I seriously find it very liberating that I can run around doing what I want now. Having zero costs for all upgrades is brilliant, I can play and play with the cars to my heart's content
I noticed the traction issues you have with the Focus on a rivals run - My car was not particularly great for traction either but I got away from the line so much cleaner than you
I have a similiar issue in my RS500 (I believe you run an RS500 engine in yours).
Take your time with the game, do whatever you feel like and play at your own pace, it's exactly that kind of game. I was in a rush to get to the point where I could really feel like I could just explore and play. There are some very interesting places to try stunts and the like on
We should do a co-op sometime that you feel like just roaming around. Can do whatever - practice drifting and skill chains and the like, try two wheeling, jumps, tunnel runs with loud exhausts etc. Lots of fun to be had.
I auto downgrade my cars all the time for rivals. Sometimes they require finer tuning so I do need to return to the garage and reattempt the race, but that's all good and part of the fun for me.
Here's a tip. Say you are upgrading an ancient car that has cross ply tyres and a 4 speed gearbox. You definitely want sport tyres and a race gearbox but are unsure how else to round out your car. Go into Custom Upgrade, buy the components you need and THEN go to Auto. The game will upgrade your car from that point up, keeping the custom upgrades you put on yourself
Having a great time, so glad there are some TOGers into this