We jump behind the wheel of a turbodiesel powered Focus Cup race car ahead of the championship’s inaugural season, and find out more about the series
Arrive and drive
The Focus Cup was dreamt up “over a pint after a good day’s racing at Oulton Park,” according to directors Simon Walton and Rob Sims.
Still fizzing with adrenaline, they wanted others to experience the same euphoria of competing in motorsport. The key to this, they established between swigs of Cheshire’s finest ale, was to make their championship way more affordable and accessible than is usual for tin-top racers.
Thus, an ‘arrive and drive’ style series was agreed upon. After all, this arrangement works in the world of karting, so why not race cars? It would allow drivers to compete without the hassle and expense of maintaining a car, or even transporting it to circuits.
Crucially, an arrive and drive format also provided organisers with more control – they could ensure every car is professionally presented at each event, and equal in terms of performance.
Wanting to reinforce the idea of a truly level playing field, Simon and Rob decided that drivers would be allocated two cars per weekend, chosen at random beforehand.
The only thing following them from one car to the next would be their tyres. And of course, spare vehicles would be ready and waiting should a driver shunt their car in qualifying or the race prior to handing it over for race two.
All drivers would need to worry about was making sure they’d earned at least a National B racing licence, owned the correct clothing, and paid the entry fee.
Pay as you go
In that regard, Simon and Rob arrived at £2,200 for one event, to a still modest £19,500 for the entire seven-round season, including pre-race testing.
That last figure covered everything from a fully prepared race car, to Friday testing, paddock support and access to mechanics throughout the weekend, plus an in-car lap timer, data logger and camera.
Not forgetting Dunlop tyres, Mintex brake pads, fuel, and shelter for the car when it’s not on track. A comprehensive package by anyone’s standard, and even more appealing when you consider a car alone is worth about £18,000.
Speaking of fuel, Simon and Rob spotted another opportunity when it came to the cars themselves. A turbodiesel is easily remapped to increase engine performance, and its high-torque-at-low-revs character would give racers a new challenge, no matter who they were.
Simon and Rob’s attention turned naturally to one of the UK’s best selling road cars – the Mk2 Ford Focus, which in 2.0 TDCi form would be quick enough and easy to maintain, with parts in plentiful supply. Finally, they had their plan and the Focus Cup was born.
Eight months later…
It’s late January, but the weather gods are on our side. There are patches of blue sky above Oulton Park race circuit in Cheshire, and my car’s temperature gauge is reading a positively barmy 9C.
Focus Cup organisers have very kindly invited Direnza to experience their cars during an MSV-run track day. Of course, we jumped at the offer and now find ourselves rubbing shoulders with mechanics and fellow track day goers, who’ve brought everything from Caterhams to Renaultsport Clios and Ginetta racers.
Stripped of all unnecessary cabin trim, the three-door Focus weighs just 1,250kg with driver and fuel. Its road stance is nice and beefy thanks to a 100mm wider front track achieved with 25mm spacers and 25mm hub offsets at each corner, and a widebody kit made by ABS Composite Panels.
Look closer and you’ll find coil-over suspension by AST in Holland, and Powerflex bushes. Team Dynamics supply the light alloy wheels.
Under the bonnet is a 175bhp, turbocharged four-cylinder running red diesel. Thanks to a remap, K&N air filter, and bespoke exhaust supplied by Direnza (complete with three-inch tailpipes), the engine also generates 310lb ft torque.
As we’ll find out later, that’s more than enough twisting force to spin-up the front wheels. For reference, the standard car makes 134bhp with 236lb ft torque, so there’s been some nice gains in that area.
Race car experience
Navigating the chunky roll cage and dropping into the Corbeau bucket seat, a mechanic helps tighten my five-point harness. No more children for me, then…
The Ford instrument cluster remains, but gone is the original steering wheel, replaced by a lovely Momo item with grippy inserts at 3 and 9 o’clock. I’ve never seen a race car with an adjustable steering column, and this stock feature makes finding a satisfactory driving position much easier.
Twist the key in the ignition and the engine starts with a familiar diesel bark, but the lack of sound deadening material in the cabin enhances its volume. An easy left and up with the gearlever, release the light clutch, and I’m rolling down the pit lane and onto the circuit.
It’s always a fantastic feeling merging onto a race track – the sense of freedom is unbeatable. Oulton Park must be treated with respect, however. The early morning rain shower hasn’t quite dried from the track’s surface, and on cold tyres the Focus feels very loose at the rear under braking.
Rob Sims told me they’ve set up the car to cater for all driving styles, and already I can tell gung-ho late brakers will love the car’s adjustability as you rotate into a corner. With the ESP switched off (you can leave it on if you wish), the Focus feels downright frisky through the off-camber Knickerbrook.
You can hear the turbocharger spool with crystal clarity, and it starts delivering the readies from around 2,200rpm. Such is the level of torque on offer, you can use third gear rather than second for Oulton’s two chicanes, and rely on fourth to pull you round the extraordinary Cascades left-hander.
I’m learning all the time, my confidence growing by the minute. The Focus dares me to brake later, and get on the power earlier to invigorate that whistling turbo.
Out for another session and with a dry line now apparent, I’m leaning on the car much harder through the scary-fast Island Bend, with barely a wobble felt through the seat of my pants.
One of those race spec Ginettas isn’t far ahead, audibly brapping on downshift and squirming at the rear under power. But for all its pedigree, its driver must let me through one lap later, on the exit of Old Hall Corner. A fast Ford indeed…
Not wanting to push my luck any further (there’s a £2,000 excess for any repairs), I back off and return to the pits. Needless to say the Focus Cup car has made a huge impression, not least because of its unburstable torque and adjustable handling – this hot hatchback can be driven however you want.
So despite early reservations, it turns out Simon and Rob really are onto something with their turbodiesel racer. You’ve got to applaud how they’ve turned something unconventional into a credible motorsport series. All of us at Direnza wish them the very best of luck.
The Focus Cup 2019 calendar is detailed below:
Donington Park – April 13th
Snetterton – May 11th
Oulton Park – July 20th
Croft – August 17th
Brands Hatch GP – September 7th
Brands Hatch Indy – September 8th
Donington Park – September 28th
Read the full announcement on Direnza’s sponsorship of Focus Cup here.