Thursday 8th June 2006


RIDING THE FIESTA ST RALLY

Dan Prosser discovers how to be a rally driver's passenger and stay sane.

Adam Gould in the Ford Fiesta ST
Adam Gould in the Ford Fiesta ST

This isnít right. Weíre doing 70mph on wet gravel, that tight left-hander is almost beneath us, and those trees on the exit donít look especially soft. Why on earth isnít Adam Gouldstanding on the brakes? As I do my utmost to not scream obscenities down the intercom and into Adamís ears, he tickles the brakes, turns in and the car just goes. He uses the camber, gets right onto the apex, then floors the throttle on the way out.

As Adam prepares to scare the life out of me once again, Iím forced to reassess my perception of how much cornering grip and turn-in bite this car can muster, and how much talent this 18-year old actually has. Iím also rather relieved to not be half way up a conifer.

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Rally testing

Iíve joined the young Mr Gould and his father as they test his Fiesta ST rally car in preparation for the next round of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy, to be held in Cumbria at the Pirelli National Rally. Weíve come to somewhere in the middle of nowhere to use a mock rally stage, owned by the Higgins family (Higgins, as in Mark Ė 1997 and 2005 British Rally Champion, and David Ė 2004 British Rally Champion). The facility is set in a 900 acre private forest, with miles of gravel surfaced roads, designed to replicate conditions found on the Wales Rally GB Ė perfect for testing then, and one hell of a back garden.

The Fiesta Sporting Trophy is run by M-Sport, the same company that prepares Fordís WRC cars. It was designed to provide a relatively affordable championship where the most promising young drivers in Britain could compete on a level playing field, and showcase their driving talents. Rest assured that the competitors are the absolute cream of Britainís young rally drivers, and several look set to be future stars of the sport. Adam is one of them, and many are certain that he has a bright future. The championship is in its first season, and is just one round old. Adam got off to a promising start, and was running in the top third of the class. However, just a few stages in Adam was forced to retire when a huge rock smashed through the sump guard and damaged the engine. It happened to several competitors, and M-Sport is working on a fix.

The cars are Group N versions of the Fiesta ST road car, generally left-hand drive, with some rally spec modifications. The engineís aspiration has been improved to release more power, taking it up to about 160bhp, with a dog Ďbox and an LSD to take things up a level. Most of the interior trim has been removed, and in its place are a full roll cage, competition seats, a fire extinguisher and a hydraulic handbrake. These are serious rally cars then, and promise some exciting action for drivers and spectators alike.

Making the grade

Adam, who is searching for a new sponsor, is well aware that this season could be his big break, and perhaps his only shot at success. His current sponsorship deal will barely last until the end of the season, and he is desperate to secure more funding to ensure he remains competitive.

It would be a dreadful shame if a lack of funding were the reason that Adam doesnít progress any further, as he most certainly has the talent to do so. Out on that mock rally stage, I find it hard to accept the ST could be driven any faster. His entry speeds were relentlessly ballistic, and were certainly enough to have me questioning my decision to get in the car at all. This isnít a reflection of any lack of trust in Adamís abilities, more a testament to me being a wimp. Towards the end of the ride, in fact, I had so much trust in Adam that I simply didnít want the ride to be over.

All about trust

Much of this trust was earned as we entered a fast right-hander. The camber of the corner and the carís differential combined forces to pull us towards the apex and over it, so that upon exit my half of the windscreen was no longer filled with the usual brown gravel track lined with trees, but with green grass and a huge mound which was fast approaching.

We sped towards the mound at an alarming speed, with me convinced that it was going to flip us and test the roll cage. Adam managed to unsettle me somewhat by shouting ĎWhoa!í down the intercom whilst he took evasive action. I was too busy closing my eyes to notice what he did, but he was somehow able to dodge the bulk of the mound.

We were launched into the air slightly, but we landed smoothly and back on the track. While I replayed the incident in my head, stunned by Adamís car control, he had already forgotten about it and was focussed on the next corner, his confidence and speed not even remotely knocked.

Watching Adam drive is a special sight, and doing so from the passenger seat is unforgettable. He was at one with the ST, and was winding on corrective lock and dabbing the brakes with his left foot before I had any inclination the he needed to do so. His handbrake turns were executed with conviction and utter control, and he was back on the power almost as soon as he was off it. His cornering speed and ability to induce, hold or eradicate slides was mesmerising. That passenger ride was a raw, visceral experience. It simply owned my attention Ė I couldnít have focussed on anything else, even if I wanted to.

One to watch

I always thought I would make a decent rally driver if given the opportunity. No chance. I now know there is no way I could do what Adam does. Heís a superb driver, the ST is a superb car, and itís a superb championship. Remember the name Adam Gould; Iím sure we will see impressive things from him in the future.