M-Sport boss Wilson gets his first try of Puma Rally1

Malcolm Wilson drove a mule car, but now he's driven the real thing at M-Sport's test track

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The time had come. On Friday morning, the desk could drive itself. Malcolm Wilson had somewhere else to be. And that somewhere else was the driving seat of the World Rally Championship-leading Ford Puma Rally1.

Almost two years ago, Wilson drove the very early test mule for this latest generation of Rally1 car – but nothing prepared him for the real thing.

Climbing aboard YN71DDL – M-Sport’s second Puma Rally1 race chassis – MW took a moment to look across everything.

“It’s been a while,” he smiled. “I drove a test car at the airfield, but that was very much in the early stages.”

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His voice trails away as the intricate detail of the world’s leading rally car pulls his attention and focus back to what lies before him.

The shakedown engineers have emerged from Dovenby Hall onto M-Sport’s enormously impressive test track to take control of the next hour. Managing the direction of M-Sport has been put on hold, Wilson has a different job to do now.

The car he’s driving is the #9 car for Rally México – Jourdan Serderidis’ entry car for round three of the WRC. Serderidis drove the Puma in both Monte Carlo and at the Otepää talveralli last month. Since that Estonian outing, the car’s been completely stripped, rebuilt and readied for Guanajuanto.

Before it goes on a plane bound for north America, it’s got to be driven. This is the shakedown.

Dave Lindsay’s are the eminently responsible hands in which this task is usually placed. But Dave’s away at the team’s pre-México test.

The second most responsible hands left in the building belong to the 1994 British Rally champion and mastermind of multiple WRC titles. Step forward Malcolm Wilson.

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Installation laps completed, he’s back for a systems check with laptops plugged in, a brief discussion and he’s away again, running the car through the gears. Now there’s more speed building. Sitting on Pirelli’s Scorpion gravel rubber, the Puma’s moving around on the billiard table smooth surface that is M-Sport’s test track.

Wilson’s having a ball.

Job done, he’s out of the car and smiling. Looking back over his shoulder at the car, he considers his answer to the question of what he’s made of his Puma debut.

“It feels like the most complete car,” said Wilson. “That’s in every sense: security-wise, for the driver and co-driver, but then everything else it does as well.

“It’s pretty impressive, I have to say. OK, we’re here on gravel tires and gravel suspension on a race circuit, that’s a bit different to being on the gravel, but you can instantly feel it’s the tool to do the job.

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“Everything about the car is so impressive. You couldn’t say it’s [the power from] the hybrid, it’s just the whole package. It’s made to do the job. Of all the vehicles we’ve designed, developed and built… you’ve got to remember it’s two years since I drove the first one, it’s just evolved so much. Like I said, it’s the tool to do the job.”

And that job continues later this month as Ott Tänak takes the sister car and looks to extend his advantage at the top of the table.

For Wilson, it’s back to the desk. For now. If the world championship returns to M-Sport at the end of the year, he’s promised to consider taking the Puma out again – this time with numbers on the doors.

Now that really would be something worth watching.