Ford of Europe today officially unveiled the all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car 06 at the Bologna Motor Show in Italy. The car will be Ford's challenger in the FIA World Rally Championship from 2006 onwards and was unveiled in the eye-catching livery in which it will make its full competitive debut in January's Monte Carlo Rally.
It is based on the high-performance Ford Focus ST road car, which is being launched across Europe this autumn. The new Focus RS WRC 06 has been designed and built in less than 11 months by an experienced and innovative engineering team led by Christian Loriaux, technical director at British-based company M-Sport which operates the Blue Oval's WRC programme. His team has worked closely in the development with Ford TeamRS, Ford of Europe's performance road car and motorsport arm.Four-year commitment
Just over 12 months ago in Brussels, Ford of Europe announced a four-year commitment to the World Rally Championship, confirming the sport as the company's primary motorsport activity. A key aspect of that agreement was the introduction of an all-new Focus RS WRC based on the new-generation road car. It continues a family tradition that has seen the model provide the backbone of Ford's motorsport activity since 1999.
The all-new rally car unveiled in Bologna this morning will be driven in the 2006 championship by double world champions Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and fellow Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen.
"Twelve months ago Ford carried out a long and comprehensive review into the motorsport scene and the company's involvement in it," said Jost Capito, Director of Ford TeamRS. "It showed there was a strong business case for Ford's continued involvement and proposals from the sport's governing body to reduce the costs of competing in the WRC encouraged us to continue long-term."
Capito added: "What we have unveiled this morning is Ford's future in the WRC. We have a strong and experienced team operating from world-class facilities at M-Sport's Dovenby Hall premises. Now we have the car that we believe will carry us forward to new levels of competitiveness and a driving team that is capable of bringing world titles to Ford."All-new design
Following in the footsteps of the 2003 Focus RS WRC, the new car incorporates the latest technology and benefits from pioneering design ideas from Loriaux and his 14-man M-Sport-based team. They had access to computer-aided design facilities and shared information and analysis with mainstream Ford engineers across Europe in their quest to design a winning car.
The transition from the outgoing rally car to the new model, which had to be designed with radical regulation changes for 2006 in mind, required a clean sheet of paper from the start. The previous model was highly successful in its own right, but the team worked to a brief that demanded improvements in key areas such as engine, transmission and suspension. A crucial priority was to achieve weight savings, an arduous task as the base model was heavier than the base for the previous Focus RS WRC and new regulations banned the widespread use of titanium.
After successful initial testing in Britain, the team moved to the second level of the car's test and development programme by taking two cars to last month's Rally Australia to evaluate it in a competitive environment for the first time. It was rewarded with victory on two speed tests and a sixth place finish.
The introduction of the Ford Focus RS WRC 06 presented M-Sport and Ford TeamRS with a string of challenges and opportunities - not only because of the new model itself, but because in 2006 rallying is introducing a series of technical changes designed to reduce cost. The design team had to keep a close eye on these rule changes throughout the 11-month development of the car.
"Everyone involved in the programme has worked incredibly long hours to ensure the new Focus RS WRC met its build targets," said BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson. "It was a tight schedule and we made it even tighter by taking the decision to test the car on Rally Australia. We're delighted with the way it performed there and we gained data which will prove valuable in our preparations for the 2006 season.
"It is unrealistic to expect us to win a world title next year. The car is too new for that. But I fervently believe that we will win rallies and lay a solid platform for a world championship bid in 2007 and 2008. In Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen we have signed two drivers with the ability to maximise the potential of the Focus RS WRC 06. Behind the scenes, we have the strongest infrastructure in place at M-Sport, both in terms of personnel and facilities, since we took over the programme at the end of 1996 and that gives me the confidence to predict an extremely bright future," he added.
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