M-Sport team principal Richard Millener says the squad’s search for a WRC2 leader for the 2022 World Rally Championship season is proving challenging.
A rotating cast of drivers have shared duties in the works-liveried Ford Fiesta Rally2s during the 2021 season, with Adrien Fourmaux, Teemu Suninen, Tom Kristensson, and Nikolay Gryazin all taking turns at the wheel.
Rally2 rivals Škoda and Citroën mounted title assaults with experienced WRC campaigners such as Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Østberg this year, and M-Sport is already setting its sights on bringing in “someone that can do justice to the car” for 2022.
But Millener admitted that quest is turning out to be a “very difficult” one.
“If you look at the level of drivers that are driving in the competition, they’re all either current or ex-professional WRC drivers,” said Millener.
“I guess that’s not really what the class was designed for in the beginning but that’s where it’s gone to naturally and that’s just the way it is.
“Our intention is to find somebody who can drive the car, improve the car and get the results.”
Millener stressed the Fiesta Rally2 had been quick all season but said the team had lacked consistent finishes to get results on the board – and that consistency combined with Suninen’s speed is what M-Sport was looking for in its next WRC2 driver.
“Ultimately, every rally that Teemu was driving this year in the Rally2 car, he’s been either in the lead or fighting for the lead and then he’s unfortunately gone off the road or had incidents that put him out of winning,” said Millener.
“That’s cost us quite a lot in terms of not getting the results on paper even though if you look at the stage results, we have been competitive.
“It’s finding someone that’s available at that pace and we’re working on that.
“As we know the car is good and it’s a key part of the business so yes, our intention is to be represented in WRC2 with someone that can do justice to the car.
“But the number of drivers available at that level, ready to step in and go with it, is quite small. That’s something to work on over the close season. We want to be competing in that category.”
Only one WRC2 class winner this year has never scored an overall WRC podium. Jari Huttunen, a member of the Hyundai Junior Driver program, scored a full house of points with rally wins and powerstage victories at Rally Italy and Ypres Rally.
The remaining four drivers to have stood on the top step of the WRC2 podium are all ex-factory WRC drivers: Mikkelsen, Østberg, Suninen – after his move to a privateer Volkswagen Polo – and Esapekka Lappi.
Despite the influx of top talent to the second-tier series, Millener rebuked the suggestion that WRC event winners dropping down a level should be policed, citing previously unsuccessful attempts to segregate such drivers from their less experienced counterparts.
“I think we did that with WRC2 Pro and then everyone got frustrated about it and said it was a pointless championship,” he said.
“It’s difficult when people try to solve the issues that people say we have and then everyone says you’ve not solved it, you’ve just created something else.
“I don’t think there’s a happy medium anymore. It just needs to be that we put everyone into one category now and that’s the level.
“If you’re not competitive at that level then there is WRC3, which will be Rally3 cars, which also allow you good progress in a good car on slightly less budget and allows you to get more experience under your belt.
“It does seem like a bit of a catch-22; you separate the ex-professional drivers and someone doesn’t like that, or you put them in and someone doesn’t like that. I don’t think we’ll ever please everyone on that, unfortunately.”