Ford is to cease its direct involvement in the World Rally Championship from the end of the current season.
In another major blow to the series following last week’s announcement that Mini/BMW were cutting their factory involvement, Ford Europe vice-president Roelant de Waard said: “Ford have a proud history in the championship but at this time we determined it was better for the company and the Ford brand to reduce our commitment to the WRC and deploy our resources in other areas.”
Ford’s rally programme has been run since 1997 by the British M-Sport organisation based in Cumbria, scoring 52 wins and capturing the the manufacturers' World Championships in 2006 and 2007.
M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson said his company planned to carry on in the championship and talks were taking place over continued vehicle and engineering support from Ford.
“We understand that tough decisions have had to be made but we look forward to continuing our strong technical partnership into the future,” he said.
Wilson gave no indication as to the futures of Ford’s current drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and former World champion Petter Solberg, who is partnered by Ulsterman Chris Patterson.
Northern Ireland’s autotest team, led by British champion Steven Ferguson, regained the international Ken Wharton Trophy at Alcester in Warwickshire.
The team of Ferguson (Mini Special), Sam Bowden (Mini), Ashley Lamont (Westfield) and Mark King (Vauxhall Nova) finished ahead of last year’s champions, the Republic of Ireland, England and Wales.
Ferguson set the individual fastest time of the day ahead of Lamont and Bowden and such was Northern Ireland’s domination that reserve driver Robin Lyons was second fastest, just two-10ths of a second slower than Ferguson.