Ford has retained double world champion Carlos Sainz and signed young Estonian driver Markko Martin to partner Colin McRae for its FIA World Rally Championship campaign in 2002 - the company's major global motorsport activity. Sainz, whose ...
Ford has retained double world champion Carlos Sainz and signed young Estonian driver Markko Martin to partner Colin McRae for its FIA World Rally Championship campaign in 2002 - the company's major global motorsport activity.
Sainz, whose existing two-year contract with the team ends in December, has agreed a new one-year deal while Martin has signed an agreement with the squad to contest all 14 rounds of the championship in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. François Delecour, the team's third driver in 2001, has been released and his final rally will be next month's Rally Australia.
The experience of McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist, in the middle of a two-year contract with Ford, and Sainz and co-driver Luis Moya combined with the potential of 25-year-old Martin will again give Ford one of the strongest line-ups in the series. Ford beat off several other manufacturers to secure Martin, one of rallying's most highly regarded young drivers. He will be co-driven by Michael Park.
Martin Whitaker, European director of Ford Racing, who revealed the 2002 line-up in Madrid today, said: "I'm very happy that Carlos has agreed to extend his contract with Ford for 2002. He's widely regarded as one of the most professional and consistent drivers in the championship and it's a big boost to have that expertise within our team for at least another year.
"Since he rejoined Ford in 2000, Carlos has played a vital role in developing the Focus World Rally Car and we'll use his knowledge and experience to further improve the car next season. It was important for Ford to maintain the partnership of Colin and Carlos, one of the strongest in the entire championship, and I'm delighted we've done that."
"Markko's signature has been highly sought after and it's hugely encouraging that he's chosen Ford ahead of other manufacturers. His contract gives him the opportunity to confirm his potential as one of rallying's rising young stars and also emphasises Ford's policy of investing in young talent. I truly believe we have signed one of the big stars of the future," added Whitaker.
Whitaker also paid tribute to Delecour's role in the team in 2001. "François has done a great job for us this season as support for Carlos and Colin. His consistency has seen him in the top six of the world championship for much of the season and his testing skills have enabled the team to make huge steps forward in the development of the Focus. François will always have a part in Ford's motorsport history and I'd like to thank him for his services," said Whitaker.
Double world champion Sainz revealed the factors behind his decision to stay with Ford. "I'm very happy with Ford, M-Sport and the team as a whole and remain convinced we're going to be very competitive next year with the Focus. There are exciting new developments planned for the 2002 car and I believe the potential is there for more improvements to make another strong challenge for the world title."
Martin, who lives in the eastern Estonian town of Tartu, has won his country's rally championship twice but made his breakthrough at world championship level in 1999 when he finished eighth on the Swedish Rally in a privately-run Ford Escort World Rally Car on only his second winter rally.
Next season will be his first full world championship programme and Martin is eagerly awaiting the prospect of tackling all 14 rounds. "I had several offers but felt that joining Ford was the best long-term decision," he said. "The Focus RS is a very good car, M-Sport's Dovenby Hall base is impressive and I'm happy to be part of a company which has such a long and successful history in motorsport.
"My plan next year is to learn as much as possible because there are several rallies which will be new to me. And I'm really looking forward to working with Colin and Carlos because they are two of the biggest names in the sport and it will be exciting for me to see how they work and learn from them," he added.