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Rallying-Ford commit to staying in world championship

Ford are committed to staying in the world rally championship next season despite the global economic crisis forcing out Japanese manufacturers Subaru and Suzuki, the carmaker said on Wednesday.

“We are naturally disappointed to learn of the withdrawal of both Japanese manufacturers,” the former champions said in a statement.

“Ford announced during Rally GB earlier this month that we will participate in 2009 and we look forward to renewing our challenge with the Ford Focus RS WRC for both the manufacturers' and drivers' championships.”

“Involvement in the WRC benefits Ford in various ways,” added the carmaker.

“It provides a big impetus to our product reputation and sales, especially for the Focus.”

“For Ford to demonstrate our products in a successful way, on a global basis via television and the internet, through involvement in the World Rally Championship represents good value.”

Ford were champions in 2006 and 2007 but, with plunging sales worldwide, the parent company is seeking a line of credit from the US government while Detroit rivals are threatened with bankruptcy unless they get a bailout of billions of dollars.

Three of the six teams in this year's manufacturers' championship were Ford-backed with their BP Abu Dhabi factory team losing out to Citroen.

Citroen, with France's five-times champion Sebastien Loeb, are set to be the only other works-funded team in the full 12-rally manufacturers' championship, although numerous privately-run entries will compete in limited events.

Ford will retain their line-up of Finland's Mikko Hirvonen and compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala.

Former champions Subaru, a leading name in the sport in recent decades, announced their withdrawal on Tuesday. Newcomers Suzuki had departed a day earlier while Honda pulled out of Formula One on December 5.

Subaru's move left Australian Chris Atkinson and Norway's 2003 world champion Petter Solberg without a drive for next year.

“Now we have to figure out where to go from here. Nothing's certain. To be honest it's all still a bit of a shock,” Atkinson told the website.

“Obviously it's disappointing - we put in four years at Subaru trying our best at every race. Now all I know is there's nothing more planned.”

David Richards, whose British-based Prodrive company ran the Subaru team, told the Times newspaper that the manufacturer's decision had caught the team unawares.

“But what can we do? This is the credit crunch again and it seems Subaru felt exposed after Honda left Formula One and could not justify having a world rally team,” he said.

“The pressure for car companies to cut all discretionary spending must be immense but there is now a danger that companies are throwing the baby out with the bath water. Subaru have forgotten how their brand image was built.” (Reuters)