This weekend, Team ZRT and their 2000 Ford Escort ZX2 was with the World Racing League to play at America’s prestigious Formula 1 racing circuit, Circuit of the Americas (COTA). For Team ZRT and myself, we are fortunate enough to have this track in our back yard, so we can pack up and be at COTA in a 2-3 hours. For this particularly event, a lot of work had gone into preparing for this event. The Escort ZX2 has always been an incredibly reliable race car, but it has is weaknesses, including short stints due to limited fuel capacity, poor suspension design and thus poor tire wear, and no aftermarket support for racing. We sought to remedy some of these issues by installing 245/40 tires on 15x8 wheels. Yes they fit on the ZX2 with some significant fender persuasion, and yes they look mean. When there is no aftermarket support, sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands, so we also completely designed a new suspension system for the car, which included fabricating strut housings for Koni racing inserts, custom Ground Control adjustable spring perches and springs, and Ground Control’s universal caster/camber plates. Finally, the differential was welded up to also reduce tire wear. This was a lot of changes with little testing before the event.
We needed to shake the car down, so we used the Friday testing sessions to get everyone familiar with handling of the ZX2, unfortunately our testing was cut short when our car was black-flagged for dropping oil and smoking. This is not something you want happening while you are at the track, but particularly not when you are at Circuit of the Americas. Upon inspection there was oil everywhere and identifying the source of the leak was proving difficult. We decided on the shotgun approach and spent the remainder of the day replacing both the rear main seal and resealing the oil pan. These repairs proved reliable for the weekend with no evident of leaking through the oil pan or rear main seal.
Saturday was beautiful and the race started out rather uneventful with no major accidents. The car was running good, but all us drivers agreed it seemed to lack some power, as we were getting walked by our fellow class mates in Miata’s. We hung out in a mid-pack position for most of the race, with the car continuing to run, tire wear looking great, but struggling to drive with that welded diff. Opinions were quiet for the race, but deep down inside I was frustrated with it. Steering effort was extremely difficult and compromised technique in certain situations, but more importantly the differential acted like an overly-cautious nanny that would refuse to let the car rotate. This kept you out of trouble, but also kept you from rotating the car to actually negotiate a corner. Trail braking has little effect with a welded differential. The only way to get the car to rotate was to force a traction difference between the two wheels. Quickly dialing in your steering input would help rotate the car on corner-entry, and using the accelerator would help to rotate the car on corner-exit. The race was going well for us, but unfortunately, after putting in our final driver to bring the car home, he radioed in with reports of something severely wrong with a tire or the suspension. When he pulled into the pits, we quickly realized that we nearly lost our front wheel. With only 3 lugs studs left, we retired from the Saturday race just short of taking the checker flag.
That night we made wheel stud repairs and re-torqued all the wheels down. Our simply mistake of not checking the torque on our fresh set of un-bedded wheels, could have cost us a lot, so we were fortunate to have only needed to repair a stud and a wheel. Ready for Sunday, we woke up to fog so thick that you could not see teams only a few garages down. The dense fog delayed the race for a couple of hours, but eventually the race started with cooler conditions and a damp track. With the opening stint for this race, I quickly realized that the car was much more controllable on the wet track. I was able to overcome some of the impact of the welded differential and actually rotate the car some. This quickly dissipated as the track dried out. I handed the car off to our next driver and it was not long before he was radioing in that the car was really down on power. Shortly after he radioed in and the only word we made out was “fire!”. We panicked but thankfully there was no major fire, and the plumbs of smoke was motor oil that was burning on the hot exhaust. Our race was cut short, but having stayed up late wrenching the nights before, was all embraced hanging out the rest of the day, watching the race, grilling and enjoying a few drinks and talking about the car and our race weekend.