TrackSTer – Office Space
In the last Focus TrackSTer update we covered the basic goals behind building the car into a competent track car that can handle daily-driver duty as well. Just as we chose a suspension system that walks a carefuly-chosen line between both street and track abilities, when it came time to choose interior mods we stayed with the very same strategy.
In our opinion, unless you plan to wear a helmet whenever you’re behind the wheel, a full roll cage in a car that spends any sizable amount of time driven on public roads just doesn’t make sense. We’ve seen many times where the very mod chosen for driver and passenger protection (the cage) becomes a serious liability in a crash out on public roads. Half cages (which basically involve a central roll hoop and rearward supports), are often better compromises for street-driven track cars, but even assuming proper construction, placement, and mounting, there are still serious pros and cons to such a set-up. With the TrackSTer build we honestly didn’t even get this far in our initial conversations because as far as we are concerned, one of the major reasons that makes the Focus ST so awesome is because it’s a hot hatch that so easily doubles as a versatile daily driver/family car, and much of that has to do with the fact…it’s got four doors. Those extra rear doors wouldn’t be very useful if the back seats they give access to…were no longer there. So no cage of any kind for Focus TrackSTer. However, while street safety is a big deal, so is staying protected when we’re on a race track. Even in stock form the Focus ST is capable of impressive speeds and creating some fairly serious G-forces. With TrackSTer’s wider track, fifteen52/Eibach f/RP coilovers, sticky Pirellis, and Ford Racing/Stoptech big brakes, it’s now even more capable of those things. Simply put, the stock 3-point seat belts and stock Recaros are less than ideal for what this car is capable of out on a fast road course.
Our solution to the seat belt issue was to hit up our friends at Sparco USA. We told them we needed a simple-but-effective 4-point harness system and they came through immediately. Just as with a full roll cage, we don’t recommend using race harnesses while driving on the street (in certain situations they’re less safe than your stock 3-point belts, and for many of us their restrictive nature means that – God forbid – if some random Nickelback song comes on the radio we might not be able to reach the scan button before it’s too late). The dual-use nature inherent to the TrackSTer’s reason for living means that for those trips to the track we’ll be adding the Sparco 4-points but using the stock belts until we get there. Once home again we’ll remove the harnesses until the next track day.
How you go about mounting a pair of 4-point harnesses is arguably just as critical as the harnesses themselves, and let’s face it, some people do it dangerously wrong. The goal is to keep the upper portion of the belt within a level or approximately 4″ below range of the driver’s shoulder height. Mount them too low and you could find your safety harnesses compressing your spine downward in even a fairly minor collision. So what we were looking for was an actual harness bar. The problem there was we weren’t aware of anyone offering such a bar for the Mk3 Focus, and further, we had to remind ourselves that we’d already forbidden anything that rendered the back seats useless or even seriously compromised. What we needed was a removable harness bar. At fifteen52 we’ve been in business since 1996 and over the years we’ve forged some pretty good relationships with various industry icons. Though the Focus ST isn’t a car many of our VW/Audi tuner friends have experience with, we haven’t met a single one that didn’t have the ST solidly placed on their awareness radar. Tim Tomas, owner of Tomas Sport Tuning based in Berkeley, CA, is one of those industry icons we mentioned. Simply put, this dude has consistently built some of the cleanest and most stylish VWs the scene has ever, um, seen. His attention to detail (which is a kind way of letting you know this guy’s got the OCD thing going on big time) is incredible and made him a natural resource when it came to designing and fabbing us up a custom removable harness bar for TrackSTer.
We got Tim a local Focus ST to look over and use for taking measurements, and in an incredibly short time a prototype was on its way to us – including pre-trimmed plastic side panels. It must have been that OCD thing flaring up, but on his own Tim ordered up some Focus trim pieces from his local dealer to use for designing the best strategy for mounting the harness bar’s permanent anchors and integrating them into the OE trim pieces. Tim understood the Jekyll/Hyde nature of the build as a whole and just knew we’d want as OE an appearance as possible, even for something as clearly not OE as you’d expect a harness bar to look. To say we dig his work is an understatement. With its quick-release pins the bar can be added or removed at a moment’s notice and of course when it’s not in use we have a totally usable back seat.*
We consider the Focus ST’s Recaro seats to be one of its defining accessories, and in fact we’d go so far as to suggest that they’re proof Ford gets it when it comes to how to build a hot hatch. No doubt that for many the stock seats are plenty capable to use for occasional track-day duties. But as we mentioned earlier, for serious track duty we wanted something even more aggressive, and a seat design that easily accommodated our 4-point harnesses. Don’t underestimate the value of properly-fitting seats when you’re hot-lapping a road course. In this case properly-fitting doesn’t mean comfortable; no, we’re talking about finding a seat that properly keeps you planted. You want a seat to hug you to a point where you can relax your grip on the steering wheel, because your hands and arms are no longer tasked with the job of keeping you in place, and they’re just needed for…steering. Bulging forearms and white knuckles make for great latest super-car road test copy in some high-brow British car mag, but the truth is you’ll prefer a more relaxed grip on the steering wheel when you’re driving at 10/10ths, lap after lap after lap.
Hitting up Recaro for a pair of track seats was pretty much a foregone conclusion, wouldn’t you say? With the TrackSTer’s rear doors we were blessed with the option of going for a fixed-back seat design, since we didn’t have to worry about our choice in front seats affecting rear passenger accessibility. Reclining seats are more comfortable over long distances, but for providing a truly snug and stable seating platform, a fixed-back race seat is ideal. In a nod toward some real-world comfort and also the variations in driver physiques likely to spend time behind the TrackSTer’s steering wheel, we chose a pair of Recaro’s excellent Profi XL seats. Compared to some of Recaro’s other race seats, the Profi XL is a little wider. So while our skinnier drivers won’t feel quite as snug as they might prefer, at least some of our, um, huskier colleagues can spend quality time in the TrackSTer without losing precious blood-flow to various important body parts. Though the standard Recaro cloth material is both grippy and breathable, we chose black leather upholstery because we wanted to play up the TrackSTer’s ability to keep its street drivers happy and not feeling like they’re driving a full-time race car. For the sake of continuity we plan to re-cover the back seats to match the leather fronts. Recaro seat brackets and sliders designed specifically for the Mk3 Focus mean that all variety of driving positions can be accommodated, and the both the factory seat belts and Sparco harnesses work perfectly. Finally, the seat’s fixed back positioning is not at all uncomfortable – even on long trips or after many laps – and the steering wheel’s up/down and in/out adjustability options offer almost any driver a comfortable seating position.
To be totally honest, we could have easily kept the stock Focus ST steering wheel and been quite happy. It’s small enough in diameter and has a thick and ergonomic shape. Heck, we could have even had it re-wrapped in synthetic suede to work better with race gloves. But the fact is we’ve pretty much always swapped out the OE steering wheels on our track-purposed project cars and with the TrackSTer we did it again. While digging through Sparco’s warehouse looking for harnesses we couldn’t help but fall in love with several of their 3-spoke steering wheels. We got to talking about quick-release hubs and it wasn’t long before we got Sparco to throw in a few extra goodies with our race harnesses.
Yes, in going with an aftermarket race steering wheel we’ve given up our driver-side airbag, and yes, that’s a questionable move for a car that admittedly is still to be used a great deal on public roads. Add in the fact that we now have to devise a separate control module to operate the various OE steering wheel control functions, along with custom extended turn signal stalks, and we’re probably looking at one of those, “folks, don’t try this at home,” situations. Speaking of custom touches, we couldn’t help but replace the standard Sparco horn button with a machined aluminum 3D “52” disc, a lá our fifteen52 wheel center caps.
The final pieces to the TrackSTer’s interior puzzle are the drilled aluminum Sparco throttle, brake and clutch pedal covers and drilled aluminum dead pedal. We’re actually a bit baffled as to why the Focus ST doesn’t come from the factory with a proper dead pedal, but as we’ve shown here it’s a situation that is easily rectified. Making up for the lack of an OE dead pedal is a brake/throttle pedal combo that nicely encourages an easy heel-and-toe technique. The ST’s 2-liter EcoBoost engine has excellent throttle response and in combination with the thoughtfully-spaced pedals and slick-shifting gearbox it provides for a car that is very easy to drive quickly – the Sparco pedals just make the process that much more efficient.
We’re quite pleased with the changes we’ve made inside our Focus TrackSTer. On the street the mods we’ve made certainly do compromise some basic creature comforts, but we’re talking about some pretty minor stuff here. The Recaro seats are still comfortable for a wide variety of drivers and we’ve still got a completely functional rear seat and rear hatch area.
Next up we’ll document the various changes we’ve made to the TrackSTer’s exterior. As you already know we went a little crazy there and no doubt you’ll want to follow along with what we did and why.
*We plan to offer the TST/fifteen52 Mk3 Focus removable harness bar, so feel free to send us an inquiry if you’re interested.