After sliding sideways in the hottest of hatches and tipping a 5,600-pound truck on its side, you could forgive me for having a near permanent grin on my face. As one of 10 media members getting a preview of the latest Ford Performance owner experiences, we’ve been given a crash course in the capabilities of the 2017 Focus RS and 2017 F-150 Raptor (without any actual crashing) and we loved it.
Beginning this week at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah, owners of these two diverse machines who signed up for the RS Adrenaline Academy and Raptor Assault — included with their vehicle purchase — will learn the true capabilities of their vehicles. After our condensed preview, we’d have to say they will come away with a new respect for their rides.
“With the launch of the RS and the Raptor programs this spring, we now have an owner program for all the Ford Performance vehicles, so it’s becoming part of the fabric of what it means to be a Ford Performance vehicle owner,” said Mickey Matus, primary consultant at Matus Company, who helped setup these programs when he was with Ford Performance.
The Ford Performance Racing School became its own entity before Miller Motorsports Park took on the Utah Motorsports Campus moniker. The school is owned and run by its president, Dan McKeever. He has overseen the creation of both the school’s retail offerings and the Ford Performance owner experiences.
Are You Experienced?
We arrive at the impressive racing campus, formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park, and enter what used to be a museum and is still filled with some impressive Ford Performance hardware. It is now a reception area for the Ford Performance Racing School, which offers complete driver training in prepped Mustang GTs of the current vintage. The school offers one- and two-day schools as well as competition licensing, but a mainstay of its offerings are these Ford Performance vehicle ownership experiences.
This is about the experiential element and there is no better Walt Disney theme park for enthusiasts than the one offered by the men and women of the Ford Performance Racing School. — Jim Owens, Ford Performance
The Raptor and RS programs are both new offerings, but the latter program came together more quickly because its shares some traits from the similarST Octane Academy offered to Fiesta ST and Focus ST owners. However, while the school did sell a full retail program based on the last-gen Raptors, it had to develop the one-day program for the impressive, new EcoBoost truck.
“The RS program was a natural extension of our ST Octane Academy,” Ford Performance Racing School President, Dan McKeever explained. However, the Raptor class required more work to put together a compact experience that highlights all the unique facets of the versatile truck.
That, of course, is the trick with these owner programs. They aren’t designed to turn participants into instant race car drivers. Rather, they allow participants to experience all these machines have to offer in a safe, encouraging environment. Better yet, they get to do it in the school’s vehicles, rather than beating on their own new machines — though they will certainly want to afterward.
“This is about the experiential element, and there is no better Walt Disney theme park for enthusiasts than the one offered by the men and women of the Ford Performance Racing School,” Ford Performance Marketing Manager Jim Owens enthused.
Shot Of Adrenaline
We had a fast pass through that amusement park that began with a quick overview of what owners of the Raptor and RS will experience in their full day sessions. Then we got a brief rundown of the procedures and track-flag meanings, and then we headed out to the 12-turn UMS East track for lead-and-follow laps in the Focus RS.
Having driven these cars on the street, we knew they were capable – but on the track, they imbue drivers of any skill level with confidence, especially when you select the proper drive mode — Normal, Sport, Track or Drift.
Barreling down into the Agony turn, the Brembos are more than capable of slowing things down, and returning to the power through Ecstasy leads to gleefully gliding through the Attitudes before surging into the power again. After a few laps and some well-placed tips from the brave instructor in the passenger seat, we were turned loose on our own.
You are going to learn this much… If you attend one of these programs, there will be several moments when you realize these vehicles are far more capable than you are. We knew the Focus RS was a great car, but after driving it at speed on the track and riding shotgun with an instructor, we came away with a whole new respect for Ford Performance’s hottest hatch.
By the time the 25 minutes of track time was winding down, our confidence was rising. Then we got to feel what the car was truly capable of by strapping into the passenger seat and riding with an FPRS instructor. He practically glided around the track at the edge of traction. Tires squealing slightly, he was only off the power long enough to breathe on the brakes and get right back to the power.
As we pulled into the pits, he enthused about how fun the Focus RS was and we have to agree. Even if you own one, you’ll be thrilled to learn the full capabilities this car delivers right off the showroom floor.
Still stunned from the RS’ awesomeness, we hop behind the wheel and drive to the wet skid pad. We enjoy watching drifting and have ridden with the master himself, Vaughn Gittin Jr., but we have never tried it. Now it’s time to engage Drift mode. They might as well just name this “Fun” mode.
There were so many fun moments at the school, but if we had to pick just one to re-create, it would be engaging Drift mode on the wet skid pad. It was relatively easy to get the hang of drifting. Once we knew we could just keep our foot to the floor and steer, you could probably our smile from space. (Photo Credit: Revan Media)
The instructor coaches me up. With Drift mode on, we circle slowly. He tells us to cut the wheel and put our foot to the floor. The rearend comes out and we start countersteering. However, we quickly learn to fight the urge to modulate the throttle as our drift peters out. This time we cut the wheel, floor it and keep the pedal to the floor, counter-steering our away around the skid pad. We are having the time of our lives.
Jim Owens was right. This is an amusement park for enthusiasts…
Naturally, the Focus RS excels on the UrbanX course, which combines the cones of a traditional autocross with some of the larger obstacles you might see Ken Block sliding around in a Gymkhana video. Most impressive about this experience was the head-snapping start to each UrbanX run after utilizing Launch Control and dumping the clutch.
The last stop on the RS ride was the UrbanX course, which combines autocrossing and Gymkhana style obstacles. It began with another eye-opener — Launch Mode. With a few menu clicks, it’s on. With the clutch engaged, put your foot to the floor and it holds rpm at 5,000. Dump the clutch and the EcoBoost 2.3 snaps your head back and the car lurches forward with minimal tire spin. Oh. That was fun. Then we were sliding through cones and around obstacles, where the RS again shows its prowess.
And just like that, the morning is over and it’s time for lunch. RS Adrenaline Academy students get to do this for a whole day with the option of paying for another day and moving into the school Mustangs.
In the afternoon we switched gears to the 10-speed-automatic-equipped Raptors. After a brief overview, we’re paired up with an expert in the passenger seat to help guide us through the Terrain modes — Normal, Sport, Weather, Mud/Sand, Baja and Rock Crawl — and the trails. In our case, it was the gracious, John C Wicks, Ford Performance program manager.
The experience in that truck is phenomenal. They show you every different aspect of what you can do in that truck. — Ryan Busse, Ford
“I am an F-150 fan. I am an F-150 customer and I work on the Raptor. The experience in that truck is phenomenal. They show you every different aspect of what you can do in that truck. For someone that hasn’t done it before, it’s amazing what that thing can do with the different driving mode,” Ryan Busse, Raptor Program Manager, said. “…They show you so much more than you think you could do with any truck.”
What makes these programs so effective is the curriculum is designed to quickly build driver confidence. The first thing we did in the Raptor was the simplest, but the most amazing. We were guided to drive the truck right up on an incline and stop. This was an incline so steep it felt like we should be rolling over, but the Raptor was rock solid.
To get off-road virgins ready to take on the terrain, the FPRS instructors wisely dazzled us with the Raptor’s stability on an incline. We drove right up onto this bank and the gauge read 29 degrees of incline. We felt as though the truck should roll or we should fall out the window. Neither happened and the instructors stood under the truck to show just how confident they were in the Raptor’s claws. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Henrie/Ford Performance Racing School)
We soon were ascending hills, climbing over rocks and descending inclines with no feet on the pedals. The hardware and software in the Raptor combine to deliver amazingly flexible performance. Driving from trails to pavement and then up a rocky path, the trucks gobbled up whatever was in their paths, and we learned a bit a about two-footing it up over the rocks to control the travel of the tires over obstacles.
It turns out that the activities owners will enjoy during the Raptor Assault aren’t that far removed from what the engineers did in developing the vehicle. The terrain is a bit different, but the experience is similar.
“What you are going to see in a half a day, we do throughout the development,” Ryan explained. “We do very close to what you are going to see today as far as the terrain you go through, the speeds you run and the coaching you go through.”
We learned the two-footed technique that allows the truck to steadily climb over obstacles by engaging pressure on the brakes and controlling the climb with the throttle. This allows for the truck to steadily move up without lurching forward after clearing a rock or bump. On the other side, we engaged the Hill Descent feature, removed both feet from the pedals and steered. The truck slowly and safely rolled down the hill. After those two feats, we knew it could handle the rocks and trails we were to face later.
If you are going to travel all the way out to Utah to take part in these amazing owner experiences, you should definitely consider sticking around for a second day of Ford Performance Racing School instruction in Mustang GTs. According to the school, the second-day upgrades offer…
• Small class size
• Drive a track-prepped 2015 Mustang GT
• Begins with classroom session
• Heel/toe braking techniques
• Vehicle dynamics (skid car)
• Premium catered lunch
• Track session with lead and follow
• Track session with instructor ride-along
• Solo track session on our world-class track.
If you attend the RS Adrenaline Academy or Raptor Assault you can upgrade to a second day for $1,495, which is $200 off the regular one-day school price.
The engineers spend months on every aspect of the truck to make it so capable on and off the road. Just developing a damper to deliver in so many different environments is an impressive feat.
“The process of developing just the shocks alone is incredible because you are doing on-road, off-road, mud, snow, dirt, gravel and you have one shock,” Ryan said. “You aren’t going to give the customer six different sets of shocks. Luckily we have FOX in our corner to help develop the nine internal stages.”
It really was amazing to see the truck take on rocks, hills, roads and trails with such ease. As our wonderful day waned, we were blasting through some desert trails. The truck gobbled up the bumps and still handled well. When it was over, we transitioned to the pavement. With the windows rolled up and the A/C on, the Raptor was so quiet as we headed back the Utah Motorsports Campus, it was if it had quickly changed personalities, but all we did was change from Baja to Sport mode.
Off-roading was a whole new challenge, from navigating the terrain to keep from damaging the tires to carefully ascending hills the Raptor was up to every task. Getting it up to speed on the trails was a blast too. With enough speed it glided over surface irregularities and just like on the road course, you could brake in a straight line and accelerate out of the corners, often using the banking provided by ruts to keep the truck straight. We drove back wondering how well this truck would do around the road course with an instructor behind the wheel…
Amazingly, the take rate for these classes — which are free to owners of Fiesta STs, Focus STs, Focus RS, F-150 Raptors and Shelby GT350s — is relatively low. The only program that is finished, the Boss 302 Track Attack, had about 27 percent of owners sign up, which seems way too low. Sure, you have to get yourself to Utah to take advantage of the free owner experiences, but it’s well worth the trip and you can bring a friend for a reasonable rate, which makes the adventure even more fun.
So, if you own one of these cars, be sure to sign up as soon as you can. The RS Adrenaline Academy sold out of its available spots for this year in just 48 hours, but there’s always next year…
While our media group only participated in a shortened course to get an idea what the experiences are like for owners, those who do participate and graduate will get some impressive trophies to take home. For example, RS Adrenaline Academy grads will have this awesome brake trophy to show off.