We recap our recent trip to Madrid to test drive the new 2012 Ford Focus at a unique charity event.
This past weekend, PSFK attended the Focus Global Test Drive in Madrid, Spain hosted by Ford . You may remember the interesting YouTube invitation Ford sent last year announcing the trip. The event had two unique goals. First was to give digital influencers and consumers an opportunity to drive the new 2012 Focus before it arrives in dealerships on a private test track. Second, Ford used the event to engage and assist charity and non-profit organizations.
Ford launched a contest last fall to invite to invite consumers to submit a short video explaining why they should be selected to participate in the event and how they might “Start Something More” with a charitable cause in their community with a donation from Ford. A total of 40 winners were selected and each received $10,000 to pass along to the local charity of their choice. Each of the winners could also bring a friend along on the trip. I was part of a group of 20 journalists along to participate and cover the event.
Located about 40 minutes drive outside of Madrid, INTA ( Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial) or Spain’s space agency HQ, is where the driving took place. It is an active military base so part of our experience included passport checks, nearly constant flyovers from military jets, and instructions that straying off to sight see the base wouldn’t be so smart of an idea. The recently completed track facilities included everything we’d need to push the new Focus to the limit.
Following arrival by bus, the group gathered in a small hanger building for a welcome presentation and introduction of two guest professional drivers, Speed Channel commentator and racer Justin Bell, and Top Gear USA host and drifting champ Tanner Foust. Both were on hand to offer driving tips and compete in a little competition of their own. The group was then divided into four teams for a day long competition consisting of four events, Drive Smart, Drive Green, Drive Fast and Drive Safe. Each team member got a score card to track their progress and scoring was updated in real time on monitors spread around the track. Winners of each challenge were awarded bonus charity prize money so there was pressure to do well.
One added element of difficulty that day was the weather. You’d expect central Spain to be either sunny or warm or both, but instead we faced steady rain, and chilly winds. For challenges like Drive Safe, which included navigating a section of slippery skip pad, the rain didn’t matter that much. But trying to set the fastest time on the twisty road coarse of the Drive Fast challenge took some nerve in the wet conditions.
Since this wasn’t a dedicated event for press, the 20 journalists did have additional driving time at the track the previous day, there weren’t any long technical product presentations. Instead Ford did a good job of planning a unique event that every that attended experienced in an equal way. Everyone got the opportunity to drive the same challenges.
Another positive point I heard from the attendees was the benefit of being able to network with other people from around the globe involved with charity work. From a journalist side, two short days packed with events didn’t include enough time to properly document the stories of each of the attendees. Talking with them about their involvement and work with organizations building schools, providing healthier food, or just helping people in need was the most inspiring part of the program.
As for the Focus, this was one of the few times I could test a car in varying conditions and really understand what it could do. For instance feeling what the limit of the ABS system was on a surface matching ice. For the kind of performance driving required at the track, the new Focus was very intuitive to drive. Before the end of the first lap on the banked oval, my time behind the wheel, I was up over 100mph with two passengers riding along. The Focus seemingly hovered along. One regret is that Ford chose not to bring the Focus RS500 out to the track. Of the 500 that are slated to be built, I’d guess only 499 would be surviving had one in fact shown up to INTA.
Check out the Focus Global Test Drive page on Facebook for plenty more photos, videos, and reactions about the event.
Full Disclosure: Ford flew us to Spain and extended hospitality to us at the Puerta America hotel to cover the Focus Global Test Drive. We were also treated to some really good tapas which slightly impaired our driving ability the next day.