Ford BP Rallye Sport will launch the new FIA World Rally Championship Ford Focus RS WRC 04 in New Zealand. The team earlier tested the new Focus in Portugal on gravel roadsm and were quite pleased with the changes.
Francois Duval took the reins of the Focus on the final test day. Martin and teammate Duval finished one-two in the Focus WRC 03 at the inaugural Rally Mexico prior to the debut test of the 2004 car.
The team currently sits atop the Manuracturers' Championship standings for the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship, in spite of having started the season with last year's car, and would like to remain in that position for the rest of the 2004 season.
With sixteen events remaining on the calendar, that will not be an easy task. Peugeot, Subaru and Citroen would like to walk away with the honours. Citroen sits second, 10 points adrift followed by Peugeot and Subaru.
Christian Loriaux was the man behind the new design in 2003 and remained with Ford to work on the evolution of this year's Focus. "To describe the Focus RS WRC 04 as a new car would be wrong." Commented Ford BP Technical Director Loriaux. "It is more an evolution of the 03 model."
Martin added, "The 04 Focus has felt good in tests and I'm looking forward to getting the feel of it on a rally. There are no big changes, it's just a small evolution of the 03 car but it keeps us going forward and I know this is also a winning car."
The 2003 Focus won two events last year. However, more than that, it proved that the car was capable of competing on any surface - an important factor in World Rally competition.
The three key areas of improvement on the Focus were aerodynamics, the shell of the body and the engine.
Ford Rally Sport engineering department and their partner M-Sport made minor changes to the style of the Focus WRC 04 - redesigned front and rear bumpers. They added two new vents to the front bumper to improve the airflow of the cooling system to the engine. The bumper changes are the only visible difference to the styling of the car from the previous year. However, once can see that the minor changes have added to the overall styling of the Focus.
Due to the 2004 WRC regulations, Ford was able to reduce the body shell to a lighter weight of 330 kilograms, still 10kgs over the minimum weight allowed. This change allowed the team to redistribute the ballast to the car's overall allowed weight.
Cosworth Racing made engine improvements that are considered minor for the 2004 version, last year saw a major difference in the 2003 engine. The aim was reliability and not just performance. "We've made a weight saving on the turbocharger and also improved the response from the turbo system," explained Loriaux. "There are also modifications to the con rod and piston assembly."
"We're not expecting a quantum leap forwards from the changes," added Loriaux. "What we do expect is to maintain the progress we've made since the car (Ford Focus WRC 03) made its debut in New Zealand last year. And if we can achieve that, the Focus will remain the best car in the championship hunt."