Road triiiiiip! Wales bound:
Daft Punk, walkie talkie + E numbers…
With only 500 miles done on the Focus, it was time to take it out on its first proper outing. After being booked in to a Vauxhall VX220 Meeting down at Anglesey Race Circuit, it seemed too good an opportunity to go to my first proper track day.
I’m not going to lie, the track is a pretty alien environment for me! But despite being slightly nervous as to how full-on the experience could be, the overwhelming level of excitement was hard to beat.
Arriving with a convoy of VX’s:
A Gilf (not Gulf) VX
There weren’t just Vauxhalls VX’s either; with a Caterham Seven and a Noble M12 joining in on the fun too.
Although even if I was tempted to take the Focus out whilst I was here, it would have looked so out of place amongst the crowd!
During the safety briefing they go through some basic rules (e.g. secure camera’s only on track), the ‘flag glossary’ and general track etiquette. You can hire a helmet on the day at this point too.
You then empty all the loose objects / unwanted weight in the car, and then you set off to get familiarised with the track…..
…before shortly returning to the pits to discover the loose bits hidden away that you’d missed the first time (a phantom coin in the dash somewhere for us).
But from that point, the track acts as an open pit lane and its up to you how long you spend on / off the track.
Map of Anglesey:
The track itself, is predominantly a third-gear, handling track. For the morning, we had the full International GP configuration, and for the afternoon this changed into the shorter Coastal configuration – with the miniature corkscrew-esque slalom towards the end.
Qualified instructors were on site available too to be booked into time slots.
Onto the track:
Lap of Anglessey
There was no need to be nervous; there’s a generous run-off area, and with everyone fully concentrating, their responses are fast enough for when someone ahead does spin-out. Overtaking just involves the person in front indicating to the right and you pass on the left. And if you are the one moving over, you effectively do it when you can in the straights – i.e there’s no immediate pressure (or flashing headlights) to do so. Marshall’s will blue flag you anyway if you miss it!
There’s no aggressive driving style in essence. No go-kart styles of competing by outbraking and diving for the apex.
Had to keep remembering to leave the handbrake off at the end of each session though, and not weld it to the hot brakes!
How was the VX?
Brilliant, and more than up to the job. The chassis is very forgiving meaning you could be fluid, or you could be aggressive and you’d most likely make it through the bends without a fuss. The car just lapped it all up. When following some of the more ham-fisted drivers in their Turbo models, you could see their car flexing and beginning to squirm under the torque load through the bends, but even then the chassis was strong enough to keep it under check.
It does feel strange saying that for a car with a sub-six second 0 – 62mph time, the VX220 N/A did feel underpowered amongst the crowd. But once you realise that you practically live above 4500rpm on a nice, wide track, it doesn’t take long to get used to 145bhp. The Turbo’s on the other hand with their monstrous torque advantage just disappeared!
The brake pad pin worked its way loose over the course of the day. As we switched over to the Coastal Track layout in the afternoon, the corkscrew generated enough force to fling the brake pin out and scrape along the inner side of the wheel. Safe to say it was quite an unnerving sound as you exited the final left turn!
It sounded like something was scraping from underneath at first, like the undertray had fallen, but after further investigating we had to seek someone with a mallet to straighten the sucker back up!
Back on the road….
The day ended with a nice early-evening cruise along the Welsh coast with the sun setting. It did feel like a long day though having to drive all the way back to Manchester!
But after a day of sitting with the VX’s engine screaming behind me, the Focus was a nice, comfortable environment to cruise back to England in, even if it was ultimately, a bit heavy and less lively in comparison!
The Zetec S managed to get a few looks too, but while the Ecoboost engine is broadly muscular, it’s no fizzing firecracker – it’s too refined for that; being practically silent through the tunnels with just the wastegate hissing for childish entertainment. And while this is great for unobtrusive listening of the VX’s Larini exhaust, this cements that the Zetec S is comfortably a warm hatch.
Whilst the higher torque output of a forced-induction engine is much appreciated, the other half of the convoy proved that there is no substitute for lightweights though – the VX would disappear quickly enough to feel as though I’d left the handbrake on!
What can I say, track days could become an expensive habit. The kind of activity that makes me want to buy lottery tickets again in order to fund it as a regular hobby.
And Anglesey? What an amazing place. All the makings were here for one of the best days ever and it all fell into place:
A Track on the coast, a sea / mountainous view with the sun out, and driving with the roof off with a loud exhaust. And what made us extremely lucky that topped it all off – fighter jets from RAF Valley flying over. Awesome. Just awesome. This will be hard to beat for a long, long time.
Tunnel Blasting with the VX220:
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Spec: Zetec S Engine: 1.6T Petrol, 180bhp, 177lb ft (199lb ft overboost) Transmission: 6 Speed Manual Mpg: Official: 47.9mpg Achieved: 38 – 40.3mpg Performance: 0-62mph: 7.9 Secs, 139mph Colour: Frozen White Running Period: Summer 2012 – Spring 2013, 15,500 Miles Options: 18” Alloys, City Pack (Rear Parking Sensors, Folding Mirrors, Rear Electric Windows), Privacy Glass, Door Edge Protectors