2017 review: M-Sport

This was one of those underdog topples giants stories that happens increasingly rarely in modern professional sport.

Yes, M-Sport World Rally Team had a huge slice of luck when then four-time champion Sébastien Ogier came on the market courtesy of Volkswagen’s late decision to step back from the WRC.

But he only signed on the dotted line in mid-December, little more than a month before the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo. Testing time was minimal and in team-mates Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans, Ogier had colleagues with potential but who had yet to break through.

Fast forward to the end of October and the family-run British team had repelled the challenge from three of the world’s biggest car companies to win a maiden drivers’ title and the manufacturers’ crown for the first time since 2007.

Ogier was far from the dominant driver who cruised to four titles at Volkswagen. Indeed, it could be argued, by Thierry Neuville in particular, that he wasn’t the fastest driver across the 13 rounds.

He won twice, a fairy tale triumph in Monte-Carlo and nearly four months later on Portugal’s gravel, but this fifth title came because the Frenchman knew when to settle for what he had in terms of points.

Ott Tänak claimed his breakthrough victory in Italy

Only twice did Ogier not finish in the top four, once in Italy when he was fifth and in Finland when he crashed. That consistency and the ability to bring his Ford Fiesta home when mechanical gremlins intervened was what separated him from his rivals.

Not that the Fiesta lacked pace. Far from it.

Wins for Tänak in Italy and Germany and an emotional home success for Evans in Britain not only ushered in a new generation of frontline drivers alongside the new-era cars, but made the Fiesta the most successful of the flame-spitting 2017 beasts in terms of victories.

While Hyundai Motorsport’s manufacturers’ title challenge faded during a slump in Finland, Germany and Spain, M-Sport never flinched.

In the space of a remarkable few minutes in Britain, the champagne corks popped to celebrate both titles and Evans’ maiden win. In the end, the manufacturers’ crown was sealed with comfort and the team completed the campaign with a podium from every round.

It is hard to stress the magnitude of M-Sport’s achievements and the team, which also enjoyed circuit racing success with victory in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup alongside Bentley, has much to live up to in 2018.

Ogier’s decision to stay with the squad indicates the cash is there to maintain development of the Fiesta and who is to say the dream cannot be repeated? 

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