Sébastien Ogier will remain with M-Sport World Rally Team next season to chase a sixth consecutive WRC title.
The British team ended months of speculation surrounding Ogier’s future on Tuesday evening by confirming he will stay for a second year in its Ford Fiesta World Rally Car.
M-Sport also announced that Elfyn Evans, who scored his maiden WRC victory in Britain last month and finished the season fifth in the points, will be Ogier’s team-mate.
Ogier will continue to be co-driven by Julien Ingrassia, and supported by energy drink giant Red Bull.
The Frenchman’s WRC future has been a long-running saga. Months of rumours came down to a decision to stay with M-Sport or retire after he rejected an offer to return to Citroën earlier this month.
M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson has worked furiously to piece together a budget to match Ogier’s demands, as well as to convince him there is sufficient funding to continue development of the Fiesta and ensure it remains competitive in 2018.
Ogier said his love for the sport prompted him to push to one side any thoughts of retirement.
“This season has been very exciting with some of the closest-fought competition for years,” he said. “As a driver, I definitely want to be a part of that. I still get a lot of emotion from this sport, and this team has so much passion. That made my decision clear, and we will work hard to chase more success together next year.
“What we have achieved together has been truly amazing, and we want to see that continue – to continue this fantastic journey and to defend all that we have achieved together.”
Evans’ seat in place of the departing Ott Tänak was assured after an impressive season in which he and co-driver Dan Barritt also finished second in Argentina and Finland.
“After a fantastic season for the whole team, it’s great that we’ll be a part of it again next year. After getting that first victory under our belts, we’re ready to take the next step and I think we all have another exciting season ahead of us.
“Honestly, I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel and Rally Monte-Carlo can't come soon enough. We'll be working hard over the Christmas break to ensure we’re fully prepared, and the goal will be to build on the success of this year,” said the 28-year-old Welshman.
Both drivers inked their contracts in front of M-Sport’s 240-strong workforce during a celebration today at its Dovenby Hall base.
Wilson is confident M-Sport will mount a strong bid to defend the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles, but acknowledged it won’t be easy.
“We’ve been working towards this goal for some time, so to finally have it confirmed is fantastic and means we can now focus our attention on the continued development ahead of next season,” he said.
“Our rivals certainly won’t have sat still and I’m expecting an even closer battle for the championship, but with these two crews we have a good chance.
“They’re both very intelligent drivers. There is no doubting their speed, but they also have a masterful approach to strategy that delivers results time after time.”
News on a third car is expected in the coming weeks. Teemu Suninen is forecast to drive a handful of rounds after outings in Poland and Finland this year, while WRC 2 champion Pontus Tidemand has been linked to several appearances.