All-new Ford Focus rally car breaks cover in Australia The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, the Blue Oval's challenger for the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, will make its first public appearance on next week's Rally Australia (10 - 13...
All-new Ford Focus rally car breaks cover in Australia
The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, the Blue Oval's challenger for the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, will make its first public appearance on next week's Rally Australia (10 - 13 November). Two cars will be crewed by regular BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek.
They will tackle the 16th and final round of the FIA World Rally Championship as a continuation of the car's test and development programme, in preparation for its first competitive outing on the opening round of next year's series, January's Monte Carlo Rally.
The exciting new Focus RS rally car has been designed and built by an experienced and innovative engineering team led by M-Sport's technical director, Christian Loriaux, with close co-operation from Ford TeamRS. It is based on the new Focus ST road car, which is currently being launched across Europe. It is less than 11 months since the initial designs were started. However, in the last few weeks the car has completed almost 900km of asphalt and gravel testing and the next step in its development programme is to trial it in the heat of a real competition.
"Everyone involved in the programme has worked long hours to ensure the new Focus RS WRC is ready in time for Rally Australia," said BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson. "We're delighted with the way the car has performed in initial testing and we're ready to move onto the next level of the development strategy. That is to evaluate it in a competitive environment because it's under the pressures of a rally that we will learn most. We're not going to Australia to win. We're going there to test, to learn more about the car and to analyse the data and feedback for next year."
The Western Australia capital of Perth hosts the event. While it is a firm favourite of most competitors, the gravel speed tests are among the most demanding of the season. They have a hard base which is covered by millions of tiny ball-bearing like stones. As a result the roads are extremely slippery and the first cars to drive fresh roads are at a considerable disadvantage as they sweep the stones clear to provide better grip for those behind.
This will be 30-year-old Gardemeister's sixth Rally Australia start, and he has two sixth-place finishes to his credit. "It's exciting to think about driving the new car for the first time," he said. "It looks fantastic and I'm impressed with it. I've not driven the new Focus RS WRC yet and shakedown will be the first time I get the opportunity to do that. It will be difficult because I don't know how it will behave, but that's the kind of information the team wants to learn.
"I like the country and the rally. The roads are fast and similar to my home event in Finland. They are also slippery with trees right by the side of the road so if a driver makes a mistake, it's easy to land in big trouble," added the Finn, who is already assured of fourth place in the final drivers' championship standings.
Kresta has not started Rally Australia before, but the 29-year-old Czech has some knowledge of the unique stages there. "I was there with a former team in 2002. I didn't do the recce but checked some of the stages to get a feel for the roads. They appear fast and narrow in places, with a lot of trees close to the edge of the road. It will be difficult as a 'first-timer' but I'm used to that this season. My aim is to learn as much about the nature of the roads as possible," he said.
"I'm excited about driving the new Focus RS WRC. I went to M-Sport to fix my seat position after the Rally Catalunya and I drove the car slowly around the grounds of Dovenby Hall for about 300 metres. Now I can't wait to drive it at speed on the shakedown. The technology is fantastic but that's what you expect from a new Ford Focus RS WRC," added Kresta, whose entry car is the same vehicle that completed the UK tests.
* There will be two privately-entered 2004-specification Focus RS cars in Australia, driven by Antony Warmbold / Michael Orr and Spain's Dani Solà / Xavier Amigo. Rookie James Wesley will drive a Ford Fiesta ST, co-driven by Howard Paterson, after winning the drive in a Lucozade-supported competition.
* The Ford Focus RS WRC 06 will be officially launched at Italy's Bologna Motor Show on Thursday 1 December when more detailed information will be released. Ford TeamRS, the Blue Oval's performance road car and motorsport department, is currently launching the new Focus ST road car at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France. The new rally car is based on the Focus ST.
* BP-Ford has nominated Michelin's Z pattern gravel tyres for the event, which have been highly successful since the launch of the latest BTO version in New Zealand in April. Designed for a clear and hard surface, the Z tyre has a relatively compact tread pattern to ensure the maximum amount of rubber is in contact with the road for the best possible grip and traction. In the unlikely situation of heavy rain, the team can cut the Z tyre to a ZA pattern. It is a more open tread, designed to penetrate the loose surface in search of firmer ground deeper down.
This year's rally shows several changes from previous editions, while remaining faithful to the traditional speed tests near Perth. It is more compact than in previous years and no longer visits the southerly Stirling tests on the opening day. The service park reverts to the riverside Langley Park, although the Perth super special stages will remain at the Gloucester Park trotting track, where the action begins on Thursday evening. The opening leg continues south of Perth on Friday with stages clustered around the town of Dwellingup. Saturday's route takes competitors south-west to the Bunnings stages, where the famous roller coaster jumps and watersplash provide some of the season's most spectacular action. Both days end with tests east of Perth and a repeat of the city super special stages, which are run six times in all. The Bunnings tests, usually used on the final leg, have swapped places with the Mundaring stages, east of Perth, which now comprise the final day. Competitors face 355.39km of competition in a total route of 1345.41km.