The Car in the Lobby: Prodrive Ford Mondeo
At Motorsport UK’s Bicester headquarters in the heart of ‘Motorsport Valley’, a regular cycle of cars, kindly offered by their owners, are proudly displayed in the lobby.
Every car displayed has its own unique story and, through this new content series, we will profile the cars that pass through our lobby on our website and dedicated Instagram account – http://www.instagram.com/carinthelobby/. If you’re visiting Motorsport UK, get involved on social media using the hashtag #carinthelobby.
In this edition, we profile the Prodrive-built Ford Mondeo that powered Alain Menu to the second of his British Touring Car Championship titles in 2000, bringing down the curtain on the much-loved Super Touring era.
“It’s probably an obvious thing to say, but I’ve got very nice memories of that car, that era, the team at Prodrive and my team-mates,” reminisces Menu, kicking off our conversation. “Everything was pretty much perfect, actually. So that year  was the second for the Ford Mondeo, and the first year was quite tough because previously, the last few years before that, the Mondeo was not very competitive.”
A sleeping giant awakens
Rewind to the end of 1998, and a straight swap occurred between two of the UK’s leading motorsport outfits, Prodrive and West Surrey Racing, the former taking on the manufacturer-backed Ford team in the BTCC with the latter switching to Honda. Although the Mondeo had enjoyed numerous race-winning outings since its introduction in 1993, its potential was yet to be fully realised.
“It [the Mondeo] used to be competitive in the early nineties, ‘93, ‘94, but then they lost their way a bit,” explains Menu. “So, when Prodrive got it, they re-visited the car completely. But as it transpired, one of the main issues we had in ‘99 and we only found out in the summer was the lack of rear downforce. And it made the car very tricky. The car was very ‘on the nose’.
“So, they put all that experience and knowledge into the 2000 car. I don’t know if it was the best car on the grid initially, but it was definitely the ‘ultimate’ Super Touring car. It was fantastic and both the engine and the noise of it was so nice. All in all, the car was competitive everywhere.”
Assembling a super team
The signing of 1997 champion Alain Menu and 1998 runner-up Anthony Reid was a statement of intent for the new Prodrive-run operation, and one year later after a spell of development, coupled with some innovative engineering, ’98 champion Rickard Rydell was loaned by Volvo to complete one of, if not the, most formidable driver line-up in the championship’s history.
Finally, Ford Team Mondeo headed into the new millennium with the potential to challenge for championship honours.
“I don’t know if it’s happened before or since, to be honest,” Menu admits, discussing the strength of the line-up. “All credit to the team and the management and also to an extent to the drivers. We always had a very good relationship.
“Even though we were really fighting, like tooth and nail, we didn’t fall out. There was no argument. I think there was like a little bit of an incident at one point between Rickard and ‘Max’, as we called Anthony.
“But even that, I think that was discussed after the race and there were no issues, really. But it was tough, though, because Max and Rickard were very quick, competitive, and experienced drivers and they all wanted to win as much as I did. But you had to be at your very best to beat those two.”
Delivering on a title-winning package
Three victories from the opening four rounds set the tone for Menu’s charge toward a second title, but the consistent, podium-scoring form of Reid brought the Scot back into contention as the season wore on. Rydell was the undisputed ‘man to beat’ in qualifying with an unparalleled nine pole positions, but a combination of mechanical issues and incidents on-track had blighted his chances.
That left it to a two-horse race between Menu and Reid, with the Scot ahead going into the final race at Silverstone. Reid’s campaign ultimately came undone, however, when a collision with Vincent Radermecker’s Vauxhall on the penultimate lap of the season finale forced him into retirement, and Menu’s third-placed finish secured him the crown by a slender two-point margin.
The team won the Manufacturers’ title at a canter, with over 100 points back to second-placed Honda, and also added the Teams’ title to make it an emphatic hat-trick, the culmination of both the Super Touring era, and two years of hard work.
Behind the wheel of an icon
To this day, the Mondeo, complete in it’s distinctive blue-and-yellow, Rapid Fit-sponsored livery, is among the best-loved and most recognisable touring cars of all time.
For Menu, it was also among the best examples of a fully developed racing car, given its status as the last guard of the Super Touring regulations.
“The main thing with Super Touring, and especially that 2000-spec Mondeo, it was the last year of the regulations, so it was almost a fully developed car. I don’t think they could have done much more to it,” he says.
“It was hard to go for the last few tenths because it was a very responsive car. It was tricky on the limit, especially in the fast corners, because although you had some downforce and it was working, in the races you still had to set the car up so the rear was a bit nervous to look after the front tyres.
“But the braking, turning in, the front end. I keep talking about downforce, and in some ways it’s a bit weird on a touring car, but it was working and even the front splitter was working, so it gave you good grip in the fast and medium corners. A very efficient car, but tricky to go for the last tenth or two, and I think that’s where the top drivers were making the difference.”
Chassis: Unitary steel
Suspension: McPherson struts
Engine: Cosworth, V6, 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated, 305BHP
Gearbox: XTrac, 6-speed sequential
Wheels: 19 x 9-inch magnesium O.Z. racing wheels