We began our journey with The Way of the FiST series in October of 2019 with the purchase of a brand new 2019 Ford Fiesta ST. Our plan was to develop the car, run some races, and eventually enter the 2020 SCCA TireRack Solo National Championships in September of 2020 to be held in Lincoln, Nebraska. That timeline gave us almost a year to modify the car, test parts, and get the car ready for National Championship level competition. In 2019, that seemed like a reasonable thing…then 2020 happened.
Before things got crazy in the world, we had some fun with the car, participating in some baseline autocrosses, a trip to the drag strip, and dyno tuning. We added Motion Control Suspension dampers, Carbotech brake pads, Mishimoto parts, and sticky Yokohama ADVAN A052 autocross tires. The modifications we made to the car just created a faster and faster Fiesta ST. We were winning every regional autocross event we entered. With that success, we were really looking forward to the SCCA Solo National Championships.
Time To Adapt
You know what they say about plans… 2020 began with cancelled racing events all over the country due to the pandemic. However, the SCCA held strong that things would get better by September and kept the Solo National Championships on the calendar. Then, sadly, in August the event was suddenly cancelled. All the work we had completed on The Way of the FiST and we had zero opportunity to prove ourselves at the National level in 2020. Or was there another event? What about RallyCross? Essentially, RallyCross is an autocross, just on the dirt. The SCCA was going to allow the 2020 SCCA DirtFish RallyCross National Championship to happen in Kansas.
The only real problem with the plan to switch from the Solo Nationals to running the Rallycross Nationals was that the RallyCross event was happening just eight days after the announcement that the autocross had been cancelled. That didn’t leave us much time to prepare, or travel all the way from California to Topeka, Kansas. Additionally, the rules between the H-Street (HS) autocross class, which we specifically built the FiST for, had some minor differences compared to the Stock Front (SF) RallyCross class into which we would enter the Fiesta. Specifically, our awesome Motion Control Suspension adjustable dampers were illegal.
Luckily we hadn’t thrown away our stock struts. We put the car up on the lift and swapped the MCS dampers to the stock units and then re-aligned the car ourselves using alignment tools from Smart Racing Products. Our next hurdle to get the car ready for dirt racing was our tire choice. Our autocross-dominating Yokohama ADVAN A052s were not going to work in the dirt. After scheduling overnight shipping, we had Sanger Tire swap out our A052s for Yokohama iceGUARD iG20 studless ice and snow tires.
While we were thrashing on the Fiesta, we decided to add one more modification to the car before we left to drive east toward Kansas. We had seen engine temperatures rise sometimes when we were really hammering on the car at races. We decided we wanted to swap out the stock thermostat for a cooler unit. Mishimoto makes a 160-degree drop-in thermostat specifically for the Fiesta ST. This was an improvement by 47 degrees as the OEM thermostat from Ford is set to open at a warm 207 degrees and start circulating coolant through the radiator.
After a long day at the shop and a brief test on a dirt road, we were ready to pack up the Fiesta ST and road trip it from California to Kansas for the RallyCross Nationals. Everything we would be taking with us to the Nationals had to fit in the hatchback of the Fiesta: tires, jack, tools, clean underwear, and most importantly Double Nickel Nine IPA from Tactical Ops Brewing. It all had to fit or it would be left behind at the Double Nickel Nine Motorsports shop. There would be no trailer or support vehicle for this race. The Fiesta had to get us there, race, and get us home.
The Fiesta ST, loaded up with lots of weight, was a total rockstar on the road trip. It handled the Rockies in Colorado like a champ and also got great gas mileage. We did the trip in two days, crashing at a one-star motel Wednesday night, and then got back on the road to ensure we arrived at Heartland Motorsports Park before registration and tech closed. To kill time during the long drive, we listened to racing podcasts like Cars Yeah, Garage Heroes In Training, and Speed Secrets. I had been a guest on each show, so like a total ego maniac, I listened to myself talk about racing as I drove myself across country to yet another race.
We arrived in Kansas safely and with enough time to clean the car up, swap the tires, add stickers, and get the car ready for tech inspection. We passed tech with flying colors and lined up in the grid area to see what the competition would be like. The Stock Front class had some serious competition in it for the Fiesta: Mini Cooper S, Honda Civic Si, Fiat 500 Abarth, Nissan Sentra SE-R, and more. Every car that was in the class had the hot rod, boy racer version of the model of the car. Lucky for us, we brought the ST version of the Fiesta.
Everything was looking good for our weekend at the Nationals. Everything except for the fact that I had never raced the FiST in a RallyCross before, had never been on the snow tires before, and essentially didn’t know much about how a RallyCross National Championship would be run. But, since I am a race car driver, and race car drivers are inherently overconfident, I assumed I would just figure it all out in Turn 1.
From what I gathered talking to people in the paddock, a RallyCross is essentially like an autocross in the dirt with one major difference: every lap during the event counts towards an overall cumulative time. In autocross, you just use your best lap as your final score. In RallyCross, every lap is added up for a final score. What that meant was every single lap counted, and any “learning” about driving the FiST in the dirt for the first time would be a part of my final time. That meant I had to learn fast!
On the first day of competition, I had five runs at the long, sweeping fast course. I was conservative on my first run, trying to get my bearings in the dirt. I didn’t know what the Fiesta would do. Would it be awesome? Would it be upside down? Eventually, after the racing would be completed, I needed the little car to get me back to California. Unfortunately, conservative on the first lap was the wrong move as the results in the Stock Front class had me in the back of the pack after everyone completed their first lap. Not good.
As far as the dismal results after run one, I couldn’t blame the Fiesta because the car was great on the RallyCross course. The problem existed between the steering wheel and the seat. I was the problem. I needed to pick up the aggression. I needed to drive the car as if it didn’t need to get me back to California. I started figuring things out by the end of five runs and on the completion of day one of competition, I had worked my way from the back of the pack up to fifth place. We headed to the hotel and viewed the GoPro footage and data, looking for opportunities to improve on day two of competition. I decided to lower my tire pressure on the Yokohamas to try to improve grip. I also decided that on Sunday I was going to go all in, checker or wrecker. I didn’t want to leave the Nationals empty handed. There had to be a way to get on the podium.
On Sunday I knew what my job was: to drive like a complete madman. The issue I was facing was that because every run counted, I not only needed to go faster than my competitors, but I needed to beat them by so much time that I could overcome the hole I dug myself in on Saturday. I would have only four runs to get it done. I went for it. Picking up the aggression was working. After the first run, I was down to fourth place. It was going to be close. I dug deep on my final runs, and the last two laps I set the fastest times in my class, the top time of the day in Stock Front (SF), and also earned my way onto the podium by beating the Mini Cooper S by just 17-thousandths of a second. That is tight competition!
When I crossed the finish line and saw my time on the clocks, I knew I had done it. I was hollering in the car and pumping my fist. It was an awesome feeling! We had worked so hard on the car all year, done so much labor developing it for one style of racing, and then we had this last minute, crazy road trip across the country to do something we had never done before. To come away from the National Championships with a podium finish, it was simply epic.
I downed some celebratory Tac Ops beer and enjoyed some banter and trash talking in the paddock to the other racers in my class. I was happy to have a trophy in my pit area as I took the time to convert the FiST from dirt competition mode to tarmac mode again for the road trip home. Considering the week I had endured, the emotions, the road trip, and the last lap move to get on the podium, I was too tired to even pull the stickers off the car. I just chose to drive the car all the way back to California rocking the number 38 on the side.
During the two days of driving back to California, I had a lot of time to reflect on The Way of The FiST. We took a stock $19,000 car from Ford, bolted on a few mods, raced the car hard in numerous events, took it on an epic road trip to the National Championships, and came home with some podium hardware. It wasn’t what we originally planned (did anyone’s plans go the way they were supposed to in 2020?), but we adapted and still had lots of fun with the car. The Ford Fiesta ST is a capable little hot-hatch that has a lot to offer for the price. The 2019 model we used for this project is sadly the final year of production for the US-sold Fiesta ST. With the aftermarket support the car has, and the tune-ability of the little turbo engine, this car will certainly live on in the hearts of car enthusiasts even if you can’t buy a new one from the dealership anymore. I’m certainly glad I can say I owned one. If you ever get the chance to play with one, I recommend it. This car is a party.
Thank you for coming along for The Way of the FiST journey!
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