Today has brought two pieces of good news for the price of one as far as the World Rally Championship is concerned.
The first is that Ford has recommitted for another two seasons of rally competition after several weeks of internal deliberation over whether it would carry on.
It’s a positive development for a championship that would be poorer without the presence of its longest-standing manufacturer. Ford’s withdrawal would also have left the WRC with just Citroën and Mini/Prodrive in the championship as high-profile teams, at least until Volkswagen comes in for 2013.
Today’s announcement is also great for Britain’s motorsport industry, because it brings added security to Malcolm Wilson’s Cumbria-based M-Sport firm, which has operated Ford of Europe’s rally attack since 1997. Although Wilson recently made positive noises about carrying on as an independent if Ford decided not to continue, he’ll sleep easier with the might of the Blue Oval still behind him.
The other welcome aspect of the new deal is that former champion Petter Solberg has signed to partner Jari-Matti Latvala in the team’s Fiesta World Rally Cars.
It’s quite a development: Solberg’s emerging talent was first spotted by Ford back in 1999 and the team gave the Norwegian his break, before he was ‘pinched’ by Subaru in 2000. That didn’t sit well with Ford top brass, including Wilson, who suggested in rather forthright terms that Solberg would never again be welcome in one of his rally cars.
But the new deal makes sense for Ford, which needs an experienced driver as a foil for young, lightning-bolt-fast Latvala. It also serves up the prospect of a re-energised Solberg – who hasn’t won a WRC round since 2005 – going up against WRC dominator Sébastien Loeb, who has won every world title since the Norwegian’s 2003 triumph.
The WRC has taken a bit of a battering in recent weeks, mainly down to uncertainty over Ford’s continued participation and worries over series rights holder North One Sport after its parent company, Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI), went into administration earlier this month.