WILL FORD MAKE A WRC RETURN?
WE LOOK AT THE CHANCES OF A COMEBACK
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