Serderidis isn’t the only Puma driver competing this weekend

FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley takes on the Malcolm Wilson Rally too

WRC 2023

Just when Jourdan Serderidis thought he’d got the limelight sorted, the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team star finds he’s not the only Puma in town for this weekend’s Malcolm Wilson Rally.

Serderidis will make history in and among the English lake district when he becomes the first driver in Britain to start an event in a Rally1 car. It’ll therefore be the first time for British fans to see a Puma in its natural environment.

FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley disagrees.

Now, Wheatley’s not disagreeing from the inside of his shiny FIA office in Geneva. He’s disagreeing from inside his own Ford Puma.

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In 2017, M-Sport (where Wheatley was working at the time) developed a new Ford rally car. No, not the world-beating Fiesta WRC which Sebastien Ogier, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans used to win at WRC level.

Yes, Wheatley’s own 1400cc Puma.

In fairness to Andrew, he did the vast majority of the work himself. Rallying, you see, is at the heart of everything our FIA rally director does.

And that’s why he’s sending his Puma into the woods alongside M-Sport’s big Cumbrian cat on Saturday.

“I worked at M-Sport for a long time,” said Wheatley, “and while my home event would always be the Cambrian Rally in North Wales, I’ve got a great affinity for the Malcolm Wilson Rally.”

Too modest to mention, he’s also chasing a class-winning hat-trick on the event. Wheatley, back in the day, was one of Britain’s leading national drivers. These days, he’s too busy keeping the rally world on the right road to compete regularly.

“Me competing in the MW Rally is nothing to do with my day job,” said Wheatley, who will be co-driven as usual by his son Oliver.

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“But at the same time, it’s everything to do with my day job. Events like the one on Saturday are the grassroots of the sport. Our future world champions cut their teeth in cars like my 1400cc Puma on rallies like this one – to be out there mixing it with them is a real privilege.

“And it absolutely helps me understand the sport from a different angle.”

Wheatley’s car had been inline for a new engine, but time hasn’t allowed for that. Instead, he’ll run the same Rally First specification with a slightly improved exhaust manifold.

“Finishing first Puma,” smiled Wheatley, “might be a challenge…”