Ford have announced that one of Portugal's most successful rally drivers, Rui Madeira, will be contesting the Rally of Portugal [16-18 March] at the wheel of a Focus WRC.

The 31-year old from Almada, visited England recently to test a Focus WRC rally car at M-Sport's private test facility near Dovenby Hall, the home of the Ford Martini World Rally team. Madeira will go on to enter the Focus in all rounds of the Portuguese National Rally Championship.

After a cockpit briefing with British Focus driver Mark Higgins, Madeira piloted the four-wheel drive, 300 bhp Focus test car to speeds of almost 160 kph during his Cumbria test despite the narrow, twisting course and the near-freezing temperatures.

"This Ford is a super car to drive," enthused Madeira. "The handling is so good and so responsive that straight away you feel 'at home' in the rally car. The chassis felt like you could tune its characteristics to suit particular events and I am impatient to see how it drives on a real rally stage. The brakes are certainly powerful. But for me the most outstanding impression was the plentiful power and torque of the Cosworth engine, and the user-friendly nature of the whole driving experience."

Rui Madeira is a hugely experienced rally driver and double-national champion with Group N 'showroom' specification rally cars. He was winner of the FIA World Cup for Group N in 1995 with class triumphs in Portugal, Corsica, Spain and Britain piloting a four-wheel drive Lancer.

His rally victories include the Rally of Thailand and his home event in Portugal. He has scored numerous top-10 places on world rallies in Argentina, Greece, Finland, Spain and Portugal.

Madeira will return to Cumbria next Saturday, 3 March, to shakedown his new Focus rally car by tackling some stages of the Malcolm Wilson Rally, prior to entering his country's round of the FIA World Rally Championship.