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March 2014
Performance Ford March 2014
Evolution of the Beast

As it sits overlooking the legendary Au-rouge, Tony Paxman's Mk2 has come a very long way from the short ovals it was originally heading to.

Words:Ben Morley Pics:RB Photography

If a Mk2 Escort is good at anything, it's being good at everything. It shouldn't be, yet somehow it manages to be. In it's latest "Zakspeed" getup, Tony Paxman's Warrior powered Mk2 Escort has managed to lap Spa faster than it did last year, and last year it lapped faster than it did the year before. Yet when he bought it in 2007, Tony didn't imagine for a second that he'd be powering round the historical Belgian GP circuit in it. Instead he was geared up to be driving round in circles, with other Mk1 and Mk2 Escorts, in the Classic Hot Rod championship.

When he purchased it from Darran and Mark at Escort-Tec, it was a solid 1300L. As someone who's been into Fords for as long as he can remember, Tony had plenty of parts around him to build a decent racer on a modest budget. As simple as this might all sound, what ensued wasn't a frenzy of car building, but instead about a year spent at a leisurely pace, building a car as and when the time allowed.

In Classic Hot Rod Racing there are two engines that can power your Mk2 Escort: a Crossflow or a Pinto. Tony just so happened to be good friends with South London engine-building legend Ron Harris, and so entrusted the build of an all-singing Pinto to him.

Performance Ford March 2014

The problem was, by the time the car was nearing completion, Tony and the friends who had helped with the build, were having second thoughts as to exactly what they would use the car for. "Hot Rod racing at the time was getting a bit rough," say Tony. "So we decided that we'd go long circuit racing instead." With that, a proverbial yank on the handbrake saw Tony and his chums go in a completely different direction.

Going long-circuit racing puts up a whole new set of challenges, both in the garage and on the track. With that, a "Team" was assembled to tackle the new challenge head on. Friend, and former on-track rival, Andy Pyke was to be the second driver of the car as well as events organiser. Taking on a second driver meant a reduction in costs for Tony as they would be sharing drives at race meetings. Bob Hawkins would be given the role of 'head of logistics' or, more accurately, 'bloke that tows the car around'. Bob would also be on hand to work the spanners if need be. Keith, who had previously done the wiring in the car, stayed on to help convert it to suit its new purpose.

The team would then meet up every Wednesday evening, or 'race night' as it would become know, and basically start all over again with the car. It was going to need a bigger fuel tank, different gearbox, glass, lights, a diff cooler; the list was long. But the lads set a deadline to have the car finished by and after many late nights, they got the job done, and the car out on track at Lydden Hill for a pair of races attached to the Classic Touring Car Championship. As much as anything, the team used this as a data-gathering experience and a chance to tweak geometry.

After this the team got a few race meetings and track days under their belts in the UK, but had their eyes firmly on racing across the water. Not literally on the water, but on the Continent. They booked in for their first six-hour race at Spa and by a strange twist of fate also found themselves signed up to race at Daytona, in America. This was a logistical nightmare, but not an impossibility. Neither Tony nor Andy had driven either track, so to go from one straight to the other, literally, was a huge ask. But, it wouldn't be as much fun if it was easy.

The plucky Escort did better than expected at Spa, sniffing at the top half of the grid and bringing home a respectable third-in-class finish. With the champagne sprayed, the car was loaded up and taken home for a brief check-over before then getting loaded up once more and sent to America. Tony and Andy jumped on a plane to America and even packed a third driver in the shape of Steve Dance, to help spread the financial load.

The chance to drive around the Daytona circuit was something of a dream for each of them, so when the Escort managed to take the fight to some much more heavyweight machinery, they were all over the moon to get the chance to take the trip down the 'Gatorade Victory Lane'.

Performance Ford March 2014

You'd think all of that was serious enough, but it was in 2010 when things actually started to get really serious. If you're 'old skool' in the Ford world, then you're part of the crew when everyone knows everyone from 'back in the day'. Tony and his crew just so happened to be old friends with Tim Swadkin at Connaught Competition Engines and it wasn't long before they got to talking about a Warrior (see boxout) for the Mk2.

So, an all-singing 2.3 Warrior was built, with all the necessary bits to see horsepower figures in the high 200s. Understandably, this was dry sumped to cope with the high Gs that racing would throw at it. Simpson Race Exhausts fabricated a custom manifold and system and the whole lot was bolted to a Quaife 5-speed gearbox. The car was then put to two years of hard racing, with several trips back to Spa-Francourchamps.

Performance Ford March 2014

At the end of 2011 Tony's wallet came out and the car received some upgrades, to include a set of Jenvey 48mm throttle bodies on a bespoke inlet manifold, a Quaife seven-speed sequential gearbox, bigger Wilwood brakes at the front and the back as well as a trip to Sonny Howard at SHP Engineering for some trick mods to the suspension and steering. Sonny is a man who knows about making cars handle and applied this knowledge to the Mk2 by installing a drop-linked anti-roll bar, compression struts, roll-centre adjustments and much more. At the rear a custom English axle was installed with two-piece halfshafts. To finish things off a pukka set of Ohlins dampers were installed to ensure that the Escort really does corner on rails.

2012 saw the team finish fourth in the Quaife Intermarque series, it also saw them head back to Spa and even tackle Portimao.

Not ones to stand still, at the end of 2012 the car was once again in pieces, this time for a complete freshen-up and a completely new look. The time spend on the high speed straights of Spa left Tony wanting to go faster. The 2.3 Warrior was pushing out a whisker over 300bhp, which was about on its limit. Impressive from an aspirated engine of that displacement and when you hear it on circuit, it sounds like raw mechanical power. So the only way to make it faster would be to make it cut through the air better and so the Mk2 was given the full Grp2 Zakspeed treatment, which includes wheel arches that better house the wheels and improve how the air flow around them, a deeper front valance and of course, that massive rear wing. The who car was then painted in the famous Zakspeed/Castrol colours to really announce its reincarnation.

Performance Ford March 2014

The Escort went back to SHP for an upgrade to a fully six-linked rear end complete with bomb-proof Atlas axle with its own diff-cooler. The seven-speed sequential gearbox was fitted with an SBD flat-shift, linked to the MBE management, so there would be no need to lift of the throttle, or even use the clutch, on gearchange. This thing really does go as well as it looks.

This is one of those cars that will probably never be finished. It's ever evolving, ever changing, all in the pursuit of finding even the smallest increments in performance. Having seen it flying around Brands Hatch at our most recent track day, we can vouch for how well it goes. And having seen it at Brands in its first guise, it certainly has come a long way. But that doesn't mean the end of the evolution, not even close.

Connaught Warrior

Stemming from rallying and the desire to get the most performance for a given category saw the need for a Pinto to have 16 valves rather than just eight. Yes, there is the option to spec Ford's own Cosworth 16v cylinder head, but to get this to make good power without a turbo is a costly exercise and even then, it's not without its limitations.

The Warrior cylinder head is a unique item in its own right as it is cast specifically for the use in naturally aspirated format, removing the inherent flaws of the Cosworth item. Port flow better, valves are better positioned and it's entirely geared up for aspirated use. It can be bought as a complete kit with everything that you need to convert your Pinto to 16 valves. 303bhp and 265lb/ft of torque from an aspirated four-cylinder is not to be sniffed at.

Performance Ford March 2014
Tech Spec
Connaught Warrior 2.3, lightened and balanced steel crank and rods, forged JE 93mm pistons, dry sump, three stage dry-sump pump, Jenvey 48mm throttle bodies, bespoke inlet manifold, SBD MBE management, Simpson race stainless steel manifold and system
Quaife seven-speed sequential gearbox, MBE Flatshift, ultra-light steel flywheel, AP twin-plate paddle clutch, single piece propshaft, SHP Atlas axle, limited slip differential, axle oil cooler
Compression struts and drop linked anti-roll bar, Ohlins 2.25" coilover struts, six-link rear end, Ohlins coilovers
Wilwood Superlite six-pot front calipers, 280mm vented, drilled and grooved discs, Wilwood Midlight four-pot rear calipers, solid, grooved rear discs, Goodridge hoses, bias pedal box, braided hoses
Various 9 x 15" Compomotive MLs, Toyo R888 tyres
Corbeau seat, Mountney steering wheel, FEV fire extinguisher system, multi-point roll-cage, custom dash with switches and fuses boxes, Stack dials, custom gear lever tower
Full Grp 2 Zakspeed kit, painted Zakspeed/Castrol colours
Oakcroft Garage Website
MBE Management Systems
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