Ford Focus competes in World Touring Car Championship (pictures)
Coming to the U.S. for the first time, the World Touring Car Championship in Sonoma, Calif., features teams racing compact cars. It's the middle event of a series that started in Europe and will end in Asia.
To introduce its Focus ST to the U.S., Ford invited us up to Sonoma Speedway to watch Team AON, which races the Focus in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC). This race was also the one U.S. stop in the series, which would go onto Japan afterwards. The WTCC is an international race on road courses.
The 2013 Ford Focus ST is a hot hatchback with a turbocharged direct injection 2-liter engine under the hood and a close ratio six-speed manual transmission. Ford tuned this car to be comfortable as an everyday driver that could also be a fun car for weekend drives or track days.
The engines in Team AONs two Focus race cars must conform to WTCC specs, so they only displace 1.6 liters and use a restricted turbocharger. Yet within those boundaries the engine produces about 345 horsepower and similar torque, thanks to British tuner Mountune. The engine has also been canted back 25 degrees and placed as low as possible in the engine bay, for a lower center of gravity.
Race drivers don't complain about a lack of analog gauges. The Team AON cars use these digital panels for telemetry. Around the cabin and the car are cameras, allowing the pit team to monitor the car while it is on the track. Data ports in the engine bay let the team download running data after the race, and let the WTCC officials digitally inspect the cars.
On the grid, the drivers are also fitted into the cars, thoroughly strapped in and waiting for the green flag to come down. Seen here is Team AON driver James Nash, from the U.K., starting unfortunately far back from the pole. Teammate Tom Chilton sits in another Focus nearby.
A field of 30 cars starts the race, making maneuvers such as this chicane difficult. Along with the Ford Focus cars, there were Seat Leons, BMW 320s, and Chevy Cruzes. The engine size restriction ends up dictating the types of cars that get raced. However, there are no restrictions on drive type, so the field was a mix of front-wheel and rear-wheel drive cars.
Ultimately, the day was dominated by the Chevy team. Its three Cruzes started out up front and held position for the first half of the first race. After all the dust settled, driver Yvan Muller won the first race in a Chevy Cruze, while Robert Huff won the second.