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Ulster rally ace joins Ford for World bid

It promises to be a very happy Christmas for Chris Patterson.

Not only has he just got married to his Belgian fiancée Christel Deberdt but the Ballyclare rally co-driver can head off for a honeymoon in New York tomorrow secure in the knowledge he will be joining Norwegian Petter Solberg in the Ford team in next year's World championship.

Confirmation of the Solberg-Patterson duo's move to Ford came late in the day and followed protracted negotiations between the manufacturer and M-Sport, the Cumbria-based company which has run Ford's World championship operation for the past 14 years.

Question marks over the future of the championship's television coverage had created nervousness within the Ford camp.

The world-wide television rights are held by production company North One Sports, a subsidiary of Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI) which has been placed in receivership following the arrest of its owner Vladimir Antonov.

The Russian, also the principal shareholder of Portsmouth Football Club which has gone into administration, has been accused of a massive 1.6m dollar fraud involving a bank he owns in Lithuania.

North One management insists they are a stand-alone company and are unaffected by CSI's problems but the doubts remain and it was only on Thursday, four days before the final deadline for teams to register for the 2012 series, that Ford committed.

The announcement paved the way for former World champion Solberg and Patterson to sign for Ford, sealing the deal which will see them team up with Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikka Anttila in a championship which starts with the Monte Carlo Rally next month.

Patterson admitted that the past few weeks have been an anxious time.

"After three years of running his own team Petter had decided he would only continue next season if he had a drive with a manufacturer team," he said.

"His talks with Ford were complicated by the TV rights situation and it was only when we were testing with M-Sport in the south of France on Thursday that we finally got confirmation.

"It is a great relief to get the deal done and we're really up for the challenge of taking on Citroen next season."

Belfast Telegraph