At the recent Otago Rally shakedown, RallySport Magazine’s Matthew Whitten had the chance to ride with Brendan Reeves in a Ford Fiesta AP4, and Mads Ostberg in an Escort RS1800. Here’s his take on the rides:

Ford Fiesta AP4 - Brendan Reeves, Stokes Motorsport

Getting in the car, it is easy to see that it is a purpose-built rally car. Everything inside has a job to do, and anything non-essential has been removed to save weight. Sitting inside, the seating position is very low, to help with weight distribution. The seat was suited to my size, and the harness, combined with the HANS device, cradled me securely. To the right, between the driver and navigator, is a small panel, about 15cm x 10cm. On the panel is all buttons that are needed by the driver. This includes mist fans, heater and wiper controls and the like. The handbrake is moved from the standard road car position, and is now at the same height as the steering wheel, and about 30cm to the left
Off the start line, the acceleration of the Fiesta AP4 throws you back into your seat, a demonstration of the immense power and torque of the car.

Brendan Reeves was fast in the Fiesta AP4, but mechanical problems hampered him at Otago. Photo: Peter Whitten

As it quickly climbs in revs, the sequential gearbox means there is no need for Reeves to take his foot off the accelerator, and there’s no loss in acceleration. The gear changes are accompanied by a ‘bang’ as the car backfires and the anti-lag system kicks in. The sound of the car is, in my opinion, much better from the inside of the car than the outside. And as you would expect, it gets better as it gets higher up the revs.
A relatively high pitched noise, coupled with the pops and bangs of the anti-lag, makes it one of the best sounding cars of its category.
As a side note, Brendo was very good to be in the car with. He knew the road very well, and was basically commentating the whole time. He spoke of a range of things, including what his pacenotes would be, how the front bumper and rear wing affected downforce at different stages, along with the qualities of the car in different areas. On the whole, the car is incredibly well made. Brendo drives it smoothly, consistently, and overall very fast.

Matt Whitten and Brendan Reeves at the Otago Rally shakedown.

Ford Escort RS1800 - Mads Ostberg, Rossendale Rally Team

The Escort is a completely different car in almost every way. Starting with the almost 50-year difference in build date, the car is closer to as you would find as it came out of the factory, yet still a long way off. The interior still has the heater vents and controls as they came out of the factory. It looks more simple than the Fiesta, yet all non-essential functions have been removed. The car is left hand drive, meaning as a passenger, it is from a completely different perspective. Off the start line, the Escort is significantly slower than the Fiesta, mostly due to less horsepower and a lack of a turbocharger that the engine has. Also, the Escort only has two driving wheels, compared to the Fiesta’s four.
The sound of the Escort is far superior to the AP4. Utilising the BDA engine, it screams its way up to 10,000rpm and above, which is music to most rally fans’ ears. And I will have you know, it is also much better from inside the car.
The standard style gearbox means Mads still has to use the clutch in order to get up the gears. Whilst this does result in time loss (minimal, at that), it is hardly noticeable when in the car.

Mads Ostberg was totally dominant at the Otago Rally, winning the Classic Rally in his Escort. Photo: Peter Whitten

Mads showed his experience in the fact that he was much braver across the stage than Brendo. He seemed to take big cuts in places that I did not think were suitable for such cuts. Yet it turned out these were just Mads’ knowledge of where he can and can’t push. The differences between the four-wheel drive and the rear-wheel drive car were obvious. Brendo, in 4WD, was all or nothing – it was either full throttle, or hard braking, then driving the car straight out of the corner. Mads, on the other hand, being in the rear-wheel drive, used the throttle to help him get the car around the corner, which in turn resulted in more sliding.
In theory, this is slower, but Mads said he was continually adjusting the brake bias in order to reduce the amount of sliding.
Overall, both cars were an incredible experience, and something I would definitely do again. If you haven’t already, if you ever get the chance to get in any rally car, of any specification, take it. You will have the time of your life, and be hooked. A big thanks to Brendan Reeves and Stokes Motorsport for the opportunity to ride in the Fiesta, and Mads Ostberg and the Rossendale Rally Team for the ride in the Escort.

Matt Whitten and Mads Ostberg.

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