THE 1994 world championship begins next week with the traditional run to Monte Carlo, and it gives Ford their first chance to put Toyota to the test.
The American and Japanese firms will be at loggerheads throughout the season and there will be no better place for Ford to set the record straight than in the hills behind the Cote d'Azur.
In 1993, Ford's first year with the Escort-Cosworth, Francois Delecour looked destined to get the season off to a terrific start after establishing a commanding lead. But on the penultimate special stage of the race, literally minutes from the end of a four-day event, he was overtaken by his fellow Frenchman Didier Auriol in the Toyota-Celica.
Delecour won three races during the season and his Italian team-mate, Miki Biasion, added two more but Ford still finished runners-up to Toyota, whose No 1 driver, Juha Kankkunen, also won the drivers' title.
Kankkunen and Auriol, who will be looking for his fourth Monte Carlo victory, will be back when the first stage starts in Valence on Monday - whatever the weather. John Wheeler, the Ford Motorsport chief engineer, said: 'The most daunting element of this event is the logistics involving the weather conditions. Just 10 days before the start, some of the stages were impassable with 1.5 metres of snow.'
Two other Japanese marques will probably have little more than bit parts to play in this season's dramas, Subaru and Mitsubishi. Subaru's drivers for the new Impreza are Carlos Sainz, the world champion in 1990 and 1992, and Scotland's Colin McRae. The two men shared fifth place in last year's drivers' championship.
Sainz, who for 1993 switched from Toyota to Lancia just as the Italian firm were pulling out of the sport, will be looking to make amends for a fairly fruitless year.
McRae, who looks to be cursed in his annual bid to win the RAC Rally, notched his first victory in the world championship last season and now has the experience needed to win more often.
'In the time I've spent with Carlos so far, it's been me giving him the benefit of my experience with the car, but I know I'm going to learn a lot from him,' the 25-year-old said. 'It's my first Monte and the tarmac debut for the car, so I will still be learning a bit at the start.'
The other challenge will come from the Mitsubishi Lancers driven by Germany's Armin Schwarz and Sweden's Kenneth Eriksson.
The 62nd Monte Carlo rally starts on Monday and finishes on Thursday morning after 23 special stages and 622km of racing.