As reported here last week, the Subaru World Rally Team has spirited Petter Solberg away from rivals Ford, pairing him with Richard Burns and its other new signing Markko Martin next season.

Although exact programmes for either driver have yet to be fully outlined, both are expected to play their part in helping Burns towards next year's championship title, as well as furthering their own WRC experience. Subaru and Prodrive, which runs the team from its Banbury base, see Solberg and Martin as the next prospects to emerge from the academy which has already put both Burns and Ford's Colin McRae on the road to the top after being selected as promising youngsters.

Solberg's move to Subaru, although rumoured, was understood to be all but impossible as he appeared to have a long-standing agreement with Ford. However, as the Norwegian media was quick to report last week, the Blue Oval lingered just long enough in taking up an option on its third driver for Subaru to steal him away.

''I'm really looking forward to getting the chance of a seat with the Subaru team,'' a delighted Solberg said, ''The last year has been a very useful learning process for me. I've had a good time at Ford, and I'm very grateful for their assistance, but I think I'm ready now to take on a more significant role in a team.

''Perhaps some people think that I'm a bit young to so this, but I'm not rushing. I'm going to take things calmly, step-by-step, get used to the car and make the most of the opportunity.''

Like his new team-mate, Martin has long been tipped for greater things and, despite his limited experience on the world scene, has already attracted the attention of several top teams. Until Subaru moved to snap the Estonian up, however, he has been left to compete in privateer machinery, and currently campaigns a Toyota Corolla WRC on selected championship events.

''I'm delighted to have the opportunity to develop my career with the help of Subaru,'' he admitted, ''It's a great honour to be picked to drive for one of the world's top rally teams.''

Both Solberg and Martin will see out their current campaigns before transferring to Subaru over the winter. The team, however, can't wait to get its hands on what it regards as the two hottest young properties in the sport.

''I firmly believe that this driver line-up gives us the strongest team in the WRC,'' claimed team principal David Lapworth, ''It is the perfect combination of the youth of and enthusiasm of Petter and Markko, the brilliance of Burns and the enormous experience of [Juha] Kankkunen.''

Veteran Kankkunen will continue to be involved with the team he has represented for the past two years. The four-time world champion will be retained to provide experience to what will become one of the youngest works squads in the WRC. He has already decided not to contest the tarmac rounds of next year's series, however, and will be replaced by Frenchman Simon Jean-Joseph on similar events later this year.