In one sense, it’s almost incredible that it took until 2017. Twenty years after M-Sport assumed the responsibility of Ford’s WRC efforts, Malcolm Wilson finally got the driver’s title he’d been chasing for so long. Yes, M-Sport did win the manufacturers title back to back in the lean years of 2006 and 2007 when there were only two factory teams. But, when you consider the drivers who have passed through M-Sport over these years, one would think that the team would have closed the deal long ago. Just think about the names… Sainz, McRae, Kankkunen, Solberg, Martin, Gronholm, Hirvonen, Latvala… how in the world did it take until 2017?
But it did take until 2017, and perhaps it’s the disappointments of the past that made this weekend oh so sweet for Wilson and his M-Sport team. Do you remember the times they were so agonizingly close to winning the driver’s championship? Colin McRae crashing out of a championship winning position in the 2001 Rally GB. Marcus Gronholm coming within a point of Sebastien Loeb (albeit injured) in 2006, and then Mikko Hirvonen suffering the same fate in 2009. Then there’s the one that got away… Petter Solberg who won his driver’s title with Subaru just a few years after leaving Ford. What about the ones who could have been the “next big thing” but fizzled out… Francois Duval, Toni Gardermeister, and Matthew Wilson? All these missed opportunities… all these “close, but not quite” moments set the stage for a magical Sunday afternoon alongside the Brenig reservoir.
The Power Stage was one of those rare moments when real life played out like a movie scene. It had a little bit of everything. First, there was the bittersweet moment of Ott Tanak finishing his final Wales Rally GB with M-Sport to claim the constructor’s title for the team. He did it with class too… slowing at the end to make sure that he didn’t rob his teammate of precious power stage points. Then it was time for the triumphant entry of Sebastien Ogier as he claimed his 5th, but perhaps most hard-fought championship. That itself would have been more than enough for Malcolm Wilson and M-Sport, but there was one more storybook ending in store. As Seb Ogier was confirming his legacy as one of the greats in rallying history, Elfyn Evans was realizing a childhood dream and establishing himself as the future of the sport.
The underdog team rising to the top of the world. The hometown hero claiming victory on his old stomping grounds. These are the things that don’t happen very often in any sport… let alone rallying. After all, if the did, it wouldn’t be very special. But this weekend, it did happen, and we had the privilege of witnessing it. Without a doubt, this weekend was Malcolm Wilson’s finest moment, but as rally fans, it should be one of ours as well. We might never again see something like the 2017 Wales Rally GB in our lifetimes, so let’s take a moment savor it…
…And once you have, remember that as good as this weekend was, we still have one more rally left in this incredible WRC season.