Top brass at the Hyundai Motor Company have finalised plans for a 2003 World Rally Championship programme, based on a two-car, 14-round campaign for the Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team.

Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer remain as the contracted drivers and will pilot the Accent WRC3 throughout next year. The Milton Keynes-based team may also run a third car in selected events but, at this stage, no confirmed programme has been decided and no driver/co-driver pairing has been announced. The announcement therefore rules out a full programme for possible Ford refugee Carlos Sainz, who has been in negotiation with Hyundai over a possible switch next year, and Finnish veteran Juha Kankkunen, who drove a third car on occasion in 2002.

"Everyone at the Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team is delighted that the manufacturer has shown this continuing commitment to world championship rallying after what has been a very encouraging year," commented team principal David Whitehead, "By focusing on a two-car team, we will be able to put the maximum effort and resource into further improving our performance and closing the gap to Subaru and Peugeot.

"This year has shown that the team, the drivers and the Accent have the agility, durability and speed to take the fight to the leading teams, and we expect to be challenging for top five placings on a regular basis.

"Our improving performance, after only three years in the WRC category, is a testament to the dedication and skills of everyone in the team and in particular to the drivers who have helped us develop the car to the point where we can take on the Fords and Subarus. Obviously, we want to close the performance gap to Peugeot, and that will be the focus of our development programme during the next twelve months.

"Freddy has shown he has the speed to aim at podium finishes next year, and Armin has proved to be a vital part of our development programme. I would also like to pay a very special tribute to four-time world champion Juha Kankkunen for the tremendous contribution he has made to the team during 2002. Having Juha in the team for the gravel events this year has encouraged everyone to push even harder, and it is typical of his skill and determination that he brought us a points finish on our very first Safari Rally."

Sainz now appears to be left with little option to re-negotiate with Ford or seek a lesser driver elsewhere in order to prolong his WRC career.