M-Sport World Rally Team - running Fords in the WRC since 1997
M-Sport World Rally Team is a racing team, owned by a former rally driver Malcolm Wilson and it is located in Cockermouth (Cumbria, England). It currently competes in the World Rally Championship with Ford Fiesta WRC cars.
The company was originally founded as Malcolm Wilson Motorsport in 1979, changing its name to M-Sport in 1996, a year after Wilson’s retirement from professional rallying. The M-Sport took over Ford ‘s factory program in the World Rally Championship from 1997. M-Sport has run the company during Ford’s greatest success, taking two WRC manufacturers’ titles in 2006 and 2007.
The sixteen-year long link between Ford and M-Sport ended after the season of 2012 when Ford withdrew from the championship. M-Sport stayed in the WRC as an independent team, continuing to build and run Ford cars.
Malcolm Wilson Motorsport was founded in 1979
M-Sport is now one of the most recognizable names in the world of rallying, with a factory which produces high-tech cars for rally and rallycross. It all started back in 1979, in a garage next to Malcolm Wilson’s house in Cockermouth.
The team was following a career of Malcolm Wilson during 1994 when he became the British rally champion in Ford Escort RS Cosworth. At the same time, the team was preparing some other championship-winning cars, for Franco Cunico in Italy, Fernando Peres in Portugal or Mohammed bin Sulayem in the Middle East.
Overtaking Ford’s operations and moving to Dovenby Hall
In 1996, Malcolm Wilson Motorsport was chosen by Ford as an operating company for their WRC participation with Ford Escort RS Cosworth converted into the Ford Escort WRC, so the team started the 1997 season under a new name.
In 1998, Malcolm Wilson purchased a Dovenby Hall, a historic site next to his house. The place became a home to Ford’s WRC team in 2000, turning into a state-of-the-art facility and one of Cumbria’s premier business sites.
Two wins in debut season as factory team
In the first season as Ford’s factory team in the WRC, M-Sport finished in second place among three manufacturer’s entries, sandwiched by a championship-winning Subaru and third-placed Mitsubishi. Carlos Sainz was the team’s leading driver in the #5 Ford Escort WRC, winning two rallies (Greece, Indonesia) and finishing third in the drivers’ standings. Other two driver in the #6 car were Armin Schwarz and Juha Kankkunen.
In 1998, the team didn’t win any race and Juha Kankkunen finished in fourth place of WRC standings. Bruno Thiry was the second driver, with Ari Vatanen participating in three events. Ford was in the fourth place among five manufacturers.
Colin McRae and Focus WRC came in 1999
During 1998, M-Sport designed and built the new Ford Focus RS WRC, debuting with a new car at 1999 Rallye Monte-Carlo. Colin McRae joined the team as a leading driver in the #7 car. Three drivers were driving #8 Focus during the season: Simon Jean-Joseph, Thomas Radstrom and Petter Solberg.
After an impressive performance at Rallye Monte-Carlo, where two Fords were disqualified because of an illegally modified water pump, the first win came at Safari Rally. A month later, McRae repeated the victory, winning the Rally Portugal. The rest of the season was quite disappointing, with nine retirements for McRae. He finished 6th in the points, Ford was fourth among seven manufacturers.
Three seasons with McRae and Sainz
McRae stayed with the team for four seasons, partnered by returnee Carlos Sainz from 2000 to 2002. In that period, Ford took the second place in the manufacturers’ standings for three years in a row and was beaten by Peugeot.
Ford’s drivers scored nine wins in three seasons: three in 2000 (Sainz 1, McRae 2), three in 2001 (all three by McRae) and three in 2002 (Sainz 1, McRae 2). In 2002, the team expanded to three cars, with Markko Martin in a third Ford Focus WRC.
New generation of drivers from 2003
In 2003, Wilson promoted the next-generation of drivers, with Markko Martin, Francois Duval and Mikko Hirvonen driving three Fords. Martin scored his maiden WRC win at Rally Acropolis and one more in Finland, finishing fifth in the points. Other two drivers were winless, so Ford dropped to the fourth place in the manufacturers’ standings.
In 2004, the situation was similar, with Martin and Duval staying with the team while the third car was prepared for German driver Antony Warmbold. Martin scored three wins, finishing third in the final standings. Ford returned to the runner-up spot in manufacturers’ standings, behind Citroen.
2005 – winless season with seven drivers
Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta were the main drivers in the 2005 WRC season, but in total, BP Ford World Rally Team was running four cars for seven drivers. The other five drivers were Henning Solberg, Daniel Sola, Mikko Hirvonen, Antony Warmbold and Luis Perez Companc.
Ford was without WRC wins in 2005, finishing the season in third place among six manufacturers. The best-positioned driver was Toni Gardemeister who finished in fourth place.
Manufacturers’ WRC title after 27 years
For the 2006 WRC season, Malcolm Wilson opted for the all-Finnish line-up, hiring Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen to drive Ford Focus RS WRC 06. It was a good decision because Finnish duo captured manufacturers’ WRC title for Ford after 27 years of waiting.
Gronholm won seven times and finished second in the points among the drivers, behind unbeatable Sebastien Loeb. Hirvonen scored his maiden WRC victory at 2006 Rally Australia, finishing third in the championship standings.
Stobart team debuted in 2006
Unlike previous years, when M-Sport was running with more than two cars under its name, the second-grade manufacturer’s teams (M2) were introduced for the 2006 WRC season, so M-Sport founded B-team named Stobart VK M-Sport World Rally Team.
Malcolm Wilson’s on Matthew was a full-time driver in the #9 Focus while four drivers changed their roles in the #10 car: Pieter Tsjoen, Kosti Katajamaki, Luis Perez Companc and Jari-Matti Latvala. Two additional one-off entries were Juan Pablo Raies and Andreas Mikkelsen. The team’s best result was Latvala’s fourth place at Wales Rally GB.
One more manufacturer’s title in 2007
In 2007, Gronholm and Hirvonen brought one more WRC manufacturers’ title to Ford. For their work in the 2007 season, BP Ford and M-Sport received the Rally Business of the Year Award from the Motorsport Industry Association.
In the drivers’ standings, Loeb was a champion again, Gronholm finished second with five wins, Hirvonen was third with three wins.
Three podiums for Stobart M-Sport in 2007
In 2007, Stobart VK M-Sport World Rally Team had two full-time entrants eligible to score manufacturer’s points, Jari-Matti Latvala in the #9 car and Henning Solberg in the #10 Focus. Matthew Wilson spent a full season in the #16 car while several drivers had occasional appearances in Stobart’s cars.
The best results of Stobart M-Sport’s driver were three podiums. Solberg finished third in Norway and Japan, Latvala was third in Ireland.
Four seasons with Hirvonen and Latvala
Marcus Gronholm retired at the end of 2007 season, so Malcolm Wilson promoted Jari-Matti Latvala, from the satellite Stobart team to the main team. Hirvonen and Latvala competed together for four seasons, not managing to beat Citroen and Sebastien Loeb.
In that period, Ford was the manufacturers’ championship runner-up four times in a row, with Ford’s drivers taking the second place in the drivers’ standings (Hirvonen three times, Latvala one time). Ford’s drivers scored fifteen wins in a four-year period, ten for Hirvonen and five for Latvala.
Legendary Gigi Galli joined Stobart in 2008
In 2008, when Latvala climbed from Stobart to the main team, Italian rally legend Gigi Galli joined Stobart to drive the #7 Ford Focus. Other drivers were Francois Duval and Matthew Wilson. Duval was swapping seats with Latvala, joining the main team in two asphalt events at Catalunya and Corsica.
The best result for Stobart’s drivers was the third place. Galli was third at Rally Sweden while Duval reached the podium in Germany. On this rally, Galli suffered an injury in a crash that kept him out of action for the rest of the season.
Henning Solberg scored podiums for Stobart
In 2009, Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson spent full season driving for Stobart, with Estonian Urmo Aava participating in two season-opening events. Henning Solberg reached two third-place finishes in Argentina and Poland.
In 2010, Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson were again the main drivers for Stobart, with three drivers having one-off appearances: Marcus Gronholm (Rally Sweden), Per-Gunnar Andersson (Bulgaria) and Francois Duval (Germany).
Ford Fiesta RS WRC was introduced in 2011
The 2010 WRC season was the last for Ford Focus RS WRC, a Ford Fiesta RS WRC was introduced for 2011. Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala were driving two new cars (#3 and #4) for Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team while four drivers were chasing points in the #5 and #6 cars for M-Sport Stobart World Rally Team: Henning Solberg, Matthew Wilson, Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov.
While Hirvonen and Latvala managed to win three events for the main team with a new car, Mads Ostberg scored two podiums for Stobart, finishing second in Sweden and Wales.
Petter Solberg joined Ford for 2012 season
In 2012, Hirvonen moved to Citroen and he was replaced by Petter Solberg in the Ford World Rally Team’s #4 car, alongside Jari-Matti Latvala in the #3 car. Dani Sordo replaced Latvala in Argentina after the Finnish driver was injured in a pre-event training accident.
With two wins and five podiums, Latvala finished third in drivers’ points, with Petter Solberg two places behind. In the manufacturers’ standings, the team was again second, far behind Citroen.
Ford withdrew in 2013, M-Sport continued to run
In 2012, Stobart withdrew its support and the B-team was rebranded to M-Sport Ford WRT, with Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak as drivers. A year later, Ford withdrew a factory support, so M-Sport was forced to continue its WRC adventure as an independent team which builds its own cars.
M-Sport was strong enough to continue running several teams. Sponsored by the State of Qatar, the main team entered the 2013 WRC season as Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, fielding two cars for Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov. Thierry Neuville was a full-time driver in the third car for the satellite Qatar World Rally Team, with Juho Hanninen and Nasser Al-Attiyah using the fourth car in selected events.
2013 – Second place for M-Sport’s Thierry Neuville
As a private team eligible to fight for the manufacturers’ points, M-Sport faced strong competition from Citroen and newcomers Volkswagen. The Qatar M-Sport WRT finished third in the points, without wins.
The Qatar World Rally Team was also without wins, but Thierry Neuville scored seven podiums and such a consistent performance put him to the second place in the drivers’ standings, behind Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier.
2014 – one more season without wins
In 2014, M-Sport World Rally Team lost Qatari sponsorship but continued to participate in the WRC, fielding two cars for Mikko Hirvonen (#5) and Elfyn Evans (#6). The separate RK M-Sport World Rally Team was also driving the #10 Ford Fiesta for Robert Kubica. Several drivers participated in selected events with M-Sport cars as privateers, such as Bryan Bouffier, Ott Tanak, Ken Block, Benito Guerra, Dennis Kuipers, Michal Solowow, Yuriy Protasov or Pontus Tidemand.
It was another season without wins for Ford cars, with few podiums only. The French privateer Bryan Bouffier finished second at Rally Monte-Carlo while M-Sport leading driver Mikko Hirvonen finished second in Portugal and third in Catalunya, closing the season with a second place at Wales Rally GB. Hirvonen finished the season fourth in the points, M-Sport was third among manufacturers.
2015 – another poor season for M-Sport
In 2015, Elfyn Evans and Ott Tanak were M-Sport’s full-time entries eligible to score points. Robert Kubica spent one more season with M-Sport as a non-manufacturer entry. Other drivers who participated in selected events with M-Sport’s cars were Bryan Bouffier, Yuriy Protasov, Alexey Lukyanuk and Juho Hanninen.
The season was again poor, with just three podiums for M-Sport drivers. Evans finished third in Argentina and second in France, Tanak was third in Poland. At the end of the season, M-Sport was fourth in the manufacturers’ standings, behind three factory teams of Volkswagen, Citroen and Hyundai.
2016 – fourth consecutive season without WRC wins
For the 2016 WRC season, M-Sport completely changed drivers’ line-up, hiring Mads Ostberg and Eric Camilli to drive the #5 and #6 Fiesta RS WRCs. Elfyn Evans stayed with the team, competing in the WRC 2 Championship with Ford Fiesta R5. Evans was successful in the WRC 2 competition, scoring three wins and finishing third in the points.
On the other side, M-Sport recorded fourth consecutive season without WRC wins. Mads Ostberg was third in Sweden and Mexico, finishing seventh in the final standings. Eric Camilli was far behind, in the 11th place, with fifth place at Rally Portugal as his best result.
Win at 2017 Rallye Monte-Carlo for Ogier and M-Sport
The 2017 WRC season is the beginning of a new era because all-new 380-hp World Rally Cars were introduced, including Ford Fiesta WRC ’17 . The four-year drought finally ended in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo. Malcolm Wilson had to hire a reigning world champion, Sebastien Ogier, to do that.
Building and preparing cars for rallying and rallycross
M-Sport is mostly known as a company which runs a team in the World Rally Championship but the other part of their business is also important, as M-Sport grew up into world’s leading company for rally cars preparation, working for numerous customers all around the world.
Besides World Rally Cars, M-Sport’s factory produced hundreds of other rally cars, starting with Ford Fiesta S2000 which was launched in 2009. Today, M-Sport offers R1, R2, S2000, RRC, R5 and WRC variants of Ford Fiesta. In recent time, with an expansion of rallycross, M-Sport built many Fiesta RX cars. The last project was the Ford Focus RS-RX, prepared together with Ford Performance and Hoonigan Racing Division for the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship.