Francois Delecour has salvaged his World Rally career by signing with Ford for next year's FIA World Rally Championship.

The Frenchman will team up with Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz to provide the Ford Martini squad with one of the strongest driver line-up of all the teams battling for the 2001 titles.

Thirty-eight-year-old Delecour has agreed a one-year contract with Ford with an option for an additional season.

He will contest a minimum of ten World Championship rallies as an official Ford-entered driver, including all events during the first half of the season. He will be co-driven by Daniel Grataloup.

Delecour began his world championship career with Ford in 1991, spending five years with the team. He won three rallies in 1993 in an Escort Cosworth, the first driver to win a world rally in the car, en route to second place in the championship and also won the Monte Carlo Rally for Ford in 1994. He also helped Peugeot win the manufacturers' crown in this season's championship and finished sixth in the drivers' series.

Martin Whitaker, European Director of Ford Racing, said Delecour's signing emphasised Ford's determination to mount a title winning campaign in 2001. "In Colin, Carlos and Fran?ois we have a powerful pan-European team and one which has unrivalled experience at the top level of rallying.

"We're delighted to welcome Fran?ois back to Ford and look forward to him helping the team mount a strong challenge in both the manufacturers' and drivers' championships in 2001," he added.

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson knows Delecour well, having driven alongside him for Ford in the early 1990s. "Fran?ois is a supremely talented driver, at home on either asphalt or gravel and he will be a valuable asset to our world championship programme next year," said Wilson.

Wilson concluded, "I expect him to adapt quickly to the Focus and his experience on the opening round in Monte Carlo, on which he has finished on the podium on five occasions, could help us to lay a solid platform for the year."

Delecour was naturally pleased after being given a second chance in World Rally Competition, saying, "I'm very happy to be rejoining Ford because I've enjoyed some special moments with them during my career and I'm looking forward to testing the Focus for the first time."

"Ford has shown this season that they have a very competitive car and I'm sure a combination of the Focus and Colin, Carlos and myself will be a tough team to beat next year," the Frenchman warned.

"Having Malcolm as my boss will not be a new experience for me." Delecour commented, " I drove a Ford Escort for his private team in 1995 on the Rally of Wales. The professionalism of what was then a small team has been maintained in the impressive facilities I've seen at Ford's base at Dovenby Hall."

The 2001 World Rally Championship begins in Monte Carlo on January 18.

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