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The Escort Kit Car was homologated inBruno Thiery June of 1996, ready to do battle with the likes of Renault’s Maxi Megane. Renault had begun using their kit car in the 1996 season, and had sacrificed the points scoring opportunity in Britain that year to develop the car, meaning they had a head start on many of their rivals.

Kit car regulations were far less strict than the original Group A type, so cars could be much further modified to increase performance. The first glimpse we got in Britain of the potential of the new kit Escort was on the 1996 Manx International Rally. With the British Rally Championship already his, Gwyndaf Evans tested a development Escort on the Manx Gwyndaf Evanslanes in preparation for 1997. The car featured wider front wheel arches, and a development kit engine, producing much more power, indeed, enough for it to be competing directly with Armin Schwarz in a Group A Celica GT4, even beating his stage times on occasion! For 1997, the Escort Kit Car would be used in Britain for the first time, and continue to develop throughout the season.

The differences between the new car and the previous incarnations were obvious from the outside. The regulations allowed much more modification to the body, so the front wings were borrowed from the Escort Cosworth. Rear quarter panels were similar to the 4WD Escort, but much more “agricultural”, with big Daniel Alonsosteps at the front and rear of each panel. The standard type bumpers and skirts were retained, but modified where necessary to suit the new panels. Among the more subtle changes were a bonnet vent to aid cooling, and another headlamp option, though it still retained the single headlight unit and a separate indicator. There was also a controversial new rear wing offered that could replace the standard spoiler used previously. It’s mounting on top of the tailgate certainly split visual opinion, and the increased drag lead to some teams (including GSE in Britain), to revert to the production spoiler instead.

Stephanie SimmoniteInside, the roll cage had been further strengthened with some additional tubing, notably around the door apertures. Otherwise, internally, the cars looked very similar to the Group A variant. However, the new wheel arches meant that there were many changes to the suspension. Development had been ongoing, with numerous parts homologated. A new type of “swivel” rear beam was tried, but was very heavy. The rear track was widened by using alloy spacers behind the rear hubs. At the front, the suspension was broadly similar to before, but the new front wings meant the front wheels could sit further forward, giving a longer wheelbase, and longer TCAs meant a wider track to match the rear. The previously steel compression struts could also be upgraded to machined aluminium items. Wheel size for tarmac rounds was now also able to increase to 18”.

R15 FMCUnder the bonnet, the car retained its six speed sequential gearbox, but, the more relaxed engine regulations meant more horsepower! Figures of 250-270bhp were quoted, depending on the surface; a substantial increase over the Group A car. Mountune had continued engine development, and provided an upgrade package for the new kit car. Internally, the main difference was a new set of stronger connecting rods, though the basic package remained the same otherwise. Kit car regulations meant that the engine no longer had to retain its standard manifolds, so a revised exhaust manifold was fitted, and the factory inlet replaced with a Mountune developed sliding throttle system. This also meant that a revised, carbon fibre, inlet plenum was fitted, along with an updated carbon fibre air box assembly.

Brian DohertyThe new car made its UK debut in 1997, and immediately showed potential. Gwyndaf Evans remained with Ford, taking second on his home event in Wales, and first day honours on the Pirelli, before crashing out on day two. It had predominantly been designed as a gravel car, but was used by numerous crews on tarmac, especially in Europe, where tarmac rallying was so popular, with the likes of Daniel Alonso using the car to battle it out with other kit cars on numerous events across the continent.