When Ford Performance announced it would be offering a complimentary high-speed driving course to all 2016-2018 Ford Focus RS owners, we knew this was going to be something special. As details started to emerge on the upcoming RS Adrenaline Academy, the realization that this would be our chance to drive the hot hatch in a way that the Blue Oval engineers intended started to sink in.
We already know that driving the Focus RS as a daily driver is a blast but learning firsthand the capabilities of our car in a classroom environment and on the track was just too good to pass up. In fact, the one-day driving school was so popular that when it was initially announced, all available spots for the 2017 calendar year sold out in just five days! Ford Performance announced 27 classes for 2017, running from April through October, with each course being able to support a total of 16 drivers. If you do the math, that’s a total of 432 slots!
The Focus RS delivers a premium driving experience and our school is the perfect venue to demonstrate just what it can do. — Dan McKeever, Ford Performance Racing School
The crazy part is we didn’t even receive our official email from Ford saying the school was accepting registrations until the day before it was sold out! Luckily, many of the topRS forums put the word out that they officially had started taking applications.
The RS Adrenaline Academy cadre wasted no time at all in getting us behind the wheel of the hot hatch and onto the track at Ford Performance Racing School.
Founded in 2006, the school has become one of America’s top training programs for those wanting to sharpen their skills while becoming better and safer drivers. In addition to the RS Adrenaline Academy, the school employs a fleet of modified Mustang GT, Mustang Boss 302 FRS, GT350, Focus ST, Fiesta ST, and Ford Raptor courses as well. Each of the classes has a team of professional instructors ready to teach you a thing or two about your new Ford Performance vehicle.
The extensive course time teaches skills including braking, shifting and cornering techniques, and also focuses on the particular dynamics of the Focus RS, such as the car’s four driving modes. The goal is to establish the performance capabilities of the owners’ cars and to improve their driving skills – all while having fun.
“The Focus RS delivers a premium driving experience, and our school is the perfect venue to demonstrate just what it can do. Our professional instructors can help anyone take their driving expertise to the next level, whether a beginner or an experienced driver,” Ford Performance Racing School’s Dan McKeever said.
Beehive State Bound
As soon as we arrived at the Utah Motorsports Park, we knew we were in for a good time.
Although the RS Adrenaline Academy is a free one-day course, it does not cover travel or lodging. Because our central office is located here in Southern California, we found ourselves hopping on a quick flight from San Diego, California, to Salt Lake City, Utah. On the official Adrenaline Academy website, the school does a great job of offering hotel rates for drivers.
We ended up booking a room at the recommended hotel a week before our course with no issues at all. Once we landed, we jumped into our non-Ford rental and traveled about 20 miles West of Salt Lake City to the small town of Tooele, Utah.
Our RS Adrenaline Academy adventure began with an evening reception at the Ford Performance Racing School Welcome Center the night before the course. The social and dinner lasted about two hours, and it gives RS owners the chance to meet each other in a non-classroom environment.
The next day at about 7:00 a.m. Utah time, we made our way to the Ford Performance Racing School. Our first part of the day was spent grabbing our racing suit and helmet. Our instructors then gave us a brief class on driving techniques before heading to the track.
The Utah Motorsports Campus is a world-class, 4.5-mile, 40-50-foot-wide, 23-turn circuit, which is the longest in North America. Upon arrival at the campus, we were immediately greeted by the Ford Performance staff and put into two separate groups. On this particular day, the school was running both the Focus RS Adrenaline Academy and the Shelby GT350 Track Attack, so the staff made sure they pointed us into the right direction for our day of instruction.
Once we were thoroughly checked in, we were then directed to the classroom where we were fitted with Ford Performance racing suits and helmets. We were then instructed to find our assigned seats in the classroom. Each of the positions contained our official name badges, a schedule of events, and a pen and paper to take notes.
We were then introduced to our instructors for the day and spent the next 45 minutes going over basic driving skills that would help us for our time at the track. Vehicle acceleration, braking, and how to immediately recognize whether your vehicle is in an oversteer or understeer situation were all covered in this 45-minute session. Although many of us had previous experience, many of us have only scratched the surface on just how technologically advanced Ford’s hot hatch indeed is.
Tracking Ford’s Hot Hatch
The track portion of the RS Adrenaline Academy included driving tips, lead/follow and a hot lap with a professional driver.
After our classroom instruction and a brief question and answer session, it was time to get behind the wheel of the many track cars they had waiting for us. Because this was the last course of the 2017 season, we were a little worried that the cars we were going to be given had already been through the ringer. This was just not the case.
Each car looked immaculate and if it had not been for the required safety equipment that was installed in the vehicles, they would have felt exactly like our own daily drivers. In fact, the cars that they use for the course are for the most part, completely stock cars!
For our first driving instruction of the day, we found ourselves behind the wheel of the Focus RS on the main track. The session consisted of quite a few lead-follow laps with a professional instructor leading in a Shelby GT350 as we followed behind him in the Focus RS. The cool part of this instruction was that we were able to jump behind the wheel without any instructors and feel how our hot hatch reacts on the track. Each student was able to follow directly behind the lead instructor in the GT350 to get a feel for the correct racing line and how the world-class instructors attack each apex on the track.
The RS Adrenaline Academy showed us just how capable this hot hatch is on the track.
The 2017 Ford Focus RS handled exceptionally well on the track, and the pops and bangs that our 350-horsepower, turbocharged hot hatch exhibited as we were downshifting into the turns was music to our ears.
After having a go behind the wheel on the track, we jumped into the passenger seat of another RS that was driven by a member of the Ford Performance cadre. I have to admit that most of us were feeling pretty good about our driving skills at this point, but all that went away when we realized just how much harder the instructor staff could push these vehicles on the track. The result was a couple of tire screeching, head turning hot laps that left everyone exiting the passenger seat with a perma-grin on their face.
The final track session of the day had us in the driver’s seat of the RS and professional driving coach in the passenger seat for a couple of informative laps around the track. This is where I got the most out of the course because the feedback I received from my instructor helped me understand how the vehicles torque vectoring system works in sync with the all-wheel-drive system.
During my first lap, I was told by an instructor that I was relying too heavily on the big Brembo brakes leading up to the turns. But by listening to my instructor and trusting the all-wheel-drive system, by lap three, I was able to keep my foot off the brake pedal and efficiently carry a much higher rate of speed into the corners.
Catching The Drift (Mode)
Of course, my favorite part of the day was experimenting with the Focus RS Drift Mode without having to worry about purchasing a new set of tires!
After our time on the track, we proceeded to an open area to try our hand at the Focus RS drift mode. Because we have had the Focus RS for a little over a year now, we have had a little practice with this cool feature. But one thing many owners learn during this session is just how easy it is to engage the Focus RS’ Drift mode at low speeds, which is something I had never tried.
At only 15 mph and the Drift mode button engaged, merely turning the vehicle’s steering wheel hard in the direction of the turn will efficiently initiate the rear of the car to let loose. From there it only takes the slightest of throttle inputs and some steering correction, and we were well on our way to living that Hoonigan lifestyle.
What I learned after this block of instruction is I was initiating the turn with much more speed than is required which would end up in having to over correct at the wrong time. The RS instructors showed how easy it is to string together a couple of proper drifts just as the engineers and Ken Block intended.
Urban Street Assault
If you like taking your hot hatch to the local autocross on the weekends, then the RS Adrenaline Academy urban street assault is right up your alley.
After taking a break for our catered lunch, we were off to the last session of the day at the urban street assault. This course was set up in two different sections; a figure-eight course which showed us the hot hatch’s launch mode, braking distance, and how to rotate efficiently around a tight arc, and accelerate in the opposite direction.
From there we moved onto the last section of the urban street assault which was set up in an autocross configuration. The timed course had us maneuvering our vehicles through a set of cones that incorporated tight 180-degree turns, a quick reaction slalom, the Figure-8 that was mentioned before and two straightaways before we had to bring the vehicle to a complete stop.
The autocross course was a blast, and although we did not come home with the fastest time, we were definitely in the running. We also came away with a newfound respect for the handing of our hot hatch when your life (or in this case, time) depended on it.
And with that wrapped, our experience came to a close. So, would we attend again? This is a resounding yes! We believe that anytime you are offered a free course to explore the capabilities of your new vehicle you should jump at the chance.
We learned how to tap into the full capabilities of the Focus RS in a way that you can only do on a closed course. The professional instruction and world-class track environment made the Focus RS Adrenaline Academy one you will not want to miss.