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RALLY: This Week in Ford of Europe Motorsport

19 November 1998

Ford's final appearance of the FIA World Rally Championship season on next week's Rally of Great Britain also brings to an end the illustrious competition career of the legendary Ford Escort as a works rally car. The 13th and final round of the 1998 championship marks the last official appearance of the Escort at the sport's highest level after a 30-year career in which the car has won virtually all the world's great rallies.

In 1999, the Ford World Rally team will introduce the exciting all-new Ford Focus World Rally Car to the sport. So British fans have the opportunity to witness the final works rally Escorts, the Valvoline-backed Escort World Rally Cars of Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry, in action on the three-day event which begins in Cheltenham on Sunday.

"After almost 50 wins in world championship and world class rallies since 1968, this is really the final bow for the Escort as a works car. I've grown up in motorsport alongside the Escort. When I first became involved in the sport the car was winning rallies around the world, and now, in this its final season, it's still competing strongly at the very highest level of the sport. Where better for the Escort to end its career than here in Britain, on a rally it dominated to such an extent that it won for eight consecutive years from 1972 to 1979. It would be a fitting end if either Juha or Bruno could put the car on the winners' ramp for one final time and we'll hold nothing back in trying to achieve that," said Martin Whitaker, Director of Ford European Motorsport.

"I started my career in rallying by driving a Mk1 Escort and since then I've driven every Escort model used by Ford in the sport," said Wilson, who was Ford's chief test driver and drove for the manufacturer himself in the World Championship. "Ford Escorts are in my blood and I must admit that when the rally starts I will feel quite sad to think it's the last official outing for the Escort. But those thoughts will be tempered by the exciting prospect of the Ford Focus World Rally Car, which is already well into a major testing programme in readiness for the 1999 championship," said Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson.

Swapping the smooth asphalt of Britain's race circuits for the rather more rougher gravel tracks will be Ford's British Touring Car Championship driver Will Hoy, who will pilot a two-wheel drive Escort RS2000 on only his third-ever full rally. Despite his inexperience at this level, the Londoner does have a rallying pedigree. In February he trounced a combination of professional rally drivers, fellow BTCC stars and celebrities to win the Silverstone Rallysprint Celebrity TV Challenge.

The three-day Rally of Great Britain starts in Cheltenham on Sunday 22 November. Competitors face three days of demanding driving before the finish back in the Cotswolds town on Tuesday evening. In between times they face 28 high-speed special stages, covering 380km, more than three-quarters of which will be based in the demanding forests of mid and south Wales.

Craig Murray (Scotland), Ricardo van der Ende (Netherlands) and Nicolas Kiesa (Denmark) go head to head for Winter Formula Ford Championship honours at Brands Hatch this weekend. The trio are separated by a single point although with double points being awarded, Germany's Frank Diefenbacher and English hopeful Tom Sisley could take the crown if they score well.

Veteran Colin Stancombe is favourite to clinch the honours but Maclain Engledew and Ian Churchill have the pace to beat him. Michael Tegerdine and Alistair McKever should also be worth keeping an eye on, as will Scottish lady driver Jillian Butcher, who finished second at Snetterton (Norfolk, UK) last weekend. Northern Irish teenager Colin Turkington could prove a dark horse for victory.


Thursday 19 November
FIA World Rally Championship, Rally of Great Britain, Recce ends

Saturday 21 November
FIA World Rally Championship, Rally of Great Britain, Scrutineering, Cheltenham

Sunday 22 November
FIA World Rally Championship, Rally of Great Britain, Leg 1, Cheltenham
Winter Formula Ford Championship, Brands Hatch (Kent, UK), Qualifying and race
Winter Ford Fiesta Championship, Brands Hatch (Kent, UK), Qualifying and race

Monday 23 November
FIA World Rally Championship, Rally of Great Britain, Leg 2, Cheltenham

Tuesday 24 November
FIA World Rally Championship, Rally of Great Britain, Leg 3 and Finish, Cheltenham