COLOGNE, Germany – Ford rally star Jari-Matti Latvala drove a Focus RS in the Nürburgring 24-hour race last weekend. The 25-year-old Finn raced the legendary Nordschleife track in Germany and posted class-leading lap times in his 24-hour race debut.
Latvala, who claimed his third world rally victory in New Zealand the previous weekend, drove a Focus RS prepared by Team FH Köln Motorsport. The team, which was supported by Ford, comprised students from Cologne University of Applied Science who entered and prepared the car.
The team changed the car's engine during the night after the belt drive was damaged by track debris. The time loss ended their challenge for a class victory and the team finished 117th from the 197 starters. But the car's pace matched that of the class leaders and Latvala, who was partnered by Anja Wassertheurer, Daniela Schmid and Stefan Schlesack, completed 29 laps of the 20.8km circuit.
"It was a great experience to race in front of 220,000 fans," he said. "The atmosphere around the track was fantastic, the car worked extremely well and the whole team did an outstanding job. I drove at dusk on Saturday and at dawn on Sunday, but not during the night. That's why I cannot consider myself a true 24-hour race driver yet. There is still a task to be fulfilled …
"After four hours, before we changed the engine, we were in 72nd position and set the fastest lap in our class so it was a shame we had a problem. I drove the final leg and slowed on my last lap so that I reached the finish just after 15.00 and didn't have to drive an extra lap. I was the first car to take the chequered flag – I thought maybe I had won the race!" joked Latvala.
"I will drive four asphalt rallies in the second half of the World Rally Championship season in Bulgaria, Germany, France and Spain. Rally Deutschland, in August, is based quite close to the Nürburgring," he added.
Team manager Jan Derenbach was encouraged by the team's performance. "After the engine's belt drive was damaged by some debris picked up on the track, we had to change the engine during the night. Our mechanics did an outstanding job, completing the task in just three-and-a- half hours. But obviously this forced break sent us a long way down the overall standings. Before and after that our Ford Focus RS ran like clockwork. Looking at our lap times we could have finished at the very front of our class."
Ford's Dirk Densing, the team's chief engineer, praised the efforts of the students, who transformed the Focus RS from road to race car in just six weeks. The team has already claimed two class victories and a third place in three rounds of the Nürburgring Endurance Championship this season.