World Rally Championship team M-Sport’s future may look bleak with the Tänak and Ogier Show likely to end, but they took home four major wins this weekend anyway: the WRC manufacturers’ championship a fifth drivers’ championship for Sébastien Ogier, another codrivers’ championship for Julien Ingrassia, and Elfyn Evans’ first WRC rally win ever.
Welshman Elfyn Evans, who runs M-Sport’s third DMACK-sponsored car, was simply unbeatable for most of this weekend’s Wales Rally GB, becoming the first British driver to win the rally since Richard Burns in 2000.
Ogier’s championship win depended on Evans, too, as Evans’ win meant that his challengers would take home fewer championship points. Ogier’s main championship rival during the rally, Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville, finished second ahead of Ogier in third. Ogier’s third place points were enough to win him his fifth consecutive drivers’ championship. Likewise, Ogier’s codriver Julien Ingrassia also won the codrivers’ championship.
Between Ogier, Evans and Ott Tänak’s sixth place result, the M-Sport team was also able to get its first manufacturers’ title since 2007, when they were still Ford’s works team.
M-Sport team owner Malcolm Wilson explained how it all went down to Motorsport.com:
It’s starting to sink in now and I’m starting to understand that it can’t get any better than this. Really, it can’t.
This is the absolute high point for me. You look back to when we won the two titles before [in 2006 and 2007], particularly the second one on Rally Ireland and it was messy.
Marcus crashed, we didn’t win the rally, but we got the title and that was OK. This time, it was everything and it was so, so special.
Ott [Tanak] crossed the line and that was the manufacturers’, then Seb was next, that was the drivers’ and then Elfyn came and won our home round of the world championship.
It really couldn’t get any better than that. Everything was perfect.
It’s well-deserved for M-Sport, who’s been consistently one of the most fun to watch squads in rally this year, not to mention the kind of underdog story I love in sports. M-Sport has been the only privately-run team in contention for a manufacturer’s title this year, but they won it anyway by building a fairly reliable Fiesta that could compete when other cars were off-pace or broken. They’re truly the little team that could, beating Hyundai, Citroën and Toyota to the 2017 title.
It was also the most emotional win ever for Ogier, who visibly teared up over the victory. After Volkswagen pulled out of the WRC, M-Sport was largely his only option. Ogier probably expected this year to break his streak of championship wins, but he worked hard to thrive there anyway. Ogier told Motorsport.com:
At the start of this year, we had to take this bet, we had to make this challenge with ourselves, but we did it and we succeeded. The guys at M-Sport worked so hard, they did so much with a smaller budget than the manufacturers. What we achieved this year is amazing.
Yet M-Sport’s underdog status is why their star team of drivers is breaking up. While longtime M-Sport driver Tänak has had his best year yet driving alongside one of rally’s unbeatable Sébastiens, Tänak has been lured away by Toyota for next year. Rumors keep tying Ogier to a Citroën move as well in light of the fact that Ford hasn’t ponied up the cash to give M-Sport works-level support.
Why Ford wouldn’t hop onto a championship-winning team with more support when they know what M-Sport can do without it will always remain one of the great mysteries of modern motorsport to me, but here we are.