Day two with the new Ford Focus RS and I'm feeling much more in tune with the car. The road, a challenging twist of tarmac that winds itself across stunning English moorland, is all but devoid of traffic. At a hairpin, I pivot the RS on its nose, lifting an inside rear wheel, as the diff works overtime. But as I crest the next rise, foot the floor, engine resting on its rev-limiter, I'm met with two police cars and eight very stern-looking policemen.
In the United Kingdom, driving enthusiasts are now treated with the kind of suspicion normally reserved for the dictator of a Middle Eastern state, so I pull up and step out, proffering my hands for the 'cuffs.
But instead of shackles, digital cameras are suddenly produced and the officers start posing next to the car.
"This is the new Focus RS, isn't it?" says the first officer.
"So what's it like then mate?" asks another, "I've heard there's a Cossie (Cosworth) version coming in a couple of years."
"Come on, then, take us for a spin, and you don't have to take it easy," says a third.
Next thing I know, I'm blatting across the UK's finest driving roads in arguably the greatest-ever hot hatchback, with three of Her Majesty's officers for company. It turns out they're an armed response unit and they're carrying out some driver training across the moors. One of them even tries to chase me in his Volvo, only to give up after what he later describes as a "moment."
This extraordinary experience epitomizes the public reaction to this car. This is the first RS in nearly a decade and the sense of anticipation was exacerbated by a series of delays. There were times when even Ford insiders questioned whether the car was actually going to happen.
When it was first shown at the British motorshow in November 2000, we were told it would be in production within 13 months. But with 70 percent of the standard Focus being replaced or upgraded, the development times were stretched as the new parts underwent durability tests. The exhaust manifold, in particular, proved problematic as it had a tendency to crack at high temperatures. It has therefore taken 24 months from the show stand to the road, but at last, we're assured, it's spot on.
You can have any color you like as long as it's blue metallic and there are no optional extras. Ford's objective was to stress the exclusiveness of the basic concept (just 30 will be built each day and 4,500 total) and keep the costs low. The RS is priced at 19,995 ($31,040) in the UK, compared with 21,495 ($33,369) for a Subaru Impreza WRX.
Despite the absence of all-wheel drive, the RS has been designed to look and feel as much like McRae's rally car as possible. Most of the suppliers to the rally team, including Brembo, AP Racing, OZ, Sparco and Garrett, have joined the party and the spec list reads like pornography to the determined car spotter. Only the hood, tailgate, doors and roof panel remain unchanged when compared with the standard UK Focus. And there are no whale tail wings or bold EVO VII-style air intakes because the competition car doesn't have them.
The front track is 65mm wider than the standard car and identical to that of the WRC, while the aluminum, 18-inch OZ wheels mimic the magnesium versions fitted to the tarmac-spec rally car.
Step inside and the blue theme continues. Most of the detailing was designed by Sparco, which also supplies the seats to the rally team. The company's name is embroidered beneath the harness cutouts in the headrest and is emblazoned in the center of the rear seat, just to make sure you take the hint.
There's also a preponderance of blue and black striped leather, although the seats feature a strip of alcantara to provide increased lateral support. The chairs feel as good as they look, and the standard Focus' rather upright driving position has been retained.