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GP Week : Issue 172
23 GPWEEK.com // 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: A top FIA official once told me that the international sporting federation regarded two manufacturers as representing the core of motor sport – one was Ferrari, the other was Ford. Ford has been the manufacturer with quite the longest support for rallying. They began by supporting private competitors in the sport in the 1950s, enabling successes by private drivers with cars such as side-valve Anglias and V8 Pilots. An official competition workshop was set up in 1953 in the outskirts of London at the Great West Road, and the company achieved outright victory in Monte Carlo that year with a Zephyr followed by victory in 1955 on the Safari Rally in East Africa. From that moment the scene was set. Along came the Anglia 105Es, followed by Cortinas of various forms and then Escorts in many more different guises. In 1955 the Ford company in Britain acquired the old US airfield and more recently a motor racing race track at Boreham, Essex, and in 1963 they installed a permanent competition base there. That lasted more than 40 years. In 1996 the decision was taken, amid growing difficulties, to impose the 24/7 demands of international competition onto a corporate department, to close this facility. At that point the rally competition work was moved to the independent M-Sport company in north-west England. Ford were frequently at the very top of the game, clinching the two inaugural official manufacturer rally titles in 1968 and 1969 and when the world rally championship was launched in 1973, the Ford team cars were regular contenders, winning the world title in 1979. In earlier years there was no compulsory championship registration formalities. This meant that manufacturers could pick and choose events they wanted to do, which types of cars to use, which drivers to run, whether to enter events at the highest level or concentrate on sport at lower levels. The annual motorsport press conference was a major highlight in the sport. In this environment the sporting policies of the company moved around according to circumstance, but when it was decided not to operate an official works rally team after their championship title in 1979 it was a shock, but there were reasons – at this time there was a major upheaval in the sport. Although not directly involved in championship activities, Ford embarked on a series of experimental projects, notably the Escort RS1700 Turbo, aimed at forming the basis of an impending return to world championship competition. Their return finally came with the RS200 project in the mid-80s, late in the abbreviated life of the Group B era, but the sudden change of regulations brought a sudden switch of objectives. The new Group A era was thrust on them. Suddenly for Ford this became the era of the Sierra and then the Escort. Ford stayed in this operation through to the mid-'90s when the team operation at Boreham came to an end, and the Essex facility became a grand gravel extraction site. Ford has come, gone and come back again whenever the occasion has been appropriate, but the underlying policy of approval of motorsport, including rallying, has never wavered. The only variable factor was the opportunity and the availability of funding to support the sport at the highest level. Each manufacturer is engaged with different objectives in mind. Ford has one overriding objective, which is making their cars available for use in the sport. No other major manufacturer has approached Ford in this respect – sometimes half the entry for a world championship event has come from the same source. At the latest count, Ford have rally cars available for competition in Groups R1, R2, both in two-door and four-door form, 2-litre S2000,1.6 turbo S2000 and World Rally Cars, with R5 just around the corner – a wider range than any other manufacturer. That objective is not going to disappear because the works team will not be competing in 2013. It will be disappointing not to have a registered official Ford team in the WRC in 2013; it will certainly create a few missed heartbeats among professional rally drivers, but life will continue. Ford will still be in the centre of the sport. And a final thought: the end of an official works rally team is not the end of the world. It was two years after the 1979 withdrawal that Ari Vatanen won the 1981 world drivers championship, in a Ford. OPINION MARTIN HOLMES Rally Editor A SHAME – BUT NOT THE END OF THE WORLD OPINION