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RALLY: Ford's 1999 World Rally Challenge Revealed

26 November 1998

Full details of Fords challenge for top honours in the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship were revealed today during a special presentation at the companys product development centre at Dunton, Essex. The all-new Ford Focus World Rally Car has been developed to set new standards for performance, design and engineering and is destined to put Ford back in the winners circle during 1999. Building on the attributes of the Ford Focus road car, Ford World Rally team engineers have produced a rally car which combines optimum stability with agile handling and a highly responsive nature. The Focus rally car will be driven by the fastest man in rallying, Britains Colin McRae (1995 World Champion) and by three new European drivers who promise great potential for the future.

Shown in early prototype form at the Paris Show in September, the Focus World Rally Car is a four-wheel drive car of highly advanced design. Some of what goes on inside it must remain secret. Like the Ford Focus road car, the rally car was designed with a no compromise approach to achieving the best possible performance - within the FIA rally regulations. Working with Fords mainstream engineers in England and Germany, the Ford World Rally Team designers have placed all major components low down and within the wheelbase of the rally car in a quest to create the perfectly balanced car.

One component has been crucial to the engineers quest, the all-new Ford XTrac 240 transmission. This is a six-speed sequential gearbox, mounted longitudinally, low on the centre-line of the Focus behind the 2-litre Zetec E turbocharged engine - which is mounted transversely, as in the road car. To optimise weight distribution yet further, the engine is tilted back at 25 degrees and the specially fabricated fuel tank is mounted under the rear seat, as in the Focus road car, but re-shaped to allow the four-wheel drive propshaft and exhaust to pass through.

"The Ford Focus has been elected the 1999 European Car of The Year. We are confident that our new rally challenger will be equally successful," enthused Martin Whitaker, Director of Fords European Motorsport.

"With Colin McRae we have the worlds fastest rally driver and our target is to put him in the worlds fastest rally car," he continued. "To partner him, we have decided to take a bold approach and give three highly promising young drivers with specialist experience a chance to demonstrate their natural talents and acquire World Rally experience."

The new trio comprises Simon Jean-Joseph (aged 29, French), Thomas Rdstrm (32, Swedish), and Petter Solberg (24, Norwegian). Jean-Joseph will tackle the asphalt events and Rdstrm gravel rallies in the World Championship, while Solberg will contest several events under the M-Sport banner in an Escort WRC, as the junior member of Fords World Rally Team.

"The Ford Focus has many outstanding attributes which are a great foundation for creating a rally car," confirms Malcolm Wilson, Director Ford World Rally team. "As a result, we have produced a sensational rally car with the unmistakable style of the Focus."

A highly accomplished rally driver in his own right, Wilson was first to drive the new Ford Focus WRC at the World Rally Teams Millbrook development base on 22 October. "To see the result of all our teams work take to the test track for the first time was an enormous thrill," he commented. "The testing schedule has been going well and we already know that the Ford Focus will be a significant step up in performance terms over the Escort. The engine generates a strong flow of torque and the driving dynamics are a delight. It is highly responsive and should inspire maximum confidence in our drivers."

After further testing in Britain and Norway, the Ford Focus World Rally Car will make its competition debut on January 17 when two of the Valvoline-backed cars driven by McRae and Jean-Joseph will start the Monte Carlo Rally - the opening round of the 1999 FIA World Championship.