Winning ways

Winning ways

M-Sport’s Ford Fiestas, equipped with Ricardo transmissions, stormed to victory in the 2017 FIA World Rally Championships for both Drivers and Manufacturers.

Tony Lewin travels to M-Sport’s headquarters to meet team principal Malcolm Wilson OBE and hear the story.

The scene is a remote and misty mountainside in North Wales at the end
of October. Yet in place of the expected solitude and tranquility there are
thousands of people generating a feverish buzz of excitement, and the atmosphere is electric. Wales Rally GB is reaching its climax, the local hero is in the lead and, this being the penultimate event of the 2017 season, the World Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ championships are both at stake.

The season had been an exceptionally closely fought one, but what had made it even more unusual was that the three major factory teams – Hyundai, Toyota and Citroën – were battling for top honours against a much smaller privately run team, Cumbria-based M-Sport. Against
the predictions of many commentators, M-Sport’s Ford Fiestas had been setting the pace most of the year and Wales Rally GB was the team’s opportunity to clinch not only its fifth win of the year, but also the
Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles too.

And, incredibly, what M-Sport’s 260 employees had hardly dared hope for just a few months back would come true that afternoon. Elfyn Evans stormed to the finish with a 37-second lead to become the first Welshman ever to win a world championship rally, as well as the first British winner for 17 years; what is more, as the rest of the field streamed home with M-Sport drivers Sébastien Ogier in third and Ott Tänak sixth, the points tallies
gave Ogier an unassailable lead in the Drivers’ Championship and M-Sport top slot in the Manufacturers’ standings.

“That was an amazing 20 minutes as those cars came home,” said M-Sport
founder and former multiple rally champion Malcolm Wilson, who attends
every race and rally his teams compete in. “We won the Drivers’, the Manufacturers’, the European Championship and the Bentley Endurance as well – it’s the best ever year in the history of M-Sport.”

Such success will be very difficult to replicate, cautions Wilson, underlining
how ultra competitive the World Rally Championship has become since it moved to its new regulations for the 2017 season. Yet it was with the introduction of those new rules that Wilson sensed his opportunity to
get level with the factory teams: “The new technical regulations meant
that everybody was starting on the same page,” he told RQ in an interview at M-Sport headquarters in Cumbria. “This was the first time in history that every manufacturer came out with a new car, all at the same time. I think that the combination of our great team of people here and our 20 years’
experience in WRC played a part in us being as successful as we were.”

Read the full article in RQ 2018 Q1