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Ford's world rally drivers from the last 12 years said an emotional farewell to the record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car at a historic celebration event in Wales today (Thursday).

After 173 event starts, the Focus makes its final appearance as Ford's team entry in the FIA World Rally Championship at Rally GB this weekend.  A new formula will be introduced into the WRC in 2011 and the Focus will be replaced by the all-new Fiesta RS WRC for next season.

World champions Marcus Grönholm, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen headlined a long list of drivers and co-drivers attending the special function at Cardiff's Millennium Centre this morning.  The trio claimed back-to-back manufacturers' world titles for Ford in 2006 and 2007 in Focus RS WRCs.  Timo Rautiainen, the fourth member of the winning quartet, was unable to attend.

Grönholm won 12 world rallies in the Focus while Hirvonen and co-driver Lehtinen also have 12 wins to their credit, and are intent on ending the car's career on a high note in the 13th and final round of the 2010 season this weekend. 

Other winning Ford Focus RS WRC drivers and co-drivers attending in Cardiff were Nicky Grist (nine wins with the late Colin McRae), Markko Märtin (five wins), Jari-Matti Latvala (four wins), Miikka Anttila (four wins) and Luis Moya (two wins).  Colin McRae was represented by his father, Jimmy.

The Focus made its debut in the 1999 Monte Carlo Rally.  Since then M-Sport, Ford of Europe's rally partner, has built 97 different cars for testing and competition in the WRC.  It has won on 44 occasions, finished second in 43 rallies and taken third in 55 events.  The car has scored points on a remarkable 131 consecutive world rallies, a record unmatched in WRC history and one which dates back to the first round of the 2002 season. 

The Focus RS WRC which McRae and Grist drove to victory on only its third appearance in Kenya's Safari Rally in 1999 was on display at the Cardiff event.  This historic car is still owned by M-Sport and is usually on display at the company's Dovenby Hall base in north-west England.

"The Ford Focus RS WRC will be remembered as one of the sport's great rally cars," said Ian Slater, Ford of Europe's Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs.  "It was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 1998, exactly at the same time as the Focus road car was launched.  The successes of the road and rally models have run in parallel since then.

"The affection in which the car is held can be seen today.  Drivers and co-drivers have travelled from as far away as the Caribbean to be here, and another even cancelled his holiday to be present!  It's unusual to reminisce with such emotion about a car, but we've heard many, many people fondly relating their own favourite memories and stories about the Focus RS WRC at this morning's event.

"When the car starts Rally GB tonight, it will be strange to think that it's the final time we'll see an official factory team Focus in action on a WRC rally.  Victory on its final outing would be the perfect way to bring the curtain down on a great career, and both Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala are targeting nothing less," said Slater.

M-Sport managing director and BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson has overseen the build of every Focus rally car.  "I have some wonderful recollections of the car from the past 12 seasons.  The first win in Kenya was special, because the Safari Rally was the toughest in the championship and the Focus was still so new," he said. 

"But the moment that we clinched the manufacturers' world championship with the car in New Zealand in 2006 will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

"The car has evolved greatly since its debut in 1999, thanks to the work of our technical director, Christian Loriaux, and his engineering team.  The 2003 and 2005 models were the most technically advanced rally cars of their time," added Wilson.

The all-new Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car will debut at the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Sweden next February.     

Ford Focus RS WRCar Highlights

Since its debut in 1999, the Ford Focus World Rally Car has earned a place in motorsport history as one of the sport's great rally cars.  Here we highlight some of the car's landmark moments during a career that brought back-to-back manufacturers' world titles in 2006 and 2007.  

1999

• Focus World Rally Car makes its debut in the Monte Carlo Rally
• Focus claims its first victory when Colin McRae wins Kenya's Safari Rally on only its third event
• McRae follows up with a start to finish victory in the next round in Portugal.

2000

• Focus claims its maiden asphalt victory when McRae wins Spain's Catalunya Rally by just 5.9sec
• McRae and Carlos Sainz finish first and second on the Acropolis Rally in Greece.
• Focus takes another 1-2 finish in Cyprus.  This time Sainz leads McRae.

2001

• New homologation sees the car named Focus RS WRC for the first time
• McRae wins in Argentina, Cyprus and Greece
• McRae leads the drivers' series going into the final round in Britain, but retires after a huge crash on the first day

2002

• Sainz and McRae finish in the points on the Monte Carlo Rally - the start of a record-breaking run of consecutive points finishes
• Sainz achieves a record-equalling 24th WRC win in Argentina after two drivers ahead of him are excluded at the finish
• McRae joins the record-equalling band by taking his 24th victory in Greece, before topping the all-time tally when he takes win number 25 in Kenya

2003

• The all-new Focus RS WRC debuts in New Zealand
• The car takes its first victory in the hands of Markko Märtin in Greece. 
• Thousands of Estonians paint Jyväskylä blue and white as they watch Märtin's emotional win in Rally Finland.

2004

• Märtin and François Duval claim a 1-2 finish in Mexico on M-Sport's 100th WRC entry with Ford
• Focus establishes itself as the top car on asphalt as Märtin wins consecutive rounds in France and Spain

2005

• Toni Gardemeister is a surprise early leader of the drivers' championship after finishing second and third in Monte Carlo and Sweden
• New Focus RS WRC debuts in Australia and both Gardemeister and Roman Kresta set fastest times after no pre-event testing

2006

• Marcus Grönholm scores a debut win in the Focus in the Monte Carlo Rally
• Grönholm takes seven wins during the season as the Focus lifts the manufacturers' world title in New Zealand with one rally remaining
• Mikko Hirvonen scores his first WRC win in Australia

2007

• Focus retains the manufacturers' world title at the penultimate round in Ireland
• The car wins eight rounds of the championship
• Grönholm's win in New Zealand is the closest in WRC history – just 0.3sec

2008

• Jari-Matti Latvala becomes the youngest winner of a WRC rally when the Focus triumphs in Sweden
• Hirvonen's victory in Turkey creates WRC history as the Focus claims its 100th consecutive points finish
• Focus breaks another record when Hirvonen becomes the first driver to score points in every championship round

2009

• Focus wins five consecutive rounds – Italy, Greece, Poland, Finland, Australia – to create the best winning run Ford has enjoyed in WRC.
• After a thrilling battle that lasts until the final morning of the final rally, Hirvonen is pipped to the drivers' title by just one point.

2010

• Focus RS WRC starts its final rally as an official Ford entry car in Britain
• Rally GB is the 174th world rally for Focus as Ford's official entry
• In the previous 173 starts, Focus has won 44 rallies, claimed 43 second places and 55 third place finishes.
• Focus has scored points on 131 consecutive world rallies – a record unmatched in WRC.

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