James Allen has an all-consuming addiction measured not in tenths of an ounce but in tenths of a second… This is his Time Attack Mk2 Focus RS.
Feature first appeared in Fast Ford magazine. Words: Ben Birch. Photos: Matt Woods
Hands up who’s done a track day, been hooked, and now counts down the days to their next outing? It’s a common story, especially in the world of fast Fords as with a bit of careful tweaking, our humble cars can push much more expensive machinery around the circuit.
James Allen’s Mk2 Focus RS has gone well beyond “a bit of careful tweaking” however. What you see before you is the result of a man and his friends’ OCD obsession around every minute detail, in the pursuit of quicker lap times and a growing trophy cabinet. We’ll let James begin the story with a confession. “I was a Vauxhall man”, he admits with a laugh, “I had a modified Astra VXR, a road / track day car that I had my heart set on competing with in some kind of motorsport.” A trip out in a friends Focus RS thankfully made him see the light, big time. “I went for a spirited drive in his car and I had to buy one – it felt so solid, had amazing road presence, and had tons more grip than the Astra despite the Astra having a diff and loads of chassis mods… it was simply night and day a better car.” An Ultimate Green model with 20k on the clock was purchased, and the plan was to keep it as a standard weekend road car, right James? “Erm, that was what I told myself,” he grins, “but by day one I’d already fitted an intercooler, and then I was introduced to Rob at SCC… the rest is history!”
Rob and James quickly became good friends and decided to build a competent street and track toy using as much off-the-shelf hardware as possible. “We wanted to show what was achievable for everyday punters like me,” he explains, “even today, most of what we’ve done to this car you can buy the exact same parts and do to your car”. Revo software took the RS to around 400bhp, and track days became a regular thing. The rear of the interior was stripped to accommodate a half roll-cage, and James started to get the bug. “It didn’t help that around the same time, Rob and another one of my mates with an Evo decided to enter Time Attack, and I started helping them as pit crew at the weekends.” Being in that environment and around the buzz of a race weekend, eventually tipped James over the edge! “In 2016 I entered as a one-hit wonder for three races in the Time Attack entry class,” he remembers, “Pembrey, Snetterton and Oulton Park.” Officially, the only changes needed to the car in the rule book were a harness and an extinguisher. But before entering Pembrey, James’ competitive spirit took over. “I stripped the car completely, a mate and I welded in a six point cage, I took out the rear and front crash bars to remove weight, and I removed a load of the rear wiring too.” In what would become standard OCD fashion for the rest of the build, James spent one and a half days on that wiring job alone, but it was worth it as he saved 13.5kg!
Needless to say he loved the three taster events, and entered properly into the Club 2wd class, where he spent another two years improving the car and also himself as a driver. “My eyes were opened when I bought a Racelogic V-Box datalogger, and started to check my section times, when I was going on and off the throttle, poring over reams of data. I started to go through a process of; improving myself, thus finding the limits of the car, then improving the car, and starting the process all over again”. As a consequence, big leaps forward in the car’s development came thick and fast starting with the diff, coilovers, a SCC rebuilt engine, and more weight saving. “The hours I spent underneath the car pressing holes in the floor and swaging them for strength is ridiculous,” James remembers, “I took out the roof brace as I have the cage and carbon roof, and I filled up boxes and weighed every last gram”. The car now weighs 1175kg with 30-litres of fuel and the driver on board, and when you consider the SCC engine makes up to 550bhp, you have a very serious 450+bhp/tonne. But James doesn’t rate the straight line performance as the biggest game changer. “My advice to anyone is to develop a really good chassis setup before you even bother to get more power,” he urges, “set the chassis up, learn to drive it fast first and then add power – I have 10 boost settings but I only use up to setting 5.”
The three most fundamental differences to the car were the change to slick tyres, the Quaife gearbox, and the ECU mapped by Gary at APT. Starting with the latter, the car was always good on the Revo software but there are limits to what it can do, and James remembers the day Gary mapped it on the new ECU. “It came alive,” he smiles, “a massive difference.” The gearbox was a bit of an obsession after seeing the demo unit at Autosport International. “I bugged the Quaife rep for ages who said they needed a distributor, then bugged mountune for ages when they became the distributor – I actually sent 133 emails to the poor guy before he caved in!” he laughs. The effort was worth it though, as the ‘box offers shorter ratios and much quicker changes, in a mostly bolt-in solution. “The car accelerates out of the corners like an animal now,” gushes James, “it really is an amazing enhancement”. The slick tyres are the king of the mods though, as they’ve made the car quicker in braking, around corners, and allow him to get on the power more quickly. “But we’ve had to tweak every aspect of the car around them,” explains James, “we had to play around with the suspension, the arms, the fuel system… the slicks took everything else to its limit”. Luckily, Rob at SCC has been spannering for the BTCC teams over the past few years, so he picked up a few tricks for chassis tweaks along the way. “Rob and I played around with the settings as the car was now rolling and squatting too much with the increased grip from the slicks. We ended up leaving the bump on hard, softening the rebound, and lowering the rear ride height. It worked like a dream!” They also noticed from pictures that the wheels were moving around in the arches under cornering. “ARC made us up some tubular arms – fully rose jointed so taking out any play in the normal bushes. They made a big difference, and also enabled us to dial in more camber than before” says James. He runs 4 degrees negative on the front and 3.8 degrees negative on the rear, toe and castor are set up to the mountune RS500 Focus settings. The final issue caused by the slicks was fuel starvation –enter Pro-Alloy. “Alex and the guys there made the baffled fuel tank, and also all of the intercooler, rad, boost pipes etc,” says James, “everything is an absolute work of art, I almost didn’t want to put it all on the car and get it dirty,” he laughs.
The sum of all of this modifying, and testing, and waking up in the middle of the night to write down ideas, is a car that has chopped almost six seconds a lap from its times, from when it was in the Club 2wd Class compared to today – the Pro Extreme 2wd Class. That is huge, and so is James’ well-earned success. “This is our first year in the Pro Extreme 2wd Class, and we’ve won our class!” Yes, that’s right, James has recently been crowned Pro Extreme 2WD Champion 2019. “Every time I get in the car I have a huge smile on my face,” he grins, “don’t get me wrong it’s 10% actual driving, with 90% planning, tweaking, improving, but the Focus is now such an amazing all-rounder and we have a great time when we’re all away for a weekend.” Fast Ford congratulates James and everyone involved in the build, it’s great to see someone making that leap from track days to motorsport, and even more so they are winning titles in a good old Blue Oval!
Tech Spec: Time Attack Mk2 Focus RS
SCS Delta 800 ECU, Bosch 1000cc injectors, custom turbo-back side-exit Milltek exhaust system, Anembo billet inlet manifold, Newman Stage 1 cams, Pro-Alloy breather system, 90mm induction kit, 90mm cross over pipe, header tank, ‘Ultimate’ intercooler, big boost pipe kit, radiator and custom fuel cell, Walbro GST450 fuel pump, modified return fuel rail, Turbosmart FPR1200 fuel pressure regulator, Garrett GTX3076R turbo, SCC tubular exhaust manifold, Tial 44mm wastegate, Tial 50mm BOV, Setrab 405mm 13-row oil cooler, Wiseco pistons, K1 con-rods, 70mm throttle body, block mod, WRT billet crank pulley and WRT air-con delete pulley, potted lower inlet manifold
450bhp – 550bhp depending on boost level
Quaife QKE45Z M66 sequential gearbox, Helix 6 paddle clutch, 3J plated diff with 3.5:1 final drive
KW 2-way Competition coilovers, custom ARC tubular rose jointed wish bones and track, toe and camber arms, Whiteline front and rear anti-roll bars, rose-jointed drop links
Revo/Alcon 6-pot front calipers with 380mm floating discs, SCC /Wilwood rear 330mm disc kit, Ferodo DS UNO pads
Wheels & tyres:
9x18in et35 Team Dynamics Pro Race 1.2, 265/645/18 Pirelli P-Zero slicks and wets
ACR Composites carbon fibre roof, WRC vents, WRC body kit and Evo splitter, carbon fibre bonnet, M-Sport carbon fibre WRC wing, M-Sport carbon fibre hot climate mirrors, Polycarbonate windows
Custom Cages T45 6-point Clubman roll-cage, OMP steering wheel, Sabelt harnesses, Cobra Suzuka bucket seats, Motec c125 data-logging dash, Liteblox carbon fibre lithium ion battery