End of an era on Rally GB



It was a good time to return to Wales. A couple of years after my last Rally GB, I was back as a guest of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team in time to see the last outing for the current generation of World Rally Car.

Regulation changes for next year have spelt an end to the careers of the Ford Focus and Citroen C4 WRCs, to be replaced by their smaller (and cheaper) siblings in the shape of the new Ford Fiesta and Citroen DS3.


I’m afraid there aren’t any prizes for guessing who won the rally – yes, that man Sebastien Loeb – but nevertheless the sheer spectacle this sport provides still draws a sizeable crowd, as witnessed when my group travelled to the Crychan and Halfway stages on Saturday (which were a sell-out).

We were lucky with the weather that day, and also lucky to see the cars sliding around as they switched from a gravel to asphalt surface in Crychan – mixed stage surfaces are a rarity in the WRC.


Back at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre we took a tour of the adjacent service park, with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Ford service area. It was like walking into a hospital theatre – all shiny surfaces with every bit of equipment in its place (£20,000 carbon brake discs here, four drills – one for each wheel – there…).

The day finished with a hurried walk down to Cardiff Bay for the superspecial stage. No doubt Monster World Rally Team driver and Gymkhana stunt driver Ken Block would have loved a crack at the short asphalt test on gravel tyres, but alas the American’s Focus had been sidelined by a broken driveshaft earlier in the day.

Victory to Loeb then, but at least we were treated to a close fight for the lead between the seven-time World Champion and 2003 title winner (and fellow C4 driver) Petter Solberg, who was this year again running his own one-car team. It was Loeb’s third Rally GB win, his eighth of 2010 and his 62nd overall (an ever-growing record…), but there was some joy for Ford when talented young Finn Jari-Matti Latvala secured the runner-up spot in the championship by finishing third behind Solberg.

Abu Dhabi driver Khalid Al Qassimi, who just missed out on a top-10 finish, was left to reflect on just how good a rally car the Ford Focus WRC has been: “It’s a great car, and has won two manufacturers’ titles [in 2006-07], so it’s definitely one of the best Fords over the years. It’s good to finish this rally in the last event for the Focus.”


So bye-bye Focus, C4 and outgoing official tyre supplier Pirelli. Next year the WRC will say hello again to Michelin, Mini and a second British driver in the shape of 2009 Intercontinental Rally Champion Kris Meeke. My bet is that tickets for those mid-Wales stages will be sold out again…

Gillian Rodgers

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