“Oh, Sorry.” Said Malcolm Wilson. To the large gathering of his M-Sport staff. “Just one small thing – Sebastien Ogier will be driving for us next year!” – The usually calm Wilson senior, leaps in the air to the cheers of his factory staff after announcing the news. That was the moment, when M-Sport were ready to conquer the world.
Fast forward nearly 12 months later to this moment now. In a car park at the end of the final power stage – Yes Kris Meeke. You are suppose to drive into this one at the end of the rally. As he gives us fans some donuts in the holding area. All eyes were on the three cars that came from that small family run business up in cumbria.
We’re all standing there, nervously waiting. The smell of burnt welsh mud and racing fuel. The shining sun, the vibrant colours of spectators and the autumn welsh countryside, the smoke & red mist from the flares. I felt like I had stepped into an old piece of rally footage. The ones I used to watch on the telly as a little kid. The sort of scenes and passion that got me so hooked on this amazing sport in the first place. We were in it, thousands of us with enormous anticipation. Tanak arrives to the finish in 6th. Thats enough for the manufacturers title. A few cars later, the Redbull Fiesta pulls in. Answering our much wonderment of “has he done it, was that enough?” We all lean forward, awaiting the news, waiting to see the Frenchman’s reaction.
Then, from somewhere in the centre of the media scrum. Ogier & Ingrassia climbs onto the roof of their car. Tears in their eyes, with emotion that spread to everyone like wild fire at the stop line. “Yes! He’s done it!” They had done it. Finally the little privateer cumbrian fighters had beaten some of the worlds biggest car makers. World champion manufacturers – Along with Ogiers 5th world drivers title. The cheers and tears swamped the hill side.
And as if that wasn’t enough. Then came the encore.
The big grand finale. In wales, with thousands of crazy welsh fans, who thanks to ogier before, already had tears in their eyes. Their home boy brought them all rolling back. At last. A win on home soil. The crowd at fever pitch, with atmospheric emotion like never before. And here he is! Elfyn Evans crosses the line. Jumps out of the car into the open arms of his family. While it finally begins to sink in, what he had just achieved. After a few moments it was time for the money shot. “Come on, get on the roof, you have done it!” Someone shouts from the crazed scrum of teary-eyed cheering fans and media surrounding the car. They climb on to the roof as the sun shines down on the WRC’s new bright star. Another eruption of applause and screams, fog horns and flares. M-Sport’s 20 year dream has come true! And they did it in style. Triple crown at home. What a truly unique and unforgettable day to witness. Reminding the world that when it comes to motorsport. Britain still rules.
This moment was so special I had almost forgotten about the full weekend of rallying that led us here.
Wales Rally GB ticket sales were up by 40%. And I have never seen so many fans and such full to bursting car parks – Or walked so far to get to a stage anywhere in the world championship. Arriving two hours early before Saturdays Gartheiniog stage, parking as close as it was physically possible, we still had a 3 mile walk through the forest up hill to get to the stage. Going further back. Several miles back to the main road and cars were parked in any space, ditch or bush that they could find either side of the main roads.
Thursday nights opener had a mixed response from teams, drivers, media and fans. But the atmosphere was very enjoyable, and the ‘warm up’ area before the start. As drivers did several donuts to warm up tyres & brakes was incredibly entertaining. Especially when there were two at once. Personally I thought it was a great way to get excited about the first proper day of action and chance for fans to get up close & personal with their heroes and star drivers.
The weather was perfect. Sun shone for most of the weekend. Lighting up the picturesque welsh countryside. Evan’s was untouchable all weekend. A determination and confidence which was stronger than anything we have seen before. Friday ended with an amazing M-Sport 1,2,3.
Irishman Craig breen and co-driver Scott Martin had a very different experience. After a simple small, half spin. Which landed them nose first into a deep ditch ended any hope of a decent result. They, along with some hardy fans managed to get the C3 out and back on the road. But it took them almost an hour to do so.
Saturday was the longest day of the whole season. And was made even harder by Rally GB’s famous night stages. As if driving in the dark, through a muddy forest with similar grip to ice, wasn’t tough enough, the fog came down. Imagine driving 100mph, inches away from trees, sideways with ur eyes closed. Infact I think most drivers had their eyes closed it was that daunting of a challenge.
Evans made use of his 46 second lead by taking a safe drive through the night. Not worth the risk in here. Behind him, title rivals Ogier & Neuville were battling it out. Ogier got his 2nd place back from Neuville, however he smashed his front left wheel in the process. Some quick road side repairs were needed to replace his broken wheel. To make life harder for the soon to be champ he had only 3 brakes working now on his fiesta. “I did the stage with three brakes, it’s a miracle that we’re here now”. He still somehow managed 5th fastest. Tanak however dropped to 6th in the challenging conditions.
Sunday morning kept everyone busy on their calculators trying to work out how many points Ogier needed to be champion. First stage, the frenchman once again lost out to Neuville, who was giving it everything to beat him. However, it was too little too late. The extra bouns points on the final power stages was all Ogier needed, to do the job before the final round in Australia. I had big emotions on the finish line,” said Ogier. “It’s been a tough year and we’ve all had to work very hard. It’s so amazing to be champion with M-Sport World Rally Team.” And then of course, he was followed by the welsh man claiming his first ever WRC victory and on home soil too.
But by far the happiest man in Wales at the end of the weekend was Malcolm Wilson. Finally his 20 year dream has came true. “It’s been a very emotional day and I have to say that there were a few tears during the last stage” Said Wilson. “Firstly when Ott crossed the line to take the manufacturers’ championship, then when Sébastien took the drivers’, and then again when Elfyn crossed the line to the win on our home event. It really was the Triple Crown, and a very emotional day for all of us.
“We have a great team of people and their hard work has resulted in something truly amazing. We’ve been on the podium at every event and we’re the only team to have had all three drivers secure a win this year. The Fiesta has proven itself to have the performance and the strength, and that is down to the tireless hours that every single member of the team has put into this incredible achievement.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to say a special thank you to Sébastien and Julien. When they joined the team at the start of the year, it really was the lift that everyone needed. They’ve had a really important influence on all of us, and all of us are extremely proud of what we have achieved together with them, Ott, Martin, Elfyn and Dan.”