Ford Sign Gronholm for 2006

Ford have surprised the rallying world by signing Marcus Gronholm to lead their World Rally Championship assault for the next two seasons

Ford Sign Gronholm for 2006

With Gronholm's current team Peugeot quitting the sport at the end of this season, it had been thought that the Finn would sign for a privateer effort next season in readiness for a possible return of a works Citroen team in 2007. However, the double World Champion will drive the blue oval's new Focus RS WRC in 2006.

However Ford have lured Gronholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen to leave Peugeot after driving with the team for seven seasons. Both Peugeot and Citroen are withdrawing at the end of the year.

They will make their Ford debut in January's Monte Carlo Rally, the opening round of the 2006 series.

Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson said the agreement with Gronholm was a major boost in the build-up to the 2006 season.

He said: "My priority was to sign a driver of the highest calibre, and clearly Marcus Gronholm is that driver. His experience of the sport at its highest level will prove invaluable as we continue to develop the new Focus RS WRC. He is one of the sport's very fastest and most reliable drivers and his appetite for success remains as large now as it was at the beginning of his distinguished career.

"A signing of this calibre proves how seriously Ford is taking its commitment to the WRC. And for a driver like Marcus, whose world title ambitions are clear for all to see, to commit to the team for two seasons is a huge confidence boost for all of us."

Gronholm, 37, made his world rally debut in 1989 and has started 115 full world rallies. He has won 18 events, winning the world title in 2000 and 2002. Rautiainen has partnered him in all his successes.

An announcement on Ford's full line-up for next season will be made in due course.

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