How to be a winning race driver – on a budget

Low-cost racing is possible – you just need luck and a converted Fiesta

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 00:00

Motorsport in Ireland has understandably suffered in the recession, with reduced grids and a drop in the number of race licence renewals.

The shrinking economy is certainly the largest factor; racing is a leisure activity for most racers in Ireland, and therefore, as budgets tighten, the discretionary spend is greatly reduced.

Thankfully, interest hasn’t dwindled, and there’s a definite spark around the race paddock this season, with the introduction of a new, budget racing class which promises close, affordable racing.

The Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta Zetec Championship has already surpassed expectations with a record 40 race entries for the last round of the championship. The philosophy behind the class is simple: the cars are based on the road-going Ford Fiesta 1.25-litre Zetec model produced between 1996 and 2001.

The regulations let you fit 60mm lowering springs to reduce body roll and therefore improve handling, and all cars must be equipped with the standard safety modifications; these include a roll cage, race seat and safety harness.

Strict controls on cars
There’s a controlled Toyo race tyre and each competitor is limited to just six tyres for the season, with 10 rounds of the championship taking place over five race events at Mondello Park, Ireland’s international racing circuit. Apart from these modifications the cars are all standard; even the original air filter must remain in place, all in an effort to minimise costs and keep strict controls on all cars.

Having watched the first two race meetings of this new much-talked about Fiesta race, series, I too have succumbed to the lure of this close, competitive racing class.

I’ve taken the financial plunge of just €400 and purchased a respectable two-owner 1998 three-door Ford Fiesta. After I’ve driven it back from Athlone, work begins to have my little navy Fiesta take to the grid this coming weekend. It’s been stripped and now has a full roll cage, installed by fabrication expert Jason Griffin.

All the ancillary parts and equipment have been purchased from Dublin-based race car preparation experts Murray Motorsport, who offer a complete kit specific to the Fiesta series. It’s an outlay of around €2,000 to progress my car to the grid – a fraction of what typical race cars cost.

Purchasing the parts is only part of the jigsaw. Having them installed correctly is another problem, but thankfully my father’s expert knowledge of all things mechanical and his interest in motorsport has been of great benefit, as has a helping hand from my work colleague and race driver Phil Lawless. The Fiesta has also been treated to a full service and fitted with new brake discs and pads prior to its race debut.

Adrenaline pumping
Despite having a paltry 75bhp, and with 28 cars (maximum allowed per race) all fighting for the same piece of tarmac on the run down to Turn One, the adrenaline will be pumping.

The class is promoted by Mondello Park and its managing director John Morris, who has been instrumental in the past in promoting and running large-scale race events including the Phoenix Park motor races and the recent Bavaria city racing which brought Formula One to the streets of Dublin. This time the scale of the operations is probably more in keeping with recessionary Ireland, but thanks to new sponsors it does boast reduced race entry fees.

With just three days to go until my first Fiesta race there’s plenty of work still be completed. I doubt the previous owner will have ever imagined this Fiesta taking to the track, but it’s time to put it – and my driving skills – to the test. I’ll report on the glory – and embarrassment – of it all next week.