FIA President Max Mosley drives Ford rally car
FIA President Max Mosley made a flying-visit to the Cumbrian-based Ford Martini World Rally team yesterday (Thursday). He came to view its new £10 million headquarters at Dovenby Hall and to experience a ride alongside Colin McRae in the Ford Focus WRC, before sliding into the driving seat and sampling the 130 mph turbocharged rally car. His visit was hosted by European Director of Ford Racing, Martin Whitaker and Team Director Malcolm Wilson.
"Undoubtedly this was one of the best days of my year," commented Mosley. "It was fascinating and it's always good to have the opportunity to sit and talk to people like Colin and Malcolm. You learn such a lot, but above all to have a ride in one of the latest rally cars on a proper rally stage with top driver was a rich experience. And then he was brave enough to sit alongside while I drove rather slowly myself. I don't get to spend enough time now at rallies, so it's really good to see the rally cars and talk to team members. It's been very helpful and I haven't had so much fun in ages."
Before trying his hand at driving the Ford Focus, Max Mosley was taken for a high-speed ride by Colin McRae through the 8km (5 mile) Lowther Forest stage. "It was just wonderful," Max enthused. "It gives you an impression of what top drivers do and you soon realise that they are in another league to ordinary people. Colin is going a lot quicker on loose gravel than you or I would think of going on dry asphalt in a very fast road car. It's just incredible. The braking is the most surprising thing because you just don't expect a car to be able to brake that well on such a slippery surface. Colin's driving skills are just unreal, very precise, very smooth and completely under control even though most of the time you're travelling sideways."
After three laps of the stage as a passenger, it was Mosley's turn to take the wheel and Colin's to 'coach'. The FIA President took off like a rocket, with a blur of wheelspin, pushing the Focus to maximum revs in the first three gears and disappearing into the woods at speed. It was soon clear that he was enjoying himself immensely and didn't want to stop. However, five laps and 40kms later it was time to call halt.
"I would like to have continued for an hour," Mosley asserted. "I couldn't believe how controllable it was - at my modest pace. The way the car seems to float along over the rough surface and you can still feel what it is doing. It's very informative but you'd need lots of confidence to push harder.
"There were one or two tight bends where I backed off and Colin said 'full power' but I kept thinking of Martin's or Malcolm's face if I damaged their car. You need to have confidence to power round the corners rather than just steer. Going onto full throttle as you enter a bend is against all instincts and by the time you realise that's what you should have done with a four-wheel drive rally car like this, you've already backed off the power and it's too late to really attack the corner.
"It was a sensational drive and the amount of grip the car has on gravel has to be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated. It was an extraordinary car to drive. I didn't really use the brakes hard because I didn't have the confidence to go deep into the corners. When Colin was braking I was amazed by their power. I suppose that all the top rally cars are something similar, but it was certainly a whole new world for me. It was very brave of Colin to come along as coach, and driving on gravel in the forest it certainly felt like real rallying to me. I'd love to have time to do that all day long."
Prior to joining the test crew in Lowther Forest, Max Mosley toured the team's new HQ with team Director Malcolm Wilson. "Seeing Dovenby Hall was a big eye-opener for me," admitted Mosley. "I hadn't really appreciated just how extensive the facilities for a modern rally team need to be. It was so much bigger and more sophisticated than I'd imagined. Obviously, Dovenby is now a step beyond what other teams have at the moment. The new facility is very impressive and it gave me an idea of the scale of the whole operation. It was good to see that for myself."
European Director of Ford Racing, Martin Whitaker commented, "We invited Max because he's sat alongside rally drivers before - which is great because it's given him a chance to experience rally cars at full stretch - but he's never had the chance to drive a world rally car before. I think that if you're the President of the FIA it's a very good idea to sample the sport at the sharp end. He has driven and raced cars on racing circuits but this is the first time he has driven a world rally car. Max is a great supporter of rallying and we were delighted to give him this opportunity."