Ford today confirmed its participation in the FIA World Rally Championship for the 2004 season and strengthened its relationship with M-Sport.

Ford will retain overall control of the programme while M-Sport, the British-based team which has successfully handled the Blue Oval's world rallying programme since 1997, will assume larger day-to-day responsibility in the title bid.

Jost Capito, director of Ford Team RS, which is responsible for the company's motorsport operations in Europe, said: "I'm delighted to confirm that the famous Blue Oval will be competing in the WRC next season. We displayed to everyone this year the competitiveness of both the Focus RS World Rally Car and our young drivers. I'm sure we are a strong contender for the title.

"I'm also delighted that M-Sport, our long-standing partner in the WRC, will continue to carry the flag for us in 2004 and equally happy that we will retain the support of BP. The strengthening of our relationship with M-Sport is in recognition of the success of our partnership, of Ford's confidence in Malcolm Wilson and his highly professional team there, and in our ability together to achieve a more cost-effective way of keeping Ford in the sport at the highest level of competitiveness."

"During next season we will assess with great interest the anticipated growth of both the championship and global television coverage. We need to monitor carefully the net value to Ford from participating in the series. Rallying reflects the personality of our brand. It also reflects the dependability of our products and provides an effective and exciting way of attracting customers to the Focus and our entire product range," added Capito.

M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson said he was delighted the Ford name would be in the WRC for 2004.

"Ford has one of the great heritages in motorsport, especially rallying, and it is important to preserve this. But it is equally important to realise that we will not simply be making up the numbers. We will go into next year's championship with a two-car team to win. In Markko Martin and Francois Duval we have a strong driver line-up and we have improved the performance of the Ford Focus RS WRC to the point where we can win any rally, on any surface.

"Now we want to build on the foundations we have laid over the past seven seasons to build a strong title challenge in 2004. I believe the Ford / M-Sport partnership has the ability to do that. This decision is confirmation of the importance Ford places in the WRC and also an endorsement of M-Sport's achievements in running the Blue Oval's rally programme to date," added Wilson.

"This decision marks an important step for Ford and M-Sport," continued Derrick Kuzak, vice-president of Product Development for Ford of Europe. "I'm delighted the Ford brand will be seen in the WRC in 2004 and equally happy that we have been able to strengthen the already fantastic relationship that we have with M-Sport."



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