July 3, 2022

The Escort Cosworth WRC is a real quick Ford unicorn. In-built very restricted numbers, it was merely the highest-specification and most technologically superior of all of the Cosworth rally automobiles. Graham Robson tells the total story of this legendary motorsport machine.

Function from Quick Ford. Phrases: Graham Robson. Pictures: Ford Photographic Archives, Ade Brannan, & Getty Photos

This story started in 1996, when Ford Motorsport’s Boreham operation was in transition. The Escort RS Cosworth was previous its peak, chief design engineer John Wheeler had been promoted to run Ford’s Aston Martin DB7 technical operation within the Midlands, and there was turmoil on the high of the game.

The unique World Rally Automotive laws had been resulting from take impact in 1997, however Ford Motorsport wanted a brand new mannequin. There wasn’t an acceptable automobile to satisfy the brand new guidelines, and the outgoing Escort RS Cosworth – constructed to Group A regs – would not be eligible.

From a technical standpoint, the brand new guidelines had been simple sufficient to satisfy. However would Ford have an acceptable base automobile obtainable by 1 January 1997?

This was the dilemma. Though solely 20 new WRC machines needed to be inbuilt one season (none of them to be used as street automobiles), they must be primarily based on fashions of which at the least 25,000 examples had been being inbuilt a yr.

That was the dangerous information. The excellent news was that homologation guidelines had successfully been binned; not did producers have to construct expensive (usually loss-making) particular editions of their street automobiles simply to be able to make them eligible for racing.

Nearly each different modification to the fundamental specification of the mass-produced street automobile was allowed; conversion from front-wheel drive to four-wheel drive was authorised, as was turbocharging in any other case naturally-aspirated engines, and an entire redesign of suspension geometry was allowed.

The truth is, the one factor WRC automobiles had in frequent with the street automobiles (other than the mannequin title) was that the engine needed to be not more than 2.0-litres in capability.

Group A contest (during which Ford’s Escort RS Cosworth was nonetheless a number one contender) was about to be dominated out, and the brand new World Rally Automotive laws had been to be utilized from 1 January 1997, however with sure exceptions.

It was the exceptions, and the alternatives they introduced, that caught Ford’s eye.

Escort Cosworth WRC

New guidelines, identical automobile

One large change from the previous was that World Rally Automobiles would by no means be allowed to be reshelled. If a motorsport shell needed to be written off – particularly, if the integral roll cage was rendered ineffective – so did the identification of that automobile. Immediately, so far as fans had been involved, this made number-plate-spotting value doing once more.


Even earlier than they began the job, Boreham’s engineers – then led by Philip Dunabin – quickly realised {that a} World Rally Automotive (WRC) may ultimately change into very specialised. The dangerous information was that it could instantly make the prevailing Escort RS Cosworth out of date.

In 1996, Ford’s greatest downside was that, in keeping with the brand new laws, for 1997, WRCs needed to be primarily based on a present 25,000 units-per-year mannequin. There was no means the previous Escort RS Cosworth may fulfill this, and it was quickly to exit of manufacturing anyway. However there was no different apparent Ford mannequin that certified; the Fiesta was too small, and the Escort’s alternative (the Focus) wouldn’t seem till 1998 – that means a WRC model couldn’t be readied earlier than 1999.

It was time for the FIA’s bluff to be known as, and as one of many few producers presently devoted to a full world rally programme, Ford determined to just do that. Ford’s bigwigs advised the FIA that constructing an all-new WRC was presently out of the query, however supplied a short-term answer that would want the consent of rival producers to make it possible.

If the FIA would let Ford’s first-generation WRC be primarily based on the previous Escort RS Cosworth, they said, then works-backed Fords could possibly be on the beginning line for the Monte Carlo Rally in January 1997. And if not, Ford must withdraw.

Escort Cosworth WRC

Time to lose

Unsurprisingly, the FIA quickly agreed to the proposal. After which, the frenzy to get a aggressive Escort WRC designed, developed and prepared started at excessive velocity. Boreham did all of the design and authentic improvement work, although (as we now know) Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport crew would ultimately get the contract to run the crew automobiles (and constructed all of them) from the beginning of 1997.

Idea engineering work started in June 1996 and the primary prototype ran on 13 October. The media launch adopted on 3 November, and the homologation inspection of the 20 kits of components was accomplished on 19 December 2020 – just some weeks earlier than the primary occasion.

There was such a rush that Motorsport at Boreham solely constructed two prototype check automobiles: N704 FAR (tarmac-spec) and M513 WJN (gravel-spec). Each had been initially Group A Escort RS Cosworth rally automobiles that had been transformed to WRC-spec.

That was a super-rapid programme by any requirements; the Escort WRC had gone from being a possible thought to race-ready homologation in six months.

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Escort Cosworth WRC

Spot the distinction: Escort WRC vs Escort RS Cosworth

In evolving the Escort WRC from the Escort RS Cosworth, Motorsport made a number of enhancements, however the primary upgrades are highlighted under.

A brand new YB engine: a brand new, smaller IHI turbocharger (to swimsuit a 34mm restrictor), completely different exhaust manifold, and gasoline injection modifications (with eight as an alternative of 4 lively injectors). This delivered 310bhp at 5500rpm, with a really stable torque curve.

Cooling: higher airflow by means of bigger entrance apertures, with repositioned and extra environment friendly intercooler and water radiators.

Rear suspension: lighter and stronger tubular subframe, with a brand new MacPherson strut/hyperlinks system, with a geometry fairly like that of the Mondeo.

Aerodynamics: new entrance bumper profile to swimsuit the revised radiator and intercooler relocation. Smaller, reshaped rear aerofoil to generate extra downforce with much less drag.

Format: idealised format, with an 80-litre gasoline tank, spare wheel, and 40-litre water reservoir (water to be obtainable for cooling sprays) all positioned within the rear compartment. The aerodynamic checks had been carried out within the Ford wind tunnel at Merkenich in Germany, leading to improved downforce. In any case, the brand new rear aerofoil had been wanted to fulfill WRC laws, as the prevailing RS Cosworth fashion was too massive. The engine water radiator was 33 per cent bigger than earlier than, and the turbo intercooler 50 per cent bigger (it was additionally cooled by water spray from the reservoir). The intercooler was repositioned, now being forward, fairly than on high of, that radiator.

Escort Cosworth WRC: On the spot Hit

For the very first time, the works automobiles can be run by an outdoor company. On the finish of 1996, Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport crew took over for Ford. Though Motorsport at Boreham takes all of the credit score for the design and improvement of the Escort WRC, and for organising the hurried manufacture of the primary 20 units of elements, it was Malcolm Wilson’s crew that might at all times run the automobiles.

The story of how M-Sport managed to get two automobiles prepared for the Monte Carlo Rally in 1997, the place Carlos Sainz completed second total, and the place Carlos and Juha Kankkunen took a 1-2 end within the Acropolis later that spring, tells us lots in regards to the deserves of this rushed programme.

In simply two years, much more Escort WRCs had been constructed than many observers had been ready to consider on the time, however the boxout on the earlier web page confirms this.

Forty completely different works or works-blessed Escort WRC fashions had been accomplished between 1996 and 1998. As well as, a number of different Escort WRC fashions had been created by personal homeowners in later years, for their very own use, by updating Group A Escort RS Cosworths with kits offered by M-Sport.


To complicate issues additional, the Escort WRC duplicate that featured on the Ford press fleet was a lookalike with a full-spec engine and aerodynamic package, however missing all of the objects of the WRC package (as an example, it used a five-speed gearbox).

Aside from chassis quantity 038 (R6 FMC) – which was pushed by Petter Solberg on the Swedish Rally of 1999 – all of the works automobiles had been bought off or retired on the finish of the 1998 season. For 1999, Ford and M-Sport had invested closely within the first of its ground-up WRC machines, the Focus WRC. However that’s a unique story for an additional day…

Escort Cosworth WRC

What number of Escort Cosworth WRC automobiles had been constructed?

So far as is thought, it is a full itemizing of each official Escort WRC that was constructed both at Boreham or by M-Sport. It’s value noting that a number of clones had been constructed by personal groups and people within the years that adopted.

12 months Constructed By Registration Notes
1996 Boreham N704 FAR Tarmac check automobile. Ex-1996 Group A automobile.
1996 Boreham M513 WJN Gravel check automobile. Ex-1996 Group A automobile.
1997 M-Sport P7 FMC Works Repsol automobile
1997 M-Sport P6 FMC Works Repsol automobile
1997 M-Sport P11 FMC Works Repsol automobile
1997 M-Sport M10 MWM Ex-Group A automobile
1997 M-Sport M40 FMC (later P6 FMC) Ex-Group A automobile
1997 Not accomplished /
1997 Mike Little Preparations P194 FAO Ex-Group A automobile
1997 RED P10 RED Ex-Group A automobile
1997 Boreham unknown
1997 M-Sport P8 FMC Works Repsol automobile
1997 M-Sport P9 FMC Works Repsol automobile
1997 M-Sport unknown Ex-Group A automobile
1997 Boreham R475 KVX
1997 Mike Little Preparations M743 YWC Ex-Group A automobile
1997 Boreham R963 DHK
1997 RED unknown
1997 Boreham unknown
1997 Finland unknown
1997 Boreham unknown
1997 Boreham unknown
1997 Greece unknown Ex-Group A automobile
1997 M-Sport unknown
1997 Mike Little Preparations unknown Ex-Group A automobile
1997 Boreham R771 GTW
1997 Boreham unknown
1998 M-Sport R3 FMC Works Valvoline automobile
1998 M-Sport R4 FMC Works Valvoline automobile
1997 M-Sport R2 FMC Works Repsol automobile
1997 M-Sport R1 FMC Works Repsol automobile
1998 Jolly Membership R9 FMC
1998 Jolly Membership R10 FMC
1998 Boreham/MLP unknown
1998 M-Sport unknown
1998 Boreham/MLP unknown
1998 M-Sport R5 FMC Works Valvoline automobile
1998 M-Sport R6 FMC Works Valvoline automobile
1998 Boreham unknown
1998 M-Sport S13 FMC Works Valvoline automobile
1998 Not accomplished /
1998 Boreham unknown