Ford commits to WRC future

Ford has confirmed that it will remain in the World Rally Championship in 2004, countering speculation that it would pull-out due to the increase in rounds and necessary funding

Ford commits to WRC future

The news will also have the knock-on effect of helping Colin McRae's bid to land the second Subaru drive, as it rules Ford ace Markko Martin out of the equation. Martin seems certain to stay with Ford, alongside young Belgian Francois Duval.

Ford will retain overall control of the programme while M-Sport, the British-based team that has handled the Blue Oval's world rallying effort since 1997, will assume larger, day-to-day responsibility in the title bid.

"I'm delighted to confirm that the famous Blue Oval will be competing in the WRC next season," said Jost Capito, director of Ford Team RS. "We displayed to everyone this year the competitiveness of both the Focus RS World Rally Car and our young drivers. I'm sure we are a strong contender for the title.

"I'm also delighted that M-Sport, our long-standing partner in the WRC, will continue to carry the flag for us in 2004 and equally happy that we will retain the support of BP. The strengthening of our relationship with M-Sport is in recognition of the success of our partnership, of Ford's confidence in Malcolm Wilson and his highly professional team there, and in our ability together to achieve a more cost-effective way of keeping Ford in the sport at the highest level of competitiveness.

M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson said he was delighted that Ford would stay in the WRC for 2004.

"Ford has one of the great heritages in motorsport, especially rallying, and it is important to preserve this. But it is equally important to realise that we will not simply be making up the numbers. We will go into next year's championship with a two-car team to win. In Markko Märtin and François Duval we have a strong driver line-up and we have improved the performance of the Ford Focus RS WRC to the point where we can win any rally, on any surface.

"Now we want to build on the foundations we have laid over the past seven seasons to build a strong title challenge in 2004. I believe the Ford/M-Sport partnership has the ability to do that. This decision is confirmation of the importance Ford places in the WRC and also an endorsement of M-Sport's achievements in running the Blue Oval's rally programme to date."

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