Ford's pioneering Rally Academy, designed to identify and develop stars of the future, will undergo major changes for 2004.

The Academy will be operated by British-based company BR Racing and an inaugural championship will be introduced to teach and encourage driving and mechanical skills in youngsters aged 13 to 17.

After a highly successful first year in 2003, during which more than 50 boys and girls completed a professional rally training programme aimed at giving them early experience of the basics of the sport, the FordRST Rally Academy 2004 will be bigger and better.

BR Racing, currently based in Stansted, Hertfordshire, will take over responsibility for both the Academy and the new FordRST Rally Championship. The championship will consist of 10 rounds at venues throughout the United Kingdom and will be open to all graduates of the Academy itself. The vehicles used at both the Academy and in the championship will be the exciting purpose-built Ford Rallye Sport Trainers (RST).

The Academy will receive full support from the Welsh Development Agency. The Agency is also providing further backing to Ford's Ladder of Opportunity programme, aimed at taking talented drivers from the grass roots of rallying to world championship level, by setting up a centre of excellence in south Wales.

In 2004 the Academy will operate mainly from Wales with other venues to be confirmed in the United Kingdom. All the events will take place during school holidays. In addition to driving exercises and on-track work, young drivers will have an introduction to co-driving and how to make pace notes. Experienced rally instructors will sit alongside pupils during driving exercises and act as the navigator during on-track activities.

Each championship event will replicate a normal rally with the format including scrutineering, signing on and time penalties to test the young drivers. Written tests and vehicle fault finding will also be included with each element carrying a points tally to be added to a driver's best eight times from the 10 rounds to produce a final points total. The championship, like the Academy, will operate mainly from Wales, the home of the Rally Great Britain.

"We have been delighted with the Academy students' progress in the first year," said BR Racing director Peter Beattie. "It provides youngsters with a crucial head start in the sport by enabling them to learn and compete in rallying up to three years earlier than is currently possible. BR Racing has exciting plans for 2004, notably the FordRST Rally Championship which will build self-confidence and provide encouragement in a practical and safe environment."



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