And so it goes on.
The most incredible of World Rally Championship runs looked like it had run its course.
With Ott Tänak out for the weekend with a broken engine after clouting some bedrock, and Pierre-Louis Loubet crashing out of the same stage with enough severity that there were fears he wouldn’t re-emerge on Saturday either, Friday of Rally Finland looked to be the place where a 22-year, 289-event streak came crashing down.
But like in sudden death of the penalty shoot-out, the goalkeeper stepped up and saved it and the story continued. In this case, M-Sport’s mechanics were the keepers. Loubet returned, and M-Sport’s ridiculous run of consecutive manufacturer points scoring finishes goes on.
The last time M-Sport – either in its more independent form or as the fully-fledged factory partner to Ford – didn’t collect any manufacturer points in the WRC was all the way back on Rally GB 2001.
To contextualize that, Kalle Rovanperä was just a one-year-old back then on a weekend where his father, Harri, finished second. Sébastien Loeb had never won a rally, let alone a title, and twitter was just a sound a bird made.
M-Sport headed into that event with hopes high for Colin McRae to seal the drivers’ title, but the Scot famously crashed spectacularly on SS4 and ended his championship chances on the spot.
Team-mate Carlos Sainz was then out when an incident injured a spectator on the second day, and out of respect Ford decided to withdraw the third Focus WRC of Mark Higgins as well.
Since then, even if drivers didn’t score any points for themselves having resorted to super-rally (as was the case in Finland), the team has managed to register some manufacturer points on the board on every single world championship event.
Starting all the way back on the 2002 Monte Carlo Rally where Sainz and McRae were third and fourth respectively, right the way through to Finland last weekend where Loubet’s 45th-place finish ensured M-Sport’s immaculate run was maintained.
Over the course of those 290 WRC rallies, five world titles have been claimed – three manufacturers’ crowns in 2006, ’07 and 2017 and two back-to-back drivers’ successes in 2017-18 courtesy of Sébastien Ogier – as well as 53 rally wins and a further 165 podiums.
Finland 2023 will hardly be remembered as the best of those, and off the back of a disappointing Estonia two weeks earlier team principal Richard Millener is relishing this ‘summer break’ the WRC is now ahead of the Acropolis as a chance for the whole team to reset.
“[The] guys will continue to work as hard as they can but ultimately I think it’s a good opportunity for our guys to have a reset as well,” Millener told DirtFish.
“It was quite a nice relaxed start to the year and then it got really busy, and these two events especially close together we opted to stay out in Estonia to reprep and we did the test and we did the small rally and we did this rally, so our guys are worn out as well.
“Everybody just to have four weeks of not travelling, spending time at home, getting back into a rhythm, doing some exercise, not eating so much junk food, that kind of stuff is good for everybody and we know where we are and the position in the championship now.
“We know it’s going to be hard so you can come to the last quarter of the season with a bit of an open mindset of what we can achieve and I would hope that we can change our fate and get a couple more victories.”
But if anybody at M-Sport fancies a silver lining, its record that no manufacturer has, or potentially ever will, repeat hasn’t yet run its course.
Just 10 more WRC rallies to go, and M-Sport will hit the magic 300.