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.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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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.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Josh Miller/CNET
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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.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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The cabin of a WTCC competitor is completely stripped down, with just one driver seat. It is a far cry from the race cars road legal analog.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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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.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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After the cars have been prepped in the garage, the team members roll them out to the pit lane.
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More adjustments are made in the pit area, where the team can better assess the track conditions and temperature.
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When the cars finally get out on the grid, after a test lap out of the pits, they are again jacked up and the tires for the first race are fitted.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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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.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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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.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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As the race progresses, drivers and cars get worn out, leading to maneuvers like this run through the dirt.
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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.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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Here is Team AON, gamely crossing the finish line with part of the car's right rear fender hanging off from a prior collision.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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The WTCC races continue from Sonoma to Japan, and end in Macau, with all the cars and equipment shipped by sea in cargo containers.
Updated: / Caption: / Photo: Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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