Matthew Wilson dominated M-Sport’s momentous Return to Rally Stages on the road as UK rallying finally made its comeback. David Evans has the full story of the day.
Matthew Wilson can go home. Armed with a Ford Fiesta WRC, he dominated Saturday’s M-Sport Return to Rally Stages in the fashion he fancied. And the style his father specified. On the eve of the event, Wilson Sr laid out his vision for the following day – a day when nothing short of victory was expected of Matthew.
Certainly if he planned on darkening his folks’ door again.
Driving M-Sport’s own Fiesta WRC test car, Wilson Jr was, of course, a nailed-on winner for Britain’s first post-lockdown forest rally. By his own admission, the former World Rally Championship regular wasn’t in need of much help from co-driver Stuart Loudon in finding his way around the team’s permanent test site.
A launch issue caused a second stage startline stall, but apart from that the day really went as planned for car #1.
“I was a bit of a pansy on the brakes in the first couple [of stages],” said Wilson Jr, “but after that it went well. We were doing a little bit of testing, the team’s back up here next week getting ready for Estonia, so it was good for us to get some stuff done before that.”
Anybody viewing the timesheets from afar would have seen Wilson Jr slip from P1 only once through the day. That was after stage four, when Rhys Yates moved to the top of the table.
The reason was something of a family affair. Wilson Sr, running his Group 4 Escort as course car, was off the road.
“I saw somebody waving what I thought was a red flag,” said Matthew, “so I slowed right down. But then I saw dad – he was well off the road and giving us the thumbs up. We went to the end of the stage in road mode.”
The organizers altered the times and restored Wilson’s lead.
Yates was the first driver to offer an emphatic answer to a question which most had pondered over breakfast: would a well-driven Rally2 (R5 in old money) have the edge over World Rally Cars from a variety of generations?
Part of the appeal of this Greystoke-based event was the fact that it was bringing together M-Sport’s history from the last two decades; only cars emerging from the firm’s premises in Dovenby Hall or in Krakow, Poland would be eligible.
That meant everything from a Focus RS WRC02 from the turn of the millennium right through the game-changing 2003 car, the championship-delivering 2007 Focus and then the move to the Fiesta RS WRC.
They were all there adding history as well as heritage to the event. But it was the context that really interested folk.
Yates and his M-Sport Ford World Rally Team stablemate Adrien Fourmaux were already showing the older generation (of cars, that is) a clean pair of heels.
A change of gearbox after SS2 offered Fourmaux more top-end speed and improved traction but Yates, after establishing control of second place early on, delivered an inch-perfect drive to bring home what would have been in a win had it not been for another car from another world.
“The plan for today was to come out and have some fun,” said Yates. “I haven’t been in the car since the Cambrian and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get back up to speed here.
“I didn’t want any pressure, I just wanted to get in the car and drive and see what we could do. The times in the first two were great. I’m not going to say we managed it or controlled it after that – Adrien was never that far away, but I did feel I could be a little bit more measured in the afternoon.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’m happy with this win. It’s good to show the pace we’ve got.”
Having won the last rally before British rallying locked down – March’s Malcolm Wilson Rally – a Fourmaux win in Cumbria would have offered some symmetry. In the end, the Frenchman was happy with third, to complete the M-Sport lock-out of the podium.
“It was nice to be back in these stages again,” he said. “The conditions were quite tricky today. It’s the same like in March, I think the weather is always a little bit the same with the rain and the cold. We have [Rally] Estonia coming, so this was a good chance to come out on the gravel and drive the car.”
Frank Bird was the first non-M-Sport entry, fourth on the road in his 2007 Focus, half a minute down on Fourmaux. Later though it was converted to an overall official victory, as all M-Sport crews withdrew from the results “out of fairness to the other competitors”.
Welshman Hugh Hunter was the highest-placed non-WRC competing Rally2 competitor in fifth on the road, which was later converted to second place.
Ireland’s Sam Moffett rounded out the top six, which later became the top three, in his Fiesta R5. Finlay Retson impressed with a lights-to-flag class win in his R2T19.
The Scot was another just happy to back out in his rally car.
“I’ve done nothing apart from drive the car up and down the farm track a couple of times since lockdown,” he said. “To lead the class and be fastest on every stage is great. It’s been a fantastic event, so good to be back out.”
Robert Wilson won the class for older Fiestas. Tied for third in that class was M-Sport Ford World Rally Team boss Richard Millener.
Millener, with M-Sport colleague Kirsten Dallas on the notes, drove a Castrol-liveried 1600cc R2 and emerged from Greystoke without visiting any ditches – an improvement on last time.
“We got a bit quicker as the event progressed,” he said. “It’s good to keep my eye in and do event every once in a while.”
Millener’s efforts will be further featured on DirtFish in the coming week.