Despite its decades-long association with international rallying, Ford doesn't have a wealth of World Rally Championship titles to its name. In 1998, the constructor sought to turn its fortunes around with the new Focus, moving away from the Escort that had defined the Blue Oval's rallying efforts for generations. It was a transformative time for the whole sport, as Group A regulations were being phased out in favor of the new World Rally Car formula, and some teams—namely Mitsubishi—didn't come out the other side in a great position. A period newsreel produced by Ford ahead of the Focus's sporting debut at the 1999 Monte Carlo Rally encapsulates this era perfectly, and you can watch it right now.
We have the YouTube account VHS Rallies to thank for this video, which was shared on the platform last week. Personally, I love behind-the-scenes looks like this, even if they're mostly marketing films; there's just something about this kind of content from the '90s that hits differently. In the video, we get to see the Ford World Rally Team, led by Malcolm Wilson (who still oversees Ford's WRC involvement via M-Sport today) prepare the automaker's next-generation global compact car for competition on some of the planet's most grueling roads.
We also get cameo appearances from Colin McRae, who made the big move from Subaru to Ford during this time, and, believe it or not, Guenther Steiner. Yes, the Haas F1 team principal and Drive to Survive breakout star was just 33 years old when he served as project manager on the Focus's WRC bid, before moving to grand prix racing via Jaguar in 2001.
The Focus was clearly a progressively minded vehicle by virtue of its "New Edge" exterior alone, but there were a number of changes that the crew made under the hood, from the Escort, in an effort to turn around its trend of middling performance. The new hatch's four-cylinder was not only smaller and lighter than the old car's, but also mounted transversely rather than longitudinally, allowing the engineers to move it closer to the middle of the car for improved weight distribution. Also unlike the Escort Cosworth's motor, the Focus's wasn't designed specifically for WRC competition, but adapted from the road car's mill.
The video's about 20 minutes long in total, and it also includes some satisfying sizzle-reel type footage of the Focus WRC show car blazing down country roads in sequence with its rather ordinary sibling. A quarter century on, for my money there are still few rally cars that can rival the Focus's stunning stance, with those massive five-spokes pushed out to the corners, and the sharp, wedge-like motif of its design. They just don't make 'em like they used to. I mean, have you seen what Ford's running in the WRC now?
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