The BP Ford World Rally
Team has confirmed, as expected, that Jari-Matti Latvala
will join the M-Sport-run outfit next season, alongside Mikko Hirvonen.
Although Ford conceded that the retirement of team leader Marcus Gronholm posed 'quite a challenge', the 'Blue Oval' is confident that Hirvonen has what it takes to lead the squad in 2008.
Speaking following the announcement, BP Ford
team director, Malcolm Wilson added that Latvala is ready to step up to the 'A' team.
"I would like to thank Stobart
for their commitment to run Jari-Matti this year. He has gained confidence by the day and has developed into the most promising driver in the WRC this season," said Wilson.
"His performances on the second half of the season put him in pole position for the drive. Knowing that he will now be doing a large part of the testing, gives me confidence that his performance will only improve.
"Marcus and Mikko have worked wonderfully together and I hope that Mikko will pass on to Jari-Matti the experience he has learned. If I look back, I'm proud to say that they both came to M-Sport for evaluation five years ago and now they are going to be partnered for the 2008 season."
Ian Slater, vice president communications of Ford of Europe and Premium Automotive Group, meanwhile is convinced that Mikko and Jari will form a formidable duo.
"Ford of Europe is planning for a long-term success in the WRC. Our young but experienced team, with Mikko Hirvonen
and Jari-Matti Latvala, is a clear statement of intent," he continued.
"We believe these two young Finns will become stars of the sport and we're delighted to offer them the opportunity to grow and develop with Ford over the next few season, while providing all-important stability and consistency within the team.
"Jari-Matti is only 22, but already he has started more than 50 WRC events and his level of experience is higher than many older drivers. He has developed greatly under Malcolm's guidance in a privately-entered Focus RS World Rally
Car during the past two seasons. Towards the end of the 2007 season Jari-Matti has shown he is ready to step up to a full works drive: witness his outstanding third place in Rally Ireland last month. They will debut for us in January's Monte Carlo Rally."