Richard Millener doesn’t want to admit defeat.
M-Sport has had some tough rallies this season but Ypres Rally Belgium has compounded that woe further.
Was there anything positive to take from Belgium?
“I went and bought some chocolates, so that’s one good thing about today,” Millener quipped to DirtFish.
That humor is a brief distraction from the grim reality facing the squad that he marshals as team principal. Ypres piled on the misery.
It began with Craig Breen. He was expected to be M-Sport’s talisman in Ypres. He’d won the event before. Yes, he’d crashed twice in the last two rallies but a fun-filled jaunt at the Jim Walsh Cork Forestry Rally had helped hit the reset button.
His pace was wanting, not feeling fully confident with the Ford Puma Rally1 underneath him. By SS10 that was finally changing, with some fastest split times. But as he neared the end he went off into a ditch. Out from fifth place he crashed.
Gus Greensmith was next in line to inherit his position. But his rally too unravelled on the same test, running wide at a junction, skipping through a ditch and damaging the rear-left of his car. Minutes were lost.
There was undoubtedly symbolism in Greensmith’s hobbled Puma being the first to arrive and assist Breen’s stranded sister car, which had caught fire. Misery loves company.
And to top it all off came Adrien Fourmaux, the last hope of a solid finish in Ypres. He’d started strongly but fallen back when a weather lottery went against him on Friday. But he’d climbed back to fifth and had his sights on Oliver Solberg’s fourth.
That too ended in disaster, running wide into a ditch on the penultimate stage of the rally and somersaulting into a telegraph pole.
No more humorous deflections. What can Millener say?
“It’s becoming a very tricky season to be honest, very difficult,” he confessed. “It’s part of rallying; that can happen. But to have the amount of bad luck we’re having, or mistakes that are being made, is not good for anybody.
“I still stand by the team, I stand by the car. We’ve got to work together again. There’s no point fighting internally with each other. But we need to get better results. Simple as that.”
Memories of the Monte magic will be fading. M-Sport continued its record of delivering rally-winning cars out of the box after a regulation change. But aside from brief flashes of promise from Sébastien Loeb in Portugal and Kenya before retirements, a repeat has never looked likely.
But the rest of the drivers were not chosen for nothing. Breen has won titles in everything below WRC and brought some front-line experience from Citroën and Hyundai stints. Fourmaux is a Rally Jenues lauréat – just like Sébastien Ogier before him. They’re in the lineup for their speed.
But that speed is worth nothing if they never bring their cars to the finish line in one piece. What can Millener do to rein them in?
“It’s very difficult,” he admitted. “You put them under pressure to do better, that doesn’t work. You give them no pressure, to just enjoy themselves, that hasn’t worked. But it all links together.
I think we all just need to take a step back for a little whileGus Greensmith
“Ultimately it’s not just M-Sport. There’s a lot of partners to make this happen. If you want to be a complete negative person, you could say some of those partners decide that it’s not working for them and the funding goes, then it becomes very tricky for us.
“Ultimately they’ve got to work with us. The car won a WRC event, so the car isn’t bad. We just need to be better than what we are now.”
Millener doesn’t need to see the fans bemoaning the poor form of his team to know they’re in a hole. But he’ll have checked social media after the rally anyway. Some replies will be harsh, some factually incorrect; perhaps even a few will amount to a reasonable reflection on M-Sport’s tribulations.
But with little else to cling onto for positives after last-minute beating over the head of Fourmaux’s shunted Puma on Sunday morning, he’s at least appreciative of the team’s fanbase trying to stay positive.
“I see a lot of comments on the internet; I read a lot of stuff. There’s still fans out there supporting us, which is great to see. It’s very important for all the team and the guys.
“It’s difficult when you’ve got a team that’s working so, so hard. These guys are completely ignoring their families to come and do this for us. That’s the dedication they put in and we’re just not getting anything at the moment.
“It’s hard. But I still believe the team and the car is there. And I believe the drivers can do it. But we need to see it to help improve things for everybody.”
Clearly M-Sport can’t really catch a break at the minute. But Greensmith feels that’s exactly what everyone in the team should do.
“I think it’s at that point now where I think we all just need to take a step back for a little while, a couple of days,” he said.
“I think it’s better that everyone just goes home tonight, has a few days with their families because it’s been a very, very busy past few months, just a few days at home with the families and really come back together this week and really focus on Greece because it’s a good opportunity for a good result.
“I think that’s what needs to be done. It’s not my decision but I certainly think that’s what needs to happen.”
No amount of Belgian chocolates will soothe this heartbreak. A break might help. More silverware in the trophy cabinet definitely will.