took a quick peek under the hood of his car and it looked like a high mileage B18A1 Honda motor. My answer? “Hell yes!”

IRONY

The reason I was immediately agreeable to drag racing the Integra heads-up was because I have a lot of seat time in Acura Integras and I know what they can do and what they can’t do. Before doing the Ford Fiesta ST project car for FordNXT, I was road racing an Acura Integra and covering it for TURNolgy, where my team won multiple National Championships. I was more than happy to put the little turbo Ford up against an Integra with a B18 engine.

The guy who asked me for a heads-up drag race in his Acura Integra had no idea he would be lining up against the Integra-wheeling NASA Honda Challenge National Champion of Double Nickel Nine Motorsports (who was now driving a Ford).

The Integra driver seemed pretty excited that he found somebody to race. I saw him walk over to his Honda friends and brag a little bit that he’s got a grudge match against a Fiesta. What he failed to realize was that he had a grudge match against a Fiesta ST. You know, the one with the turbo. We jockeyed around the staging lanes to ensure the two of us could line up together. We told the grid person we wanted a grudge match race and the staff at Redding Dragstrip cordially made it happen. We each rolled toward the lanes eager to crush the other one.

As I lined up for the start, I mentally listed what I needed to do to take down the Acura Integra. 1. Concentrate. 2. Good reaction time (but don’t redlight). 3. Don’t spin the tires. 4. Hit every shift 100 rpm below the redline. 5. Drive as straight as possible. 6. Absolutely DO NOT LOSE!

I lined up in the left lane, staged a bit shallow, and revved the engine to 2,300 rpm. The Integra staged and I heard his Honda engine rev. The lights dropped and we were off. From my peripheral view, it looked like I got him at the start. The clutch grabbed quick, and the front tires bit nicely at the line, and I hit all three of my shifts perfectly. As I approached the finish line, I was looking in my right side mirror for the Integra . . . nowhere to be found. I crossed the line and the ever satisfactory win light shined on my side. Awesome!

VICTORY

Winner, winner chicken dinner! The Fiesta/Integra grudge match went down with the FiST earning its best time at the track that night: a 15.294 at 90.02 mph. It put down the Acura Integra, which could only muster a 15.593. Bye bye, Honda.

In my first race with the Fiesta ST, I came out victorious (which is how I prefer things go at the race track). The car ran its best time of the night: a 15.294 at 90.02 miles per hour. I would have preferred to see the car get into the 14’s, but I just wasn’t able to make it happen. The sound from the engine mounts during the First to Second shift never got any better, but it never got any worse either, so it is what it is. Looking at SCCA’s rules for the H-Street class (where we plan to autocross the FiST) to get some more power and a better quarter-mile time, we can change the air filter, behind-the-cat exhaust, fluids, and spark plugs. That isn’t a ton of modifications to lower an e.t., but it is something. In future segments of The Way of The FiST, we will work through each of those items to try and make the car quicker.

For a bone-stock car that cost less than $20,000 and runs 90 mph in the quarter-mile, the Ford Fiesta ST is truly a hot hatch that can get things done.

Drag racing is always a good time and doing it at the track versus on the street (where it is extremely illegal and unsafe) is the smart way to race. Big props to Redding Dragstrip and the NHRA for giving people a safe and legal place to see what their cars can do. It turned out, the Fiesta ST could do quite a lot.

About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider will race absolutely anything. He is a multi-national champion racing driver and is also the author of the novel, Cadet Blues.
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