M-Sport Ford World Rally Team principal Richard Millener’s not laughing now. In fact, he stopped laughing quite some time ago. And that gag, you know the one about the odd grey hair, yeah, that’s wearing pretty thin too now.
Joking – not that we are – aside, Millener’s squad has been run ragged for the last fortnight. M-Sport was going to the Monte Carlo Rally. Then it wasn’t – according to rumours – then it was; then it was it might be. But only if France’s prime minister Jean Castex looked favorably on the need to see a brace of Ford Fiesta WRCs tearing through the French Alps in the hands of Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith.
In the end, Castex said yes and the game was go.
Through all of that uncertainty, Millener remained absolutely adamant.
“We were going,” he told DirtFish. “We were always going until absolutely every door was shut. You have to have that mentality. You can’t get distracted by what governments might or might not be saying.”
Millener was very happy to arrive in the service park for this week’s Monte Carlo Rally.
In fact, rarely has anybody looked so relieved to arrive in a French town where the streets are empty, the restaurants shut and the natives not really wanting their friends from the Channel’s northern shores alongside them.
Here’s his take on the last two weeks.
“It’s been a bit of a double hit.
“We’ve had COVID-19 regulations, which unfortunately change nearly every day and one government website tells you one thing, one government website tells you a different thing. You have to be really on the ball to see what the regulations are in terms of that; truck drivers, for example, are exempt for some things [compared] to others.
“That’s been quite challenging. The other problem we have is that nearly every country is now putting different regulations in on PCR testing and what duration before the flight that can be. There was already a case of PCR testing for every rally we did last year, which is fine, but then there were these barriers put in so, for example, the airplane one had to be a certain amount of time old.
“Some [of the team] people actually came through Amsterdam and they require a PCR test and an antigen test, and the antigen test has to be taken a maximum of four hours before boarding. So there’s all these little rules that you have to work around, which has been a challenge and then, on top of that, we had Brexit, which I’m yet to find a positive in.
“Every truck, effectively, now has to be listed with its contents, we have to pay for a piece of paperwork, essentially a carnet, to transport that truck across the border, so the added paperwork and labour time has been quite big.
“It also removes the possibility for us to do things like we used to do. So, for example, if you had a crashed rally car you could send it home early so you could get started on repairing it, things like that. That’s a lot more difficult because it has to go back in the same vehicle it came out in.
“And then you have delays in the time it takes to get here, because now every truck in the UK has to stop at a certain place to have paperwork stamped by hand, go across the Channel, stop again and then have it stamped again so it can carry on to its location. On average, we were reckoning on four to six hours of extra travel time, just to do the paperwork.
“One of our cars was delayed for 12 hours, trying to get sorted, because the ports themselves don’t really know what’s going on at the moment. Obviously, I expect this to get better and a bit more streamlined in the future, but for Monte Carlo, that combined with the COVID-19 regs made everything pretty difficult.
“In terms of travel, not only did it get more complex, but a lot more expensive. Flights are so limited at the moment, actually moving people is a lot more difficult than it used to be. You used to be able to get from Nice to the UK for about £20. I think we’re about £200 per person at the moment to go from Nice back to Heathrow, from where we then drive up the whole country to get home.
“But we’re here now and yeah, gladly we got a [pre-event] test done, all the team was healthy and able to come so that was positive and now we just hope for a good rally.”
What really didn’t help Millener was the added grief of that speculation that M-Sport’s rally was run before they’d even left Cumbria.
“As long as the rally was on, there was never a question that we wouldn’t be here,” reaffirmed Millener.
“I do get quite annoyed, quite often, but I try not to show it to too many people because it’s probably not the best image. The rumors were frustrating. They weren’t true, which was the biggest problem. Usually you kind of let that go, but the rumors I got sent and I read…
“What these people don’t understand is that you very quickly get questions from your drivers; you very quickly get questions from Malcolm; you very quickly get questions from Ford. We’re trying to keep all these people happy and they’re saying: ‘Why don’t I know about this?’
“And then you can lose that momentum of the good partnership you have because they think things are being hidden or they’re not being told things.
“Like I said, it’s very frustrating.”
Millener can breathe a sigh of relief he made it to Monte. But now he has the stress of the rally itself.