Belfast Telegraph

Ford’s Ogier move lifts Meeke

By Sammy Hamill

Ford have lobbed a grenade into the generally settled driver pool of the rally World championship.

In a move that may open doors for Ulster’s Intercontinental Challenge champion Kris Meeke, Ford have confirmed they have tabled an offer to Citroen’s rising star Sebastien Ogier.

The 26-year-old, a former junior World champion and recent winner of the Rally of Portugal, is seen as champion Sebastien Loeb’s natural successor at Citroen. Indeed, he has recently been promoted to partner Loeb in the senior team for the remaining WRC gravel rallies next season, displacing long-time No.2 Dani Sordo.

But Ogier, who has a niche Irish following after his appearances on the Ulster Rally and Rally Ireland in recent years, is out of contract at the end of this season and Ford of Europe’s motorsport director Gerard Quinn has revealed they have been approached by his management company.

“We knew that he didn't have a contract for next year and if there is somebody that we believe can help us strengthen the team then we will go after him. We have got an offer on the table,” he said.

Meeke, whose Peugeot contract also runs out this season, has long been on the fringes of the Citroen team (they are part of the same PSA group). He drove for them in the Junior World championship and is a regular member of their test team, working alongside Loeb, Sordo and Ogier.

But it has always been assumed Ogier was the “chosen one”. A Citroen driver all his career, he leapt up the pecking order with his maiden WRC win for their junior team in Portugal in May.

Some may see the Ford scenario as a negotiating ploy by Ogier’s management to secure a better Citroen deal but Quinn also said: “Sebastien is not the only additional driver we would be talking to.

“We will always look to see what is the best opportunity for us, to give us that potential competitive edge. We already have two very good drivers (Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala) contracted with us until the end of 2011.

“But we are looking, when the opportunity arises, to put somebody else in the team with them to mix it up a bit.”

For the past few years the WRC driver market has been static but with the introduction next season of the new breed of 1600cc turbo-charged Super 2000 cars, a shake-up may be on the way.

In addition, Prodrive, who developed the World championship-winning Subarus of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg, have said they are well advanced with plans to return next season with an S2000 version of BMW’s Mini Cooper — a project Meeke has also been linked to.

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