Ford's doubts cloud Rally GB

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The Independent Online

While Sebastian Loeb plots the next phase of his World Rally Championship pursuit with characteristic serenity, all about him is a sport seemingly in turmoil.

Loeb, leading the WRC by 30 points going into Rally GB, which was due to begin here last night, set out his low-risk strategy before the opening super special stage. If the Citroën driver has to settle for something less than victory to further his cause, he will do so.

"I think for me it is most important to finish the race in the points," he said. "Sure, we are still fighting for the victory and I hope we can do it this year. It is not easy and I hope to stay concentrated, not to take any risks. I will drive as I feel. If it is too risky to try and win, I will try to finish in position."

Few in rallying doubt the Frenchman will have his maiden title this year, but uncertainty clouds the future of the Championship in the longer term. Ford are threatening to pull out and leave only three manufacturers, Citroën, Subaru and Peugeot, contesting the full programme and six drivers competing for the individual title.

Malcolm Wilson, Ford's team principal, wants to convince the company they should continue to invest in rallying. One idea is for the team to restrict their efforts to European rallies, but Wilson is urging total commitment, which he could achieve on a budget of £20m a year.

"If we continue to do this properly we can win rallies," said Wilson, whose team are second behind Citroën in the manufacturers' standing. "We'll probably hear something at the end of September or the beginning of October."

In Formula 1, Toyota have confirmed that Jarno Trulli, who was released by Renault on Wednesday, will partner Ralf Schumacher next season. Trulli, winner of this season's Monaco Grand Prix, will share equal status with Schumacher, a spokesman said, with no team orders.