Ford's New Rally Challenger
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Ford Focus RS World Rally Car '06
5th December, 2005
Ford of Europe has unveiled the all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car 06 at the Bologna Motor Show in Italy. The car will be Ford's challenger in the FIA World Rally Championship from 2006 onwards and was unveiled in the eye-catching livery in which it will make its full competitive debut in January's Monte Carlo Rally.
The new Focus RS WRC 06 has been designed and built in less than 11 months by an experienced and innovative engineering team led by Christian Loriaux, technical director at British-based company M-Sport which operates the Blue Oval's WRC programme. His team has worked closely in the development with Ford TeamRS, Ford of Europe's performance road car and racing arm.
The all-new rally car unveiled in Bologna will be driven in the 2006 championship by double world champions Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and fellow Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen.
"Twelve months ago Ford carried out a long and comprehensive review into the racing scene and the company's involvement in it," said Jost Capito, Director of Ford TeamRS. "It showed there was a strong business case for Ford's continued involvement and proposals from the sport's governing body to reduce the costs of competing in the WRC encouraged us to continue long-term."
Capito added: "What we have unveiled this is Ford's future in the WRC. We have a strong and experienced team operating from world-class facilities at M-Sport's Dovenby Hall premises. Now we have the car that we believe will carry us forward to new levels of competitiveness and a driving team that is capable of bringing world titles to Ford."
The transition from the outgoing rally car to the new model, which had to be designed with radical regulation changes for 2006 in mind, required a clean sheet of paper from the start. The previous model was highly successful in its own right, but the team worked to a brief that demanded improvements in key areas such as engine, transmission and suspension. A crucial priority was to achieve weight savings, an arduous task as the base model was heavier than the base for the previous Focus RS WRC and new regulations banned the widespread use of titanium.
After successful initial testing in Britain, the team moved to the second level of the car's test and development programme by taking two cars to last month's Rally Australia to evaluate it in a competitive environment for the first time. It was rewarded with victory on two speed tests and a sixth place finish.
The introduction of the Ford Focus RS WRC 06 presented M-Sport and Ford TeamRS with a string of challenges and opportunities – not only because of the new model itself, but because in 2006 rallying is introducing a series of technical changes designed to reduce cost. The design team had to keep a close eye on these rule changes throughout the 11-month development of the car.
"Everyone involved in the programme has worked incredibly long hours to ensure the new Focus RS WRC met its build targets," said BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson. "It was a tight schedule and we made it even tighter by taking the decision to test the car on Rally Australia. We're delighted with the way it performed there and we gained data which will prove valuable in our preparations for the 2006 season.
"It is unrealistic to expect us to win a world title next year. The car is too new for that. But I fervently believe that we will win rallies and lay a solid platform for a world championship bid in 2007 and 2008. In Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen we have signed two drivers with the ability to maximise the potential of the Focus RS WRC 06. Behind the scenes, we have the strongest infrastructure in place at M-Sport, both in terms of personnel and facilities, since we took over the programme at the end of 1996 and that gives me the confidence to predict an extremely bright future," he added.
ALL-NEW FORD FOCUS RS WRC 06: 12 MONTHS FROM CONCEPT TO REALITY
The Ford Focus RS WRC 06 that will contest the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship has been conceived, designed, built and developed in a staggeringly short space of time. Less than 12 months after Ford reconfirmed its long-term commitment to world rallying, the Focus RS WRC 06 made its debut and set fastest stage times on Rally Australia, the closing round of the 2005 championship.
How did BP-Ford World Rally Team technical director Christian Loriaux and his team of designers and engineers at M-Sport and Ford TeamRS manage this feat? This timeline explains how they condensed a project that might have taken 18 months into less than 12 – and set technical benchmarks along the way:
At M-Sport’s Dovenby Hall base in north-west England, technical director Christian Loriaux and his 14-man team set up base in a closed-off area of the factory. There they will have access to computer-aided design facilities that will allow the team to share information and to analyse data with Ford engineers across Europe. They also support the testing of parts and theories on an extreme hydraulic rig.
All development work on the 2004-specification Focus RS WRC has ceased. Instead, Loriaux and his team will work solely towards the debut of the new-shape Focus RS WRC in time for the 2006 season.
After consultation with Ford TeamRS, the new car will be based on the forthcoming three-door Focus ST model, although World Rally Car rules will allow the team to use an all-alloy Duratec 2.0-litre engine from elsewhere in the Focus range, instead of the ST’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit. The evolution of road car design, most notably the increased size of the new-shape Focus, presents Loriaux and his engineers with an interesting challenge – using a larger car but keeping the overall weight to a minimum.
In addition, new rules to be introduced in 2006 mean the car will not be permitted to use computer-controlled ‘active’ front and rear differentials. M-Sport’s transmission partner, Ricardo, starts work on concepts for the solution, in close collaboration with M-Sport's own transmission engineer.
Ford’s road car engineers have the powerful ADAMS software model at their disposal, and it is proving a useful tool as Loriaux and his team strive to come up with the best concept for the new car’s layout.
“I know what I want in terms of suspension kinematics for the car,” says Loriaux. “With the ADAMS model we liaise with Ford in Germany and they can supply us with useful information. We tell them where we’re allowed to fit suspension points under the rules, for example, and give them my ‘menu’ of what I want to achieve and they come back with a solution. Of course, there are always compromises to be made and with the ADAMS model they’re able to make me aware of them and of other potential solutions.”
Loriaux’s team begins an intensive period of exchanging data on the position of the engine, gearbox, differentials, suspension, fuel tank and driver and co-driver with Ford personnel in Cologne.
Loriaux and his team now need to have the car running – testing, in anger and preferably on loose surfaces – by mid-October. The ADAMS software model work continues – and M-Sport also has a three-door Focus bodyshell on a jig to assess the stiffness and performance of various roll cage options.
Loriaux is keeping a close eye on suppliers to ensure parts will arrive on schedule, ready to be fitted once the first fully-prepared roll cage is available. The cage has already passed one important test, though – inspectors from motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, have approved its design and safety in a two-part examination. And the first version of the new engine has arrived back from M-Sport’s development partner, Pipo Moteur in France.
Using a multi-million pound transient dynamometer, the team’s own engine specialists start to analyse performance and suggest modifications. In the end, a new crankshaft design is suggested, potentially delaying the engine by a month.
While development of the Focus RS WRC 04 has ceased, competition in the 2005 world championship has not. Loriaux uses this to his advantage by trying some of the 2006-specification suspension parts on a current car during testing for the notoriously rough Acropolis Rally in Greece.
Accordingly, M-Sport starts a separate build process on a back-up design, using its in-house machining capabilities to carve parts directly from a 60kg block of aluminium. “We can’t take the risk that this part will delay the project,” says Loriaux. “A car with two front wheels and nothing at the rear won’t be much use as we try to get ready for Australia.”
On October 18, with double British rally champion Mark Higgins behind the wheel, the Focus RS WRC 06 starts its first serious test in Whinlatter Forest, Cumbria. It goes on to compete almost 500km during its first three days, and more than 200km the following week.
Higgins is encouraged by the initial mileage. “The main aim is to rack up mileage before Rally Australia to identify any major shortcomings,” he says, “and it’s good that we’ve been able to do so much of that straight out of the box. Sometimes with a new car you lose days at a time but while we’ve had to keep an eye on progress and bear in mind that this car is scheduled to go to Rally Australia, we’ve still been able to push hard enough to find out a lot about how the car’s going to behave on the stages.”
Loriaux is thrilled at the car’s early performance, but knows that sterner tests lie ahead. “I can hardly believe we’ve managed to get the car running so quickly, from a blank design board to here in only 10 months,” he says. “But at the same time, I look at the car and I can’t imagine it’s going to Australia in a couple of weeks. We desperately want to get the mileage in competition because you can’t substitute for that experience, but it’s going to be tough.”
Despite this, the car performs with relatively few problems and both drivers manage to set a fastest time – even though the 2006-specification transmission on the car is, in theory, less technically advanced than those fitted to the Focus’ 2005-specification rivals. It is a tremendous achievement for M-Sport, Ford TeamRS and all the project partners.
Team principal Malcolm Wilson is delighted. “It’s been a fantastic weekend,” he says. “We came here to test and the most important target was to last the full distance with the car so we could learn as much as possible. Toni’s car stopped on the penultimate special stage but the fact that we scored two fastest times is remarkable for a car which has been designed and built in such a short space of time. It has been a great effort from the whole team and we’ve shown the potential of the car for the future.”
THE ALL-NEW FORD FOCUS RS WRC 06: Technology and intelligent solutions
Here are the key technical elements of the new Ford Focus RS WRC 06, along with Christian Loriaux's thoughts on the solutions that he and his team of engineers developed:
To help reduce costs in world rallying, the use of expensive materials such as titanium is now severely restricted, and Ford’s engineers had to find a substitute that was strong without adding too much weight. The suspension continues to use Reiger dampers. Representatives from the Dutch firm liaised with Loriaux and his staff during the design phase, and were also present during the first few kilometres of testing to help with the initial set-up. "Under WRC rules there are such tight restrictions on the amount of power that the engine can produce that elements like the suspension have become even more important," said Loriaux. "We worked hard to strike a balance between handling and traction." Suspension parts were tested on a 2004-specification Focus RS WRC in rough conditions before the design was finalised.
“We liaised closely with Ford TeamRS on the shell,” said Loriaux. “We used the ADAMS software model to help with our initial design and that allowed us to experiment with the car’s layout and see how changes to one specific component might affect the other parts. We also worked hard on the aerodynamic side, because the new car has a larger frontal area. We tried to compensate for this as much as possible and to reduce drag on faster sections. On the other hand, the more steeply-sloped rear hatch of the new car plays back into our hands, in terms of making the rear wing more efficient.”
“A low centre of gravity helps with handling, balance and steering feedback,” said Loriaux. “We’ve tried to make the engine as low as possible and with no compromises in the layout, to help achieve that.” Some of the more radical solutions will remain secret, but no element of the car’s layout or design has escaped intense scrutiny as far as weight distribution is concerned.
FORD FOCUS RS WRC 06: TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION
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