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 |   |  2000 Ford Focus - The Wait
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2000 Ford Focus - The Wait

The Meguiar's Ford Focus: Shaun Carlson's Latest Creation Is His Greatest And It Could Be His Last

Shaun Carlson
Aug 1, 2000
Photographer: Wes Allison

Welcome to my office. I am standing over a light table, with slides of the Meguiar's Ford Focus spread unevenly in front of me. Each slide glows. The images are immaculate, shot in a studio under perfect light. Only in the broadest sense do I know what I am looking at. I see themes. I see hard work. I see big money. I see beautiful craftsmanship. Important things they all are, this combined perfection, but there are more wonders still in the details, details that I am nowhere near qualified to discuss. Good thing I have Shaun Carlson standing beside me. He built this car.

Shaun's previous project, Stephan Papadakis's AEM-sponsored Honda, is the only front-wheel-drive car to make an 8- second quarter-mile pass. Adapting and building upon that experience and technology, he is expecting much more from the Focus and not just in terms of e.t. He and Meguiar's, the car's title sponsor, are pushing the import industry to another standard altogether. In addition to campaigning a full drag race schedule, they are committed to touring the car through dealerships, NHRA events, the Formula One United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, as well as high schools and colleges. But you get to see it first right here, right now. And Shaun will tell you all about it. The next voice you hear will be his.

The Buck

Ford delivered to us a Focus body, just a bare shell that was primered. This was a year ago. This is funny because at the time it was top secret, so it came in a gigantic crate, it was huge, the crate was probably 20-some feet long, probably 8 feet high, about 10 feet wide. It was in a semi-truck and it took two forklifts to get the crate off the truck. I had to disassemble the crate at my house to get the car out because it was supposed to be top secret. It was before the Focus was even released.

From there, we spent many hours looking at the car, sitting on a chair and going, How the hell are we going to make this thing look nice? So we just looked at it and figured out all kinds of things. We didn't want the window pillar coming off the door. We wanted it really smooth so we wound up cutting the window pillar off the door and welding it to the body. So now when you open the door, the top of the window is the top of the door. But normally on a Focus this whole top section opens up with the door.

The biggest complaint everyone has with the Focus is that it looks tall and goofy, so we cut off the bottom of the rocker panel and that gave us about 6 inches of better ground clearance. We didn't chop it because we were afraid that Ford was going to get mad that we were changing too much of the body style of the car, so we just cut the bottom of the car out to lower it down. The only problem with that is that we lowered it down so much the front tires stuck out so far out of the hood, so we had to lengthened the front end 8 inches, from the front of the door to the tire. Then we dropped the front end down and made these huge wheelwells. The wheelbase is 8 inches longer than stock.

The Chassis

Once we got the body done, we had to do all the flush-mounting of all the windows, had to make little steps, they're called flanges, so all the Lexan windows sit flush; we changed the hatch; we welded the hatch in; we welded the rear bumper in, trying to make everything as smooth as possible, at that point, we took it over to our carbon fiber guy, and he made the actual mold out of the body. And then he made the part out of the body. At that time, the body was finally delivered, and we started working on the chassis.

We had the body set up on the jig. And we spent many hours just looking and using what we learned off of Steph's car, what we liked and what we didn't like and what could be lighter. During this whole process, the Number One concern was weight. There wasn't any other concern but weight. If any bracket could be made thinner. If any bracket could have one more hole in it. If any part could be lighter. If any bolt could be lighter. I mean, every single ounce was taken into consideration.

I don't know if you've noticed in these photos, but every single tab, every bracket in the car has holes in it to lighten it up. Everything is carbon fiber. The wheels are magnesium. During the chassis process, we tried to figure out which tubing we'd use, 1 inch versus inch and a half, whatever we could physically get away with. The driver compartment, we had to do that to SFI specifications, strong enough or safe enough to go 6 seconds.

The front is a little different from Steph's car. We used the engine as a member with a big motor plate that actually ties in the chassis, making it easier to get the engine in and out. There is no tubing exterior of the engine. There's nothing that has to be removed to get to the engine to pull it out. As far as the lean forward [of the engine], the biggest reason was keeping the weight to the ground, and we wanted to keep a low profile and also give more room for the intake manifold.

In terms of the rear suspension, everything is titanium, the brakes are carbon, the brake pads are carbon, everything is as lightweight as possible. The springs are titanium. The rear suspension is almost exactly the same as Steph's except for it's got double adjustable Lamb struts versus single adjustable Lamb struts. He doesn't have a titanium control arm nor does he have the titanium bolts and stuff. A little lighter weight, should be a little stronger.

The Driver Seat

Since I am driving it, I want it to be as safe as possible with the carbon-fiber seat; the Sparco Touring Car seat has better head support with the wings on the frame. As for the instrument cluster, instead of running a bunch of gauges and steel- braided lines and things to look at, we wanted to go with the MoTec dash which is also our data-logger system.

With the MoTec there is enough input for, I believe, 140 different channels. On this car, there's going to be maybe 40 different channels to look at, like rear-wheel speed, front-wheel speed, suspension travel, wheelie bar suspension travel, front suspension travel, accelerometer, traction control, all the engine parameters, oil temp, water temp, boost pressure, trans temp;all the information. With Steph's car, we didn't have any information, so we're trying to use as much information to make this car as quick as possible.

When we started building the car, we knew we wanted a sequential transmission. It's the biggest thing missing from Steph's car. We were lucky enough to go to England to visit XTrac, the company that makes the transmissions for the Rally cars and Touring cars. Cliff Hawkins, who is one of the big whigs there at XTrac, basically brought us into the conference room, sat us down, brought out blueprints and drawings of transmissions, talked to us for a while. We told him what we were looking for, what we needed, what we wanted, and they had never built a drag race transmission before.

Due to our time frame, they weren't able to cast a new case to meet our block, so they ended up using the Touring Car case for the Honda. Then they took all the input that we gave them and they actually made all the other parts for our application. They made a really neat lightweight spool for us. They did all the output shafts and axles and inners and outers and everything for the Focus. It was definitely beneficial going out to England, talking to [XTrac], telling them what we wanted.

The Engine

In terms of the engine, we've been working with Hondas for so long that with those engines, we know what works and what doesn't work. But with this engine, we've had no testing and no idea. So, thankfully, Esslinger Engineering came to us at a point where we were really strapped with time and said, "We'll deal with the engine and you deal with the car." I was like Great and put everything in [their] hands.

They went through and did everything, from billet crank, titanium rods, titanium valves, a custom block, a custom head, different casting. I did the intake manifold and the exhaust manifold, but everything else was Esslinger. The exhaust manifold is all hand-made by NuFormz out of stainless steel, and it's linked up to the stainless steel turbine housing. The turbo is a Garrett Turbo, the same as a CART car. Really wild stuff. The engine has eight fuel injectors.

A stock Focus injector flows about 18 or 19 pounds per hour. We're running like a 170 lb/hr injectors, eight of them, cause we're running alcohol. Brian Sakata at Sakata Motorsports has been doing all the wiring and the fuel injection system with all the MoTec M48 Pro and the traction control and ignition system. This will be the first [import drag] car with a true traction control with accelerometer, front and rear wheel speed, and actually through the computer.

It was a bear trying to fit everything from the dry sump tank to the two fuel pumps into the front of the car. Steph's car was different from this because we used most of the factory stuff. We didn't have a dry sump tank. We didn't have the two fuel pumps. This car has two of everything. It has two gigantic Weldon fuel pumps, two Weldon fuel regulators, two fuel rails, eight injectors, dry sump pump (which is out in front), and all the steel braided lines to it. We have the dry sump tank, the different oil pans, manifolds. There were just so many things that made it so much harder. Plus we are running a bigger tire than Steph. And the fact that Steph's car is actually widened 6 inches in the front end. We kept this factory in the front.

The Paint

When Meguiar's came aboard [as our sponsor], they met with Dick Vale at Vale's Kustom Kolors. And Dick Vale is really known for his race boats and race cars and trucks, just awesome work. And Dick Vale did an awesome job, making the carbon fiber look smooth and the airbrushing on the front end on the headlights. The car is going to be outside most of the time at races, and the stock Focus headlights are chrome, the background is chrome. And chrome isn't really a color, it just reflects what's around it. So Dick Vale made it look like it was reflecting the sky with clouds. It looks like chrome with the blue sky reflecting off of it. Really natural.

Ford also helped us out a great deal. It's not what people think. I've heard lately that Ford gave us $2.1 million. And if Ford did give us $2.1 million, I would be sitting in a nice house down by the beach relaxing and telling people how to do all this. But they helped us out a lot. This is the first car we've built for ourselves. All the times before, it was for somebody else. With this being our own car, we said no holds barred. We sold everything we had, spent every cent we had. Whatever component that we purchased or made, we asked ourselves, Is there anything better?

Right now, we're trying to manufacture more products for the consumers out there [under NuFormz]. So, our thinking is if we're going out, we might as well go out with a bang. That's why we went all out on this car with every single detail. I don't know what the next step would be. It's hard to say. This might even be the last car we build, unless the price is right. It just takes too much time and effort. We've been working on this car for about a year now, 17 hours a day, 5-7 days a week. Nonstop. For the amount of time we put into it, there's no money in it.

More than anything, I hope that this pushes the industry forward. I hope GM comes in. I hope Dodge comes in...Toyota, Honda. It's nice to have someone like Ford come in and actually care how we're doing, and call to see if we need anything. The really neat thing about Ford's involvement is that it wasn't so much Ford Racing backed from the beginning. It wasn't this huge amount of money coming in, you know, Big Ford. It was really only a couple of guys there who had a dream. And they pulled strings, did everything they could. Terry Crossit pushed everything along. Larry Farrin helped out. He's still helping us out. Mike Gearhart helped out immensely, as well.

The biggest thing is that I hope the whole industry grows. I hope it becomes the next big thing. When we first started Steph's car, everyone said we were stupid and wasting our time, we should've built a rear-wheel-drive car, it'll never go faster than a 10.50. Why are we building a car for a class that doesn't exist? The main thing is that we wanted to be the first. Granted, for the first eight months of Steph's car, he ran exhibition runs because there was no one to race. But look at it now. There are a lot of cars [like it] coming out. No one thought that the car could run a 9, and now it's run an 8. Just knowing that down the road Steph's car could be sitting in the Petersen Museum. It would be nice to know that we really did something important.

By Shaun Carlson
4 Articles

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