Looking back on the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship, the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team had much to be proud of – the passion and dedication of the Cumbrian squad producing some stand-out moments over the past twelve months.
Malcolm Wilson is renowned for his support of young talent, and he reinforced that with this year’s line-up. Elfyn Evans led the team for the first time in his career; Teemu Suninen completed his first full season at the highest level; and debutants Gus Greensmith and Pontus Tidemand both took to the wheel of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC.
But it’s not just in the driver line-up where Wilson promotes young talent, and this season also saw him entrust the day-to-day running of the team to the championship’s youngest Team Principal – Richard Millener. And together, this dynamic young team delivered much for Wilson to be proud of.
The goal was to challenge for victories, and the Cumbrians surprised the field with their ability to do exactly that – the top-specification Fiesta delivering stage-winning performances on asphalt, snow and gravel.
In Sweden, Teemu Suninen led a rally for the first time in his career. Winning stages and out-performing his vastly more experienced rivals, the young Finn proved his speed and a new-found consistency would develop as the season progressed.
The team’s first podium of the year came in Mexico – Evans and new co-driver Scott Martin cementing their partnership with a solid result through the hot gravel stages. But their best was yet to come, and on the Corsican asphalt Evans was the man to beat.
Winning more stages than anyone else, the Welshman was on course for a second career victory before an unsighted pothole resulted in a puncture through the closing kilometres – first place becoming third in front of their eyes.
In Portugal, Greensmith and co-driver Elliott Edmondson had a strong debut with the top-specification Fiesta – bettering the time of both Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier through their very first speed test.
And in Sardinia, Jarmo Lehtinen returned to the team – calling the notes for Suninen and giving the young Finn the confidence and consistency to secure a career-best second place; just 13.7 seconds shy of victory.
The team were put on the back foot when lead-driver Evans was ruled out of three events with a back injury mid-season, but the Welshman came back with a point to prove. Setting sensational pace on home soil in Wales, an early mistake stopped him challenging for the win but seven fastest times proved the Fiesta was still capable of victory.
Other highlights included debut wins for Greensmith and Pedro Heller in the WRC 2 Pro and WRC 2 categories, and the launch of the all-new EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta R5 MkII – which Greensmith steered to a dramatic victory in Turkey.
The Cumbrian squad were the unquestionable underdogs going into this year’s championship, but their passionate support of young talent continued to deliver and inspire throughout the field.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“Firstly, I want to thank Malcolm for giving me the opportunity to lead the team this year. It’s something I was really keen to do, and I consider it a big mark of respect that he thought I was up to the job – hopefully I did okay and he lets me continue next year!
“We might not have got the win we were hoping for, but we came pretty close and I think the whole team can be really proud of the job we did this season. We outperformed a lot of people’s expectations, and made a clear statement that we weren’t just there to make up the numbers.
“We challenged for wins, set stage-winning pace on all surfaces and helped progress the careers of a lot of young drivers – something M-Sport has always been very passionate about. The hope now is that we can continue where we left off this year – so watch this space!”
Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“M-Sport has always been a place where young talent can thrive, and I’m proud that the company is able to offer that across the board – not just behind the wheel, but also making key decisions as part of our management and engineering teams.
“Elfyn did a good job leading the team for the first time and came extremely close to the win in Corsica. It was a shame to see him miss some events mid-season, but he came back fighting – proving the pace of the Fiesta and the development that had been carried out by the engineers over the summer break.
“We also saw Teemu take another step in his first full season at the highest level. He showcased some really impressive speed and led an event for the first time in his career. And when Jarmo joined the squad, his experience helped Teemu develop a consistency that was rewarded with a career-best second place in Sardinia.
“Plans for next year are progressing, and I’m excited to see what we can deliver. We’re not quite ready to announce our plans just yet, but I can say that we’ll be sticking to our core philosophy of supporting up-and-coming young talent.”