Ecoboost Challenge Accepted!

HyperMile Challenge CarsFriday I saw something awesome in my social media stream. A friend from my TechKaraoke Minneapolis crowd had been invited to a closed track driving experience (the Ford Ecoboost Challenge) and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along. It had been a long week, starting at 7am on Sunday and featuring treks to Wisconsin Dells, New Prague, and Marshall, so I was completely in the mood for some recreational driving. My boss approved my long lunch and I was off.

“So you’re with The Media?”

I affirmed with a bit of a twinge in my gut. I find it interesting that blogging, tweeting, and keeping in touch with my nearly 1k Facebook buddies gets me the same credentials as when I worked at The Reporter (yes, I tried to be mild-mannered while I was there, but that’s quite difficult for me). As someone who aspired to be a member of the fourth estate, I am very aware of the distinction in journalistic standards between the two media, but I accept that I get more feedback from readers now than I ever did reviewing movies or throwing hardballs at administration VPs. Nevertheless, I instructed my gut to settle down – I wanted to drive and they were the ones setting the standard which I fit into.

After a light repast, they got us right behind the wheeel. First up was the Hypermile Challenge. We got to choose between two hybrids and as the C-Max came in a hatchback, I took that one out. We toured the track at up to 25 miles per hour and then checked our overall miles per gallon for that lap. Then we were coached through the second lap where we saw our MPG vastly improve (I got mine up to 70 MPG for the course – a far cry from the 280 I saw when I got in). The C-Max was comfortable and by no means as acceleration-averse as the Ford Tempo (“Adagio”) I drove briefly in my 20s. The last time I bought a car, I wasn’t seeing this level of attention to experience in the domestic offerings, so I was excited to see that I might not be importing my next car.

The next challenge was a comparison between Ford vehicles and their top competitors in the sedan, SUV, and truck categories. I’m not really a sedan guy, but I preferred the Ford interior and handling to the Toyota. Then I rode around in the light SUVs with my friend Jen Jamar. This gave me an opportunity to experience the cars from another vantage point, test out the stereos’ Bluetooth connectivity, and rickroll her.

ST Performance AcademyThis just left the one I had been waiting for – ST Performance Academy. We received a 10 minute instruction on what we were going to do and how they would kick us out if we knocked over 3 or more cones, then they unleashed us on the vehicles. I haven’t driven a stick since my Geo Metro was the victim of a 4 am drunken hit and run, so I was a bit hesitant about my clutching abilities. They made this easy by making the track turn-intensive so you never had to shift out of 2nd. The time to beat was 29.5 seconds by the instructor, so on the first time through I posted a 48.5. The second time through I juiced it a lot more and I’m pretty sure that I got around a 38 or 39, but unfortunately as I had not pre-registered I was one of a number of mislabeled people. As I pulled in, I forgot about the clutch a half-second too late and it killed/lurched right in front of everyone else. Classy!

I helped convince Jen to get behind the wheel (she had been my passenger through my two laps), partially so I could get out on the track again. She had gone about 5 more years of not driving a stick and was a bit anxious, but we got through the first lap and she found her confidence, putting up a 39.6 in the process, so she may have beaten me.

Unfortunately, they only gave you the one go so I had to head back to the office, being very mindful not to treat 169 like my own time track.