FORD’S 1999 WORLD RALLY CHALLENGE REVEALED
Full details of Ford’s challenge for top honours in the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship were revealed today during a special presentation at the company’s product development centre at Dunton, Essex. The all-new Ford Focus World Rally Car has been developed to set new standards for performance, design and engineering and is destined to put Ford back in the winner’s circle during 1999. Building on the attributes of the Ford Focus road car, Ford World Rally team engineers have produced a rally car which combines optimum stability with agile handling and a highly responsive nature. The Focus rally car will be driven by the fastest man in rallying, Britain’s Colin McRae (1995 World Champion) and by three new European drivers who promise great potential for the future.
Shown in early prototype form at the Paris Show in September, the Focus World Rally Car is a four-wheel drive car of highly advanced design. Some of what goes on inside it must remain secret. Like the Ford Focus road car, the rally car was designed with a ‘no compromise’ approach to achieving the best possible performance - within the FIA rally regulations.
Working with Ford’s mainstream engineers in England and Germany, the Ford World Rally Team designers have placed all major components low down and within the wheelbase of the rally car in a quest to create the perfectly balanced car.
One component has been crucial to the engineers’ quest, the all-new Ford XTrac 240 transmission. This is a six-speed sequential gearbox, mounted longitudinally, low on the centre-line of the Focus behind the 2-litre Zetec E turbocharged engine - which is mounted transversely, as in the road car. To optimise weight distribution yet further, the engine is tilted back at 25 degrees and the specially fabricated fuel tank is mounted under the rear seat, as in the Focus road car, but re-shaped to allow the four-wheel drive propshaft and exhaust to pass through.
“The Ford Focus has been elected the 1999 European Car of The Year. We are confident that our new rally challenger will be equally successful,” enthused Martin Whitaker, Director of Ford’s European Motorsport.
“With Colin McRae we have the world’s fastest rally driver and our target is to put him in the world’s fastest rally car,” he continued. “To partner him, we have decided to take a bold approach and give three highly promising young drivers with specialist experience a chance to demonstrate their natural talents and acquire World Rally experience.”
The new trio comprises Simon Jean-Joseph (aged 29, French), Thomas Rådström (32, Swedish), and Petter Solberg (24, Norwegian). Jean-Joseph will tackle the asphalt events and Rådström gravel rallies in the World Championship, while Solberg will contest several events under the M-Sport banner in an Escort WRC, as the ‘junior’ member of Ford’s World Rally Team.
“The Ford Focus has many outstanding attributes which are a great foundation for creating a rally car,” confirms Malcolm Wilson, Director Ford World Rally team. “As a result, we have produced a sensational rally car with the unmistakable style of the Focus.”
A highly accomplished rally driver in his own right, Wilson was first to drive the new Ford Focus WRC at the World Rally Team’s Millbrook development base on 22 October. “To see the result of all our team’s work take to the test track for the first time was an enormous thrill,” he commented. “The testing schedule has been going well and we already know that the Ford Focus will be a significant step up in performance terms over the Escort. The engine generates a strong flow of torque and the driving dynamics are a delight. It is highly responsive and should inspire maximum confidence in our drivers.”
After further testing in Britain and Norway, the Ford Focus World Rally Car will make its competition debut on January 17 when two of the Valvoline-backed cars driven by McRae and Jean-Joseph will start the Monte Carlo Rally - the opening round of the 1999 FIA World Championship.
FORD FOCUS RALLY CAR WILL SET NEW STANDARDS
· ‘No compromise’ rally car design starts with clean sheet of paper · Design builds on attributes of Ford Focus road car · Zetec E engine with bespoke turbocharger optimised for fast response · Longitudinal six-speed sequential gearbox for optimum weight distribution
· Four-wheel drive with three active differentials. Rear differential is particularly compact for increased ground clearance · Compact wheelbase in class provides stability and allows key components to be located in the middle of the car. e.g. - Fuel tank mounted amidship for optimum weight distribution - 52:48 weight distribution becomes 50:50 downforce from the rear wing at speed - Engine moved back 20mm and tilted backwards at an angle of 25 degrees - Long travel strut suspension with new low friction wheel bearings - 30 per cent stiffer shell than Ford Escort World Rally Car - Extensive use of lightweight materials, eg titanium pedals, steering rack and hubs
The all-new Ford Focus World Rally Car has been developed to set new standards in motorsport for high performance, advanced design and sophisticated engineering when it appears on the Monte Carlo Rally in January - the opening round of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship. With the design team’s emphasis on placing the weight of major components as low down as possible and inside the wheelbase of the car for optimum stability, the Focus World Rally Car represents a ‘no compromise’ approach to the job of putting Ford back in the winner’s circle during 1999. So advanced is the design of this four-wheel drive car, that full details of some components must remain secret.
The Ford Focus rally car, like the road car, is all-new, sharing few parts with the Ford Escort which won more rallies than any other competition vehicle over the past 30 years. The Ford World Rally Team designers - led by project manager Guenther Steiner - worked closely with the Ford Focus team from the Small and Medium Vehicle Centre at Dunton, Essex and Cologne, Germany to ensure unparalleled access to Ford’s technology and resources.
The Focus WRC is powered by a specially developed version of the 4-cylinder 2-litre Ford Zetec E engine fitted with a purpose-built Garrett turbocharger. The engine generates 300 bhp at 6,500 rpm. The maximum power output is controlled by the mandatory 34mm air intake restrictor required by rally regulations and the engine and turbocharger have been developed from the outset with the restrictor as one of the design parameters.
Ford engineers concentrated on producing a highly responsive power unit that gave generous levels of torque for maximum driveability and pulling power. With 550 Nm at 4,000 rpm, the Zetec E engine has 10 percent more torque than the Escort WRC and a significant proportion of this torque is available from just 3,000 revs.
The engine is mounted transversely, as in the Focus road car, but is lowered and moved back by approximately 20 mm, as permitted by FIA regulations. It is fitted with a special transfer case to turn the output drive through 90 degrees to mate the engine to an all-new six-speed sequential gearbox which is mounted longitudinally behind and below the engine. This layout puts the weight of the transmission low down, at the centre-line of the car and moves it back within the bodyshell. It also allows the engine to be tilted back by 25 degrees to further optimise weight distribution.
Via the six-speed gearbox, power and torque are distributed through hydraulically-controlled ‘active’ differentials located at the front, centre and rear of the car to all four wheels. The all-new rear differential is exceptionally compact and helps to create unusually good ground clearance which is important for rough gravel events like the Acropolis and Safari rallies.
The bodyshell of the Focus WRC builds on the fundamental attributes of the Ford Focus road car which is both aerodynamically very efficient, inherently stiff and packs the majority of components within the wheelbase to optimise weight distribution. Extensive use is made of carbon fibre and titanium to obtain maximum strength with minimum weight.
Based on the three-door Focus, the left-hand drive World Rally Car retains both the exterior and interior appearance of the road car. The body shape closely resembles the original, but with larger air intakes in the nose to feed the bigger water radiator and intercooler for the turbocharger. The wheel arches are flared to accommodate larger wheels and tyres and the rear wing sits neatly atop the rear window.
The rear wing is of modest proportions as the amount of downforce required to balance the car at high speed is not great. The Focus WRC has a 52 per cent front / 48 per cent rear weight distribution, due in part to the location of the fuel tank. Unusually for a four-wheel drive rally car, the 100-litre safety fuel tank is housed in the same place as the road car - under the bodyshell, below where the rear seats are in the standard car, and ahead of the rear axle. A ballistic carbon-composite undertray protects the tank from the rigours of rallying.
The Focus road car is 15 per cent stiffer than its competitors so the Focus WRC requires less strengthening material than previous rally cars. Crew safety remains of paramount importance and the rally car is fitted with a computer designed, purpose-built roll cage constructed from 45 metres of steel tubing. The door cavities are packed with a carbon and aluminium honeycomb filler, covered by special interior door trims moulded in carbon fibre to the original road car design.
Other elements of the interior also echo the road car. The ergonomics of the Focus cockpit were studied and found to be so good that the interior of the rally car effectively replicates the original design - but using hand-made carbon fibre materials and housing the mass of specialist switch gear and equipment required by a rally crew. One of the few items to change significantly from the road car is the gear lever for the sequential gearbox. This protrudes from the dashboard to place the lever close to the driver’s right hand. The driver simply pushes to change up, and pulls to change down. The system is designed to reduce ‘hands-off-the-wheel’ time to the minimum. The stiff bodyshell provides an excellent foundation for a fully independent suspension system. This uses fully adjustable MacPherson struts front and rear, is designed to give long wheel travel for good traction and features interchangeable components to reduce the number of spares carried on events and ease the task of servicing. New ultra-low friction wheel bearings are fitted, specially developed for the Focus WRC.
For asphalt rallies the Focus will run on 18 inch diameter OZ wheels, with narrower, smaller diameter 15 inch wheels for gravel events. For every event, the wheels are shod with low-profile Michelin tyres. The braking system features Brembo ventilated disc brakes, with mono-block 8-pot calipers at the front and 4-pot at the rear, for asphalt events. The balance of braking effort front-to-rear can be adjusted from the cockpit.
FORD INVESTS IN BRIGHT YOUNG RALLY TALENT
· Three new drivers line-up to partner team leader Colin McRae · Bold strategy secures the ‘most promising’ young drivers for Ford · Drivers to specialise on gravel or asphalt World Championship events
Ford’s commitment to achieving success in the FIA World Rally Championship was highlighted again today with the announcement that it will have a squad of four drivers with which to contest the 1999 series. Three more drivers today joined the Ford World Rally team line-up to partner lead driver Colin McRae in a move which emphasises the company’s goal of securing manufacturer and driver world titles in the new millennium.
Sweden’s Thomas Rådström, Frenchman Simon Jean-Joseph and Norwegian Petter Solberg will all drive for Ford in the 1999 championship in a bold strategy by the company to invest in the future by securing the most promising young drivers in the sport. All three will play a crucial role in supporting McRae as Ford develops its all-new Ford Focus World Rally Car on the 1999 championship ahead of a determined title challenge in 2000.
“It’s important that we plan not just for 1999, but beyond, and the decision to sign three drivers to partner Colin lays a solid platform for the future which we hope and believe will bring the reward of World Championship success,” said Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson.
“Thomas is an established name in the championship who brings good experience of a number of championship rounds. Simon is on the verge of creating a major surprise in the French Championship by winning the title with his own private team against works opposition, while Petter is a young driver at the very start of his career who has made a great impression on me and who could well become a true star of tomorrow,” he added.
Thirty-two-year-old Rådström, from northern Sweden, has signed a one-year contract and will drive a Ford Focus World Rally Car in Sweden, Kenya, Portugal, Argentina, Greece, New Zealand, Finland, Australia and Great Britain. Winner of the Swedish Championship in 1996, Rådström has accumulated good experience of World Championship rallies during the past two seasons and is excited by the prospect of teaming up with the Ford Focus World Rally Car.
“I think 1999 will be a big season for me as well as for Ford,” he said. “I’ve learned much about the championship during this season by competing in the FIA Teams Cup and to link up with the Ford Focus for 1999 represents a major step up for me. It’s one I intend to make the most of and it can only help both myself and the team by having someone as experienced as Colin McRae as my team-mate.”
Jean-Joseph, whose French title campaign reaches its climax early next month, has a three-year contract and will be behind the wheel of a Ford Focus World Rally Car in Monte Carlo, Spain, Corsica and Italy. The Martinique-based driver is especially looking forward to the opening round of the series in Monte Carlo and May’s Tour of Corsica.
“To compete well on these two French events will be very important to me. But I’m looking at this opportunity in the long-term and two of my primary aims next year will be to gather experience of the Ford Focus in a competitive environment and to learn more about the rallies themselves. I’m very excited about my programme and while I’m obviously concentrating hard on the final round of the French Championship, I can’t stop my thoughts turning to next year already,” said Jean-Joseph.
Solberg, just 24, will drive a Ford Escort World Rally Car under the M-Sport banner in Sweden, Spain, Finland and Britain in the first year of a five-year contract. If additional funding can be sourced, Solberg’s Escort programme, in a separate livery to the works Focus cars, could be extended to include additional events.
“What a superb opportunity this is for me,” he said. “To link up with the Ford World Rally team at this stage of my career gives me great encouragement and the security of a five year contract means that I have the time to allow my career to develop without the pressure of having to produce instant results. I’m happy to be driving an Escort initially, away from the intense pressure and spotlight that will clearly surround the drivers of the Ford Focus World Rally Car on the first few events. I intend to watch, learn and gather experience for the years to come.”
The second Ford Focus World Rally Car entered for the China Rally will be driven by either Rådström or Solberg, a decision which will made midway through the 1999 season.
The experienced Fred Gallagher, who partnered Ari Vatanen in the Ford World Rally team for two events this season, will co-drive for both Rådström and Jean-Joseph.