Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya start the Rally of Great Britain (23 - 26 November) intent on rounding off the team's most successful FIA World Rally Championship campaign for seven years by securing second position.
Two victories for McRae and Grist's Focus World Rally Car, one for Sainz and Moya's similar vehicle and a string of podium positions from both pairings mean the team requires just five points from this 14th and final round to claim the runner-up spot. Both McRae and Sainz can also secure second in the drivers' series.
McRae and Grist are assured of huge support from the British fans, who will flock into the Welsh forests in their thousands to roar on Britain's most popular rally pairing. The 32-year-old Scottish driver has a good record on his home rally with three victories, including an emotional success in 1995 which clinched the world drivers' title.
"I spent my early years in the sport competing in the British forests so home advantage is a factor but the big thing in Britain is the support of the fans," said McRae. "It's a real boost to see all the flags and banners in the forests and the fans' support will again provide a big spur for myself and Nicky. I'm sure it will be even more of a special time for Nicky, competing in front of his fellow Welshmen.
"We'll be trying as hard as we can to end the year with a victory. It's disappointing to be out of the running for the drivers' and manufacturers' titles but second is still there for the taking in both. We'd like to finish the season on a high note and at the same time set ourselves up for another title challenge next season by ending this year with victory," added McRae. Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya have also enjoyed special moments in the British forests, victories in 1990 and 1992 accompanying their world title successes. "Those are my good memories of the rally. I also have bad memories when I lost the championship on the final stage in 1998 but on the whole it's a rally I like. The conditions are unpredictable, the stages are quite long and it's demanding for the drivers and a hard event is usually an enjoyable one," he said.
"We have no pressure on us now so I can drive as hard as possible from the start. We're already looking towards next year. As well as being the final event of the 2000 season, for us it's also the start of preparations for 2001," he added.
The rally will also mark a historic moment in the career of Moya. The 40-year-old from Barcelona will start his 134th world championship rally, and in so doing become the most experienced co-driver of all-time.
A third Ford-entered Focus World Rally Car will be driven by Tapio Laukkanen and Kaj Lindström, the Finns fresh from scoring their first world championship points by finishing fifth in Australia earlier this month. They know Britain's forests well, having won the British championship in 1999, and are looking forward to a strong run on only their third outing in a Focus. "I'm still learning how to drive a World Rally Car," said Andorra-based Laukkanen. "I made a big step forward in Australia, even though my experience of the stages wasn't great. I'll feel more confident in Britain and my target is to finish in the points again."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson has clear targets with which to end the year. "We're going to Wales with just one aim in mind - to win. It's been many years since Ford won four rallies in a championship season and it would be an achievement to match that. The championships are out of our reach now but that makes us no less determined to end the year on a successful note."
Privately entered Focus World Rally Cars will be driven by Stephen Finlay and Rory Kennedy and the all-lady crew of British television presenter Penny Mallory and Sue Mee.
The only predictable aspect of the Rally of Great Britain is the uncertainty of the conditions. Given the recent wet weather in Wales, muddy roads are likely to dominate but quick-draining areas will produce a harder surface while cold temperatures throw up the possibility of ice or even snow. Dust has even been known to cause problems in dry years!
On cold, wet and slippery gravel tracks, the main qualities required by Ford Martini's drivers from Michelin's rubber are therefore grip and traction. The former is provided by an open tread pattern which clears the mud and enables the tyre to bite into a harder surface beneath. The latter relies on the smooth delivery of power, evenly split to all four wheels.
Given the unpredictable characteristics, the role of the Ford Martini team's gravel note crews is an important one. Allowed to pass through the stages two hours ahead of the rally, they provide vital feedback on road conditions, enabling tyre engineers from the team and Michelin to have as much information as possible to assist with tyre selection.
For the first time the rally will be based entirely in Wales, the capital city of Cardiff hosting the event. Another new element is that the traditional opening day stages around stately homes, motor racing circuits and parkland venues, so hated by drivers, have been dropped and the event will concentrate on forest stages. The exception is a purpose-built super special stage in the docks area of Cardiff which will open the rally on Thursday evening and be repeated on Saturday. Friday's opening leg heads through the southern forests into central Wales while the second leg, the longest of the rally, is contained within the densely forested mountains and valleys of the south. The final day heads further west to Brechfa Forest before the final test, the last section of which will be televised live in Britain, closer to Cardiff. Seventeen stages are scheduled, covering 380.80km in a route of 1509.48km.
<pre> RALLY OF GREAT BRITAIN ROUND 14 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 23 - 26 NOVEMBER 2000
Thursday 23 November: Leg 1 Cardiff - Cardiff Start Cardiff 18.30 SS1 Cardiff 1 2.43km 18.58 Finish Cardiff 19.33
Friday 24 November: Leg 1 (cont.) Cardiff - Cardiff Start Cardiff 06.30 SS2 St. Gwynno 13.67km 07.34 SS3 Tyle 10.58km 08.01 SS4 Rhondda 1 26.47km 08.37 SS5 Crychan 15.57km 11.58 SS6 Halfway 17.45km 12.29 SS7 Hafren Sweet Lamb 27.23km 16.00 SS8 Myherin 16.79km 16.42 Finish Cardiff 20.57 Total 130.19km
Saturday 25 November: Leg 2 Cardiff - Cardiff Start Cardiff 06.25 SS9 Rhondda 2 26.47km 07.56 SS10 Rheola 1 31.47km 08.57 SS11 Resolfen 46.45km 10.56 SS12 Rheola 2 31.47km 13.42 SS13 Margam 1 28.13km 15.00 SS14 Cardiff 2 2.43km 18.01 Finish Cardiff 18.36 Total 166.42km Sunday 26 November: Leg 3 Cardiff - Cardiff Start Cardiff 06.00 SS15 Brechfa 29.80km 08.40 SS16 Trawscoed 26.26km 09.28 SS17 Margam 2 28.13km 13.40 Finish Cardiff 15.56 Total 84.19km
Rally Total 380.80km