There have been a number of awesome Escorts built and raced over the years, but this Mk2 Escort race car and Austrian Hillclimb Championship contender is surely among the best of them all.
Feature from Fast Ford magazine. Words and photos: Robb Pritchard
Arches, splitters, wings, diffuser. It looks like something straight out of modern DTM. But the familiar rectangular grille with two round headlights is such a contrast of eras that it takes a moment for your brain to register what your eyes are seeing.
Pikes Peak may be the world’s most famous hillclimb event, but the sport is incredibly popular in parts of Europe too (the really hilly bits!), and because of the lack of rules regarding builds, it’s the place to see some seriously impressive race cars – such as this absolutely stunning Mk2 Escort race car. But it certainly isn’t just for show: this Escort competes in the Austrian Hillclimb Championship in the capable hands of its creator Christopher Neumayr.
The story starts with a 17th birthday gift from his grandma – a BMW 318 that, without going into any incriminating details such as speed limits, he managed to park on its roof on a quiet country road. The next two cars also ended up the same way, so Christopher’s dad, wanting to focus his son’s obvious need for speed in a more controlled environment, allowed him to use his precious RS2000 in a local hillclimb event.
“It was a really nice car. It was light so had a great power-to-weight ratio and handled really well.” Unfortunately, in one of his very first events something broke and pitched Christopher head-first into a wall at very high speed. He was lucky to come away with just a few cracked ribs and bruises. But the car? The impact was hard enough to push the engine and gearbox back so much that the rear axle was bent. Needless to say, there wasn’t much left to salvage…
From their hospital beds, many people would have looked at the photos of the mangled mess of twisted metal and pool of mixing oil and coolant flowing down the road, and decided that tearing up mountains at break-neck speeds might not be for them. But for Christopher (who might not be wired quite the same way as the rest of us) it was a galvanising moment that led him over the next few years to create this incredible Escort from the remains of the old. No sheer rock face was going to stand in his way.
The central part of the shell is the only part left of the original car, straightened, stripped and cut out to the minimum metal allowed in the regulations. Christopher chose to run in the E1 class for non-turbo cars, as a ‘charger would put him in the top class with 800bhp 4×4 monsters, which is not the place you want to be if you plan on competing with anything resembling a budget.
A Cosworth YB engine minus the turbo was the chosen powerplant, but it is far from standard. A Farndon crankshaft designed especially for non-turbo cars, coupled with the stroke reduced from 77mm to 72mm, allows it to rev to an incredible 10,000rpm. Cylinders were bored out from 90mm to 94mm and fitted with CP pistons from America, smaller bearings create less friction and weight, and the lengthened and balanced conrods were also from Farndon.
The head is quite special too: heavily ported on a CNC machine, it has bigger inlet and outlet ports and a special profile for the cams, which are bigger and more aggressive than the turbocharged YB designs. All this makes a healthy 304bhp on racing fuel with 187lb.ft of torque. And in a car that weighs much less than a tonne, it’s enough to hit 60mph in ‘about three seconds’!
A six-speed sequential gearbox – made by Tractive in Sweden – also features a pneumatic paddle shift that Christopher designed himself; modestly, he confesses it took a long time to get right. The rear 909 Ford Motorsport differential and independent suspension setup is from a WRC Escort Cosworth, and is mounted directly to the roll cage just like the works rally cars. How did Christopher manage to work out all the engineering for such a complicated transplant? “I just looked at a lot of photos and saw what part needed to go where,” he says.
He also made the front uprights, but the geometry was hard to perfect. “If the setup didn’t feel right I tried a different way,” he says. But what he means by ‘trying a different way’ is completely scrapping the previous version and fabricating a new design…
The suspension is three-way adjustable by KW, with a custom setup specific for this car. Brakes are six-pots from Tarox, but the discs are tiny, as all hillclimb races are fast and uphill so there’s no need to carry any extra kilos of steel on the wheels.
Power is important, but perhaps more so is weight saving. With the minimum limit being just 790kg, if something is not needed it is not fitted. Christopher’s car is exactly 790kg.
Aerodynamic aids are also unregulated, and if you don’t think you’ve ever seen a Mk2 that looks quite like this then you’re right. All the bodywork is unique to this car. “The splitter and wings took a lot of work cutting away foam blocks to make the moulds. It was many hours of scraping and sanding before I had what I wanted, but after about a hundred hours I stopped counting!
“Many people have asked if they can buy a set from me. I have the moulds so I can repair the car quickly if I have an accident, but I won’t sell them. I like having the only Escort that looks like this.”
The huge rear wing and diffuser produce massive amounts of downforce. “A friend of mine has a virtual wind tunnel programme, so we entered in all the car’s dimensions as accurately as we could and ran it on the simulator, and it really helped with the setup of the car. Now I can understand how much the suspension is compressed at 200km/h without having to drive that speed in a badly setup car just to test it! I can go through corners unbelievably fast now.”
Some hillclimb events have faster courses than others, so like in many high-speed, high-technology racing series both the wing and diffuser can be adjusted. Weather conditions affect setup as well. If it’s a wet event everything is tuned to maximum downforce.
Generally the courses are short at just a few kilometres, so getting off the line as quickly as possible is key to getting a good time. The three-piece BBS wheels are the same size front and rear, as the MBE ECU’s traction control measures the turning of the front wheels to control the spinning of the rears. The ECU programme has eight vectors for changing the start mapping from wet to totally dry. It saves a couple of seconds per run… and cost €4000. Christopher estimates he’s invested over 1000 hours into the build. “I finished it when the car was as good as I could get it, because who wants to drive a crappy car?” he shrugs. Apart from the time, the cost just in parts is around €70,000.
The first race was in May 2014, and it was terrible. “There were problems with the electrics, with the engine, and the ECU was completely confused with the traction control.” It was another 18 months of development to get everything working properly – a year-and-a-half working until 2am, designing, fabricating and testing.
Christopher’s gritty never-give-up attitude finally paid off when he came away with his first win, three-and-a-half years after the crash. “It was such a great feeling,” he smiles. There were so many times that I wanted to give up because getting the car as fast as it needed to be just seemed so far beyond me, but a lot of friends and fans encouraged me, and that always motivated me.”
And Christopher’s not finished there. In his quest for ever faster times up the hill, he’s recently started a WRC-spec Mk7 Fiesta build, which he reckons is on course to set him back a cool €250,000!
In the meantime, Christopher is content to keep getting his hillclimbing kicks from his awesome Escort.
Tech Spec: Mk2 Escort Race Car
Naturally-aspirated Cosworth YB 2.0-litre with shorter stroke (72mm) using custom Farndon crankshaft and conrods and custom CP forged pistons (94mm bore), CNC-ported cylinder head, custom high-lift cams, throttle bodies within custom carbon airbox with intake kit, four-branch exhaust manifold into custom exhaust system, dry sump system with custom breathers and tanks, MBE ECU with custom wiring loom, custom cooling package, 10,500rpm rev limit
304bhp and 187lb.ft (on race fuel)
Tractive six-speed sequential gearbox with custom paddle-shift, twin-plate AP Racing clutch, Escort Cosworth rear cradle with 909 Ford Motorsport 9in rear diff
Custom three-way KW Suspension coilovers, Escort Cosworth WRC independent rear suspension conversion
Tarox six-pot alloy callipers with custom non-vented discs
Wheels & Tyres:
BBS 10x15in three-piece split rims, Avon super-soft slicks
Custom carbon fibre panels incorporating one-off bodykit (moulds all owned by Christopher), custom aero package including adjustable rear wing and rear diffuser
Full motorsport weld-in roll cage, excess material removed/weight saved, carbon panels, single competition bucket seat with Sparco belts