Australian co-driver Anthony McLaughlin is about to realize a dream when he contests the final round of the 2010 World Rally Championship in a Ford Focus World Rally Car.

This will be the Queenslander’s first event in a World Rally Car, and of special significance is that Rally GB will be the last WRC event ever that World Rally Cars will be able to compete, before the new 1600cc cars are debuted in 2011.

McLaughlin will co-drive for Chinese driver, Liu Chao Dong, a three-time Chinese Rally Champion.

Dong has had McLaughlin calling the pacenotes for him for the past five seasons, and they once again lead the Chinese Championship in 2010. They have won all three rounds this year, and if they finish as the first Chinese driver on the APRC round on the first weekend in November, they will secure their fourth national title.

McLaughlin has just returned from a two week trip to the UK, where he and Dong got their hands on a Ford Focus WRCar for the first time. As expected, they were suitable impressed.

The Focus they tested was the car that Henning Solberg drove on Rally Japan last month. It was also used by Jari-Matti Latvala for a corporate day the day before Dong got behind the wheel.
McLaughlin spoke to RallySport Magazine about the Focus test, and on their plans for the Rally GB and the last hurrah for the World Rally Car.

RSM: How did the drive in the M-Sport Focus RS WRC come about?

AM: The process actually started half way through last year when Dong asked me to look into the possibility of driving a WRCar. We spoke with both Citroen and M-Sport and both parties where interested.

In the end he decided to go with M-Sport. We were scheduled to drive the car in last year’s Rally GB, however at the last minute Dong had to pull out of the drive due to business reasons. This was very disappointing as I thought it may have been my only chance to ever ride in one of these cars, especially with the FIA announcing that 2010 was going to be the last year for these cars.

However, in April this year, Dong once again asked me to make contact with M-Sport and find out the possibility of driving the Focus on this year’s Rally GB.  After quite a few emails between M-Sport and I, and after a brief meeting with Malcolm Wilson at Rally New Zealand, a contract was signed and all the plans were put in place.
Was the test your first ride in a WRCar?

Yes. For me it was a dream come true and something I have being working towards for quite some time. Not too many Australians have ever got the chance to ride in one of these cars, so it will be great to have the Australian flag on the side of the car for the last ever event for the Focus WRCar.
How was it, and what were the most impressive features of the car?

The car was everything I expected and more. They say the most impressive features of an F1 car is its acceleration, grip and braking. Well, it is the same with the Ford Focus WRCar.

The launch control from a standing start is something else. In the Focus WRCar, the co-driver basically sits as low and as far back in the car so when the car takes off from a standing start it feels like the front wheels leave the ground and you can’t see over the dashboard.
Inside the car is a little different to your average Group N car or Datsun 1600! Surprisingly, it feels very spacious as any unnecessary items have long been removed to save weight.

Between the seats is a large console of buttons that control various functions of the car and a computer screen with endless amounts of information. Also, it is very loud and noisy.

I now understand why the drivers put on their headsets at the end of every stage.
Would you rate the test as the best experience in your rallying career to date?

When I first got into rallying I always watched the top guys on TV competing in the WRC events and I always thought to myself it would be great to one day  compete in the same car and events as those guys.

It is one thing wondering what it would be like, it is another actually experiencing it. For me, it is a big relief to finally get this opportunity.
The M-Sport operation is very professional and riding in one of these cars and getting ready for Rally GB is just another level compared to what I have been used to.

There is so much to learn and understand about the car and the team, but it is very exciting!
Did Dong come to grips with the car, or will it be a long process?

I guess the only way to come to grips with any car is to spend as much time in it as possible, it all takes time. Dong and I did 50km on tarmac on an old airfield not far from the M-Sport facility. This was just to get used to how the car operated, practice starts and get a feel for what he was in for.

Then the next day we did 100km on the gravel in Greystoke Forest. M-Sport had organised a small test stage to get used to the car and sort out a set-up for Rally GB that Dong felt comfortable with.  Like any driver, at the end of the day he mentioned he needed more time in the car, but he was grateful for the miles he had the opportunity to do.
Working with M-Sport must have been an eye-opening experience. Tell us about some of the highlights.

M-Sport is a very impressive place to visit. We both met with Malcolm Wilson who chatted with us for a while and then we were shown around the complex. I guess the highlight was seeing where all of the cars were prepared.

It is a big workshop with all of the WRCars on one side and all of the S2000 cars on the other side. All the cars were there when we arrived as they were being prepared for France.

There were so many different areas of the workshop, from the main workshop area where all the cars were, to all the different departments which looked after the engines, the electronics, the design team, etc.

The other amazing thing about M-Sport is the history of the place. Dovenby Hall used to be a mental institution many years ago and Malcolm Wilson has refurbished certain parts of the complex and turned it into M-Sport headquarters.
Rally GB won't be an easy event with fickle weather a real possibility. What are your expectations from the event, and what sort of result are you and Dong hoping for?

Dong and I were fortunate to have done the recce for Rally GB back in 2007. This is one of the reasons why he chose this event, due to the fact he will have some idea of what to expect.

It will be tricky, but the biggest factor is the nature of the weather, particularly the fog. We have driven in fog in China and Dong is not a big fan of it!

When we tested, the weather conditions were similar to Wales where it was 5 degrees, wet, and the roads were greasy.

The biggest thing we want to achieve is to finish the event and get the full experience. It’s a long way to go to throw it off on the first stage. As each stage passes, the plan is to get more confidence with the car and conditions and progressively get faster as the rally goes on.
After the WRC drive, what are your plans for 2011?

The plan for 2011 at present is to once again contest the Chinese Championship. At this stage Dong hasn’t indicated what WRC events we will do, but I am certain he will commit to a few events. Hopefully this experience will whet his appetite for more.


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