I took a hot lap with the Stig from 'Top Gear' -- then I took some hot laps of my own

Ford Focus RS DriveMatthew DeBordMe and Stiggy.

Wannabe racers can rejoice. Ford has brought its 350-horsepower “hot hatch” Focus RS from Europe to the US. The RS went on sale earlier this year, and for about $36,000, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more trackworthy ride that can also serve as a daily driver and errand-runner.

I headed up to the Monticello Motor Club, about a two hour drive from where I live in New Jersey, to check out the RS in its preferred environment: on a race track.

And who did I find up in the lovely Catskills on a glorious late-summer afternoon? Why, none other than Ben Collins, who was once the “Stig” on the hit BBC car show “Top Gear.” He was out of his anonymous white full-face helmet and racing suit and kitted out in blue Ford Performance threads. He was on had to truly put the RS through its paces, with merciless hot laps on half the MMC’s course.

I got my crack at the car afterwards. Was it any good?

Read on:

The Monticello Motor Club is located about two hours north of New York City. It's nestled among quiet country roads.

Matthew DeBord

The speed limit is 40 mph outside. It's rather more than that on the track.

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If you don't look hard, you might miss it.

Matthew DeBord

The MMC is an exclusive motoring enclave, with a terrific track and a well-appointed clubhouse. I've driven the track a number of times.

Matthew DeBord

Ford's hottest hatchback was waiting for us.

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Cool stuff inside. For example, this flashy go kart.

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Also, MMC merchandise, such as this racing jacket.

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And of course, racing helmets.

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Branded racing helmets.

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Time to suit up! I don't have to wear a racing suit, but the head sock, the helmet, and the neck restraint are all required. Racing is dangerous. Take precautions. Be prepared.

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And look who's waiting outside to give me a hot lap! Mr. Ben Collins! Better known to many as ...

Matthew DeBord

... the mysterious 'Stig' from 'Top Gear,' the wildly popular BBC car show. Collins was one of several Stigs, pro drivers who turned the official timed laps on the Top Gear test track.

Youtube/Absolute Radio

'Some say he looks dashing standing next to a Ford Focus RS ...'

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Ready to rock! Collins has also driven for the 'James Bond' movies and has provided driving instruction to Hollywood celebrities.

Matthew DeBord

We'll only be hitting half the MMC's 3.6-mile course. Collins really takes it to the track, showing no mercy and engaging in some sweet, screeching drifts to show off how the all-wheel-drive RS manages its traction-vectoring systems. I'll get my shot later, on the other side of the track.

Matthew DeBord

This dude can seriously drive. He likes the car, and he adores the elevation changes and sweeping curves of the MMC course.

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My turn!

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We have several colours to choose from. Here's the RS in a creamy, vibrant blue with cool black wheels.

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And here it is in a subdued, equally creamy grey.

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I'm going around in one of the grey cars.

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Track Nirvana! An old-school manual: six gears at my disposal.

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The steering wheel isn't overdone, but the steering itself is sharp and direct.

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The seats are racing-inflected, with enough bolstering to hold you snug.

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A few old-fashioned gauges ...

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... but this is the money feature: Ford's stonking little 2.3-litre, 350-horsepower EcoBoost turbocharged motor. Four cylinders of boosted fury.

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Ford's Performance division says it can propel the RS from 0-60 mph in less than five seconds.

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The Brembo brakes bring that speed to a quick halt. You want great brakes on the track, especially this track, which has some demanding braking areas.

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The Michelin Man is in the house. Well, on the tires, anyway.

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There's a groovy spoiler rising from the hatch.

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I like this half of the track very much. There's an uphill switchback that rises from the back straight -- I got up to over 100 mph there -- and then slings you down into a series of smooth, flowing, speedy curves that terminate in a hairpin. Negotiate this technically demanding section, full of elevation changes, and you get to hammer it up the start-finish straight -- and then do it all over again!

Matthew DeBord

The Focus RS is one of the best cars I've ever had out on the MMC's track. What's fantastic about it is that you get to use every bit of the car: the horsepower, the torque, the superb transmission, the dandy brakes, the solid handling. Another 20 or 30 laps would have been very much to my liking.

Matthew DeBord

Of course, a day in the helmet means some crazy helmet hair. Where's my cap!

Matthew DeBord

The Focus RS is everything an amateur performance enthusiast needs, in a versatile four-door hatchback configuration. You can use it to get groceries, or you can whip around some corners. Plain and simple, it's fun. Big fun in a small package. And we'll have a full review in a month or so. So stay tuned!

Matthew DeBord

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