Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience
Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Paul Williams

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Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience

The first thing you notice about the Ford Fiestas used at the Team O’Neil Rally School and Car Control Center is that they look like everyday Ford Fiestas.

That’s because, pretty much, they are. True, there are some notable differences, but basically the Team O’Neil school — operated in the mountains of New Hampshire by five-time U.S. and North America rally champion Tim O’Neal — is using the same Fiestas you can buy at your local Ford dealer.

The history of the Team O’Neil cars is somewhat interesting, though. Check the Autos.ca First Drive of the Ford Fiesta and you’ll see examples from a fleet of 100 European-spec cars that arrived in North America for the “Fiesta Movement.” That program was a Ford initiative to log 100,000 Fiesta test drives, including those by auto journalists, as a prelude to the car’s official introduction in North America. Additionally, 100 contest winners got a free six-month Fiesta lease.

Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience
Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience
Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience. Click image to enlarge

What happened to those cars? They couldn’t be sold here as they’re specified for the European market, so nearly half of them (43 to be exact) made their way to the Team O’Neil school in the form of the Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience. This is the only rally experience program offered by a manufacturer in North America.

The minor modifications to the cars include the installation of a roll bar, some underbody protection, a rally suspension and off-road tires. Other than that, the drive-train and general appearance are stock (1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission), although the standard electronic stability control system and anti-lock brakes are disabled (rally drivers like their cars “unplugged”).

Our one-day rally experience consisted of a series of in-car exercises to give participants a taste of the car control techniques used by professional drivers. A full program — for those serious about becoming competitive rally drivers — takes five days.

One of the key techniques used by instructors at the Team O’Neil school is left-foot braking (LFB, they call it). It is one of the several completely counter-intuitive manoeuvres used by rally drivers to keep their cars pointed in the right direction.

I say “counter intuitive” because left foot braking, along with keeping your foot on the gas when you’re headed the wrong way, and inducing skids in order to maintain or regain control do not come naturally to people who’ve spent a lifetime perfecting the opposite of these behaviours.

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