Rally Finland 2003: Ford Focus RS WRC03 vs Peugeot 206 WRC

The 2003 edition of the Rally Finland saw one of the tightest battles between the successful Peugeot 206 WRC, which had humiliated the rest of the world in the 2002 edition of the rally, and the brand new Ford Focus RS WRC03. How did both cars arrived at this duel is the matter we will review in this article, which is a part of RALLIRINKI’S #ReliveRallyFinland2003 project.

M.Märtin/M.Park, Ford Focus RS WRC03, Rally New Zealand 2003, retired – picture by eWRC.cz

The return of Peugeot to the World Rally Championship with the 206 WRC in 1999 had changed the panorama then dominated by Tommi Makinen and Mitsubishi. The new car marveled both on tarmac, especially when Gilles Panizzi was at his wheel, and on gravel, where Marcus Grönholm showed a pace nobody could follow. This brought Grönholm World Champion titles in 2000 and 2002. The Manufacturer’s title came to the French team in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Every year since 1999, a new version of the 206 WRC was homologated by mid-season (see the evolution here), which ensured the continued success of the car. The last version, homologated in June 2002, represented the last stage of development of the car, as most team efforts were devoted since then to the design and development of the new car, based on the 307 cabrio model.

In 2003, the 206 WRC was still the car to beat, with Grönholm winning in Sweden, New Zealand and Argentina. Two new models had started the season to try to beat Peugeot, Citroën Xsara WRC and the new Subaru Impreza S9 WRC’03, and, in some places, they succeeded in. Then, Ford launched the Focus RS WRC03 in New Zealand, and very quickly the car proved to be at least as fast as the 206 WRC. So, in the fast stages of Rally Finland, the battle became again a matter of two, between the 206 WRC and the Focus RS WRC03.

History of the new Ford Focus RS WRC03 started back in January 2002, when Christian Loriaux joined M-Sport from Subaru. The Focus RS WRC02 was then a car close to the end of its development, especially in terms of aerodynamics, and the main purpose of recruiting the Belgian as Chief Engineer was to start working on the design of the new car, which should be efficient on any surface.

Loriaux started by doing a full and deep review of the regulations: the goal was to push everything as far as the regulations allowed with the new car. Then, in May 2002, he made a list of what he wanted for the car, from what the design team started to work on.

M.Grönholm/T.Rautiainen, Peugeot 206 WRC, Rally Finland 2002, 1st – picture by WRC.com

August 2002 is another key date for the new car. On the second week of August, as usual, Rally Finland was run. That year, Peugeot completely dominated the timesheets, as they were able to win all stages (except the 2km Killeri artificial super special stage) in the first and second leg, before reducing their pace to ensure Grönholm win and Burns’ second position. But most importantly Ford-wise was that the difference between the faster Peugeot 206 WRC and the faster Ford Focus RS WRC02 was, on average, 0.5 seconds per km! On stages such as Talviainen or Ouninpohja, the difference reached values up to a huge 0.9 to 1 second/km.  Such differences in the fastest rally of the season (average speed of 121.8 km/h) convinced Loriaux that downforce should be significantly better in the new car to be able to beat Peugeot, as he recognized in this interview by motorsport.com.

Engineers at M-Sport and Ford’s newly announced Team RS technical department in Cologne, Germany, worked closely on that sense, with the aid of the climatic wind tunnel in the Engineering Centre of the Ford-Werke AG, in Cologne-Merkenich (Germany).

To improve the downforce, they worked on a new, larger rear wing as well as on a new front bumper with a front splitter. It required a lot of preparation work in Ford’s wind tunnel and three full days of testing different ideas before the basic package was accepted.

Ford Focus RS WRC03 rear wing – picture from supercars.net

The rear wing highly contributed to the aggressive look of the new car. This was, by far, the most significant modification in the aerodynamics of the new car, when compared to the previous version. Focus WRC rear spoiler size had been decreased from the initial wing with endplates from the 99 version, to the final extended lip of the tailgate in 2002 car, as we reviewed in a recent post.

To reach such a significant gain on downforce, and with no rear diffusers allowed at that time, a bigger wing was required. The new design included an upper wing with end plates descending to the back of the car, and a Gurney flap at the rear of the wing, to gain additional downforce, as we saw in another recent post. A second, lower wing was included, with only the width of the rear window and supported by the vertical fins.

Rear wing comparison between Ford Focus RS WRC03 (left) and Peugeot 206 WRC (right) – pictures from Martin Viďourek – eWRC.cz (left) and juwra.com (right)

Both wings incorporated vertical fins on top of the upper wing (4 the Focus and 5 the 206), with the objective of improving car stability when the car was sideways.

P.Solberg/P.Mills, Subaru Impreza S9 WRC03, Rally Montecarlo 2003, ret.

While Peugeot had adopted the vertical fins in the version homologated in June 2002 and first aligned in Acropolis’02, only on top of the upper wing, Subaru was the first team to install vertical fins across the whole wing in the WRC, in Rally Montecarlo 2003. “In Finland they helped a lot in the high-speed corners. I think it was 0,1-0,2 seconds per kilometer in the speed on the corners at that time”, according to Petter Solberg revelations in this interview for Rallirinki published inside #ReliveRallyFinland2003 project. David Lapworth recognized the improvement in stability already at the end of that rally in an interview with AUTOhebdo.fr (nº 1.377).

In the Focus RS WRC03, the slight inclination of the endplates was done with the purpose of using the pressure of side airflow when going sideways, to generate additional downforce.

Rear wing comparative between Ford Focus RS WRC03 (above) and Peugeot 206 WRC (below) – pictures by eWRC.cz

The rearview shows that both wings were very similar. The main differences, apart from the fins, were that the Ford endplates started from a lower position, and that lower plate was wider in the case of the 206.

pictures by eWRC.cz

For the new bumper, Ford had to look at the American version of the Focus, which incorporated longer bumpers that fitted better with the requirements of the new car, as they could validate in the wind tunnel.

The cooling package was also redesigned and evaluated in Ford’s wind tunnel in Cologne. The goal was to improve efficiency and to better deal with cooler running temperatures on the hot rallies like the Acropolis and Cyprus. The radiator was moved from the upright position in the Focus RS WRC02, to lie flat in the new car. This meant better weight distribution (as coolant lies close to the ground) but also more difficult cooling, for what internal air circulation had to be redesigned. Externally, the main differences were the new, big, central air inlet, which was accompanied by a smaller, oval shape above, and two rectangular inlets on both sides, probably for brake cooling.

To remove hot air from the engine bay, two new scoops were incorporated at the forefront of the Focus’ bonnet, on both sides, and protected by a small barrier on the front side, to minimize impact with the external flow. Air exiting from the bonnet in such an advanced position contributed to generating downforce on the front axle, by adding pressure on the bonnet. This was important in terms of balance, to compensate the big contribution of the rear spoiler on downforce generation. The Peugeot also had adopted a similar solution, bonnet scoops, although located in the center of the bonnet. This had been the object of several modifications to the previous versions of the 206 WRC, as we reviewed in our previous post.

M.Märtin/M.Park, Ford Focus RS WRC03, Rally Acropolis 2003, 1st. – picture by eWRC.cz
Note the air exit on top of the bumper, ahead of the front wheel arches

Ford also found an original location for an additional air outlet, on top of the bumper ahead of front wheels arches. Air leaving from these outlets flow in the same direction of external flow, which ensures a smooth interaction between both flows, leading to a minimal drag increase. And it might even contribute to the generation of some additional downforce on the front axis, by increasing pressure on wheel arches.

Peugeot located two air outlets on both sides of the front bumper of the 206 WRC, thanks to the dimensions of the bumper, which had been enlarged to fulfill the 4 meter requirement for the car to be homologated as a WRC. It was also a smart solution, but with a higher impact on drag. Air leaving from the 206 exits had a stronger interaction with the external flow (compared to the Focus), generating a wider aerodynamic effective cross-section (as if the car was wider), which in the end results in a drag increase.

R.Burns/R.Reid, Peugeot 206 WRC, Rally Montecarlo 2003, 5th – picture from autogaleria.pl

The Focus front bumper also incorporated a front splitter, to minimize the amount of air entering below the car, that, as we know, results in better grip, as the higher the airspeed below the car, the lower the pressure. And, by pressure difference with the top of the car, this results in higher downforce, that is, better grip. It was more prominent than that of the 206 WRC, which means it was probably more effective.

Front splitter comparative between Ford Focus RS WRC03 (above) and Peugeot 206 WRC (below) – pictures by Petr Fitz – eWRC.cz

On the sides of the Focus, minimal size side skirts were included, in opposition to the more prominent used in the Peugeot 206 WRC (see picture below). This means that a higher amount of air was allowed to enter below the car in the case of the Focus, which reduces the efficiency in downforce generation, as airflow under the car is perturbed. Fortunately, smaller side skirts were compensated by the more prominent front splitter of the Ford.

Comparison of side skirts between Ford Focus RS WRC03 (above) and Peugeot 206 WRC (below) – pictures by Petr Lusk – eWRC.cz

The new car included also a new rear suspension system, and a new, lighter but powerful two-litre turbocharged Duratec engine developed and built by Cosworth Racing. It was reported then that 80% of the car was totally new.

Weight, and especially, weight distribution were the object of deep analysis and modifications. The first goal was to bring the weight to the minimal limit accepted by regulation, which was reached after reviewing all parts. As an example, Pi Research designed a new wiring loom and electronic control system which saved a lot of weight.

The second goal was to lower the center of gravity to the minimal, for what all car was put under question, and even drivers position was lowered to a point that it was difficult to see them from the outside, which surely limited their visibility in the stages.

M.Märtin/M.Park, Ford Focus RS WRC03, Wales Rally GB 2003, ret. – picture from crash.net

Note the low position of the codriver, to lower center of gravity

In the second half of the 2002 season, some prototype parts for the new car were included in the Focus RS WRC02 used in the testing program. Some of them were incorporated into Mark Higgins’ car on the Rally of Great Britain, where he finished 6th, proving that the team was going in the right direction.

New car’ shakedown test was carried out in a local airfield close to M-Sport facilities, while the first real test of the new car took place in mid-January 2003, north of Barcelona, both on tarmac and gravel. Evaluation of the new car included the adaptation to the Michelin tires, as M-Sport had been running with Pirelli till the end of 2002 season.

Ford Focus RS WRC03 test in Spain, January 2003 – picture from supercars.net

The new Ford Focus RS WRC 03 car was unveiled on March 27th, 2003 at the team’s Dovenby Hall base in Cumbria, England. Some days later it was homologated by FIA.

F.Duval/S.Prevot, Ford Focus RS WRC03, Rally New Zealand 2003, 9th. – picture by eWRC.cz

The first appearance in New Zealand confirmed the efficiency of the car, as Märtin was able to win three stages before retiring with engine failure, while Duval finished ninth.

M.Märtin/M.Park, Ford Focus RS WRC03, Rally Acropolis 2003, 1st. – picture by eWRC.cz

The real exploit came in Greece, where Duval won the first stage, Märtin the second, and the Estonian was able to keep the lead until the end of the rally, giving the Focus RS WRC03 his first win in just three appearances.

M.Märtin/M.Park, Ford Focus RS WRC03, E.O.S. Rally Estonia 2003, 1st – picture by eWRC.cz

In preparation for Finland, beginning of July, Märtin had time to run and win his home event, the E.O.S. Rally of Estonia. All these results proved the car was fast and already reliable, but the real test was waiting in Finland. Could the new car reverse the situation of 2002?

About #ReliveRallyFinland2003

This week RALLIRINKI will relive the action that happened during Rally Finland 2003 through a series of “live tweets” from the event – written as if the event would take place right now. Tweets are written after notable research into all material made from Rally Finland 2003, varying from magazine and newspaper articles to team newsletters, as well as to official organization and FIA documentation and correspondence. Tweets include about 200 previously unpublished photos from the event.

To accompany Twitter feed there will be also a blog post published every day. Full interviews of Markko Märtin (long in-depth discussion about the event) and Marcus Grönholm along with other insights into the 2003 edition of Rally Finland will appear every evening from Monday to Sunday. This car analysis is WRCWings’ much appreciated contribution to the project.

Twitter: @HartusvuoriWRC

WWW: rallirinki.net

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