Skoda Motorsport will field two permanent entries on the 2003 World Rally Championship. The team announced yesterday that it has reached an agreement with former World Champion Didier Auriol to compete alongside Toni Gardemeister on all 14 rallies of the 2003 season.

Petr Kohoutek, Skoda Motorsport Team Director, said: "We are naturally thrilled to have Didier driving one of our Skoda Octavia WRC cars next year. Not only is he the 1994 World Rally Champion, but he brings with him a wealth of experience. This will be vital to the future success of our team.

"We are sure that together with Toni Gardemeister, who has proved himself so often during this season, we have a formidable pairing in place for next year."

Auriol was equally enthusiastic, saying: "It is great to be part of a works team again. I have made a good choice with Skoda Motorsport, because we will make a perfect match. I know I have a lot of experience I can pass on."

Auriol will once more be partnered by long-time co-driver Denis Giraudet, and the duo are looking forward to their first rally with the Skoda Octavia WRC in Monte Carlo next January.

Auriol loves the event, and commented: "This will be a great start to the season. I have won the Rallye Monte Carlo three times, so I think it suits my style of driving."

Toni Gardemeister, who has proved his worth during the 2002 season, will be the up-and-coming talent that complements the experience within the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team. At 27, Gardemeister is still one of the younger drivers, albeit with 47 WRC rallies under his belt.

Gardemeister said: 2I am really looking forward to continuing with Skoda Motorsport. Didier is one of the great drivers of all time and it is fantastic to be in the same team as him again. On top of that, he is a great character and a good companion."

Kenneth Eriksson, who has driven for Skoda Motorsport on every rally this year, is still in discussions with the team over his role in the coming season, as plans for a third works entry have not yet been finalized. Roman Kresta, who has shown enormous potential during his seasons with Skoda Motorsport, will stay with the team both on a national and international level. His program will be finalised later.

SkodaAuto Chairman Vratislav Kulhanek confirmed: "For Skoda, Motorsport is an integral part of our strategy as can be seen from our history. We aim to be successful both in the marketplace and in competition. Therefore I welcome any strengthening of our team in view of our future success."