It’s was the middle of January and the winter blues were firmly set in. I was at work when the phone rang, it was Kev Cannon our President. It’s not unusual for me to get phone calls from various members of the Committee but our President? What could be wrong? Was my initial thought. “Hello Nick.” “Hello Kev.” Came the reply, “what’s up?” He went on to to ask what my plans were for Tuesday 3rd February, other than being at work, I had nothing planned, I did need to know where the conversation was heading though.
“We as a club have been invited by Ford to the launch of the new Focus RS and as Rallye News Manager I would like you to come with me, you up for it?” I’m paraphrasing. Was I? I damn near exploded with excitement as I sat there listening to Kev. I needed to take 2 days off work as it was an early start and Ford were offering a hotel for the night. Also I was asked not to say anything as the launch was not public knowledge at the time. I did explain to Kevin that I needed to inform the rest of the Committee in the interest of transparency and of course I told the Mrs. With the Committee informed and happy with me going the next couple of weeks were spent making the arrangements and counting down the days until the 2nd. News did eventually break out of the launch (not from the RSOC) so I confirmed to the members that the club would be in attendance.
Monday the 2nd of February finally arrived, the penultimate day before the launch of the all new Focus RS or the mk3 as many people have adopted. Rumours of its power output and drive were afoot on the Internet, speculation was rife, was it going to be 4 wheel drive? Was it going to be 3 door? What power output would it have? For me the day was spent in anticipation whilst occupying myself with packing and checking my equipment. My partner Jess was due to give me a lift to Stansted where I was due to stay at the Radison Blu adjacent to the airport.
I was dropped off around 20:30 and checked in, I offered my credit card for extras and was pleasantly surprised when the receptionist said there was no need as Ford would cover any expenses I occurred in the hotel, happy days!! I grabbed myself a tasty beverage from the bar and quickly found Kevin in the restaurant, he was with Linda Craddock who organised the trip on behalf of Ford, Richard from the Focus RS website, Paul Swift, Emma Bergg (Corporate News & Social Media Manager for Ford) and Paul Wilson (Press Officer at Ford) amongst others including quite a few motoring journalists, all of whom were extremely friendly and made me feel very welcome. After a few drinks and getting to know each other a little I retired to my very plush room on the top floor for a restless nights sleep, excitedly waiting for Tuesday to arrive.
Well the day finally arrived, I was up early and down to me Kev at around 06:30, if I remember correctly our flight was due for take off shortly before 08:00. It had been a particularly gloomy evening previously and the dad hadn’t started that well weather wise, the cloud was low, it was cold and a dusting of snow could be seen on the vehicles parked outside. I was hoping we’d get away on time. We did the usual check in procedures and eventually headed to our departure gate where a collection of journalists and invited guests had started to gather. I was gawping out the window looking down on our empty departure gate, if the plane isn’t here yet I doubt we’ll be on time, sure enough the announcement came of a half hour delay, very frustrating. Once we finally boarded the plane and it was ready to taxi the pilot came across the tannoy to explain the was a back log of flights taking off due to the low visibility and that we would be sat on the apron in a holding position for around 15 minutes. Would we ever get there? I found myself thinking, well we did. The wait was excruciating but eventually we was in the air and on our way. Due to the way the flights were booked I wasn’t sitting next to Kevin on the flight, the people next to me appeared to be regular commuters with earphones in so with no one really to talk to I sat back and tried to relax for the hour or so we would be airborne.
We arrived at Cologne airport around an hour behind on our schedule, we were met by representatives from Ford who mustered us and showed the way to a waiting coach. After a hasty smoke I boarded and sat next to Kevin. At this point I’m absorbing my new unfamiliar surroundings, having never visited Cologne before. I chatted with Kev whilst drinking in scenery, I noticed the dark and imposing outline of the cathedral some distance away in what I assume was the city centre, our coach made its was smoothly through rush hour traffic along the banks of the Rhine through the built up suburbs into the industrial area. The Ford factory is situated on the river, one of the first things I noticed was how imposing the 45 acre site was, I believe Dagenham is a lot larger in terms of the acreage but with all the changes over the past couple of decades feels more spread out. The Plant was split by a main road, we took the left turn at a set of crossroads and pulled up just inside the gates adjacent to what looked like a production hall. We disembarked, there wasn’t a great deal in the way of clues to show a major vehicle launch was about to happen, the look and feel was exactly what I expected to see in a busy car production facility aside from a couple of large signs explaining the event near to where our coach was parked. We were directed to a side door and led into the relative darkness of the old factory.
As we walked in we could see a huge black curtain having from the roof stations, also there was a prepared entrance where guests and journalists signed in, the very first car I noticed, sitting proudly at the front of a prepared display of RS’s was a bright orange 2 door coupe that I didn’t recognise, it looked a bit like a Cortina from the front, what was it? I wondered. I quickly registered myself, obtained my lanyard and pass then made my way over to the mysterious machine. First port of call was the back to look at the badging. 17M RS on the plate. 17M RS? What the hell? I don’t claim to know everything about RS’s but I’d never heard of such a model, I do know I liked it. I decided I would find out more about it later but I had to move on, there was more cars to be seen and a lunch to be eaten. I made my way through the display of around 15 cars, mainly front wheel drive models from mainland Europe although I did spot a British registered mk1 Focus RS with EVO Magazine sticker on the rear windows. Turns out that particular car belonged to a journo from the publication who had driven the car to Cologne with a colleague so they could do a Road Trip article leading into a piece on the launch. (I found this out when the magazine was published later in February)
After a very tasty lunch of ox cheek stew washed down with an ice cold beer (yes really!) I had enough time for anther sneaky ‘breath of fresh air’ before we was called into the auditorium for the main event. I was reaching maximum excitement levels, I was calm on the outside but I couldn’t wait to lay my eyes on the new Focus RS, by this point the Internet was alive with speculation. Some pictures had been leaked and the chatter was centred around the likelihood of the car being four wheel drive, I wasn’t troubled by this news and carried on preparing myself. I decided to split up from Kevin so I could concentrate on my assignment, covering the launch live for the members back home eagerly awaiting news. I found a good spot where I could stand at the back of a grandstand and readied my electronic equipment. From my vantage point I could see the packed press photographers pit, there was a TV camera set up there to. I also had a great view of the stage that had an empty car sized turntable in the centre, the back wall of the stage was a huge video screen that was showing Ford promotional films.
Without warning the screen flashed up with a huge RS symbol with the number 40 next to it, queue the dramatic music and a countdown, as the clock ticked down the RS emblems morphed and changed into different versions of itself, 5,4,3,2,1……..is this it? No. As the music changed and the lights came back up the announcer says “ladies and gentleman, please welcome your host, Chris Barrie.” the same Chris Barrie who starred as Arnold Rimmer in Red Dwarf. I thought the car was going to blast out from behind the curtain in a smoking haze of rubber, but no I would have to wait just a little longer.
Our host introduced himself and explained the reason for our gathering, building up the anticipation we were informed there would be a presentation of Ford RS’s through the years, the cars would be driven into the prepared arena with Joe Bakaj (Ford Vice President, Product Development) interacting with Chris Barrie explaining their origins and place in motoring history, they were to chronically run through every model right up to the mk2 Focus RS500 before the big unveil.
The first car driven into view was a silver version of the two door coupe that had taken pride of place in the static display, the head and rear lights appeared to be slightly different though, introduced as the Taunus 15M RS, the very first production RS, unveiled in 1967 by Ford of Germany, it’s was quickly followed by the 17 and 20M RS variants. The P6 Taunus wasn’t sold in the UK which is why I expect it’s never been on our radar before. The presentation continued with examples of Capri’s, Escorts, the legendary RS200, Sierras and Focus’s, right up to the Matte Black RS500. It took around 15 minutes to showcase all the cars, they were driven out as we watched a short film of the RS development team working on their latest offering. We really were getting close to seeing the mk3 Focus RS for the first time. In the final scene of the film Ken Block was seen in the passenger seat of a test mule being asked if he would like to have a drive, it was explained that Ken had been enlisted as a consultant for the RS development and that he was on hand inside the factory ready to present the car to an eager audience, this was it, the wait was over.
Queue Ken, another film started to roll on the big screen behind the stage area, we saw Ken receive his instruction, he turned and got into the heavily disguised prototype, as the car fired into life you could hear a mid tone rasp from its exhaust as it was revved before the clutch was dropped and the car burst through a set of closing factory doors. The pre recorded film featured Ken Block blasting the new Focus around various deserted parts of the Cologne plant complex, he drifted, yes drifted around a roundabout, he then enters a production building where he negates a predetermined course around pillars and Fiesta shells, has a near miss with a mobile robot, get carried by a car cradle at the end of the production line, out onto a jetty jutting into the Rhine to perform a J turn before pulling up outside a set of roller shutters next to the very door we entered on our arrival. We then go live with Ken in the car as he enters the arena and demonstrates some of the cars abilities by performing spins and handbrake turns before parking in a cloud of tyre smoke. Ken exits the car, Chris Barrie then welcome him with a joke and invites our Guest of Honour to explain what it was like to tear the car up around the production facility. He was eluding to a special feature of the car that he was really “stoked” about and also his own RS history. Ken Block has owned a 2009 mk2 Focus Rs, still owns an Escort Rally Car although he didn’t enlighten us which model and has recently purchased an RS200 for use as a road car. After the short interview he was invited to go get the ‘production’ version of the car for us all to see, he obliged and disappeared in the prototype behind the black curtains, as a short cartoon film of an apparent metamorphose was shown, the finally it was here, the New Ford Focus RS, this time Mr Block entered the arena in a Liquid Blue road trim version at a comparative snails pace, he was carrying a passenger. The car did a gentle parade in front of the gathered dignitary’s before coming to a halt on the earlier mentioned turntable located centre stage.
The gentleman in the passenger seat got out and was introduced by Mr Barrie as Raj Nair (Ford Motor Company, Group Vice President, Global Product Development) in the following interview it was Mr Nair’s role to introduce the all new performance AWD system with Dynamic Torque Vectoring, so yes it’s 4wheel drive, fantastic! Engine spec was confirmed as a 2.3, 4 cylinder Ecoboost unit producing more than 320 BHP. I for one was not disappointed. Mr Nair continued to outline what we can expect from this AWD beast before confirming this new Focus RS would be available to buy around the world, the first time an RS has been offered as a truly global car. Big news indeed, this could also be a great thing for the RS Owners Club given the modern times we live in, imagine having branches of the RSOC in new territories such as North America or Asia? Raj Nair continued his presentation explaining some of the new technologies and how the new Focus RS fitted into Fords global programme, expressing his knowledge of a typical performance car buyer and acknowledging the fact the RS brand is desirable and collectable, he also mentioned the newly formed Ford Performance Operation. An umbrella for all Ford Performance products from the Fiesta ST right up to the recently unveiled GT40 with the RS in between, it also encapsulates Ford Racing.
The presentation was closed by Jim Farley, Ford of Europe President and CEO. Mr Farley gave special thanks to the RS owners that were in attendance before announcing that the Saarlouis Plant will be the global manufacturing home for the new model, he went on to explain the importance of the RS brand to Ford, he also spoke of the new Mustang that has been launched in Europe for the first time in its 50 year history plus the promise of more new products going forward. Before leaving the stage Jim Farley introduced a final film, a documentary telling the inside story of the development of the new Focus RS, look out for it on you tube, it’s called Ford Focus RS, Rebirth of an Icon. I believe it will be released in instalments and looks really interesting. That was it a 35 minute unveil show was wrapped up with an invite to the audience to take to the floor so they could get up close to the new car.
I made my way to the floor where I jostled for position with seasoned hacks so I could get some close ups for myself, as you would expect it was very crowded around the car with flashes going off and presenter doing live pieces to camera for Internet TV channels, we wasn’t allowed to touch the car or take photos of the underneath so I got the shots I could then made my to where I had seen the prototype disappear in the hope to get a sneaky shot of that but alas it had been cover by a black sheet and the area was strictly off limits. I made my was back to where journalists were gathered at the front of the car, they were waiting their turn to interview the Ford representatives and of course Ken Block who had made his way out from backstage. I found my companion Kevin who was chatting to Paul Swift and Paul Wilson if I remember correctly, I was asked if I was impressed and enjoying myself, a big thumbs up came back from me. Kevin suggested that we try and present the main stars of the show with a copy of Rallye News and grab a quick photo for posterity. Kev was very adept at this he managed to get photos with Ken Block himself, Raj Nair and Jim Farley, Mr Farley flicked through our mag whilst chatting to us and expressed an interest in our range of merchandise, we made an offer of supplying him with some items if he found something particular he liked the look of, he gracefully accepted our offer and happily stood with Kevin for a pic. (As yet Mr Farley has not contacted us in regards to our offer.)
Our visit to the Cologne factory was drawing to a close, the media were busy writing their articles for the various websites and publications the were representing, other guests including myself spent some time getting snap shots of the cars presented earlier that had now been parked amongst the other display RS’s until it was time for us to board our coach for the return to the airport and onward home, not forgetting to pick up a baseball cap and poster on the way out.
We found ourselves back at the airport with some time to kill as the delays had continued all day. Myself and Kevin spent some time chatting between ourselves and Paul Swift before boarding our commuter plane back to Stansted. What a day! This trip had defiantly the stand out highlight of my time owning an RS, I could never imagined when I bought my Sapphire Cosworth 4×4 back in 2000 that I would end up being at the global launch of an RS 15 years later, saying that I could never have imagined myself as a Local Group Chair or a member of the National Committee but here I am. I’d like to finish my own article by saying thank you to Ford for their hospitality and my fellow members of the Committee for allowing me to represent you the members at such and important event, I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope you enjoyed reading my story.
RS owners Club Rallye News Editor UK.