M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener says he had ‘kind of forgot’ what it feels like to fight for rally victories at M-Sport after two years away from the front of the field.
Nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb is currently second on the Monte Carlo Rally on his debut with M-Sport in its Ford Puma Rally1, and his first World Rally Championship rally since 2020 Rally Turkey.
He was second-fastest on both of Thursday evening’s nighttime stages, then went unbeaten until SS7 on Friday and led the rally until SS10 on Saturday.
You kind of forget until you get to this point how nerve-wracking it is watching when you’re fighting for those top positions.Richard Millener
The five stage wins claimed by M-Sport drivers on Friday also exceeds the team’s combined tally from the past two seasons, and puts it a quarter of the way to matching the 20 it won in 2019. Parts of the Friday stages are repeated on Sunday.
“It’s not been a plain-sailing weekend for us, that’s for sure,” Millener said to DirtFish on Saturday night.
“It may look like it’s been okay, but there’s still been hard challenges we’ve had in the background and we’re dealing with them well. I think the pressure kind of pushes people on, and some of the hours and the commitment that the whole team’s put in to make it happen has been incredible.
“But we do it because we all want that feeling of winning again. Especially some of us who were there in 2017, ‘18 or even earlier, when we’ve had those times. Certainly for me what pushes me to keep going is knowing what it was like back then.
“Winning a championship this year? Probably quite tricky, but we know that we can do very well and we’ve got here, we’ve done well so far, so the next goal is to keep the pressure on and go ‘what do we do in the next round?’. Just keep on building, keep on building.”
With Loeb and rally leader Sébastien Ogier both running part-time programs this season, it means Craig Breen heads the full-timers going for the 2022 title, while Gus Greensmith completes the top five after he registered a first WRC stage win on Friday.
“It’s been great fun to watch. Lovely to have one proper Monte stage with snow and ice, and it definitely brought the drama,” Millener said of the lead battle where the two Sébastiens played games with their tire strategy.
“It’s been a difficult couple of years for M-Sport not being up there and fighting, and you kind of forget until you get to this point how nerve-wracking it is watching when you’re fighting for those top positions.
“It’s been really good, obviously very happy with Sébastien Loeb and what Craig’s done as well. Craig’s done a fantastic rally and finds himself on the podium at the moment, so we can’t be anything but happy.”