Higgins to rally Ford Focus

BIRMINGHAM, England, January 11, 2001 - 'British Rally Driver of the Year' Mark Higgins, is to drive a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on each of the seven rounds of the 2001 British Rally Championship - aiming to capture Ford's 18th title on home...

BIRMINGHAM, England, January 11, 2001 - 'British Rally Driver of the Year' Mark Higgins, is to drive a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on each of the seven rounds of the 2001 British Rally Championship - aiming to capture Ford's 18th title on home ground. It was announced at the Autosport International Show today (Thursday) that Mark will be co-driven by Bryan Thomas, and the Manxman's Focus RS will be prepared and run by Cumbria-based M-Sport, the specialist rallying operation which campaigns the trio of official Ford Martini Focus RS WRCs in the World Rally Championship.

"I'm very excited about driving for Ford," enthuses Mark, the 1997 British Rally Champion who was nominated National Rally Driver of the Year for the second time last year. "The Focus RS WRC is one of the most advanced rallycars in the world and for me it's a big step forward; giving me the right machinery to win events in 2001."

World Rally Cars have never before been eligible to contest the British Rally Championship. When it was decided to permit this for 2001, Ford was one of the first companies to pledge involvement in the Championship. "I am particularly thankful to Ford and Malcolm Wilson for offering me this very strong chance to bid for another British Rally Championship victory," added Higgins.

Runner-up in the 2000 World Rally Championship, the turbocharged four-wheel drive Focus RS WRC is a sophisticated state-of-the-art rally car featuring complex and sophisticated modern technology. Specialist Ford rally technicians from M-Sport will ensure that technology is in tip-top condition for Mark's British Championship bid.

<pre> CALENDAR - 2001 BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP March 10/11 Rally of Wales / G. April 28/29 Pirelli International / G. June 9/10 RSAC Scottish / G. June 29/July 1 Jim Clark Memorial / A. August 2/4 Manx International / A. August 31/Sept 1 Ulster Rally / A. September 29/30 Trackrod Rally Yorkshire / G.

G = Gravel / A = Asphalt

BIOGRAPHY: MARK HIGGINS Date of birth: 21 May 1971, Douglas, Isle of Man Lives: Nr Newtown, Wales Marital Status: Single Career highlights: 1994 British Junior Rally Championship - Champion 1997 British Rally Championship - Champion Rallying history: 1994 British Junior Rally Championship - Champion (Honda) five wins 1995 Rally of Turkey - winner (Nissan) Tour of Flanders - class winner (Subaru) Tac and Condros Rallies - class winner (Subaru) Manx National Rally - class winner, fifth overall (Honda) 1996 British Rally Championship - vice champion (Nissan) one win, one second, one third (Formula 2) World Rally Championship (Nissan) one fourth overall, second in Formula 2, Rally of GB 1997 British Rally Championship - Champion (Nissan) one win, one second, one third 1998 World Rally Championship (Nissan) one third, one fourth 1999 British Rally Championship - sixth (VW) three third places World Rally Championship Rally of Great Britain - winner of Formula 2 (VW) 2000 British Rally Championship (Vauxhall) Vauxhall Rally of Wales - winner Pirelli International - did not finish Scottish Rally - third Jim Clark Memorial Rally - winner MSA Rally - did not finish Manx International Rally - winner Mobil 1 British Rally Championship - runner-up Rally of Great Britain - winner of Formula 2 (Vauxhall) Bettega Memorial Rally, Bologna - winner

BIOGRAPHY: BRYAN THOMAS Date of birth: 30 June 1957 Lives: Leominster, UK Marital status: Married to Sally First rally: 1978 First world rally: 1986 RAC World rallies started: 17 World rally wins: 0 Career highlights: 1993 3rd RAC Rally 1994 British Rally Champion [with M Wilson] 2000 British Rally Champion Co-driver [with M Higgins] </pre> Bryan Thomas leads a double life. In rural Herefordshire he is a highly respected architectural technician, but to the world of rallying he is one of Britain's top co-drivers. Starting in 1978, Thomas learnt the art of map reading and rally timing on night road rallies, before he progressed to special stage events in 1981 with Roger Chilman in a powerful Ford Escort RS 1800. The duo tackled the British National Championship until Roger's retirement from competition in 1985.

In late 1986 Thomas paired up with top privateer Phil Collins and they went on to contest the 1987 and '88 British Open Championships in a bright pink Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. During 1990 Thomas's rallying activity moved career ahead when he partnered young Finn Mika Sohlberg to victory on the opening round of the National championship and David Llewellin on the second televised Mobil 1 Rally Challenge. In 1991 Thomas guided Sohlberg to the British Open Championship crown for Group N 'showroom class' cars and worked with Ford making gravel notes on world rallies.

Impressed by his co-driving skills and professionalism, current Ford Martini World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson asked Thomas to co-drive for him in 1992, and together they played a key role in developing the new Escort RS Cosworth rally car. The next year Thomas secured a three-year programme with Michelin Pilot Team Ford, contesting the British championship sitting alongside Wilson. They won the Ulster and Midland rallies and took an excellent third on the RAC.

In 1994 everything went right and they took four wins from five rounds to claim the British championship crown. The rules barred Wilson from defending his crown in 1995, so Thomas co-ordinated a series of guest drivers for the Escort. For 1996 and 97, Thomas joined up with Robbie Head to tackle the British with a factory Renault Megane Maxi, scoring two outright wins and several F2 wins.

For the last two seasons, Thomas has formed a strong partnership with Mark Higgins, the pair taking a VW Golf to four podium places in 1999 before winning the F2 class on the Rally of GB. For 2000 the duo were snapped up by Vauxhall and piloted an Astra to three victories and a podium place, with Bryan claiming the British Championship co-driver's crown. A final outing on Rally GB saw them win the F2 class for the second year in a row.

-Ford Racing

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Series WRC
Drivers Jim Clark , Mark Higgins , Malcolm Wilson , Bryan Thomas
Teams M-Sport