Slippery City Shoes
By Emily Atkins (From Provinz January 2014, page 31)
It’s minus 10, the sun is shining and the little tomato-red car is flying down the snow-packed road. A fine, glistening spray kicks up from the wheels as it shimmies around corners. The tires spin a bit, biting for grip going up the hills. The limits of traction have been passed a couple times so far, but the car stays on the winding, bumpy road, if not always going exactly straight.
I’m having far too much fun driving the Ford Fiesta ST press car over the stage roads at the Rally of the Tall Pines on a cold, snowy November afternoon. While the rally racers are out checking their pace notes for tomorrow’s race (see the full story on page 20), the roads are open for anyone who wants to take a run at them. I decide the Fiesta, which is a perfect rally car, albeit of the two-wheel drive kind—needs to take me on a tour. Rally 101, without a guide. None of this co-driver stuff for me—I’d rather be surprised by the hairpin turn going down a steep hill. Where’s the fun in knowing what’s coming?
But seriously, it was research, both into the rally and the capabilities of the Fiesta. This petite pocket rocket is powered—quite impressively—by a 1.6L 4-cylinder Turbo engine that makes 197hp and 202ft/ lb of torque. It’s got a six-speed manual gearbox, and weighing in at only 1,234kg, it will emphatically GO when you hit the gas, no matter what gear you are in.
It’s an exhilarating ride. This little car goes like crazy, and if you’re not careful you’ll have the fuzz on your tail as I did after my back-road adventure. Without realizing it, I had let the speedo creep up too far as I drove on the pavement back to rally HQ. A sharp-eyed OPP officer spotted me and pulled a U-turn to chase me down. He settled in behind me—now I was doing the limit—for a good five minutes, no doubt admiring the car’s fetching looks from the rear. With press cars you don’t know what the cops will find when they run your plate, so I was holding my breath until he finally turned off the main road, metres before I made the turn into rally HQ. I like to think it was because this car has so much rally cred that he left me alone, not wanting to alienate the open-walleted rally crowd with a pointless ticket.
The Fiesta handles beautifully, and has a flawless transmission. Shifts are crisp and quick, and the car went precisely where I wanted it to every time. It did present me with a challenge, however. All this power and precision was mated to the road with a set of very fine Bridgestone Potenza summer performance tires. It was minus 10C on Friday, minus 22C on Saturday morning. I might as well have been driving on bricks, for all the grip the rubber provided at those temps. Not to say a word about the tread depth and pattern.
The slithering, sliding and sideways certainly slowed me down some, but it made the back-road experience all the more joyful. Once I figured out the limits of traction it was all fun and games, swoop and holler, heart-pounding, palm-sweating concentration and anticipation (except for the one hill that needed three tries to get up). I even earned a pass from one of the rally recce vehicles on a stage road—they were trying to work out their notes, while I was blissed out, just carving the turns. I don’t think they appreciated the lunatic tailgating them through the woods.
As much as my ride-along later that evening fuelled my rally lust, the Fiesta on summer slicks was the gateway drug. There’s no going back now; it’s just a matter of figuring out how to take the dalliance and turn it into a long-term romance.