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Ford Focus vs Mini Cooper S

Broadcast date : 16th May 2004


Some things never change. In the 1960s it was Mini Cooper S against Ford Lotus Cortina on the race tracks. Now, some 40 years later its Ford Focus versus the latest incarnation of the Mini Cooper S.

The scene for this showdown in 2004 is the South African Production Car Championships. This is where near-standard sedans and hatchbacks go wheel-to-wheel in the most competitive racing series in the country.

There have been some amazing tussles this year and none more so than in the highly competitive Class B category. This is where the Mini Cooper S and the Ford Focus ST170 are involved in a fraught race within-a-race.

The Class B category runs to a one forty five kilowatt limit and other eligible cars include the Toyota RunX which won the championship last year.

So far in 2004 it has been two-one to the Mini. The Cooper S scored wins in both Kyalami meetings in the hands of Shaun van der Linde and Craig Nicholson. The Ford, driven by Clint Weston won at Killarney in Cape Town back in early April.

The cars here for our Car Torque shoot-out are driven by two of these winning drivers. Our own Clint Weston is a driving instructor when he is not racing or presenting Car Torque. And Craig Nicholson, who has fought his way up the racing ranks, is an advertising executive for Car Magazine's website and also reports on motor racing for the magazine.

So what makes these cars different from standard production cars on the streets? The answer is not very much and a hell of a lot.

Starting with the engine, the modifications are limited to computer chip changes to the engine management system and the exhaust systems.

The engines are not allowed extensive modifications such as different camshafts or high compression pistons, but they can be blueprinted. These mean the very careful matching and balancing of internal components, although these must all conform to standard manufacturer tolerances.

As for the suspension, the competitors are allowed to fit different springs and dampers, or shock absorbers as everyone calls them. And the suspension cambers, or wheel angles can be altered for maximum traction.

But all the basic suspension components and the steering and brakes must remain stock.

Wheels and tyres are also limited, and this year all competitors use a semi-slick, semi-treaded tyre supplied by Firestone.

The interiors are allowed to be stripped out, apart from the driver's seat, controls and instrumentation. A stiff, approved roll cage has to be fitted according to the regulations and the cars run to a strict weight limit.

The weights of the cars are decided upon by the Production Car committee when a car is homologated for racing.

With the driver's weight included the Focus ST170 runs to an eleven-thirty kilogram limit, while the Cooper S runs to eleven eighty kilograms.

This increase as far as the Mini is concerned is to negate any advantage the Cooper S has from its supercharged engine. Although the car is rated at one twenty kilowatts versus the Focuses one twenty-six kilowatts, the supercharger gives a theoretical advantage at high altitude.

Just to add a further bit of intrigue, whenever a driver wins a race, an additional 40 kilograms is added. Second place sees 20 kilograms added, with third place carrying a ten kilogram. This weight gain carries on to a maximum penalty of one hundred kilograms.

The idea, and it is a controversial one, is to prevent the same drivers from running away with the race at each meeting.

But of course the winners, like Craig and Clint, think itís a bad idea.

So just how fast are these cars? Well in terms of straight-line speed, not that much faster than a standard car. They accelerate faster and they are perhaps 15 to 20 kilometres an hour faster than a standard street version.

But the difference in weight reduction, spring and damper settings, suspension angles and tyres is amazing. For instance at Kyalami the Mini or Focus will be some 15 seconds faster than the standard production car around the track. That's light-years in race track terms.

As a further comparison measure, a street-legal BMW M3 laps Kyalami about a second or two slower than the racing Ford Focus and the Mini. And it has almost twice as much power!

So far three of the 10 rounds that make up the 2004 Production Car Championship have been run and it is still anyone's championship. May the best man and machine win!

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