Ford in 1996 BTCC team switch

FORD has confirmed the long-circulating rumours that it is to abandon Andy Rouse Engineering, its British Touring Car Championship partner of the last three seasons, in favour of the West Surrey racing team.

The move comes after a dismal 1995 season which saw the Rouse-run works Mondeos regularly outpaced by rivals from Vauxhall, Renault and Volvo and - on occasion - by the privately run Ford of Team Dynamics.

Double Touring Car World Cup Champion Paul Radisich will be staying with Ford for '96, but there is no word yet on his driving partner. His '95 team-mate, Kelvin Burt, has signed with Volvo.

West Surrey - run from an Ashford, Middlesex, base by Kiwi Dick Bennetts - has no touring car experience, nor indeed any saloon car pedigree. But West Surrey has dominated Formula 3 since the early 1980s, winning championships with Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen, Rubens Barrichello and Jonathan Palmer. Ford director of European Motorsport, Peter Gillitzer, said of the move: "We are delighted that West Surrey Racing will be running Ford's programme in the fiercely competitive British Touring Car Championship. Dick Bennetts has a reputation for total dedication to whatever he is involved with and West Surrey's results in single-seeracing provide ample proof of that.

"We are also pleased to have retained the services of two times World Touring Car Champion Paul Radisich for 1996. Paul has a terrific depth of experience with the Mondeo and also brings continuity to the team."

There is no official word of the intentions of Andy Rouse Engineering, but it seems certain that the four-time BTCC Champion - and director of championship organiser TOCA - will continue to remain involved. He was spotted testing a 'hack' development Mondeo equipped with a transverse-mounted four-cylinder - rather than the V6 of the current Mondeo racer - in the week prior to Ford's announcement. There is speculation that Rouse will mount a privateer bid on the championship, possibly with Rouse himself returning to the wheel after a season away.

-- Max Communications The official BTCC website: http://www.demon.co.uk/racing/index.html