Remembering Mark Wilford, the WRC’s ‘top banana’

M-Sport Ford and the WRC Promoter's media guru passed away on Thursday, September 1

2000 Sanremo Rally  world wide copyright: McKlein

You know the moment. We all have them. It’s the phone, doing its thing. Ringing. Right now, it’s not a good time. The screen reveals one word.


Now that’s a different story. Stop what you’re doing and talk to somebody much more interesting instead. World Rally Championship PR and communications manager Mark Wilford was always a good conversation.

When Darlington Football Club had won, he was the best of conversations.

So Thursday September 1 was stopped in its tracks when a message dropped in to say Mark had passed away.

How was that even possible?


Yesterday was right up there with that day 15 Septembers ago, when we lost Colin McRae. Or 17 summers ago when we lost Michael ‘Beef’ Park and the world’s best rally journalist David ‘DKW’ Williams.

You don’t forget the moment when genuine, overwhelming heartbreak hits.

That was yesterday.

Mark Wilford was somebody I’d known my entire time working in motorsport. Without question, he was the most upstanding, honest and decent person in our industry. And when I say our industry, I mean journalism. At his heart, Wilf was and always would be a journalist.

His attention to detail was second-to-none and his ability to include a Take That reference in a week’s worth of headlines almost as impressive.

As a trained journalist, Mark started his working life as a reporter on the Beverley Guardian in Yorkshire (not his beloved Darlington, County Durham, but almost close enough…). He rose to the role of deputy editor at the Buckingham Advertiser (some way south of his beloved Darlo) and then the Bucks Herald, where he doubled as sports editor. By this time, he was also working in motorsport communications and ran the press office for the British National Rally Championship and then the British Championship itself in 1994.

It was hard not to love a bloke who followed his introduction with the words: 'Would you like to co-drive Colin McRae at our Rally GB test?'

Two years later and he made the jump. For the next 18 years would be the go-to media face for Ford’s participation in the World Rally Championship.

That was where I first met him. It was hard not to love a bloke who followed his introduction with the words: “Would you like to co-drive Colin McRae at our Rally GB test?”

From that day to this, Wilf has been there. Sure as Wednesday follows Tuesday, you could rely on him being there with the right answer to the wrong question. As a qualified and top-drawer journalist, treading the fine line of PR and communications is never easy. Instinctively, you appreciate what a reporter is asking and why. But your job is to provide the line that best represents your organization.

Mark walked that line with ease. His ability to bat away probing questions was second-to-none.

Every now and then, I could get an email from Wilf, praising a story or a feature I’d written. The most cherished of those messages were the ones which he opened by saying: “You know I can’t say this officially, but…”


He remained a journalist at heart.

But there is so much more to Mark than that. He’s been gone less than a day, but already I’ve been in contact with people from around the world. People who, like me, simply can’t take in the news, can’t imagine a world without Wilf.

When you do this job, when you spend so long away from home, your colleagues become like a second family. But you get to choose this family. Wilf and his partner in crime in keeping us off the juiciest of Ford stories, Georgina (then Baskerville, now James), were the best of that family. Wherever we were in the world.

And Wilf truly was a worldwide figure. Take him to Coffs Harbour, New South Wales and Rally Australia press officer Chris Nixon would catch up for a beer like they’d seen each other yesterday.

Head in the opposite direction and the Rally Argentina media center would hang on his every word – especially after he switched from running Ford’s WRC media campaign to working with WRC Promoter.

For so many of us, Wilf was part of the very foundation of what we do and what we’ve always done. To be without him is to be a journalist without a pen.

Wilf managed the true meaning of a social presence. The modern-day digital version? Not so much. He was old school. He lifted the phone. He did the job properly.

For so many of us, Wilf was part of the very foundation of what we do and what we’ve always done. To be without him is to be a journalist without a pen.

Just three months ago, Mark and I sat and enjoyed the WRC’s 50th birthday celebrations at an official celebration in Portugal. The stories on stage came courtesy of world champion after world champion, but the best bit was the opportunity to catch up with my mate.

As is all too often these days, conversations had become snatched between Zoom calls or a spare five minutes at the media zone. But sitting down with him and catching up on a little bit of everything was a fine way to spend an evening. The laughter simply didn’t lift, right up until the point where a colleague of his ventured some distance from the agreed script with the mic in his hand. Wilf’s head descended to his hands while simultaneously waving me away to write the inevitable story unwittingly delivered outside of his control.

Ten minutes later, we were laughing again as conversation moved back to the more important stuff. Like family or English cricket. Wilf’s love of sport was unparalleled. Even when he was in the middle of treatment for the short illness which took him far too early, he cheerily pointed out that it wasn’t so bad… the athletics was on TV. Hours later, he was up and out for a run again.


Sometimes, life and the world just gets it wrong.

Knowing how keenly his loss has been felt in our community, it’s impossible to imagine what his family is going through.

And it’s there that I’d like to leave these words, with his wife Nic and daughters Kate and Annie. We lost a truly magnificent member of our team. You’ve lost something far, far greater and for that, I’m more than sorry. The profound sympathy and heartbreak felt around the world reflects the love felt for Mark.

But nothing and nobody will fill the hole left by our very own top banana.

Goodnight mate.

Tributes from the paddock

Jost Capito
Williams F1 team principal, former Volkswagen Motorsport director

Rally Mexico 2015

I am still in shock about the very sad news. Mark was a fantastic human, the kindest and most professional person I ever met. It was fantastic to work with Mark and becoming such good friends. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and daughters and I express my deepest sympathy to his lovely family.

Mark will live on in all our hearts forever and we will always remember and praise him as a role model personality. I learned so much from Mark.

I don’t want to stop writing about his greatness but I am full of sorrow and difficult to find the right words to justify him.

RIP my friend and enjoy looking down on us knowing that you are in our hearts forever.

Yours, Jost.
(Written with tears in my eyes)

Petter Solberg
2003 World Rally champion

Jay Ward
Director of product communications, Ford of Europe

Words:David Evans