After just one year back in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, Ford may not have a presence on the series’ 2013 grid, with news that the Arena International Motorsport has shut up shop.
The decision appears to stem from its parent company, the Capsicum Motorsport Group, electing to focus its efforts in its single-seater programmes, which include the Carlin Motorsport operation and its recent investment in the Marussia F1 team.
CMG is owned by Graeme Chilton, the head of the AON insurance group and father to Marussia’s newly-signed F1 driver, Max Chilton, and his older brother Tom, who raced for Arena in the 2012 WTCC season.
That leaves Tom on the WTCC driver market, while younger brother Max makes his F1 debut in March.
Arena Motorsport’s other WTCC driver, James Nash, has already been signed to the Bamboo Engineering team for the 2013 season.
The outfit has been one of the mainstays of the touring car landscape for the last fifteen years. Founded by Mike Earle in 1997, the team made its British Touring Car Championship debut in 1999 running a pair of Renault Lagunas.
After an absence, it returned to the BTCC in 2002, fronting Honda’s manufacturer effort, with an 18-year-old Chilton joining the team a year later when the family came on board as an investor.
The outfit plugged away with the increasingly-ageing Honda until the end of the 2008 season, at which point the Ford Focus was introduced. The team’s competitiveness improved with a switch to LPG injection and a turbo engine and they were were championship frontrunners in 2010, with Chilton winning the Independent’s title.
The team announced a switch to the WTCC for 2012, where it would run two Focuses with some manufacturer support. Not surprisingly, Chilton would head the line-up, and he was joined by 2011 BTCC Independent title-winner James Nash.
The team targeted a three-year programme before it hoped to achieve frontrunning status, and initially targeted top-ten results as the first measure of success.
While attractively turned out, however, the team had a tough 2012 season. The car didn’t meet the FIA’s specifications on account of its suspension design, and it was forced to carry a weight penalty until the design was reworked.
Nash earned a reverse-grid pole in the second race at Marrakech and briefly lead the race until he was overwhelmed by the quicker Chevrolets and fell to sixth. He also qualified fourth-fastest overall at the Slovakiaring, but a first-corner collision ended his weekend. In all, Nash scored 12 championship points to finish twentieth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings, while Chilton was two spots behind with seven points.
The team had hoped to expand to a three-car operation – former BTCC champion Frabrizio Giovanardi and 2012 runner-up Alain Manu were both linked to the team – ahead of its sophomore season, but it seems like that dream, and Ford’s participation, is on ice…