The sweeping left-hander confounds me on my first two laps around the course, and I waste time understeering wildly off the ideal line. On my third approach, I’m determined to make it work. I turn in early and abruptly lift the throttle, sending the rear of the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST sliding around to my right. I think I’ve nailed the corner, but I’ve actually put the car into a wild spin. I stab the clutch and brake, but by now I’m just a passenger as the Fiesta slides backward before coming to rest on the edge of a snowbank.
This isn’t your typical performance driving experience. I’m on Ross Lake in the small Michigan town of Beaverton to go ice racing with the local Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) chapter. It’s essentially an autocross on 18 inches of ice: You navigate a series of orange cones marking a course around the frozen lake. The official goal is to set as quick a lap time as possible, but most people are really here to have fun going sideways.
Although we didn’t have quite such extreme use in mind, we readied our 2014 Ford Fiesta ST for winter duty a few months ago. The carpeted floor mats came out and WeatherTech’s excellent FloorLiner DigitalFit plastic mats went in, costing us $169.90. We also paid $691.24 to buy and mount a set of Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 winter tires in place of the summer-only Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires that come standard. Thus equipped, the Fiesta proved unstoppable in winter -- except when associate Web editor Eric Weiner beached the car on packed snow while practicing handbrake turns in an unplowed parking lot.
I don’t get stuck once blasting around Ross Lake, and the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST proves a pretty good car for ice racing. The 1.6-liter turbo engine easily overwhelms the Blizzak tires in first gear, and even in second gear I’m bouncing off the rev limiter, so I lap the course almost entirely in third. Though the Fiesta plows straight ahead if you enter a turn too quickly, I soon get the hang of using its proclivity for liftoff oversteer to help me negotiate corners. I steer, release the gas, take my hands off the wheel for a split second as the car rotates, then straighten the car and get back on the power. Yes, I’m trying to lap the course as fast as possible, but ultimately I’m just grinning and laughing at how easily I can slide this hot hatch around on a frozen lake.
Ice racing itself, though, is one of the most exhilarating forms of amateur motorsports I’ve ever experienced. Cars slither, slide, and spin on the ice, shooting up rooster tails of snow all around the course. While various vintages of Subaru WRX dominate the entry list, competitors are as disparate as a 1992 Honda Civic and a 1988 BMW 325iX, a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro RS and a 2007 Audi RS4, and even a 2008 Pontiac G6 coupe. There are only a few automotive casualties: Two flat front tires on a Saab 9-2X, suspension strut failure on a Subaru Impreza, and a damaged front fascia on a Volkswagen GTI that smacked several marker cones at speed.
I finish the day with a best lap time of 2 minutes and 48.5 seconds, putting me third out of nine competitors in the stock front-wheel-drive category. I’m thrilled with that result given it’s my first time ice racing. Most important for my ego, my time is exactly 10 seconds ahead of the other 2014 Ford Fiesta ST competing on the lake.
The Fiesta almost survives the day of wintry abuse unscathed, but Weiner accidentally drives the car over a rock in the staging area. Another winter calamity in the ST? “I really love this car, but it’s telling me loud and clear it doesn’t love me back,” Weiner is forced to admit. “A trial separation is probably the best thing for both of us.” In his defense, the rock was hidden under a fresh layer of snow, and who uses boulders to decorate a parking lot? The Fiesta is totally stuck with its right-rear wheel hanging in the air, until fellow ice racers lend us a floor jack to help extricate it. The only damage to the car is a crunched and dislocated side skirt, which we’ll have replaced in the next few weeks.
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