WASHINGTON, DC – When Ford RS Nation.com was invited by our friends at Ford Performance to get an insider’s view of the Red Bull Global Rallycross event in Washington, D.C., we jumped at the chance. We’ve done some cool things at events before thanks to our relationship with Ford Performance, such as getting media day passes for a first look at the new Focus RS at the New York Auto Show earlier this year. But when they told us that if we came to D.C., they’d arrange for a ride-along with Steve Arpin, driver of the “00” ENEOS, Loenbro, Chip Ganassi Racing, M-Sport-built GRC Ford Fiesta, we immediately packed our bags.
Leaving New York in the wee hours of the morning, we arrived in Washington, D.C. by 7:30 a.m., and were greeted by Jordan, a representative of Ford Performance. The sun was already baking the tarmac by the time we got to RFK Stadium, so it was certainly going to be a hot day, both off & on the track.
We were originally scheduled to be fifth in line for a ride-along, and had already signed the waiver and submitted it to the Red Bull GRC powers-that-be when we decided to spend out wait time perusing the cars lined up on the course. Somehow, as destiny would have it, we were moved to be first on track and were told to “go suit up.”
After getting into an FIA-approved Sparco race suit and helmet adorned with the Blue Oval and Ford Performance logos, I felt I now looked proper for the Ford ride-along, unable to hide a big smile in anticipation.
Having attended many rally and rallycross events to photograph around the world over the years, I have only sat in a real rally car once before – and back then they never came with 600 horsepower or a similar amount of torque! The last time that kind of power was around was when Group B was in World Rally, and that was back in the 80’s. The 1980’s …I’m not that old!
Getting into a rally car is not very simple; perhaps being a gymnast or yoga expert would have made it easier. But alas, I’m neither, so the body had to re-learn a few new angles just to climb in to the passenger’s seat!
If you have never been to a GRC event, you should know that the driver also has an assistant. He helps the driver get ready for the run, especially when it comes to buckling the harness (seatbelt). It’s not the regular grab-and-click type in your family car; rather it’s a 4- or 5-point harness that takes some adjustment.
Once I was finally buckled into the passenger seat, which is very narrow and tight, I thought to myself, I’m pretty sure my hips have NOW been permanently modified!
O.K., so now we are both securely strapped in. Steve is ready and he presses the start button … Brmm, Bbrmmm! (which is my technical term for the engine sound upon firing up) …we move to the start line … the track marshal in front of us sees that we are lined up and in position, ready to go. While we are waiting, Steve begins explaining the launch control and ALS (Anti Lag System) to me, but through my helmet and with the raucous sound of the car even at idle, to be honest it was kind of tough to hear. He went on to tell me about the four different ALS settings and how he monitors the rpm’s. Then he proceeds to explain the handbrake, which if used, disconnects the differential from the drive shaft and helps rotate the car around tight hairpin corners.
Steve stops to tell me that he is hearing from his spotter and we are now ready to go!
There’s a cacophony of sound, and as my adrenaline rises to above feverish, then BANG! In a fraction of a second we are gone! “Launch control, we have lift off” (I told myself in my best NASA voice).
The velocity that the GRC Ford Fiesta rockets off the line pins you well into the seat. In a blink of an eye and in a matter of mere seconds and fractions that only the world’s best timing gear can measure, we have literally gone from the start line and thru Turns1,2 & 3, and we are now hand-braking through the hairpin and heading down the back straightaway. The astounding level of grip from the Yokohama tires and the veracity of the Ford’s AWD system is truly amazing to experience!
After the straightaway, we then brake hard and make a left turn into the shortest gravel/dirt section in the GRC calendar, heading right to the jump! From inside the car it looks steep, and we ease off the throttle a little to take it – and land nicely. This is not your average car suspension, either. The suspension system in these cars can cost as much as your basic family sedan.
That was it for the gravel/dirt portion of the run; we now have two double apexes, and then back through Turns 1 & 2 to cross the finish line for our second lap. Time it took for one lap was under a single minute!
I’m watching Steve ply his driving skills to this GRC Ford Fiesta as we literally low-level fly around the track. It is truly a sight to behold in person. How they do all this and watch out for the other cars, all while vying for positions when the real racing-and-rubbing happens, is a testament to the prowess and professionalism of the drivers of these present-day mini supercars.
After we finish the second lap, we return to the paddock and the assistant returns to help me with getting out of the harness. I then had to reverse-gymnast maneuver my way out!
My brain and senses were still trying to analyze and absorb everything that just happened as I walked from the paddock. This was the quickest less-than-2 minutes of my entire life!
It was a phenomenal experience that will never be forgotten. Our many thanks to Ford Performance for the opportunity, and to Steve Arpin / Chip Ganassi Racing.