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I have been debating posting this due to the long read. But finally figured WTF. Here goes.
TL;DR -I went to Laguna Seca with my 16 Focus ST

Here is the deal. I did my first track day on Monday at Laguna Seca with NCRC in my 2016 Focus ST (ST3 –not that it matters).
The day was perfect. Sunny, with temps up into the 80s, so not too hot. As a group, we drove down from the Tri-Valley area (1 Corvette, 1 2011 Porsche 997 GTS convertible, 1 Boxster S, 1 E46 330i ZHP package and one 2016 M3). We met up with another local 997 that was staying up in the Monterrey area. We left Pleasanton at around 6:20 or so after fueling up (including Starbucks). Arrived at the track right around 8~8:15. Solo group meeting was at 8:45, so we were ahead of time, and had plenty of time to unload cars, set tire pressures, etc.
15 minutes into the drive down (Milpitas), I had a TPMS sensor warning light up my dash…Never had that before, and I even had visions of my day being ruined by a flat… Funny thing is that on Saturday, I took the car to a local Goodyear dealer near my house for an oil change since my car had 6500 miles and was still on the original oil. I asked and confirmed repeatedly that I needed the tires rotated, since they had not been rotated yet. –I should have done it that previous Monday when I installed the RS Brembo brakes, but I also planned to have it done during the oil change, and did not want to risk rotating them, only to have the shop rotate them back. Doh! Anyway, once at the track, I found the left front to be at 28psi…so set all tire pressures to 35psi cold. Tire seems to be holding pressure even today.
Anyway, the brakes never did feel quite right after installing them that week, so on Sunday I figured that I better bleed them once again, and per the advice of folks on the forum, I bled the inside before the outside this time around. I also re-checked all the bolts and brake lines for tightness, and found what appeared to be a slightly loose, (just not tight) flex line to solid line connection. After bleeding and rotating tires, the brakes were what I was hoping for from the start. I guess it really does matter the order in which you bleed the individual caliper (inside before outside). Who knew?
I had read too many times that the ST’s biggest weakness on track was the brakes. They tended to overheat easily, and absolutely required action before attending a track day. Rather than try to get the stockers to work with 2 pc rotors, new pads, fluids, etc. I decided to go with the RS brembos, as the pricing is very reasonable. For under $700, you have a ready to bolt on big brake kit. And they look pretty nice as well (at least they did before the track event). I did not go with braided lines and I used ATE200 fluid with the stock RS pads. In retrospect, I should have gone with a more track oriented pad at the very least, as well as racing fluid. (I have not bled the brakes since the event –I plan to this weekend or the next).
The car is stock, unless you consider the FRPP exhaust to be a mod. I also have 5mm wheel spacers in order to run the stock snowflakes. Tires are original F1s, with 6500 miles on them.
First session out at 8:45…Sat on grid for a few minutes and still managed to forget to set the TCS to sport until I was actually on track midway through my warmup lap! What an idiot! Anyway, I was 3rd car out, with a 335 in front of me, and my buddy in the ’16 M3 at the front. While I realize that the tires are cold, the first few corners of the sighting lap was way too slow for me, and my friend was walking away in his M3. Lucky for me, after T4 I was pointed by and so I upped the pace to try and get heat into the tires. By this time, the M3 was long gone. That thing makes something in the neighborhood of 500+ HP, and massive torque…you can just see it walk away from you as if the ST was on the brakes. So much for playing with him. So I figured I would just get to know the track a bit, as it feels MUCH different in the car than it does on a motorcycle (at least to me it does). I imagine this is largely due to the sightlines, followed by the lean of a car. And the ST, while it feels pretty tight on the street, felt very soft on the track.
I soon fell into a sort of rhythm, if you wanna call it that, until around the 10 minute mark, when the brakes started to protest. The pedal was going soft, and quickly. I even started to worry, as they were getting softer each lap, and I started to worry about dropping in to T2, so rather than pushing my braking points closer to the corner, I found a safe point where I felt that if needed I might be able to get an extra pump in and still stay on track (hopefully). Thing continued to degrade an at about the 17-18 minute mark, I started to change my braking so that T2 and T11 were pump-it-up braking zones. At this time, the white flag was out and I decided to slow down and take T6 without any braking since I was going slower, and this set in my mind for the rest of the day. I took it so easily that I am 90% certain that I should be able to clear that corner without braking…maybe lifting at the overpass at the most. But I never did commit the entire day. The only times that I did not brake was when I would get caught behind slower cars, and I would back off early so that I could work up my nerve for later (which never came).
Back into the pits, I as pulling into my parking spot when I realized that parking at that point might not be a good idea as the front wheels were smoking…a lot. So I drove around the pits to allow the brakes to cool down. Once parked, we had to go to another meeting (first timers Solo meeting) to follow up after our first session. Before walking over, I pumped up the brakes so that I might confirm that they would hold pressure once they cooled. After the meeting, I left the car alone and only checked the brakes when we were getting ready to go back out for session 2.
Session 2 and the brakes were back to normal before pulling out to pre-grid. In case anyone is wondering, I am spending a lot of my attention on the brakes. I never really monitored water or oil temps until I pulled off the track at the end of the sessions…both would get up just past the ¾ mark, but not much further. I did check boost a few times and noted that I would sometimes only get roughly 18-20 Lbs of boost (I assume this was heatsoak?). But to reiterate, by primary focus was the brakes. So, back to session 2…I was in full TCS off mode (hold for 5 seconds), and I found that the brakes started to soften a little earlier than session 1, but at the same time, they did not degrade as badly as session. I did get nervous towards the end of the session as the pedal was getting much closer to the floor than I like, so I just slowed down a bit, and backed off my braking points.
Another thing about session 2. The Highlight… I hooked up with an S2000 and we drove the entire session nose to tail. I was leading the entire time, and when I pointed him by, he waved me off (every time). It felt like I was faster in some sections, and that he was faster in others. He most certainly was faster than me in general, as he had a passenger, while I did not…We both pushed our cars into some pretty big slides…the FWD car being much easier to collect when it did. It was a riot out there. Afterwards, I spent some time looking for his car to talk, but could not find him until after lunch. At which time he introduced me to Instagram!  He has the entire session on video, so I am hoping that I can get a copy of the session somehow as I would like to try to see what my lines looked like as well as see if my slide on T4 was in the video (I had gapped him a bit as he had just had his big slide in T2 -which can be found here )…even though I was experimenting with lines etc. (update: We ran a couple 1:56s during that session) this session is likely as fast as I would go that day, save for possibly session 3 following the 997.
Session 3 was when I decided to try and figure out what I might do differently to extend the point in which the brakes would fade. First observation, disabling TCS completely definitely helped. Coming out of 11 and 2, I would get wheel spin –which means the brakes were not being applied for controlling wheelspin. I also noticed (most noticeable in T2 to T3) that once I passed the apex of T2, you typically stand on the gas if your line is right while still turning left to line up for the entrance to T3. I noticed that the car would not make full power initially, but as I slowly started to unwind the steering wheel, I could feel power bumps (almost like small taps on my rear bumper). Then as my wheel was fully straightened, I had full power out of the car. I am interested in knowing if this is the Torque Vectoring interfering? I suspect that it is, because as I continued to experiment more, and started to square off the exit of T2 (and others) I found that my brakes felt MUCH stronger towards the end of the sessions. It was an odd sensation, but I am sure that it was there, and not my imagination. I wonder if the way or amount that the car is leaned over has anything to do with it, because traction felt pretty good…as in no wheel spin, but the power was still being metered to the wheels up to the point where the car was not leaning heavily on the right side wheels. Again, am I imagining something, or is Torque Vectoring (TV) looking at more than just traction? If I could have defeated whatever that was, I could have seriously shaved seconds off my laps.
I began that session (session 3) with a Nismo 370Z and a 997 GTS behind me, and after 2-3 laps, they were on my bumper so I pointed them by. The Z was quick and slowly started to walk away. The 997 on the other hand was faster than me when I was leading, but once I let him by, I was able to make up everything on the brakes and prevent him from walking away. We ran the entire session this way, and had a great time talking about it later. It makes you feel pretty good when a guy in a $100000 car tells you that once he was pointed by, that he expected to walk away…but in turn had one of his most fun sessions of the day. He said he was driving at his limit, just like I was doing with the S2000. I think following is just easier. This session rates up there with Session 3. The reason 3 takes the “best of day” for me was that we didn’t get passed by anyone .
Session 4 was after lunch, and some of the guys were tired of running their cars. In particular, our Corvette owner was done. His car was an older vette, maybe early 2000s, and had the wrong tires. The tires were brand new for the event, but were a melted/gummy mess. Not only that, but his laptimes were very slow –a telling of how bad the tires truly were. I would guess that he was 20-30 seconds off my lap times, and his tires looked as if he would have been 20-30 seconds faster. I realize that it was not the driver that was going slow, it was the equipment in this case. So he strapped in for the ride and it was a different feeling with another body in the car. A funny thing happened on the second lap, coming into T9 (after the corkscrew) I must have either had cold tires, or the additional weight of a passenger, or maybe I made a steering correction that was less than smooth, but right before the apex, the car started to get sideways (it is a downhill left that I never quite got right all day), and after the apex, I was looking at T10 through the passenger window…I was thinking to myself that this was not a good time to overdrive the car, and at the same time I am trying to remain calm and not fully let off the gas. I did not think that it was going to end well. Once past the apex, I am roughly mid track when the slide starts to correct and I am expecting the big weight transfer to send me spinning the other way…but nothing. The next thing I know I am powering down into T10 as if I did this for a living! I must assume that this was the Torque Vectoring, because that save was so lucky, hell it did not even feel like a save. I did not need fast hands…I was just steering the direction that I “wanted” to go, and the next thing you know I am going that direction. I seriously should have spun out –I was that sideways. But the car straightened without so much as a wiggle. The rest of the session went smoothly, and I do not believe that I did anything differently in that corner (other than experiment with lines) so don’t even know what caused that “moment”. And to think, I absolutely love that corner on a motorcycle…in fact, it is my favorite corner at Laguna. Much of this session was following the e46 330i from our group of friends. He had another member of our group as a passenger, and it was so funny to watch. He was trying everything to stay in front of me, and it was very entertaining. He may have pissed off a few cars by not pointing me by, but it was still a riot. I would watch him cook T2 and see both front tires pushing to the outside of the corner as he simply had too much speed for the corner, and then he would power and push through all the other corners on the track. I just know that he was having a blast. Might not have been the fastest way around the track, but he was certainly getting to know his car. It was his first track day as well…In his case, it was his first ever, unlike me having done my share on motorcycles (including racing). After the session, my passenger friend didn’t even mention the slide, only saying that he thought that I was smooth on track. Mainly we were cracking up about Jeff in the 330i.
Session 5 and I am the last holdout. All my friends had packed up, but were waiting for me to make up my mind whether I am going out or not. Of course I wanted to go out…but I did not want everyone waiting on me, either. They assured me that it was no biggie, and that if I wanted to go out, that I should. They would wait. So my doubles partner from tennis (e46 330i guy -Jeff) rode with me for the last session of the day. I tried to get my Go Pro working on sessions 3, 4 and 5 and failed on 3 and 4. Finally got it working for session 5, so have some video (even if it is not smooth at all times due to the mount). I was able to use the video to capture a laptime of 1:58 (which I am not exactly thrilled about), and with a passenger, during the last session of the day.... It was a good day.
Dinner was in Gilroy, and was almost as much fun as the trackday . My car still smelled like brakes. In fact, the next morning when I went to get in my car for work, the brake smell was still there. It is now Friday (4 days after the even) and my car is back to normal –except for the extremely dirty wheels, and the now turquoise calipers that I hope will wash back to the original blue.
What I learned about the car…I REALLY want the LSD. I am certain that the car would benefit from it. What I do not know is how the LSD would interact with TV.
I have the YCW coilovers (sitting in my garage) that I hope to install once my driveway is poured and I have enough free time. The car leans (sways) so much in corners, that if lean has ANYTHING to do with the Torque Vectoring, then the coilovers should help. I also want to get rims so that I can run without the 5mm spacers needed for the brembos to work with the stock Snowflakes. At the same time, I would like to move from 235s to 245 or even 255 tires. With coilovers, grippier tires should improve the track performance immensely, allowing higher cornering speeds, as well as later braking, but the higher cornering speeds being the most desireable. Also, keeping the car flatter should also help with inside wheel peel coming out of 2nd and 3rd gear corners. I am also going to go with Motul RBF600 fluid and track ready pads, possibly the Ferodo 2500 pads (maybe G-Lok, I really don’t know). I placed an order for the RS LCA cooling deflectors which should also help alot on track. I have the Mishimoto FMIC coming someday, as I am on pre-order, which might help with the boost dropping below 20 on occasion, but to be honest, I cannot say that I need a faster or harder accelerating car. I just want the car to be able to take advantage of the power that it currently has, and hence the brakes and suspension stand out the most. While I really want to go with the LSD, just not sure if $2000 is a wise investment in the ST since I often find myself looking at the RS -Tempted. Being in California means that dealers are still asking big markups on the RS, which basically takes me out of running, but if a dealer were willing to sell me a car at MSRP, did I mention that I would be very tempted. I know from a practicality perspective, the ST is among the best cars out there (along with GTI, and WRX). And for 99% of my driving, the RS would be impractical, but still…I could probably drop at least 5 seconds a lap, if not more.
I like the steering on the street, but find that the steering on track lacks communication. I mean, I know when I am pushing, or have exceeded grip, but that is because I know it, not because I can feel it through the wheel. It is possible that the suspension could help a bit with that, and it is not a big negative. After all, the steering does not beat you up either. I also noticed that for lefts, I found myself resting my elbow on the sill, as it allowed me to make really fine adjustments to the wheel to try to regain some of that traction. I am sure it might look lame, but I still found myself doing it in some of the really smooth corners (which Laguna has a lot of). Then there are tires…I have read that the tires have a big impact on the handling feel of the car, and the Bridgestones appear to be best of the best in that regard.
Oh, and I averaged 7MPG on track! I got 29mph on the way to the track, and after the second or third session, I noticed that I my trip meter was showing 17mph. So I reset the meter, and at the end of the day when I left the track, I was at 7.0 mph. I topped off at the track in the morning. And needed more fuel after the third session –with the display telling me that I had 20 miles left. So I added 5 gallons. After the 5th session, my warning light was on again, 23 miles until empty.
Not sure if I am missing anything. I know this is long winded, and may not be of interest to folks…but hopefully it will be of help, or at least informative for some considering a track event. I know that I enjoy reading about other’s first times on track with the ST, which I why I tried to capture and share. I will try to post the video at some point in the future, and if I am lucky, I can get the S2000 driver to send me his video following me in session 2, that way I have a video from behind of me searching for different lines around the track…
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