THIS WEEK IN FORD RACING Tuesday, April 13, 1999 FIA World Rally Championship Interview: Nicky Grist (Colin McRae's Co-driver) THE FORD MARTINI TEAM IS STARTING THE CATALUNYA RALLY ON A REAL HIGH AFTER VICTORIES IN KENYA AND PORTUGAL. WHAT...
THIS WEEK IN FORD RACING Tuesday, April 13, 1999
FIA World Rally Championship
Interview: Nicky Grist (Colin McRae's Co-driver)
THE FORD MARTINI TEAM IS STARTING THE CATALUNYA RALLY ON A REAL HIGH AFTER VICTORIES IN KENYA AND PORTUGAL. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE SPANISH EVENT? "It seems strange to say it before only the fifth round of the championship, but this rally is like a final test for the Ford Focus World Rally Car. It's the first proper asphalt rally of the season and that's the only surface on which we have yet to give the Focus the chance to prove its potential. But we have tested in Spain since the Rally of Portugal, that went well and we're confident.
WHAT KIND OF RALLY IS IT? "It's a strange sort of event really because, unlike most other rallies in the championship, there aren't any stages which can be termed as real classics. But having said that the stages are good and the atmosphere is always sensational because of the sport's popularity in Spain."
IS IT A DIFFICULT RALLY IN TERMS OF TYRE SELECTION AND CAR SET-UP? "It depends very much on the weather, as ever on an asphalt rally. The road surface is quite tricky, a mixture of abrasive asphalt on the southern stages in Tarragona but more slippery asphalt on the stages in the mountains above Lloret de Mar where the grip is less and the tyres have to work much harder."
CAN YOU MAKE IT A HAT-TRICK OF WINS FOR THE FORD MARTINI TEAM? "We'd like to! But until we tackle the first couple of stages we just don't know how well the Ford Focus will perform on clean asphalt. If it goes as well as it did in testing, we'll be right there with as good a chance as anyone else."
Successive victories for Colin McRae and Nicky Grist in Kenya and Portugal have thrust the Ford Martini World Rally Team firmly into the title race as the FIA World Rally Championship heads to Spain for the first true all-asphalt event of the season. Having proved its capabilities with sensational performances on vastly differing surfaces during the opening four rounds of the championship, the new Ford Focus World Rally Car will be put under the spotlight during the Catalunya Rally (19 - 21 April) on the only surface on which it has yet to demonstrate its potential.
"Catalunya will be the last tell-tale 'new' rally for the Focus. We've proved how quick it is on ice, snow, rocky tracks and gravel. Now the only question left is how good it will be on an all-asphalt rally. Catalunya will tell us. We tested in Spain earlier this month, concentrating on finding a good set-up and the results were positive, our times comparing favourably with testing on the same roads last year," said Colin McRae.
Simon Jean-Joseph will drive the second Focus, the Martinique-based asphalt expert making only his second championship appearance for the Ford Martini team (and only his third in total) following his debut in Monte Carlo. Fred Gallagher will co-drive.
"Because I've not driven the rally before, one of the biggest difficulties will be to develop a good set of pace notes with so little opportunity to practice. On a three-day recce period we'll have one run through the stages to make the notes and two more runs to check them so it won't be easy," said Jean-Joseph.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson said the team had lightened the Focus by shedding about 40kgs since Portugal. "So far this season we've concentrated on making the car reliable and that's paid dividends," he said. "Since Portugal we've put extra emphasis on performance and our engineers have been working hard to reduce the weight by using lightweight materials where we can.
"We'll use forged magnesium wheel rims, we've re-routed the pipework using lighter hoses, we've lost weight from the roll cage without compromising safety and adopted lighter underbody protection, which is just as strong. The weight loss will obviously affect the car's set-up but we have enough allowance in the suspension to alter the damper settings to compensate," said Wilson. The rally is based in the holiday resort of Lloret de Mar, returning there every night. Drivers pack in almost 400km in 19 stages, the final leg essentially a shorter version of the opening day's route. The toughest section will be the second half of Leg 2, in which drivers tackle almost 110km in just three stages, the longest of which is nearly 46km.