CAR's Jesse Crosse rallying in a Gp4 Ford Escort Mk2

Published: 13 February 2013

CAR's Jesse Crosse has bought a Ford Escort rally car and is getting stuck in sliding the rear-drive machine along stages across the UK. If you've ever dreamed of entering grass-roots motorsport, here's a close-up look at the ups and downs involved. Read Jesse's reports here, and watch on-board video below!

Rallying at Rockingham - 12 February 2013

After Woodbridge Stages, I had high hopes for a decent showing at Rockingham having gone well before retiring from the Suffolk event with broken steering. Rockingham was an unusual rally giving the option of doing a full two-days or joining on the second of the two days for a one-day event.

One day-eventers (including co-driver Jones and me) would join the main event on Sunday morning, so SS8 for them would be our first. It did mean we would be running with the main field though, so although only 16 crews entered for the Sunday I’d still be able to compare times with the overall field of 50-odd cars.

With the car prepped and gearbox filled with fresh Millers nanotech racing oil, the day dawned, clear and freezing cold with no sign of rain. We arrived early and set up in the paddock, got scrutineering over, signed on and cleared the noise check as usual, ready for the drivers briefing. Since we were running at the end of the two-day field there was plenty of time to get the car on stands and warm the transmission up properly first.

That done, we lined-up and launched with lots of wheelspin generating heat in the Kumho moulded slicks. Away from the line it was into a chicane with 180 degree handbrake turns then down through the tunnel into the centre of the circuit, round a couple of twiddly bits then merging with the main circuit for some faster stuff. On single venue one-day events like this crews get a basic map of each stage but there’s no practice and no proper pace notes. If you’ve never been there before (and we hadn’t) each new stage layout is virtually driven blind first time around with the co-driver doing his or her best to call the corners from the map. You can see how we got on with the first stage in the video below.

After Woodbridge, I’d reset the steering tracking to parallel rather slight toe-in and although turn-in was a little twitchy there was still a little too much understeer which sometimes made it hard to get the car into the apex. As we got stuck in, mental notes started forming about setup changes I wanted to make, like slightly increased rear ride height to encourage a tad more roll oversteer, as well as checking caster and camber angles too. So far, general preparation and servicing on the car had got in the way of doing any development work.

Still, the neutral handling encourages commitment, helps keep the car straight and get the power down as early as possible, which is what it’s all about on tarmac. The JRE Vauxhall XE engine was going like a train as usual, raging away under the Kevlar bonnet, belting out its 260 horses and hauling in a few slower cars.

Knowing which tyres to use and when is trickier than it is in F1 (yes really) because in rallying, you have several compounds to choose from as well as cut tyres for the wet.
I’d gone softer on the tyre compounds for this event so we were running Kumho super soft K11 compound on the front and soft K21 on the rear. In the warmer weather we ran the K21s on the front and harder K60s on the rear. A harder compound is used on the rear simply to avoid the engine’s power shredding them. The new combo was working well and understeer aside, the combination was feeling good and grippy on the freezing track.

That first stage ‘out of the box’ went pretty well and we were running just inside the top 20 of the overall one and two day combined fields. Many of those ahead included the more powerful cars in classes above including 2.5-litre, 320bhp Escorts and a Gp B Metro 6R4. The next stage would be a re-run so, fingers-crossed, we could chip a few seconds off. It started well and we were much faster through some of the faster chicanes, keeping it nice and tidy things were looking good. Then, on the back straight a throttle spring broke and at the entry to a chicane the throttle stuck as we turned in, pushing us into the tyre wall less than two seconds later.

With the front wing, front panel, bonnet and suspension broken, we were out and I was facing a big bill and lots of hard work but thanks to the brilliant marshals, no damage was done in recovering the wounded beast. It was all pretty heart-breaking but goes with the territory and the only thing to do when bad things happen in motorsport is to get your head down and fix it. The car is perfect again now and we just made it in time for the South Downs Stages at Goodwood on February 9th finishing the rebuild at 4.30pm the day before in typical down-to-the-wire rally tradition. More on that one next time.

A big thanks to Adam Towler coming to the rescue with pictures and external video clips. A beer owed. (Okay, two beers.)

Find Jesse on Twitter @JesseCrosse

We take the Ford Escort Mk2 to the Woodbridge Stages - 2 October 2012

After the fun we had at Brands in August 2012, I had mixed feelings about the Woodbridge Stages at Woodbridge Barracks in Suffolk. The stage maps looked a bit nadgery and I had visions of spending a day charging around old military outbuildings. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The rally runs on the airfield proper, wide open spaces except for the Buddleia that spring up through the concrete forming fantastic, natural forest-like stages.

We pitched up the night before at a hotel on the outskirts of Ipswich which also  provided a venue for scrutineering. Very convenient with an easy 25 minute hop to the airfield in the morning. 6am on Sunday morning and nerves have stolen my appetite as usual but I force some eggs down in the interests of propping up the energy levels. Three-quarters of an hour later, we arrive at the airfield to find a great layout, a main runway serving as the paddock with a dedicated transmission warm-up area. That’s good news, I’m using advanced Millers multigrade racing oils to protect the engine and the transmission but they must still be properly warmed through to avoid any risk of damage.

The start time is just after 9am and we take our place in the queue, shuffling to get in the right positions. We’re seeded 31st overall but run in class C which is 1600cc-2000cc two-wheel drive, so in the overall stakes we’re up against more powerful class D cars (over 2000cc) and class E (four wheel-drive) which usually involves major horsepower as well.

Today, there are Evos, Scoobies, an Escort Cosworth, a freshly rebuilt Gp B MG Metro 6R4 (the eventual winner) and lots of very quick Escorts in the running. My JRE-Vauxhall engine produces around 260bhp but a class D Escort Mk 2 running a 2.5-litre JRE or Millington Diamond 2 engine will pack up to 330bhp.

Stages usually last two laps with cars starting at 30 second intervals, today’s are 10 miles each and there will be six in total.

We have to be at the arrival and start controls at our appointed times which marshalls’ enter on our time card. Except in very special cases it’s down to the co-driver to make sure we’re not late. There’s a maximum time allowed to get round the stage which doesn’t usually allow any time for mechanical faults. Pick up a ‘maximum’ on your time card and it’s game over results-wise.

I’m feeling less wound up at the start this time around having got to know the car a little at Brands. We sit there, eyes glued to the electronic timing lights ticking toward our start time and at five seconds, as many asterisks appear, extinguishing one by one and giving us a visual countdown.

Dave shouts ‘GO’ and we get a good launch on the not-too-grippy surface, flying off down the stage which unravels like a string of spaghetti. The engine howls and I get on with the task of chasing the shift light – a full time job. The stage is twisty and confusing to read almost from the word go, but with the Buddleia whipping past the windows, I settle in and pick up the pace, suspension crashing and jarring through rough holes in the concrete.

I learned last time that there’s no time to be slack, no time for hesitation. A good time means getting on it, not dithering and being consistent. Driving a rally car is all about sensory feedback. From the car, your own eyes and the co-driver’s instructions feeding in a constant stream through the headsets. All that data gets crunched in the darkest in the dark recesses and somehow spews out through arms and legs through steering, gears and pedals.

So far, it seems to be going well but this stage is unrelentingly complex with not much let-up.

I’m trying to concentrate on keeping the engine on the boil this time as it doesn’t get going until around 4000rpm, the shift light coming on at around 8200rpm. With the engine working flat out, fuel consumption is pretty ferocious at about 5mpg and in 60 stage miles we’ll use around 12 gallons of super unleaded.

We’re flying now, and have one interesting moment when we arrive at a sharp right-hander at the end of a fast section, quicker than either of us thought. This is where serious brakes and good grip pay off. I lock up a little, turn it in, correct, collect it up and we’re through.

We’re using the same set of tyres that we used for the entire previous event and at one point I wonder whether I’ve knackered the nearside rear as the oversteer gets a bit strong.

I ease off a little which in hindsight was a mistake because a quick walk round back at the paddock confirms that all four Kumhos are doing their job well and wearing evenly.

It’s part of the learning curve and I’m still getting used to how feel and balance changes with tyre temperature. Some sections get them hotter than others but it seems that they’re pretty bomb proof and next time I know I can just keep pedalling.

At the end of SS1 we’ve had a ball. We’ve held 9th in class but have moved up from 31st to 23rd overall which is very good news.

SS2 is the same again so this time we should be quicker and for the first lap, we are.

Then, merging behind another competitor, disaster strikes. In a quick right hander, the front nearside wheel drops into a hole, I feel something give and the steering turns to marshmallow. I back right off then pull over and hop out for a look. Things are still joined up but there’s damage, a lot of slack in the steering and high speed is out of the question.

After limping back to the finish and picking up the dreaded maximum time penalty for the stage I find the offside steering arm (to which the steering rack attaches) has stripped a nut clean off and the retaining bolts are bent and twisted. It’s something I’ve never seen happen and we have no spares, so it’s the end of the rally for us.

It’s a bitter pill and I feel frustrated as hell. The pace was good, we stood a good chance of a decent result and most of all, it was fun. But still, that’s motorsport and pretty soon we’re thinking about the next time.

Ironically, the damage is minor, just a set of fresh (uprated) bolts and re-tracking of the steering and we’ll be raring to go again. That will be the Loco Stages in Hampshire on December 29th, or we might also try and make the Rockingham Stages in early December. I’ll be back before then with an update on what happens in between and what it takes to keep a rally car fit and healthy.

Action photography: Andrew Manston,

External footage – Ian Maddison -

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Jesse Crosse goes rallying in his Ford Escort Mk2 - 31 August 2012

So, after eight months of selling, searching, buying and going through the usual ‘what have I done,’ scenario over and over, the time had come. I’m sitting on the start line, heart pounding, mouth dry and adrenalin level giving me that curiously detached feeling. Then the light turns green. This is IT.

With the Escort on the trailer and long term Kia Sportage packed to the gunnels I headed to Kent the previous day for scrutineering on this first event, the Hutton Kitchens Brands Hatch Stages. The Escort flew through without a problem making 94db in the noise test against 98 allowed. That was especially good news because the exhaust is roughly the diameter of a drain pipe.

At last, THE day dawns and for me that means an 0545 wake up call. There are a few more bats fluttering around the stomach than usual because this is my first event in a rally car this serious and only the third tarmac stage event I’ve ever done. I force cereal down and slurp some tea, then we head off.

How it all works

There will be eight stages consisting of four layouts, each run twice. They all consist of fast stuff over a marked course on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, before splitting off at the top of Paddock Hill Bend and heading down to the back of the circuit, over a ‘yump’  (traditional Scandinavian rally speak for ‘jump’) and through a lot of twisty rally stage stuff. Later stages will start at that end and work back. There’s no practice or qualifying as there is in motor racing, you just get on with it.

Firing it up

I go through the start sequence which is not of the keyless entry variety. Master switch on, then fuel pump and wait for the fuel injection rail to pressurise with a squeak. Switch on the DTA ECU then the ignition, and finally, press the start button. It fires up with a grumble and by 0906, we we’re sitting at the first time control. There’s some routine to rallying because all competitors are allocated arrival times at controls which correspond to their number. Get it wrong and you can pick up a time penalty and spoil your day so we all end up politely shuffling around, getting in the right order like a crocodile of school kids.

Pretty soon we’re on the start line with one car ahead, a Mk 2 Escort RS. The digital start clock counts down and he takes off, the howl of his Cosworth BDG engine singing out above the grumbling idle of our own JRE Vauxhall Red Top and the buzzing in our headsets. He catapults away around the first corner and he’s gone.

The start

I no longer feel sick which is good. Now Dave’s counting down from five and we’re both completely focused on what happens next. I hold it on the hydraulic handbrake bring the revs up to 5,000, co-driver shouts ‘go’ through the intercom and I launch it, slipping the snatchy competition clutch to avoid a stall then rolling on the throttle into the first right hander.

I feel for the grip on the Kumho slicks, it’s unknown territory for me but the knowledge base is quickly brought up to speed on the first corner. Yep, there’s some grip but coming on the power the Escort wiggles furiously on the cold tyres before launching down the straight. The sheer brute power and sound of the JRE engine is intoxicating, punching its torque onto the road through the Atlas axle.

Along the first straight the rally engine howls its way through the gears up to 8,000rpm over and over. It’s an ecstatic sensation, everything unravelling at a manic pace, co-driver calling instructions, me looking for the lines, continually working the gears, the mighty four-pot AP calipers ripping the speed back down for each corner or chicane.

Is that the time? Must fly.

It’s a warm day and the tyres come in almost immediately, the soft compounds on the front really paying off. The Escort  turns in like a terrier after a rat with power oversteer easily caught and the balance, wonderful. The Drenth sequential dog ‘box is incredible too, just a nanosecond lift, a firm tug on the stick and the shift is made in a heartbeat (and mine’s beating pretty fast by now).

Off the main circuit we hit the the ‘yump’  flat in third and just take off. Wow. It feels weird as the ride smooths out for a moment until the sump guard hits the tarmac with a clang, then its back to even more manic stuff, flicking the Escort through an endless switchback of tight turns before the finish.

How did we do?

The first stage over, nothing has broken and that euphoric feeling arrives. We’ve no idea where we are position-wise but reckon we didn’t embarrass ourselves. By SS6 we we’re lying 27th in a field of 85 having moved up from our start position of 36. By the finish we’re lying 25th overall and 15th in the 2-litre class ‘C’, the balance of those ahead being more powerful in the over 2-litre class ‘D’. Our best position on SS7 was 19th overall and 11th in class, which bodes well for the future, I hope, as I get into the groove with the car. It’s a good result against a field like this and we’re both dead chuffed.

What did I learn?

That club level motorsport like this is populated by some mighty fine drivers and formidable equipment. Ordinary blokes following a passion and doing it well. Taking time to get my eye in, the odd fluffed gearchange and imperfect handbrake turn meant that on a couple of occasions I took 12 seconds off my previous time on the second running of a stage layout which isn’t good enough. I’m going to have to be right on it the first time around if I want to get into the teens or beyond and that’s what some of these blokes are capable of.

What’s next

Will I manage it? Don’t know. It’s a hell of a mountain to climb and so many things can go wrong. I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next one, The Woodbridge Stages in Suffolk on September 23rd. In the meantime I’ll be back with an update on the car and what needs doing in between events.

Action photography: Andrew Manston,
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Meet The Beast: introducing Jesse Crosse's Ford Escort Mk2 - 23 August 2012

So here it is (cars are always ‘it’ to me, never ‘she’) and since it’s a bit of a weapon which I treat with the utmost respect, we call it The Beast.

This rally car is non-historic ‘hybrid,’ which means the spec isn’t confined only to bits and pieces used in the day. Rather than a Ford engine, it uses one of the favourite rally engines around today, a 260bhp, 2.0-litre Vauxhall red top racing engine from John Read Racing Engines of Cornwall (JRE).

The bodyshell is full Gp4 which means it’s substantially modified and strengthened and has a welded and bolt-in full roll cage attaching to the front suspension mounts for extra strength. The doors are lightweight with all the guts taken out and boot and bonnet lid are Kevlar, saving several kilos compared to steel. The transmission tunnel is widened to take a larger gearbox at the front and limited slip ZF motorsport differential at the rear. There’s also an exhaust tunnel to allow the massive 3.5-inch exhaust system to be tucked up tight under the body and not left behind at the first jump.

The engine is rev-limited at 9,000rpm and is the single most valuable component on the car costing as much as an entire Ford Focus when it was brand new. I can’t afford for anything bad to happen to it and although it’s been protected by Millers 10W 60 synthetic competition oil in the past, I’ve upgraded that to the last word in race engine protection which is Millers new Nanodrive synthetic. It contains even more robust additives and should reduce friction enough to increase the power by a percentage point or two.

The engine drives through a Drenth, six-speed sequential ‘dog’ gearbox so I’ll only use the clutch when pulling away and on downchanges, upshifts just need a split second lift on the throttle and a firm tug on the stick. The rest of the driveltrain is old school, power getting on to the road through the traditional Ford, ‘Atlas’ live rear axle located to the body by five links. AP Racing tarmac spec brakes are specially designed for Gp4 Escorts like this one, four-pot calipers at the front and ventilated discs all round giving massive stopping power.

Conventional brake pads would fade to smoke because of the heat generated, so I’m using Ferodo DS3000 racing pads all round. The suspension comprises Bilstein coil-over struts all round, with steel rose-joints replacing rubber bushes and a front anti-roll bar. There’s a high ratio ‘quick’ steering rack and electric power steering developed from the Vauxhall Corsa system especially for cars like this. Without it, tarmac rally cars on eight-inch slicks can be a hefty to steer and with it, steering while shifting becomes smooth and easy.

As for those slicks, I’m using 200/530R13 Kumho Ecsta tarmac rally tyres. In the dry, we’ll run C03 slicks, using a softer compound for the front to give crisp turn-in and a medium hard on the rear to cope with the power. Even so, the likelihood is that a pair of rears will only last one event, or 40-60 stage miles. For the damp and wet, we’ll fit TW02s. They can be cut if necessary for extremely wet conditions but Kumho’s tech guru, Mark Hamnett, reckons conditions would need to be pretty grim before we needed to resort to that so I’ll leave well alone for now.

The last two months since I got the car have been spent preparing it and bringing it up to scratch and I have to make sure it meets the MSA technical regulations for rally cars. The Escort has to meet MOT ‘construction and use’ regulations which despite appearances, means road legal. It has to have a current MOT and for some events, be taxed as well. For 2012, tyre and wheel assemblies cannot exceed 8-inches in width so I’ve had to replace the 10-inch wide rims that were on the back and that means giving away a fair amount of grip.

A lot of Mk 2 drivers now opt for 15-inch wheels to get a bigger contact patch and this shell is ‘tubbed’ to take the extra diameter within the arches. But I know this car has already been successful with the existing setup and 15-inch wheels don’t have a great effect on the handling. The tyres alone weight an additional 1.6 kilos each more than 13-inch, the suspension would have required a complete new setup up, so I decided to stick with what works on this particular car.

There’s lots of detail to check under the MSA technical regulations. A few examples are that the seats have to be FIA approved, so must the six-point harnesses which also have to fall inside the expiry date marked on them. The car must have mud flaps fitted, carry a warning triangle and a first aid kit and pass a noise check. Default on any of the above or turn up with a blown bulb or dodgy wiper, and we won’t get a scrutineer’s ticket and if unable to fix it, wouldn’t be able to compete.

Safety equipment includes a Lifeline 360 liquid gas hand held fire extinguisher and a plumbed-in Lifeline Zero 2000 foam extinguisher which can be operated by the crew as well as by a cable pull from outside of the car. These are specialised motorsport extinguishers designed to meet the usual stringent regulations and having fresh ones inside the car makes me feel a whole lot better.

I think The Beast is ready now and ready to be let loose. I’ve done enough fettling. Next time you hear from me it’ll be after the event. Wish us luck and keep an eye on my Twitter feed at, I’ll be chirping from the event on the 27th.

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Going rallying

I have always reckoned (and always will) that actually taking part in any form of motorsport however low rent it may be, is 10 times more exciting that sitting on my arse in front of the telly watching other blokes have all the fun.

Over the next 12 months I’ll be competing in six, single venue tarmac stage rallies around Southern England.

It starts this Bank Holiday Monday, 27th August, at the Brands Hatch Stages in Kent. In doing so, I’m coming full circle because rallying is where I started as a kid. Then it was road rallying in the home-built Escort that you can see a picture of here in black and white. This time I’ll be driving an example of the sort of car I always lusted after, a rapid ‘Group 4’ Mk 2 Ford Escort tarmac rally car.

A couple of years ago I started back in the sport having met up with an old mate, David Jones, who used to navigate for me back then. These days Dave is a veteran co-driver with immense experience and having done a few fairly sedate historic road rallies he suggested we tackle the January Brands Hatch Stages in his beautiful FIA historic spec Mk1 Escort tarmac rally car. It was a blast but I’d forgotten one crucial fact. Rallying gets under your skin and the bug had bitten.

Rallying is easy to get into and at the entry level doesn’t cost a fortune. You can join a local RAC Motor Sport Association affiliated club near you (there are dozens throughout the country) and start doing 12 car road rallies on a Sunday in a pretty well bog standard car. There are special categories for classics and the Historic Rally Car Register (HRCR) runs events specifically for them. Road-based club events are where you learn how rallying works, the navigation, the timing and so on. You can move up to more serious events if you want to and the great thing is, the same basics apply to both club rallies and international events. If that sounds appealing, you can find a list of clubs and how to get started in rallying on the excellent RAC MSA website.

Stage rallying is more expensive but you can run anything from a Mini to a WRC Subaru Impreza or Ford Focus. Why have I chosen a Gp4 Escort and not something more modern? Gp4 is the class that preceded the infamous Gp B in the early 1980s and in this form, the Mk 2 Escort has never stopped being ‘current.’ Given the right specification they’re still good enough to take on all-comers. The very best Mk 2 rally cars can and do beat WRC cars in a straight fight and above all they’re brilliant, agile, howling, chuckable things to drive. I love ‘em, always have.

A single venue rally is just that, instead of being spread around the countryside, all the stages are based at one venue and generally start and finish in just one day. This makes it more affordable and there’s less wear and tear on the car since they’re usually between 40 and 60 miles each. Tarmac events are also a lot more forgiving on an expensive bodyshell than gravel which does a pretty good job of trashing the underside of a rally car fairly rapidly.

So that’s the plan and I hope you’ll come along for the ride via this blog. Next time I’ll introduce you to ‘The Beast’ and tell you more about the anatomy of a Gp4 Escort and what makes it so special. See you tomorrow.

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Watch all of CAR's rallying in a GP4 Ford Escort Mk2 videos, in the playlist below: