The Ford Racing 2001 Ladder of Opportunity formally announced today (Thursday) at the Autosport International Show, has (in its own formative years) already helped talented young rally drivers on their way toward successful rallying careers.
Simon Mauger is a shining example. After two years on the Ladder of Opportunity, and a championship win each year, he enters his third year in 2001 securely on the third rung of the Ladder driving a Puma Super 1600 in the new Formula Rally series and in a particularly strong position to continue making his name and achieving his ultimate aim of a drive in the World Rally Championship.
Simon's first year in rallying was in 1996, when he won the South of England Tarmac Rally Championship. Moving up to the next logical class the following year he soon found he simply didn't have the budget to fund a competitive car. Several years and a rethink later, Simon was sold on the concept of Ford Racing's Ladder of Opportunity and entered the Ka Rally Championship. By the end of the 1999 season his Ka Rally had won most stages and Mauger became the British Ford Ka Rally Champion.
The Puma 1400 Championship beckoned in 2000, and Simon took the logical step up to the next rung of Ford's Ladder of Opportunity. He relished the potential in the 150bhp Puma Kit Car. "There was nothing to touch it in the class;" enthused Mauger, "it's a really quick little car." After three wins and a second place in the first four rallies Simon became the 2000 Ford Puma European Rally Champion.
Having his talents displayed in the limelight of the Puma Championship brought an additional bonus with a drive in a 1600cc Puma Kit Car on the MSA Rally. Jumping at this opportunity, Mauger managed a second-fastest stage time overall against more powerful machinery. Opportunity knocked again when a drive in the same 1600 Puma became available on the Tour of Flanders, resulting in a worthy second in class.
Part of the prize for becoming Puma 1400 Champion was to taste one of the Ladder of Opportunity's upper rungs and gain World Rally Championship experience with a works Puma Super 1600 drive on the 2000 Sanremo Rally. Simon acquitted himself well and settled into a comfortable pace while concentrating on learning about rallying in the top-level World Rally Championship.
True to its philosophy of providing opportunity, Ford Racing has this year provided Mauger, the 2000 Puma 1400 Champion, with a Super 1600 Puma to contest the eight-round Formula Rally series in Britain. Supported and run by Eclipse Motorsport, Simon heads toward the Privateer Super 1600 title in the series with determination. "I'll be doing my best to get some good overall results, but it's great that we can aim for privateer class victory as well. I'm very grateful to Ford and to Eclipse. It's an excellent opportunity for me and the best way that I can repay Ford and Eclipse is by getting top results."
Mauger is not the only driver to benefit from Ford's Ladder of Opportunity. Shaun Woffinden admits his rallying was going nowhere until he stepped into the 2000 Ka Rally Championship, won four rounds and placed second on the others he contested. Needless to say, Shaun is extremely happy to accept the prize of a 1400 Puma drive for the 2001 Puma 1400 Rally Championship.
Another Ladder climber is David Henderson, an ex-circuit racer who turned to rallying in the Ka Rally Championship. In only his second season of rallying he placed second to Shaun Woffinden in the 2000 Championship. For 2001 David has taken a step up the Ladder of Opportunity, and he will also be driving a 1400 Puma in the 2001 Puma Championship.