Four Car Ford Focus Entry at Rally Australia
The Ford Rallye Sport team of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Markko Märtin and Francois Duval head to Perth for the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship, Rally Australia from 31 October - 3 November.
Despite the World Championship already been won by Finland’s Marcos Gronholm (Peugeot), the Ford team is seeking to extend a remarkable reliability record with its Focus RS World Rally Car which has made it the only car to score points on every round of this year's championship.
The other attraction is that eight drivers can mathematically clinch the runners-up spot in the drivers' battle, including Ford's Colin McRae (Scotland) and teammate Carlos Sainz (Spain).
McRae resumes his partnership with former co-driver Derek Ringer, with whom the 34-year-old won the 1995 world title. He has won twice in Australia and is keen to end his Ford career on a high by taking his personal tally of Focus wins into double figures.
“It's about keeping the car right for three days and driving flat out,” said McRae.
“The main differences between Australia and anywhere else are the road surface and the position of the trees. The roads have a hard base but are covered in millions of tiny stones that are slippery.
“The trees are right on the edge of the road. If you make a mistake and run wide, it's difficult to get the car back on line on the slippery surface so it's easier to hit the trees than on other events.
“It's not a problem unless you hit them!”
Rally Australia is one of the few world rallies that Sainz and co-driver Luis Moya have yet to win. However, the Spanish pair have finished second three times and third on two occasions.
“It's a high speed rally and an event where you can't really afford to make a mistake otherwise you are in the trees,” said Sainz.
“There's nothing especially difficult about the roads in that forest, but they are popular with the spectators. Although the titles are resolved, we've plenty to fight for as it's important to keep Ford’s points-scoring record going.”
Estonian Markko Märtin and Michael Park (Wales) will bid to enhance their rising reputation in another Focus RS. In a season designated a learning year by team director Malcolm Wilson, the 26-year-old has been a consistent points scorer. This is his second Australian start.
“It's a unique rally because the surface is so different from anywhere else we compete during the season,” said Märtin.
“Our plan this year is to gain experience because I've only competed in Australia once before.
“Finishing is our main target and if we can do that in a points position, so much the better.”
Francois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin will drive a fourth official Focus RS.
The team will carry out a three-day test in Western Australia and the test car will then be re-built as the Belgians’ entry car.
“This is a good opportunity for me to gain more experience for next season,” said Duval.
“The more kilometres I can drive in a World Rally Car on world championship rounds, the more I will benefit in 2003.”
There are several changes to the format this year at rally Australia.
Drivers make the long journey south of Perth on the opening leg, with a new service park at Dwellingup instead of Harvey.
The traditional opening day stages east of the city now comprise leg two, the longest of the event, with a new service area at Chidlow replacing Mundaring.
The final leg in the SOTICO forest complex remains unchanged.
The jewel in the crown, the famous Langley Park super special stage, overlooking the Perth’s Swan River, opens the competition on Thursday evening when around 20,000 fans will generate a tremendous atmosphere at the purpose-built floodlit test. Langley Park will be repeated at the end of both the first and second legs.
There are 24 stages in total, covering 388.64km in a route of 1571.98km. In the absence of the 45km Wellington Dam test, this year's longest will be the 38.93km Stirling East in the first leg.