Ford loses focus as new chapter in world rallying history begins
First things first. In spite of Sebastien Loeb and Citroen's continuing domination of the World Rally Championship, Ford is still the most successful marque in world rally history; Jari-Matti Latvala's victory in New Zealand this year made it 75 wins for the Blue Oval.
Unbelievably (cue collective doubletake in the office), this weekend's Wales Rally GB will be the 174th outing for the Focus RS; an impressive statistic but the event also marks the end of an era with the Focus being replaced by the Fiesta WRC car as sweeping new rules are introduced to the WRC for 2011.
One of the most popular and enduring marque's to feature on the world's rally stages, we've sought out some of Ford's finest moments to mark the closing of the latest chapter in Ford's motorsport history.
The car that really started it all was the Escort mk. 1, most notably winning the London-Mexico World Cup rally in 1970 with Hannu Mikkola at the wheel. The special edition Escort Mexico that was sold to celebrate that win set the bar for all performance Fords that would follow.
The Escort became one of the most successful rally cars in history – an Escort finished first in the RAC Rally every year from 1972 to 1979. Indeed, mk. 1 Escorts are still in use today on the amateur rallying scene, such is the versatility and durability of those early cars.
Ford has been involved with the World Rally Championship since its inception in 1973. A manufacturers' title victory came in 1979 with Hannu Mikkola, Bjorn Waldegard and Ari Vatanen driving in the Escort RS1800C and Waldegard taking the drivers' title too.
This was the only time that Ford was to win the manufacturers' title until the 2006 season with Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen driving, although Ari Vatanen won the drivers' title in 1981 at the wheel of the Escort RS1800.
In 1986, the Escort RS200 became one of the Blue Oval's most iconic rally cars when it was introduced as part of the infamous Group B category, but the marque was too late, the category banned at the end of that year following an accident in Portugal when an RS200 left the road, killing three people.
Those Group B years are seen by many as the golden years of world rallying, producing some of the wildest and most lairy cars seen anywhere in competition, but they couldn't be controlled.
Ford continued to enter Sierra and Escort models into the WRC and various national championships but to middling success. It wasn't until former British rallying champion Malcolm Wilson struck a deal to run the factory team from 1997 with his M-Sport company that things began to change. Two hundred rallies later and the partnership remains strong.
The Ford Focus was introduced to the WRC in 1999, designed and built by M-Sport, with the iconic Martini livery that had been seen on various Lancias and Alfa Romeos in the Eighties and Nineties. Colin McCrae and Carlos Sainz drove for the team, and whilst world championship success eluded them, they proved a force to be reckoned with.
Manufacturers' titles finally followed in 2006 and 2007, proving the Focus's talent as a top-flight rally car. Next year, however, all eyes will be on the 1.6-litre turbocharged Fiesta, wondering whether it will finally be the car to break Citroen's seven-year stranglehold on the WRC.