Ford announces BTCC pull-out

Ford is pulling out of the British Touring Car Championship - after its most successful season for a decade

Ford announces BTCC pull-out

The Blue Oval has been involved in the series to a greater or lesser extent for 40 years and is easily its most successful marque, with 218 outright wins to its name to date. Its decision to withdraw, though not entirely unexpected, is therefore a big blow to the series as its new promoters try to revive it under new rules for 2001.

"With an all-new Mondeo about to go on sale and the championship already won, now is a good time to pause, reflect on our success and make the most appropriate decisions with regard to any future racing plans," said Ford of Britain's director of marketing John Mendel.

The decision to re-position the championship to appeal to a more youthful audience and so encourage manufacturers to field smaller cars - like the Astra Coupe which Vauxhall is already committed to using - seems to have backfired as far as Ford is concerned.

"New BTCC rules for 2001 favour smaller class cars, such as the Ford Focus," continued Mendel. "Ford Focus is currently competing for the World Rally Championship title, so it is not appropriate for the [Focus] brand to enter the BTCC."

Works Mondeos have been an ever-present in the BTCC since the middle of the 1993 season and have notched up numerous race wins, including Paul Radisich's pair of FIA World Cup victories, however it was not until this year that a championship-winning programme was put together.

The manufacturers' crown is already in the bag for Ford and now only its three works drivers - Alain Menu, Anthony Reid and Rickard Rydell can win the drivers' title. Ford's last pre-Mondeo title was Robb Gravett's with the RS500 Sierra in 1990.

Hopes of a Ford group presence in the 2001 BTCC now rest on low-key
team-initiated efforts with a development of the Super Production Focus which went so well on its Class B debut at Oulton Park last weekend, or a return to the series by Volvo, which is believed to want to revive its motorsport activities.

The new rules do not obviously fit in well with Volvo's range either, but its successful use of the bulky 850 in the series from 1994 to 1996 proved the Swedish marque is not afraid to buck convention.

Ford's decision leaves the series in real need of a prompt commitment from another major manufacturer to stem the tide of bad news. Of the six marques which contested the 1999 BTCC only one - Vauxhall - will still be around in 2001. The Luton marque is the only one to have made a firm pledge to run cars, though Peugeot has signalled a strong intention to do so and Rover is widely believed to be close to announcing a programme with MG-badged saloons.

There remain hopes that Alfa Romeo and Toyota will also become involved, though Honda is now thought likely to follow Ford's lead and take a break from the series.

The series' new prime mover Rob Bain has pledged to do all that is necessary to ensure big grids for the BTCC in 2001, and details of a privateer support package are expected to be announced shortly.

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