The cunning nature of M-Sport’s first WRC win

Carlos Sainz's Acropolis Rally win in 1997 was the first for a Ford World Rally Car

POTW sainz

Coming in from the recce for the 1997 Acropolis Rally, Ford drivers Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen were concerned. The Greek roads might have been shorter than in years before, but they’d rarely been rockier.

Earlier in the season, the factory Escort WRCs had struggled through similarly tough conditions in Kenya and Argentina. A new plan was sought for the Acropolis.

Malcolm Wilson, a man moving into his sixth month in charge of Ford’s WRC assault, had a plan.

“Treat it like a European Safari,” was the Briton’s answer.

That meant suspension changes at every single service. No questions. Every corner, changed. Nothing would be left to chance.

Sainz 1997 Acropolis

Initially, neither Ford driver could keep pace with Subaru’s Colin McRae or Mitsubishi man Tommi Mäkinen, but as the two at the top of the championship standings bounced off things, the Escorts moved clear.

And stayed there, in a perfect demonstration of patience and performance.

At the finish, Wilson was hoisted high onto the shoulders of Sainz and Kankkunen as Ford celebrated a brilliant 1-2 which had been far from predictable before the start. The Spaniard had even more to celebrate as his 19th WRC victory made him, at the time, the championship’s most successful driver ever.

Wilson has gone on to lift plenty of world titles for Ford and his drivers, but that maiden win at the helm of Ford’s factory program was as sweet as they come.