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Both Ford Australia and Pirtek are committed to Australian rallying for the long haul, according to Ford media manager, Ben Beazley.
Speaking to RallySport Magazine yesterday, Beazley said that the team had already started planning for the 2007 season, although at this stage no final plans on the shape of the team had been decided.

“We’re still working out what the best plan of attack will be, not only whether to go down the Super 2000 route, but whether to run one car or two,” Beazley said.

“If we ran two cars, we need to decide if we run two S2000 cars, or one S2000 and the current rear-drive Focus.”

One of the major stumbling blocks for Ford is the uncertainty that remains over the rules for the Super 2000 cars – the normally aspirated four-wheel drive cars that are expected to run alongside the current Group N cars in next year’s World Rally Championship.

“Many of the manufacturers overseas are saying that it’s difficult to build the cars within the cost cap that has been put on them by the FIA,” Beazley added. “If they decide to increase that cap after Ford have built a car, then we’d be behind the eight ball.”

Another problem is the hold up in the supply of parts for the cars, which will use a transmission from a sole supplier. “On that front we’re a long way back in the queue,” he said.

But he stressed that whatever Ford’s plans for 2007 are, next year would be a continuation of the development program by Ford, which started back in March with the season opening Rally of Canberra.

“It wouldn’t have mattered if we ran a four-wheel drive or a rear-wheel drive car, this year was always going to be tough. As an example, the team learnt more in half a day of competition in Canberra than we had for the whole of the previous three months spent testing – nothing beats competition in that regard.”

Despite the lack of what many would call acceptable results, Ford have been more than happy with what they have achieved from the 2007 Australian Rally Championship, as have Pirtek.

“Being involved with the team has been great and we’ve all learnt a lot about what’s needed to succeed in the sport at this level, but we still have a long way to go,” he stressed.

“In some ways it’s similar to Ford Performance Racing in the V8 Supercar Championship. Three or four years back they were struggling for results, but since then they have improved step by step and are now one of the front running teams. Hopefully that’s where the rally team can be in a couple of years.”

He says that next year will be another development year, and hopefully, if the Super 2000 car debuts at the start of the championship, they can increase their speed to be one of the front-runners in the second half of the season.

Another positive for Ford is the involvement of Pirtek, who had previously been involved with Marcos Ambrose in the V8 Supercar Championship. Their involvement in rallying this year has, from all reports, been a very successful step into rallying.

“Pirtek sponsor Parramatta in the National Rugby League competition, and while that gives them coverage in NSW and Queensland, it doesn’t get them much recognition in other states. Through the rallying involvement they are able to get into areas such as the south west of WA, where they have a strong market, which otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”

Pirtek have also made good use of their sponsorship of rallying through their own franchisees. The company purchased 40 Focus road cars which have been painted in the same colours as the rally car, to be driven by their company representatives.

“For both Pirtek and Ford, rallying enables us to promote our products in areas where the V8 Supercars didn’t allow us to,” Beazley says. “ARC rounds in Queensland, WA, Canberra and Tasmania are all run in areas where the V8s don’t race, so that gives us a great opportunity for promotion in areas where we can really make our presence felt through the local media outlets. It’s all been very encouraging.”

While both Ford and driver Michael Guest have copped a lot of flak this year because of the lack of performance from the rear-drive Focus, no-one can doubt that the blue oval’s presence in the Australian Rally Championship (something that was missing for 26 years) has been a shot in the arm that Australian rallying desperately needed.

Subaru’s withdrawal this year left a huge hole to be filled, and while Ford may be some way from filling that void, having them back on the stages and committed to the future of the ARC is music to any rally fan’s ears.

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