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Continued measures to improve safety by further strengthening the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car enabled Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila to escape injury during their violent crash on last month's Rally of Portugal, accident investigators have revealed in a comprehensive internal report.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's report into the incident on the first day of the rally highlights how the car’s cutting edge design features saved the driver and co-driver from serious injury.  Such is the strength of the Focus RS WRC that despite plunging around 200 metres down a hillside, many areas of the car's bodyshell can be rebuilt and used in further rallies later in the year.

Latvala’s accident on the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship was one of the most dramatic in the sport's history.  Footage of the crash has been watched more than 450,000 times on the YouTube video sharing website.

The report was prepared by Latvala's engineer, Tim Jackson, who works for British-based M-Sport, Ford's long-term WRC partner.  He said:"As horrific as this incident appears from the video recordings, the safety structure of the car performed excellently and precisely as designed in protecting the driver and co-driver.  The use of relatively ductile materials such as T45 Steel for the roll-cage meant that the steady – but limited – deformation of the roll cage structure not only absorbed sufficient energy to protect the occupants, but also that the many undamaged areas of the body shell can be rebuilt and used again.

"The introduction of increased safety measures – both by regulation and design choice – have proved to be beneficial in the incident, meaning that the driver and co-driver were both able to walk away uninjured," added Jackson.

Data showed that the accident, 9.1km after the start of the fourth speed test, began when 24-year-old Latvala began to brake on a crest which hid a left-hand corner.  "As the car left the crest it started to become 'light', meaning that both the braking and steering actions were not as effective due to the reduced loading on the tyres," explained Jackson.

First the rear and then the front of the Focus RS WRC hit the bank on the inside of the corner, flinging the car over a roadside barrier and down the hillside, gathering momentum as it barrel-rolled.  The bonnet and tailgate became detached while Latvala's door opened and was crushed during the rolls.  

"However, the door hinges and locking mechanism are still in good condition.  Both these are, by regulation, standard production car items," wrote Jackson.  

The car stopped rolling when it hit a tree, without which it is expected the accident would have continued for a further 50 metres.  The incident lasted 19.8 seconds with the car completing 12 full rolls.  Despite the violence of the crash, the report reveals that the shape of the cockpit area was 'maintained excellently'.   

"Basic measurements show that there was no deformation into the cockpit of the main roll hoop joint.  The A-pillar and door bar roll cage structures remained virtually undamaged on both sides of the car with only very small deformations evident.  The main hoop tube, located close to the B-pillar buckled slightly on the driver' side whilst the C-pillar body panel structure, unsupported by roll cage tubes, flattened to a shallower angle.  However, none of these was sufficient to pose a danger to the crew," said Jackson.

Both Latvala and Anttila were using the FIA safety seat, introduced into the Focus RS WRC in October 2008 and mounted into the car using M-Sport designed aluminium brackets which exceed minimum safety requirements.  "Following the incident the seats and mounting brackets on both driver and co-driver sides are in visibly in 'like new' condition showing that these extra safety measurements were beneficial," said the report.

In addition to its immensely strong roll cage, the Focus RS WRC is equipped with a raft of safety features including built-in fire extinguishers and rupture proof fuel tanks.  More recent safety enhancements include the use of door-mounted safety foam to add protection in side impacts.

Each Focus RS WRC is now tracked with GPS, allowing emergency services precisely to pin-point crash locations and respond faster.  Both driver and co-driver wear flame retardant overalls, gloves and hoods.  F1-style Head And Neck Safety (HANS) devices are now also mandatory, reducing the risk of whiplash injury.

"We are constantly striving to find ways to make the sport safer and we have made significant progress in recent years," said BP Ford Abu Dhabi technical director Christian Loriaux.  "One area in particular we have concentrated on is side impact protection.  We've moved the driver and co-driver's seats closer to the centre of the car, away from the doors, and we've added an extra crash beam inside both sills.  There is no doubt that this has made a huge difference to occupant safety."

Ford's Focus RS WRC made its world championship debut on the 1999 Monte Carlo Rally and claimed a maiden win on the legendary Safari Rally that same year.  Since then, the Focus has won a further 35 world rallies and scored points on a record-breaking 112 consecutive WRC events.  The car claimed back-to-back manufacturers' world titles for Ford in 2006 and 2007.

On the road, Ford's new Focus RS performance model takes its design cues from the world rally car and like all models in the Focus range, is equipped with cutting edge passive and active safety systems.  

Each production Focus features Ford's Intelligent Protection System, with no fewer than six airbags.  Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) with traction control is available, as are ABS and Emergency Brake Assist.

The structure of the Focus road car provides one of the most advanced passenger safety systems in its class, putting its rigidity to work with carefully constructed crush zones to route energy away from the occupants in the event of a crash and protect them from objects intruding into the survival area.  Focus is constructed from variable-gauge laser-welded panels of dual plasma and high strength steel.  Both the occupant cell and surrounding envelope of energy absorbing crush zones have been rigorously tested in virtual and physical form.

Focus achieves a five-star EuroNCAP rating for passenger safety and customers can specify a wide range of optional features that further contribute to the standard safety package, including a halogen-based AFS headlamp system, Ford's Quickclear heated front screen, and High Intensity Discharge xenon headlights which deliver almost twice the light intensity of conventional headlamps.

Also, when Ford's Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) or HID Bi-Xenon headlights are specified, new Focus is fitted with bright and distinctive LED rear lights.  In addition, Focus features an available tyre pressure Deflation Detection System (DDS) and all models come fitted with an automatic hazard warning light activation system which warns following drivers of emergency braking manoeuvres.

Ford of Europe motorsport director Mark Deans says: "The Focus RS WRC is a tremendously strong and robust vehicle and these qualities are reflected across the entire Focus family.  Motorsport is all about pushing boundaries and the World Rally Championship is the ultimate proving ground for safety technology.  The learning that comes from these vehicles and the feedback our engineers get from the cars is invaluable when developing the next generation of Fords for our customers."

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