M-Sport team principal Rich Millener believes Safari Rally Kenya will be an “interesting experiment” for the team’s future working practices with neither he nor managing director Malcolm Wilson in attendance.
Any UK citizen traveling from Kenya back to the country would face a quarantine period of 10 days which has forced M-Sport into a creative logistical plan for the Safari.
Teemu Suninen was a victim of the tactics, as there were no longer enough engineers out on the event to run his Ford Fiesta Rally2 in WRC2 with the team’s on-ground force at around 65% of its normal level.
But in keeping personnel numbers at a bare minimum, M-Sport has still been able to make the rally with works drivers Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux while Martin Prokop will also run under the M-Sport umbrella in WRC2.
M-Sport’s Polish division also has a strong presence in Kenya with four of its Rally3 Fiestas competing – including for 91-year-old Sobieslaw Zasada and its managing director Maciej Woda will be on-hand to relay information back to M-Sport in Cumbria if needed.
Millener explained: “He can answer any questions or be there to relay any information but to be honest with the technology that we have now, and the ability to talk like this [over video link], we can relay pretty much the same information we’re doing as we’re there, the only thing we can’t do is physically go outside and have a look and see what’s going on.
“In terms of the issues or challenges, the engineers could make that call themselves and we can just listen in and comment as necessary. It’s actually an interesting experiment to see how things work for the future, whether it be not necessarily Malcolm or myself not attending, but if there’s a way that we think we could do some engineering remotely.
“It’s a complete perfect opportunity to see how this kind of works on the rally, it will give us an idea without a pressure situation of what the positives are and maybe the difficulties.
“We’ll look at it like that because we’re not in a position to attend this time, so we’ll see how we get on.”
We’re taking a little bit of a risk in the fact that we will only really have three people per WRC carRichard Millener
Rally Estonia runs just three weeks after the Safari and that is the main reason M-Sport wasn’t able – or willing – to send out a full-capacity team to Africa.
If it had, its pre-event testing for Estonia would’ve been compromised while the team is also involved in the M-Sport Stages rally next week in Greystoke forest.
As a result, the team has called upon some of its customer’s mechanics to help run the cars with other employees fulfilling different or additional on-site roles.
“We’re taking a little bit of a risk in the fact that we will only really have three people per WRC car, four people on the R5 car that’s there,” added Millener.
“But because of the way the rally works with the flexi-servicing, you can usually adjust the car timings to make sure you always have four people on one car. Having less people is always a disadvantage to someone who has all people.
“But we had to again find a solution to the problems we had with what we got in front of us. And if it can’t be perfect, then you find a solution and work around and do that. It’s kind of what rallying’s all about.
“It’s a nice challenge, but like I said once this rally is done it will be great to know that’s another one we’ve got around and we’ve found a way to get there and do it, and I hope for the guys and girls that are out there that they get a good result.
“Because we’re really relying on them at the moment for these next two-and-a-bit weeks to go away without coming back to the UK. We appreciate fully how much of a difficult job it is for them, because even if they do come back between the quarantine period ending and going back to Estonia, they will only come back to the UK for a couple of days before they go back out again.
“So we are asking a lot of them, which we fully appreciate. We’ve done the best we can to make sure everyone’s happy, and we’ll keep it in mind and later in the year if we can give them a rally off so they have some more time at home then we’ll do that.
“But these two months around Portugal to Estonia and Kenya were always going to be some of the trickiest we had to deal with. So we’re getting through now, but it’s been a challenge. Every day’s a good challenge, and I enjoy a challenge.”
Millener estimated that the team is spending an additional €5-15,000 [$5978-17,935] per rally on COVID tests alone and well over €100,000 [$119,570] in total “which is a substantial amount of budget that we had to find in order to just comply with regulations.”
He also reckoned the complications of Brexit has cost the team an extra £10-12,000 [$13,992-16,791] compared to before too on things like carnets, additional paperwork and admin time.
“I would hope this is the last time we are put in this situation and that COVID will allow us to travel a little bit later on because it has been one of the most difficult rallies to prepare for all year,” he said. “I’ll be glad when it’s over.”