by Rob Wilkins
Ford will use a new Focus in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship and will also have a completely new driver line-up - in the shape of double world champion, Marcus Gronholm and fellow Finn, Mikko Hirvonen.
Speaking following the official unveiling of the new Focus in its 2006 livery at the Bologna Motor Show last week, Crash.net Radio
caught up with M-Sport boss, Malcolm Wilson to ask him about the coming season...
Malcolm, how are preparations going ahead of the new season - and the Monte Carlo Rally?
Well in Australia, the main issue there obviously was to test, which ended up being fantastic from that point of view for learning what we need to do. I am glad to say we had no major issues.
Since Australia until now, we have been trying to order large quantities of parts. A lot of the time has been spent trying to source all the parts and build the Monte Carlo cars. But really it is next week when the real testing starts in anger, so we are in Sweden all of next week and then we have got a few days off. Then we are in France right up until Christmas. So really now it is extensive testing right up to Monte Carlo to try and define the final specification set-up on the car. It is also a good chance to get both of our new drivers - Marcus [Gronholm] and Mikko [Hirvonen] in the car, so we can get there feedback and there comments.
As you said, the Focus made a positive debut in Australia. Lots has been said about that already, but was there more you wanted to achieve there or was it pretty much mission accomplished?
In fairness it was 'mission accomplished'. I mean we were obviously delighted with the performance and ok the results maybe don't reflect it. But at the end of day if you look at the individual performances of the guys we were more than pleased with it and we learned things. What happened to Toni [Gardemeister]'s car for instant on the penultimate stage, ok it maybe looks bad he retired, but in one sense I was really pleased because there was an issue there that we needed to address and we can address it. If that hadn't had happened, we would certainly have gone to Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico in the spec that we had in that area that failed. In fairness, in Sweden and Monte Carlo that would not have caused a problem, because there are no rocks, no things like that that can get into the engine compartment - they are just not there. But we would have gone to Mexico and could have been faced with the same problem. That was the great thing about Australia. We found something that could be a problem on the gravel events. The good thing is because of the window we've got between now and the next gravel rally we can address that issue, which is being done.
Obviously then that will lead to some modifications on the car. Are there any others planned between now and Monte Carlo - or will the car stay pretty much the same as it was in Australia?
I think it is a case that [M-Sport technical director] Christian [Loriaux] was obviously flat out designing a gravel car for nine and a half months and now we have got to do a tarmac car for Monte Carlo. Also with the calendar changing - Corsica and Catalunya [both asphalt events] have been brought forward, so really since Australia his team of engineers and designers have been looking at ways to optimise the car for asphalt. So that is really where the big push is because we have got three tarmac events in the first four months of the year.
The regulations next year, dictate that active differentials will be banned and we will see a return to mechanical differentials. How much of a difference will this make?