The Way of the FiST – Part 5: Driver Comforts and Yokohama A052 Test

In our last “The Way of the FiST” article, we had our 2019 Ford Fiesta ST project car up on the racing scales and found ways to make it lighter while still remaining within the SCCA rules for the H-Street class. We added some lightweight wheels wrapped in sticky Yokohama Advan A052 200-treadwear rubber, and we installed some forged aluminum lightweight lug nuts from Skunk2 Racing. It was time to hit the autocross course again to see how much we improved the car. But before we went to the track, we added a few creature comforts for the driver.

Let’s Get Shifty

SCCA street class rules are pretty restrictive when it comes to modifying your car, however, shift knobs are open. We decided to upgrade to the Cobb shift knob because it was a little taller (for better driver ergonomics) and because it was lighter than stock.

Rule 13.2 E of the SCCA National Solo Rules states: Alternate shift knobs or paddles are allowed. That meant we had something we could modify! We shopped around for different shift knobs, hoping to find something that felt good in the hand and possibly improved the ergonomics between the driver’s right arm and the gear shift lever. We finally decided on the Cobb shift knob because it was manufactured out of Delrin, which is much lighter than steel.

The stock Ford Fiesta ST shift knob weighed in at 0.337 pounds where the more ergonomic Cobb shift knob weighed in at 0.258 pounds, saving us a whopping 0.079 pounds. Sure, it isn’t much, but at least the modification didn’t add weight.

The Cobb shift knob was about half an inch taller than the stock Ford shift knob, making it easier to grab. On the scales the knob was 0.079 pounds lighter, which you could argue weighs about as much as a duck fart. In reality, the new knob isn’t the best looking, but we are building an autocross racer, not a show car. What mattered to us was that it felt good in the hand and was lighter than stock. A win-win for a racer.

To remove the stock knob, simply get out your strong gorilla hands and twist counter clockwise. To install the new Cobb shift knob, spin it on and hand tighten. Simple and easy. The Cobb shift knob works well with the reverse lockout pull-up handle.

One of the other reasons we chose the Cobb shift knob was because of the positive reviews online that indicated it worked well with the reverse lockout pull-up lever on the shifter shaft. Many other aftermarket shift knobs on the market had complaints of the reverse lockout being an issue. The Cobb model worked perfectly. It was an easy installation that was so simple, it took us longer to get the box open than it did to actually install the part.

Give Me The Belt

In this box is a simple to use and very easy to install 4-point harness that will help hold the driver in the seat during aggressive cornering at an autocross.

SCCA rules allow for harnesses to be installed to help hold the driver in the seat. My preference for racing seatbelts is to use an Autopower 7-point system, which is what we use in our Honda Challenge road racing cars. The limitation for this type of full racing harness setup is that you really need a rollbar for the shoulder harnesses to work correctly. I couldn’t find a commercially available harness bar for the Fiesta, and we didn’t want to install a racing rollcage into an autocross car because it would add too much weight up high, thus raising the center of gravity. The easy solution was to purchase a Schroth QuickFit 4-point harness which is made specifically for the Fiesta.

These Schroth 4-point belts are specifically designed for the 2014-2019 Ford Fiesta and simply click into the existing seatbelt buckles. When you aren’t autocrossing, simply unbuckle the belts and take them out of the car.

The installation was extremely simple. The only tool needed to install the Schroth belts was a T46 star socket to remove the OEM seatbelt bolts from the left side of the driver’s belt and the left rear passenger’s belt. At these two points, a small latch plate attached to some webbing was installed along with the OEM belts using the stock bolts. This allows for the OEM seatbelts to still be used at any time.

Using a T46 socket, remove the OEM bolt that holds down the left side of the left rear passenger safety belt. Put the Schroth part in place, and then use the OEM bolt to hold down both the stock seatbelt and the Schroth seatbelt. Done!

To complete the installation, we simply buckled the left side belts into the latches just bolted into the car. On the right side, we latched into the stock seatbelt buckle. What is really cool about this design is that it automatically defeats the seatbelt minder alarm. I have autocrossed cars with racing harnesses that confused the car into thinking somebody was in the seat without wearing their safety belt, and rang an alarm the entire time you were driving. Annoying!

The shoulder harness components of the Schroth seatbelts go over the shoulders of the driver, under the headrest, and the left side plugs into the stock rear seatbelt buckle near the middle of the rear seat. The other belt buckles to a Schroth-specific latch plate that is attached to the stock seatbelt bolt.

Give Me A Number

The first time we autocrossed the Fiesta, we cut some custom stickers for the car to designate our car number, 38, and class, HS. We didn’t want to drive around on the street everyday looking for unwanted street racing requests, so we peeled the stickers off after the event. Since we planned on driving the car around on the street and traveling to multiple autocross events, we wanted to create a magnet number plate that we could easily put on and take off the car.

We cut more stickers and ordered some blank magnet material to create our own door panels. When we are racing they are stuck on the door, when we aren’t racing we simply peel the magnet off and store the door panels on our refrigerator at home, making it the fastest looking refrigerator around.

We created some removable magnets with my car number and class to put on and take off the car for regional events. For national events we will switch back to lighter weight stickers.

Pack And Let’s Roll

Once we had our driver upgrades completed in the interior, we packed up the car and headed to a local autocross event. The hot-hatch Fiesta has great luggage capacity. We were able to put everything we needed for a race weekend right into the back of the car. We put our Yokohama tires inside some Tire Totes to keep the interior clean.

One thing I love about this Fiesta is how versatile it is as a hatchback. With the rear seats folded down, there is tons of room. Here I have an entire race trailer worth of stuff stored inside the rear hatch area (four Yokohama tires, jack, jack stands, torque wrench, air tank, air gauge, helmet) providing me everything I need to tackle an autocross.

At the event, we jacked up the Fiesta and slapped on our secret weapon for the race: the Yokohama Advan A052s. We bolted on our super light OZ Racing Ultraleggera wheels with our Skunk2 lugs nuts and were ready for battle.

Time to take off the heavy stock wheels and road-going Michelin tires to replace them with our lightweight OZ Racing wheels and Yokohama Advan A052s for racing. Safety Tip: Always use jack stands. Always!

We torqued our lug nuts, drove around the paddock, and then torqued the lug nuts again to make sure we had solid attachment to the hubs. I was planning on driving the wheels off of this car (figuratively speaking), so I wanted to ensure everything was attached perfectly. It is crucial that lug nuts are torqued correctly, especially when upgrading to a 200-treadwear tire, like the Yokohama, that is going to put a lot more force into the hub during competitive driving.

To correctly torque our lightweight forged aluminum lug nuts, we use a Craftsman digital torque wrench, set to the Ford factory specification of 100 foot-pounds.

We walked the course and found it was a tricky, tight, and technical course, one that would prove to be an advantage for the front-wheel-drive Fiesta. We paid the registration fee ($40 – a bargain to go racing) and parked the Fiesta on the grid. There I had a chance to look at the competition in H-Street. Of interest was a Ford Focus SVT in our class. It would be an old versus new battle, the SVT versus the ST. Also running, not in my class, but in my run group, were Mustangs and Corvettes. It would be interesting to see how the little Fiesta would hold up. Let’s party!

The Fiesta on-grid and ready for some autocross action. Yes, that is a legitimate Ford Shelby GT350 parked right behind the FiST. SPOILER ALERT: Believe it or not, the $19,000 Fiesta ST bested the $65,000 Shelby GT350 by 3 seconds on a 40-second autocross course. No joke.

Green, Green, Green!

When the green flag dropped, I dumped the clutch and slammed on the gas. Heading into the first corner, I knew right away we had substantially improved the Fiesta. Namely, it was because of the Yokohamas. They were behaving much closer to an actual race tire than I expected them to. I have run on other 200-treadwear tires and you could always tell they were street tires. But the Yokohamas, they acted like race tires, which was good because I was peddling the little Fiesta between the cones with furious anger. The good news was I could concentrate my driver inputs into the steering wheel, pedals, and shifter without having to hold myself into the seat while hard driving, since the Schroth 4-point harness we installed was holding me snugly in place. This allowed me to be more precise behind the wheel.

With our sticky Yokohama Advan A052 tires, it was time to shred the autocross course. The new donuts made this a completely different car to drive, providing great initial turn in and grip.

When I drove the Fiesta in bone-stock form at the last autocross, it really had a big push to it (meaning my steering wheel was turned, but the car was still going straight). The Yokohamas deleted almost all of the push. I was even able to get the car’s rear end to step out a bit. I was very happy with the initial run on the course.

We ran a staggered air pressure to start: 36 psi front and 40 psi rear. Once the tires heated up a bit after the first run, the pressures came up a bit. You can see on our tire gauge memory that we were at 40.4 psi rear and around 37.8 psi front. We bled them down to our original pressures before the next run.

After my first run, we checked the air pressures, made some minor adjustments, and then prepared to hit the course again. For my second lap, I wanted to be even more aggressive and really find the limits of the Yokohama tires. I went deeper into each corner and tried to get on the happy pedal sooner to carry more speed through each turn. The tires kept sticking, and lap after lap, my times were falling.

The Fiesta was uber quick on the tight and twisty autocross course setup by the Fresno Chapter of the San Francisco Region Sports Car Club of America. The car dominated the morning run group, lifting the inside rear tire in every corner (like a dog lifting its leg to relieve itself on an orange cone). Autocross photo by Anthony Topalian.

After my laps were complete, I looked at the results. The “Way of the FiST” Fiesta took home first place in H-Street and held the top PAX time (adjusted time by class) for the morning run group. Not only did the Fiesta beat the Focus SVT, but it also beat a Shelby GT350 Mustang in a faster class, and two Z06 Corvettes. Sure, some of you are saying, “no way a Fiesta beat a GT350!” Well, sorry Ford Muscle fans, but on this small course, on this day, it did.

Looking at the wear and the amount of roll-over the tire sustained (right to the edge), it appears we had the tire pressure pretty spot on. After a full day of autocrossing, the Yokohama A052 tires are holding up great.

For our next installment of “The Way of the FiST,” we will be baselining the stock horsepower and torque of the Fiesta ST before installing a cat-back exhaust from FSWerks, and dyno testing multiple drop-in air filters to see if we can pick up some more power. And in the future, we still want to upgrade the struts with some adjustable units from Motion Control Suspension (MCS) to make this Fiesta even faster. Stay tuned for more partying to come!

About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider will race absolutely anything. He is a multi-national champion racing driver and is also the author of the novel, Cadet Blues.
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