By Matthew Agius

Prodrive's Australian racing branch, Ford Performance Racing, has confirmed its spilt from foundation partner Caterpillar as of the conclusion of the 2006 V8 Supercar Championship Series, further adding to questions raised over the changing sponsorship scene at the Broadmeadows operation.

Having sponsored the #6 Ford Performance Racing BA Falcon since the team's initiation to V8 Supercars in at the 2003 Fosters Australian Formula One Grand Prix, Caterpillar will full withdraw from Ford's new force in the premier class of Aussie Touring Cars.

It was originally anticipated that Caterpillar would continue to back the lead FPR Falcon into 2007, despite the second major driver loss to the team in two years. However despite a supposedly high profiled drive being signed to drive the lead Falcon out of the Broadmeadows operation in 2007, negotiations between CAT and FPR have broken down.

Team Commercial Director Rod Barrett noted the difficulty with separating from such a loyal and high profile sponsor, however thanked the company for its four-year commitment to the flagship Ford operation.

"It was an extremely difficult decision for FPR to part with the CAT team, and one that took some time to reach. We thank Caterpillar for the long term contribution that the company has made to the establishment and development of FPR into a front running team during this mutually successful marketing partnership."

The CAT Falcon has become a notorious unit in V8 Supercar racing. At the inception of Ford Performance Racing in 2003, a high-profile former champion in Craig Lowndes was signed to pilot Ford's newest championship hope. However after reliability issues plagued the team in 2004, Lowndes switched to Prodrive's arch-rivals in Triple Eight Race Engineering before Jason Bright, the 1998 Bathurst winner, joined as replacement for 2005. It was announced this year that Bright would move to his own operation for 2007, leaving a gap at the ultra-competitive factory operation for next year.

Steven Richards is tipped to make the jump from Holden to Ford and drive the Caterpillar Falcon next year, however current boss Larry Perkins is likely to disallow any contract announcements until New Year's Eve, as he did with Russell Ingall when he jumped from Perkins Engineering to Stone Brothers on January 1 2003.

Ford Performance Racing appears to have been plagued by sponsorship woes this year. At the team's launch at the start of the season, the resplendent Ford Credit Falcon was left without a joint sponsor. In its four years in the championship, the car has had as many sponsorship alterations as it has driver changes.

When Glenn Seton debuted the car in 2003, it was fully sponsored by Ford Credit, and this arrangement continued into 2004. However with a driver swap in 2005, Greg Ritter joined the team, and so did Ford Performance Vehicles sponsorship on the side of the car. Surprisingly this FPV signage disappeared this year when Mark Winterbottom joined forces. It was replaced by GT stickers - obviously a new target for the FPV brand, but punters still raised questions on the gap left unfilled at the season launch. BroadIP joined forces with the team as of Barbagallo, but soon disappeared at Sandown, with not so much as a whisper from FPR as to why.

Regardless, the #5 Falcon has gone back to having big gold GT sponsorship on its side doors, but nonetheless fans of the factory fraternity will keenly anticipate the unveiling of the team's 2007 Falcons.

The team should have no trouble gaining a new sponsor for the #6 Falcon, especially if team bosses throw a name such as Steve Richards into negotiations, however the total departure of Caterpillar from the team after such good performance this year is surprising. At this stage it is unclear whether the company will continue sponsorship opportunities in V8 Supercars.

But at least the stickers on your car don't determine how fast you go...