This car looks different than the last time you saw it. We think it's better. Hopefully, in the coming months, it'll work as well as it looks. With new sponsors, suppliers and fabricators offering regular help, Project Rally Focus is slowly becoming the racecar we always hoped it would be. Thirteen Twenty Motorsports continues with much of the car's development and, in recent months, Saleen has come aboard to further the cause.
That new body kit on the car? It's from Saleen. It's the first upgrade this new sponsor has offered on the way to making the Focus a durable, reliable, and hopefully, race-winning rally car. This month we'll address several unrelated problems, which came up in the car's first few events. Namely, problems which could--and sometimes did--keep it from finishing a rally.
All rally cars overheat. It's a fact of life. OK, so there are probably a few out there that don't, but it seems every rally car we've dealt with lately could benefit from better cooling--our Focus is no exception.
Even with a Fluidyne radiator, the Focus tends to run at coolant temperatures which make us cringe. Try 250 degrees Fahrenheit, as it did during the Rim of the World ProRally last May. Although forcing air through the radiator with bigger fans (which we'll talk about next time) and better ducting will help, there's another solution that works.
Not designed as a be-all, end-all solution, water sprayers are traditionally used on rally cars to curb extreme-heat conditions like we regularly find in California. Even World Rally Cars use them, so we figured we'd try our hand at a low-buck version, and surprisingly, it wasn't very tough to build.
We drew on experience of several other local rallyists in building our water sprayer. Believe it or not, a good portion of the hardware is garden misting plumbing sourced from Home Depot. However, the heart of the system, the pump, must be sourced from an RV supply store. According to Road/Race Engineering's Mike Welch, any water sprayer system requires a relatively robust, high-volume pump. RV pumps have proven themselves time and again in local California Rally Series cars built by Welch.
We picked up a Shurflo pump (model number 2088-422-444), which is rated to flow 2.8 gallons per minute at 45 psi. The $70 pump should be easy to find at your local RV supply store. With the exception of the needle-valve regulator, the rest of the system, including the hoses, clamps and T-fittings comes from any hardware store with a comprehensive garden department.
Because every car has different needs, we'll avoid the details of cutting and fitting our system to the Focus. Take an inventory of how much hose, how many fittings and how many clamps you'll need before heading to the store. We used four cone nozzles on the Focus--two spraying on the intercooler and two on the radiator.
We used a four-gallon vertical fuel cell from Summit Racing as our tank. The Summit cell is designed for drag-race applications and has a large filler cap and a flapper valve to prevent a vacuum lock as liquid is pumped from the tank. The $90 cell is available with mounting brackets for another $20.
Also critical to the system's function is a needle valve used to regulate flow, which is placed downstream of the pump and upstream of the first T-fitting for the nozzles. Without this valve, the pump went through four gallons of water in about five minutes. The valve, part number 4891K71, which costs less than $20 and is available from McMaster-Carr, allows flow modulation between five and 20 minutes per tank.
Finally, we built a simple switched circuit to the pump. Many rally cars use sensors and switches to reference water spray to boost, coolant temperature or even throttle position, but we wanted to keep the cost and complexity of our sprayer to a minimum. We simply turned the pump on and off with a switch on the dashboard. This required a careful eye on the engine's coolant temperature gauge while on the stages, but was easy enough to control.
The results were amazing. We monitored rapid 20-degree drops in coolant temperature while testing the system in the desert. We were also able to use the system successfully in the Gorman Ridge Club rally until unrelated electrical gremlins ended our day.
The bottom line with any system like this is that it's temporary. If the car must rely on it all the time, the results will be ugly. We used it successfully once and will retain the system as a cooling aid. Ultimately, the answer to our Focus' cooling problems must be addressed with better airflow through the radiator and perhaps a careful look at the Focus' entire cooling system.
Suspension and Chassis upgrades
Beefing up suspension parts can be a major pain in every rallyist's behind. Unfortunately, figuring out a way to make control arms and links stronger often happens after you're stuck on a stage with several critical suspension pieces folded into unrecognizable shapes. Luckily, this is a failure we've avoided so far.
We picked up a set of stainless-steel front control arms from Focus Central in Tahachapi, Calif. The tubular control arms use a Heim joint at the upright and save a total of about 6 lbs. over the stock control arms. Not to mention, they're a hell of a lot stronger and better looking.
Focus Central also makes stainless-steel adjustable radius rods and toe control links for the Focus's rear suspension. These gorgeous pieces also use Heim joints, a threaded collar and a jam nut for adjustment and allow for compensation of the aggressive toe curve built into the Focus' stock rear suspension. With full toe and camber adjustability, these bits will prove especially useful for autocrossers. For drag racing, the company offers the radius rods in aluminum for even greater weight savings. The aluminum rods don't have a provision for using an anti-roll bar. We're hoping these arms will save us from the painful rally ending mentioned above.
We also installed Energy Suspension's polyurethane control arm bushings at the front control arms. In addition to taking some of the initial slop out of our Focus' front suspension under load, the polyurethane should prove more durable than the stock rubber bushings. Opinions vary among rallyists as to whether polyurethane is the best solution for bushings under such punishing conditions. The argument for rubber says that by absorbing much of the punishment at the bushing, one may keep from destroying critical chassis mounting points and ultimately preserve the structural integrity of the chassis. Conversely, forcing rubber bushings to absorb such extreme loads may cause rapid and catastrophic bushing failure, which could be devastating during a rally. For this application, we're going with polyurethane. We'll let you know how it holds up.
Energy Suspension also offers lower motor mount torque link bushings, which have been through several iterations because of the abuse they received on our car. These bushings ultimately determine the engine's fore/aft range of motion and absorb the majority of the force put through the drivetrain during acceleration and deceleration. In other words, they're important. If you're going to be launching your Focus hard, get these parts. They'll help prevent movement in the drivetrain that can destroy exhaust components if not other more expensive parts.
Installation requires pressing out the old rubber bushings and pressing in the polyurethane pieces, so be sure you're fully equipped before tackling this job.
Because we'll be putting at least twice the power of the stock Zetec engine to the ground at drive angles the stock axles were never designed to handle, we sourced race axles from GKN Drivetech in Walled Lake, Mich.
GKN is an OE supplier at many different levels, but most importantly, it supplies nearly 40 percent of the worldwide constant velocity driveshaft business to OE manufacturers. GKN also provides custom and off-the-shelf drive components to race teams at every level of motorsport. WRC cars use GKN axles. So do F1 cars. We figured GKN could handle building axles for our humble racecar. The driveshafts should be available for $800 per set by the time you read this.
GKN begins with production Focus axles and rebuilds, treats or tolerances virtually every single part. The process begins by shot-peening the splined shaft, which passes through the hub assembly, to increase durability. The outer joints are then heat-treated to increase the depth and penetration of the original heat-treating. They also receive a chrome-moly steel cage, which has been heat-treated to make it less brittle. The original shafts are replaced with high-strength aircraft quality shafts. Finally, all the metal parts are cryo-treated to optimize the material's microstructure for durability and strength. All parts are toleranced to GKN's specifications before final assembly.
PIAA lights and rally pod
Rally cars need lights. Lots of them. Bad things happen when drivers can't see. We wanted a lighting system that integrated well with the car and allowed for quick installation and removal. PIAA recently introduced a light pod designed specifically for the Focus so this was the obvious solution. Because the light pod mounts to the Focus' hood, we'll use two hoods--one for daylight stages and one dedicated unit with the light pod attached for night stages. The proprietary pod comes with mounting rings for the company's H4-compatible 80 Series lenses or the Pro XT lenses, which use H3 bulbs. We'll be using the 80 Series lenses (two driving, two fog). Using H4 bulbs gives PIAA's 80 Series lenses the ability to switch between high and low beams. The 80 Series lenses can use a variety of PIAA bulbs as well ranging from the 55/60 watt Super Plasma bulbs to the 80/80 watt Super White Platinum bulbs. What's more, the lenses come with the wiring harness, relay and switch, making installation relatively clean and simple. Pricing isn't set on the pod as of our press time, but PIAA says it should be roughly $300. The 80 Series lenses retail for about $65 each and H4 bulbs range from $35 to $45 each.
We still haven't built a full-tilt race engine for Project Rally Focus--something we will likely tackle in upcoming installments. So far, power has been limited to what we can make on a relatively mild 6 psi of boost.
A built engine will allow more boost and therefore more power. Look for updates on the engine as well as further chassis development this season.