Thursday | 05 Aug 2021

Onboard M-Sport Ford's all-new pouncing Puma hybrid

If I’m honest, there are elements of the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team that would have very much preferred a Jason Bourne-type scenario for my ride in the team’s hybrid-era Puma Rally1 prototype at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed last month, writes guest columnist David Evans.

And this has nothing to do with a car chase. Or espionage of any kind. It’s all about the memory loss.

This story of a ride in the WRC’s first 2022 hybrid-powered car to appear in public would normally come with a decent-sized picture of me grinning straight down the lens. Not this time. Our photographer stepped forward and was intercepted by the team’s senior engineer Tim Jackson.

“We’d rather not have any pictures of the inside of the car,” said Jackson.

And when he said “We’d rather not” what he actually meant was “Don’t even think about it.”

This car is that secret. Soon as I was in, the HANS device was clipped on, partly to look after me in the event of Adrien Fourmaux dropping this most precious of motors and partly to keep my eyes front.

In all honesty, the dash area looked very similar to the current Festa World Rally Car – which isn’t surprising given that this remains very much a test car, the original test car which has been partly remodelled into a Puma prototype.

The first thing you notice from the outside is that it looks a fair bit bigger than the Fiesta it replaces. It’s based on the Puma, which in road car form is both wider and longer than the Fiesta it replaces.

But don’t forget, we’re looking towards 2022, which means scalable tubular chassis. The road car dimensions are a guide, but they don’t set the rally car’s size in stone.

Getting into the Puma isn’t the work of a moment. One of the features of the new safety cell included in all 2022 Rally1 cars is a vertical section of roll cage to further enhance side-impact protection. It’s a challenge to get around it first time, but once nestled into the seat, I’ve never felt safer in a car.

It’s the same once we’re away and off the line. Unfortunately, the fine sunshine which drenched Britain’s south coast has broken and the rain’s falling steadily when Fourmaux lines us up at the start of the famous hillclimb.

We’re on Pirelli’s softest wet weather tyre and the grip – both mechanical and compound – off the line is hugely impressive. The first right hander is despatched in the blink of an eye, but I take a slightly longer blink at the second corner. Fearing Fourmmaux has been overly generous with the beans, I open my eyes to find us powering under the bridge at 160kph.

“This is not a day to crash the car,” said Fourmaux. “It’s never a good day, of course it’s not, but today is really not a good day with this car.”

I couldn’t agree more. Not only because this is the only prototype Puma Rally1 and because Jim Farley, Ford’s CEO has just landed into Goodwood to take a look at his Blue Oval baby.

Goodwood’s hill is a mile and a bit long and contains just a handful of corners. It’s totally unrepresentative of anything the car will tackle in next year’s World Rally Championship, but it’s the perfect place for M-Sport Ford to make history.

With the eyes of the world on the Duke of Richmond’s front lawn, Fourmaux and the Ford are mighty impressive.

As well as close to 400 horses produced via internal combustion, the addition 100kW of battery power provided a stunning insight into what’s going to be possible with these cars next year. Even with the traction so limited on a wet road, the power, torque and acceleration were stunning.

The future’s bright. Very. Bright.

The rest? Sorry. I’ve forgotten everything.

More news