Ford Rallye Sport pulled the wraps off a closely-kept secret car at the Autosport International Show today [Thursday[ when it revealed its all-new 'Rally Training Concept Vehicle'.

The lightweight, open-top, two-seater uses the engine and running gear from a standard Ford Ka road car, and is intended to provide (at low cost) the opportunity for youngsters to learn the basic skills of rallying in a similar way that karting provides a springboard into single-seater racing.

The Rally Training Concept Vehicle (RTCV) is at an early stage in its development and is being shown at the NEC to gauge potential customer response so that if production goes ahead the car will meet the many different needs of future users.

"For a host of reasons, most 14-year olds embark on a motorsport career aiming to be the next Michael Schumacher, rather than the next Colin McRae," comments Philip Dunabin, Engineering Manager for Ford's Super 1600 programme. "Our new Rally Training Concept Vehicle is intended to create a sub-Ka entry vehicle for youngsters to get a taste of rallying - a new lower rung to Ford's popular Ladder of Opportunity."

"Currently the great sport of rallying is largely inaccessible to youngsters, in terms of cost, cars, locations, formats and driving licence requirements. The RTCV provides a low cost, simple technology car based around a purpose-built spaceframe chassis fitted with substantially standard Ford components. It's such a light vehicle that 60 bhp will generate lively performance, but despite the low weight we have made occupant safety paramount in the design. The vehicle features an impact-absorbing nose cone and extra chassis width alongside the occupants and a robust roll-cage."

"The RTCV will, I'm sure, prove popular with rally schools as a basic trainer and as a corporate hospitality car. Used in a rally application, it could compete on single-venue events without going onto public roads. Depending on customer response at the Autosport International Show, the RTCV could go on to create a karting-style category for rallying, giving easier access to a rally environment and opening up the sport to a huge number of people," concludes Dunabin.

The bulk of the RTCV project work has been carried out by engineering students under Dunabin's supervision. Ford employees, they have been under-graduates and graduates (both men and women) who have been working at Ford Rallye Sport as part of their development programmes at Ford.

Compared with a standard Ka road car, the Rally Concept car has its wheelbase shortened by 200 mm, with a similar front track, a wider rear track (up by 81 mm) and a vastly reduced weight - down by 221 kg from 871 kg.

Designed to comply fully with all existing motorsport safety regulations, the RTCV is not intended to be road legal and cannot be taken onto public roads.

Rally Training Concept Vehicle - 2002 - Technical Specification

Engine: Standard 1.3-litre, 8-valve Ford Ka Endura
Location: Mid-mounted, diving rear wheels
Max Power: 60 bhp at 5,000 rpm
Max torque: 105 Nm at 2,500 rpm

Chassis: Tailor-made tubular steel spaceframe with emphasis on occupant safety and torsional rigidity
Suspension: Front Ka dampers and revised main springs / Rear Ka dampers and revised main springs
Brakes: Ford Ka ventilated front discs, with Focus rear discs
Wheels: Speedline 6 x 14 inch aluminium
Tyres: Pirelli rally tyres

Safety: Full rollcage, impact absorbing nose, fire extinguisher
Cockpit: Sparco seats and full race harness
Fuel tank: 20-litre FIA safety bag tank

Wheelbase: 2245 mm
Front track: 1392 mm
Rear track: 1492 mm
Weight: 550 kg
Estimated Price: ?5,000 (to be confirmed)