The Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, also known as the Ford Motor Co. Team prior to 2005, is Ford Motor Company's full factory World Rally Championship team. In its current form, it has been a competitor since the 1997 season, when Ford Motor Company's motorsport arm selected the Malcolm Wilson Motorsport company to run its factory team, entering the Ford Escort World Rally Car. The new team took their first victory in the 1997 Acropolis Rally.
Ford's rally heritageEdit
Ford had a long and successful history in rallying, winning the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 1979 with the Ford Escort RS1800 and drivers Hannu Mikkola, Björn Waldegård and Ari Vatanen. In 1986 the Group B Ford RS200 made its debut, but by the end of the year Group B was banned. From 1987 Ford Motorsport entered the Ford Sierra. The Ford Escort RS Cosworth was introduced in 1993 and won rallies until 1996. For 1995, Ford handed over the running of its programme to RAS Sport of Belgium. At the end of 1996, Ford of Europe and its motorsports arm selected Malcolm Wilson and his M-Sport company to run the cars in the WRC from 1997 onwards.
Mikko Hirvonen and codriver Jarmo Lehtinen resumed the implicit role within the team of the Cumbria outfit's leading crew for the 2008 season, after Marcus Gronholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen elected to retire following the 2007 season, with the more experienced Finn later to be found dabbling for Ford in rallycross and maintaining his links with the BP-Ford WRT team in an "ambassadorial role". Hirvonen was joined in the new-look M-Sport line-up by another fellow Finnish driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, who stepped into the vacant berth from his former spot at the satellite Stobart Ford team. Khalid Al-Qassimi returned with a programme of ten events on the 2008 WRC calendar aboard a third car. His co-driver, Nicky Beech, was replaced by Michael Orr, former co-driver to Matthew Wilson.
The season got off to a promising start for both Finnish drivers, with Hirvonen taking second to the seemingly omnipresent Loeb on the Monte Carlo Rally in January, before Latvala shattered Henri Toivonen's long-standing record as youngest World Rally Championship-qualifying event winner by outpacing Hirvonen to victory on the following Rally Sweden. Hirvonen collected his first win of the year on the Jordan Rally and led Latvala in an astutely tactically judged Ford 1-2 on Rally Turkey to assert a slender points lead over Citroen's Loeb heading into both Finns' home round of the Championship in August. Unfortunately for Ford, however, neither Hirvonen nor Latvala were able to defeat Loeb, with the now dominant Frenchman proceeding to record his eighth and ninth victories of the season on the New Zealand, Spanish and Corsican rallies. For the latter two, asphalt rounds, team boss Malcolm Wilson drafted in, in place of Latvala, pacy Belgian and one-time full time pilot for the Ford team, François Duval, in order to maximise the team's points haul on a surface traditionally favourable to their French rivals.
Although Hirvonen did return to winning form to head a Ford 1-2 with Latvala in Japan, it was at the same event where Loeb finished third to finally clinch the drivers' title, although the team did close in to within eleven points of Citroen in the manufacturers' title race, with a possible total of eighteen still available, as the season-ending Wales Rally GB loomed in December.
Hirvonen, Latvala and Al-Qassimi were retained in the team. Rival team Citroën got their season off to a good start, Sébastien Loeb winning all of the first five rallies. After finishing third in Ireland, Hirvonen scored four consecutive second place finishes, but retired in Argentina with an engine problem. The team won their first rally of the season in Italy, Latvala beating Hirvonen. Hirvonen then took four consecutive victories, giving him a five point lead over Loeb with two rounds to go. Hirvonen finished third in Spain and took a one point championship lead to the finale in Great Britain. However, Loeb beat him to the victory in Britain, winning the championship. Hirvonen finished second in the standings, with Latvala fourth. Ford finished second in the Manufacturers' championship behind Citroën.
Hirvonen, Latvala and Al-Qassimi were retained again in the team for 2010. The team made a strong start, Hirvonen winning in Sweden with Latvala in third. However, the Fords struggled at the next round in Mexico, Hirvonen and Latvala only managing fourth and fifth respectively as Citroëns filled the podium. Hirvonen went off the road on the opening day of the Jordan Rally, but Latvala was fighting for victory. Both teams used tactics to determine the road order, Loeb eventually winning for Citroën. Hirvonen finished third in Turkey, while Latvala beat Sébastien Ogier to win in New Zealand after Loeb made errors and Hirvonen struggled for pace. Citroën filled the podium again in Portugal, Hirvonen the leading Ford in fourth.