Sebastien Ogier has called an end to speculation he might retire from the World Rally Championship by signing a fresh deal to stay with M-Sport Ford for a title defence in 2018 and is joined by Elfyn Evans who replaces Toyota-bound Ott Tanak in the first team.

The five-time reigning WRC champion had considered leaving the sport at the end of 2017 but is ready to return to action next season with a new one-year deal to see him remain at the Cumbrian-based squad. Ogier helped M-Sport clinch the World Rally Championship Constructors’ title last year along with his fifth-straight drivers’ crown.

After inking a new deal Ogier underlined his emotional attachment to WRC and has been enthused by the passion from M-Sport to defend its titles together in 2018.

“It’s great to finally announce our plans for 2018,” Ogier said. “What we have achieved together has been truly amazing, and we want to see that continue – to continue this fantastic journey and to defend all that we have achieved together.

“This season has been very exciting with some of the closest-fought competition for years. As a driver, I definitely want to be a part of that. I still get a lot of emotion from this sport, and this team has so much passion. That made my decision clear, and we will work hard to chase more success together next year.”

Ogier will be joined by Evans who returns to the top M-Sport squad for the first time since 2015 after impressive for the DMACK Ford team this season on his way to fifth place in the drivers’ championship plus his maiden victory which came on home soil at Wales Rally GB.

Evans is thrilled to return and is eager to build on the success for this year to mount a sustained challenge for event wins in 2018.

“After a fantastic season for the whole team, it’s great that we’ll be a part of it again next year,” Evans said. “After getting that first victory under our belts, we’re ready to take the next step and I think we all have another exciting season ahead of us.

“Honestly, I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel and Rallye Monte-Carlo can’t come soon enough. We’ll be working hard over the Christmas break to ensure we’re fully prepared, and the goal will be to build on the success of this year.”

M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson is delighted to secure his 2018 driver line-up after months of negotiations and is confident he’s locked down an overall package which can defend its world titles.

“To have secured both Sebastien and Elfyn is brilliant news for the team,” Wilson said. “We’ve been working towards this goal for some time, so to finally have it confirmed is fantastic and means that we can now focus our attention on the continued development ahead of next season.

“In Sebastien and Elfyn, we have a strong chance of defending our titles. It won’t be easy. Our rivals certainly won’t have sat still and I’m expecting an even closer battle for the championship, but with these two crews we have a good chance. They’re both very intelligent drivers. There is no doubting their speed, but they also have a masterful approach to strategy that delivers results time after time.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be confident of adding to our success next year and – seeing the reaction of the team this afternoon – I know that everyone will continue to give 110 percent.”

M-Sport also confirmed a third WRC driver pairing will be announced in the coming weeks alongside Ogier and Evans for 2018.