Ford Australia has lifted its motor sport investment to $13 million a year in a bid to end Holden's stranglehold on V8 supercar racing.
The Broadmeadows-based car maker has shored up its partnership with its most successful team, Stone Brothers Racing, signing a five-year deal, believed to be worth $2 million a year, to ensure the Queensland outfit remains within the Ford camp.
It is investing between $4-$5 million a year in the newly established Ford "superteam" Ford Performance Racing, a Melbourne-based operation designed to become Ford's equivalent of the all-conquering Holden Racing Team.
And it is reviewing its funding of other major Ford teams - such as Dick Johnson Racing, Brad Jones Racing, Larkham Motorsport, Supercheap Racing and Briggs Motorsport - as it seeks to increase the competitiveness of teams running Falcons in the 13-round V8 championship.
Some of those squads may receive funding upgrades, while others - such as the hugely disappointing DJR team - may have to work hard to justify the amounts of money being pumped into them.
Prior to the new SBR deal, announced last weekend, DJR had been the second-highest funded Ford team, with estimates suggesting the factory was tipping about $1.5 million a year into the team run by one of Ford's greatest driving legends.
But the return on investment has been poor in recent seasons, with DJR dropping out of championship contention: its two drivers, Brazilian newboy Max Wilson and Johnson's son, Steven, have been, at best, only midfield runners for most of this year.
SBR, run by the expatriate New Zealand engineers Ross and Jimmy Stone (both of whom, ironically, worked for DJR in the 1990s), has become the No. 1 Ford team - by some way.
While FPR got lucky in the rain at Phillip Island in round two of the championship and grabbed a win when Craig Lowndes was left in front as the race was red-flagged, it is SBR that has monopolised the rest of the title race.
Sunday's triumph at Oran Park gave Marcos Ambrose his fifth victory in eight rounds, while his teammate Russell Ingall scored at Queensland. All up, the SBR drivers have won the past six rounds between them and Ambrose can count himself unlucky not to have been right in the shake-up at Phillip Island (when he was involved in a late race incident with Jason Bright) and Adelaide (where he had a costly did not finish).
With the V8 rumour mill suggesting Stone Brothers were being pursued by Japanese car maker Mitsubishi to lead an assault on the V8 championship should it get the go-ahead to enter the series in the next few years, Ford has been forced to move quickly to strengthen its relationship with its best-performing team.
The Gold Coast-based SBR team had been receiving a reported $1.4 million a year from the factory to help fund its two-car effort, but the new deal lifts that sum considerably.
In addition, both parties have a four-year option on a fresh contract when this one expires, so SBR could be with Ford until the end of the 2011 season.
"This long-term agreement lets all our staff know that SBR and Ford are serious about the future," Ross Stone said.
"We have developed a great team around us, which has only one focus, winning races," he said.
While on-track success is the team's first priority, it will also, according to Ford's motor sport operations manager Stephen Kruk, play an important role in creating corporate awareness of the company's racing program and be a part of Ford's overall marketing strategy.
SBR is also working to develop young driver talent, and has already won this season's Konica V8 championship - a development series for up-and-coming touring car racers - with 22-year-old Mark Winterbottom, who was signed as part of the team's youth development program last year.
"If there's a word that sums up SBR, it's loyalty," said Kruk. "We have been aware that other parties have been keen to get SBR on their books, but Ross and Jimmy have always been keen to stay with Ford."