Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

So, Ford is com­ing back to the World Rally Cham­pi­onship. It must be. So­cial me­dia says so. But is it? Is it re­ally?

Dave Per­i­cak’s pres­ence at the sea­son-open­ing Monte Carlo Rally was sig­nif­i­cant. He’s Ford’s global head of per­for­mance. Henry Ford III vis­it­ing M-sport at Dovenby Hall last autumn was sig­nif­i­cant. He’s… he’s Henry Ford the third.

On pa­per, every­thing seems to be mov­ing to­wards a Ford re­turn.

Cer­tainly, on the back of Se­bastien Ogier’s de­but win in a Ford Fi­esta WRC, Per­i­cak’s words were strong.

“This is my first time to at­tend a WRC rally and it has been amaz­ing,” Per­i­cak said. “I know it’s not overtly that way [a fac­tory pro­gramme], but we work closely with Mal­colm and M-sport. We give tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and what­not to make sure the cars are the best that they can be, and that they can run.

“I know a lot of peo­ple want to see this big ban­ner that says ‘Ford is back in’. But, to be hon­est, I don’t think Ford ever got out. We’ve been help­ing him along, we’ve got a great re­la­tion­ship with him and so we’re a part of it.

“What are peo­ple look­ing for? We’re help­ing them. We’ve got a long-term re­la­tion­ship with M-sport, and how many na­tional-spec Fi­es­tas has he built too?

“With an all-new car and the new rule pack­age, what a great sea­son this is go­ing to be. Hav­ing Se­bastien in the car is a dream come true, so this is a big deal for us, we’re ex­cited.” We’re ex­cited. Who is we? Per­i­cak was firmly one of the M-sport fam­ily in Monaco, maybe it was Cum­brian ‘ we.’

Or was it a gor­geous, Dear­born, Michi­gan, big Blue Oval all of Ford, world­wide kind of ‘ we’?

Per­i­cak’s con­clu­sion gave fur­ther hope: “We are here hav­ing a look at it. We work with [M-sport team prin­ci­pal] Mal­colm Wil­son. He’s done a mag­nif­i­cent job and we’re go­ing to fig­ure out how we con­tinue to work with him in the fu­ture.”

With­out be­ing overly harsh on Ford, it won’t take too long to work out how they carry on work­ing with M-sport. In­valu­able as Ford’s tech­ni­cal sup­port is, the 2017 Fi­esta is very much born and bred in Cock­er­mouth.

Wil­son’s en­cour­aged by the in­ter­est from Ford and noth­ing would give him more plea­sure than to see a man­u­fac­turer that means so much to him back in the sport he loves.

“I’m a Ford man,” says Wil­son, “al­ways have been and al­ways will be. I started my ca­reer in a Ford Es­cort and it was one of the proud­est mo­ments of my life when I was given the con­tract to run Ford’s World Rally Cham­pi­onship pro­gramme 20 years later.

“It would mean every­thing to see Ford back with us of­fi­cially, es­pe­cially at such an ex­cit­ing time as this.”

More than that Mal­colm doesn’t want to say. He’s canny enough not to say whether or not any­body’s com­ing through a door that’s al­ways open to start dis­cus­sions.

My feeling is that there’s a stronger in­cen­tive and, quite pos­si­bly, a stronger de­sire than ever within Ford to re­turn to ral­ly­ing – and Per­i­cak’s po­si­tion as head of global per­for­mance is cer­tainly se­nior enough for him to make that call – but it’s not go­ing to come overnight. If it comes at all.

Ford’s de­ci­sion to walk away from the WRC at the end of 2012 had been com­ing for a while. At the time, in the eyes of those in charge, the se­ries sim­ply wasn’t wor­thy of the Ford name; for longer still, the pro­gramme hadn’t war­ranted the multi-mil­lion­pound in­vest­ment which had once landed Colin Mcrae and a gold-plated Ford Fo­cus.

On top of that, Ford was tee­ter­ing on the brink of fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter, while the rest of the world fell over the edge into one.

Any kind of a de­ci­sion to bring Ford back to the ta­ble would take time and deep con­sid­er­a­tion. Don’t for­get, this is one of the world’s big­gest com­pa­nies we’re talk­ing about here; com­mit­ment to a global mo­tor­sport pro­gramme would take some lengthy cor­po­rate jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

There’s a ter­ri­bly cyn­i­cal side of me that won­ders if Ford’s 2012 with­drawal wasn’t one of the sharpest de­ci­sions it ever made.

To the wider world, Ford won the Monte Carlo Rally last month – and it did so with­out lift­ing a fin­ger, com­par­a­tively speak­ing.

Where’s the in­cen­tive for Ford to come back?

M-sport’s build­ing and sell­ing more Ford rally cars than ever be­fore in his­tory right now, what more could the Blue Oval ei­ther bring to the ta­ble or ask for?

Flip that around and, for a mod­est in­jec­tion of cash, Ford could rule world ral­ly­ing like never be­fore.

Every­thing is in place with the new car. But what’s needed is a hand­ful of mil­lions to evolve 2017 into 2018, while also keep­ing Ogier be­hind the wheel. Global dom­i­na­tion for Ford could be just around the cor­ner.

Or maybe we’ve just gone around the bend.

Ogier won on de­but in front of Ford bosses Mal­colm Wil­son (cen­tre) has kept the Ford name in world ral­ly­ing since ’12 Per­i­cak was at Monte Carlo

FE­BRU­ARY 8 2017

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