Focus rally car bids farewell as new model lies in wait Just four days after the finish of the Ford Focus World Rally Car's centenary event in Corsica, the current model will make its farewell appearance as a works car on Spain's Rally Catalunya...
Focus rally car bids farewell as new model lies in wait
Just four days after the finish of the Ford Focus World Rally Car's centenary event in Corsica, the current model will make its farewell appearance as a works car on Spain's Rally Catalunya - Costa Daurada (27 - 30 October). An all-new Focus RS WRC, based on the Focus ST road car, will make its first public appearance on the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Australia next month. The BP-Ford World Rally Team has scheduled that event as a major test ahead of the car's introduction for the 2006 series.
The penultimate round of the 16-event championship offers much that is new for BP-Ford drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek. For the first time, they will be required to drive the same Focus RS chassis in Spain that they drove successfully to second and fifth respectively on the Rallye de France Tour de Corse this weekend.
Rallies have been paired for engine use all year, but this is the first occasion in which events have been linked for chassis use. It is a pilot scheme introduced by the sport's governing body which is likely to lead to all rallies in the future being paired, grouping them in duos according to surface type and geographical area, irrespective of whether they are run on consecutive weekends.
A move further down Spain's east coast to the Tarragona region means that none of last year's speed tests in the mountains above Lloret de Mar will be used. Instead lower altitude special stages will be run near the rally base of Salou. Some were driven when the rally spent a day in the region in 2002, but many have not been used for much longer and roads have been resurfaced in the intervening years so it is effectively a new rally for all.
Thirty-year-old Gardemeister claimed his first finish in Spain when the rally last visited Tarragona and has memories of the stages. "Two of the stages in this year's route were also on the schedule in 2002 but I think much will have changed in those three years," said the Finn. "I remember the roads as being more abrasive and more flowing than those near Lloret de Mar. But I have heard that work has been done on the roads since then, so the asphalt is likely to be smoother."
The rally is regarded as the most flowing asphalt event in the calendar, the roads more similar to a race circuit in their characteristics than any other event. This has led to drivers taking massive cuts across the inside of corners, often placing virtually all the car onto the grass in an attempt to shave tenths of a second off their times. The process drags dirt and stones onto the asphalt, making the stages slippery on the second pass. Some tests are run in both directions, and dirt dragged onto the road one way creates increased difficulty in the braking area on the reverse pass.
"You have to make cuts on this rally," added Gardemeister. "With Michelin's ATS anti-deflation system in our tyres, the risk of a flat tyre is virtually eliminated so the cuts are as big as you dare. I think the corners are not quite as open on these stages as those near Lloret de Mar so I won't cut quite as much, but it will still be an important part of my driving style."
Kresta finds himself in a position that is far from new for him this year - tackling stages for the first time. His only previous start in Spain was in 2003 when the rally didn't visit Tarragona.
"It will all be completely new to me," said the 29-year-old Czech. "I'm quite used to that this year because I've started several rallies for the first time. It means myself and Jan have to concentrate extra hard during the recce to make fresh pace notes and ensure they are as precise as possible. But in other rallies I have been at a big disadvantage as a first-timer because most of the other drivers have more experience than me. Here, many of the stages will be new to everyone and if the roads have been resurfaced, as we have been told, then I think most drivers will want to make new notes.
"Once the rally has started, I will take no big risks. It's important for me to finish and complete the full stage distance so that I can learn as much as possible about the rally and the characteristics of the roads. My confidence increased every day in Corsica and I hope I can take that with me to Spain," added Kresta, whose fifth place in Corsica was a career-best finish.
* There will be four more privately-entered Ford Focus RS WRCs on the entry list. Latest specification cars for Dani Solà / Xavier Amigo and Antony Warmbold / Michael Orr join the official BP-Ford duo. Solà's entry is supported by the RACC and Telefonica MoviStar, the organiser and main sponsor of the rally respectively. Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who drove a works-entered Focus RS for the BP-Ford team in Finland, will be keen to impress again in a 2003-specification car run by M-Sport. And Irishman Eamonn Boland and co-driver Francis Regan, fresh from second place on the Rally of Ireland, will drive a similar specification Focus RS which will be run by Dom Buckley IRS.
* The team has nominated Michelin's N and TA tyres. The N pattern is suitable for dry or humid conditions and engineers can cut grooves into the rubber to match the tyres as closely as possible to the conditions at the time. The TA 'intermediate' tyre is used in wet weather and additional cuts can be added to the rubber to clear the water if heavy rain soaks the asphalt. Both patterns will be available in varying compounds and construction.
The rally has undergone a major change with the switch in host town from Lloret de Mar to Salou, on the Costa Daurada coast, south west of Barcelona. All the stages will be based in the Priorat wine growing area in the Tarragona region, with the single service park located at the PortAventura theme park. Some roads were used in 2002, the last time the rally visited this area. After a ceremonial start in Salou on Thursday evening, Friday's opening leg is the longest of the rally, covering 155.82km. Saturday's second leg north-west of Salou includes two of the opening day tests in the opposite direction. The final day is the shortest and comprises second passes over stages used earlier. Six different stage venues will be used, with one test used twice in each direction. Drivers face 15 stages in total, covering 358.75km in a total route of 1341.56km, before the Sunday afternoon finish in Salou.