Ford Rallye Sport heads into the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Great Britain intent on creating a piece of rallying history. Its Focus RS World Rally Car has blended reliability and speed to such an extent this season that the team is on the verge of becoming the first to score points on every round of the series since the modern era of the sport was ushered in at the start of 1997.
In the hands of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Märtin, the dependable Focus RS has claimed points finishes on each of the first 13 rounds of the series. The trio go into the Rally of Great Britain (14 - 17 November) eager to complete a clean sweep for Ford Rallye Sport, already assured of second place in the manufacturers’ standings.
Since the sport underwent major changes and the championship was upgraded to 14 rounds in 1997, no team has achieved such a feat and team director Malcolm Wilson admits it would be a proud record to claim. “The Focus has the best reliability record in the championship this year. To go through a 14-round season by scoring points on every rally would be a fantastic achievement and just reward for all the efforts put in by everyone in the team in the development of the Focus RS WRC.”
McRae and Sainz start the rally as two of six drivers who can clinch the runners-up spot in the championship (see below) on the four-day event based in Cardiff. They will be supported by Märtin and Mark Higgins, the latter making his second appearance for the official Ford team after a sensational debut in Britain in 2001.
McRae has won the British event three times, in 1994, 1995 and 1997 and is guaranteed to enjoy the bulk of the support from the British fans. “It’s a great feeling to have such strong support from our home fans and seeing all the flags and banners makes a big difference,” he said. “For most British rally fans, this is the only opportunity of the season to see the world championship and with so many drivers able to take the runners-up spot, I think it should be an event worth watching.
“The stages in south Wales are good and fast but the one unpredictable factor about this event is the weather. Britain in November can mean anything – sunshine, rain, fog, snow or ice and that can play an important part in the outcome. At least I know what it’s like to drive in such conditions,” added McRae, who will be partnered by Derek Ringer, with whom the 34-year-old Scot won the world title on this rally in 1995.
Sainz and co-driver Luis Moya are also experienced British competitors, having won in 1990 and 1992. However, the Spanish pair also saw a third world championship snatched from their grasp in Wales in 1998 just a few hundred metres from the finish of the final stage.
“I have good and bad memories of this rally,” said Sainz. “Obviously my worst memories were the retirement when I was just a few seconds from winning the world title and in recent years this hasn’t been a lucky rally for me.
“It’s one of the most difficult events in the championship and much of that is down to the weather. Fog is quite common in the mountains and ice is also quite possible early in the morning. It’s a rally where Colin should do well and with so many drivers chasing second place in the championship I think there could be some big battles,” he added.
Märtin and Michael Park have finished three times from their four starts in Britain, seventh their best result in 2000. “I’ve plenty of experience of this event so I’d like to push hard from the start after driving cautiously on the previous round in Australia,” said the Estonian driver. It’s a good rally, faster than most people think, but some of the stages can be quite rough in places when they are used for a second time.
“It took me a while to settle into the Focus RS at the start of the season but once I achieved that I’ve done well. I’ve scored points on seven of the last eight rallies so whatever happens in Britain it’s been a good year for me,” he added.
Higgins and Bryan Thomas will drive a fourth Focus RS, backed by Rhubarb Inns, on their first outing with Ford since climbing to fifth on last year’s rally before being retired by the team. “Last year’s Rally of Great Britain was my first world event in a World Rally Car and I was very pleased to run so high up the leaderboard. That will put me under more pressure this year as the competition will be even stronger but I feel more accustomed to that kind of machinery now and I’m really looking forward to the rally and the challenge,” said the 31-year-old Isle of Man-born driver, who now lives in Wales.
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