The story be­hind Martin Wilkinson and CA1 Sport. By Jack Benyon LAT­EST POW­ER­HOUSE ?

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Ca1 Sport - Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

Not many na­tional rally op­er­a­tions can boast a man who man­aged a car for one of the most leg­endary names in the sport for a num­ber of years, but CA1 Sport cer­tainly has that nailed down.

The Cum­brian out­fit was started by Martin Wilkinson, who at one stage was re­spon­si­ble – en­gi­neer­ing and ev­ery­thing in be­tween – for Colin Mcrae at his time with M-sport.

The ral­ly­ing bug bit early in Wilkinson’s case. A nearby fam­ily friend was Gavin Waugh, no­to­ri­ous in 1970s rally cir­cles for be­ing one of the first fully-spon­sored driv­ers in the sport backed by White Horse Scotch Whisky in Chrysler and Hill­man Avengers. It wasn’t long be­fore Wilkinson was im­mersed in the sport he loved. Af­ter a brief spell cam­paign­ing Ford Es­cort Mk2s, Wilkinson moved to the me­chan­i­cal side of the sport with the fa­mous Mike Lit­tle Prepa­ra­tions out­fit. It was here that Wilkinson first came across M-sport boss Mal­colm Wil­son.

“Af­ter I’d served my time as a me­chanic I got of­fered a full time job at Mike Lit­tle Prepa­ra­tions,” says Wilkinson. “We did the world cham­pi­onship with var­i­ous peo­ple in­clud­ing Mo­hammed Bin Su­layem, Stig Blomqvist and many good driv­ers of that era.

“I was ral­ly­ing my­self at that time in a Mk2. I bought a lot of parts for that car from Mal­colm Wil­son Mo­tor­sport, which had a shop next door to where we were based. Mal­colm of­fered me a job on lots of oc­ca­sions but I didn’t bother as it was pretty much the same as I was do­ing where I was any­way.”

By 1996, Mal­colm Wil­son Mo­tor­sport was a se­ri­ous player in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship and re­sults like Jarmo Ky­tole­hto’s 1000 Lakes Rally podium in that sea­son were enough to con­vince Ford to give the WRC con­tract to a soon-tobe re-named M-sport.

“When Mal­colm got the Ford con­tract at the end of 1996 he asked me again to go and work for him as he had a very small team at the time,” adds Wilkinson. “When I started there were a dozen of us, when I left in 2006 there were over 300 peo­ple work­ing there.”

By 1999, Mcrae was on M-sport’s books along with Car­los Sainz, and the na­ture of Wilkinson’s re­la­tions with the Scot’s Fo­cus WRC were in­ti­mate.

Wilkinson says: “I was in con­trol of ev­ery­thing on Colin’s car, whether it was en­gi­neer­ing, parts, what­ever. We were over­see­ing ev­ery­thing at the time.”

It’s not only the cars Wilkinson has looked af­ter. He was quickly on the scene to help save the Scot’s life when he was trapped in the Fo­cus af­ter crash­ing out of the 2000 Tour de Corse event.

One man who re­mem­bers the pe­riod well is Nicky Grist, Mcrae’s co-driver. Ac­cord­ing to the Welsh­man, what Wilkinson couldn’t fix wasn’t fix­able.

“Martin was a very im­por­tant part in our suc­cess,” ex­plains Grist. “If we came back with a car that needed a lot of TLC, you could guar­an­tee that Martin and the guys we had around us would do the busi­ness, more of­ten than not we would leave ser­vice with a car we could drive. He was a bit of a mir­a­cle-worker.

“The job he did was very im­por­tant but, when our backs were against the wall, it was his plan­ning and think­ing that he would make the im­pos­si­ble, pos­si­ble. He could turn his hand to the car and come up with some­thing to pull us out of the sit­u­a­tion we were in.”

By 2006, Wilkinson had de­cided enough was enough and that he’d been there and done it all. It was time for a new chal­lenge and to set up his own team with a gap in the mar­ket in his mind.

“When I started CA1 Sport there were only a few teams do­ing the world cham­pi­onship. There weren’t re­ally any big­ger teams like there had been be­fore. When I started do­ing the job at the end of the 1980s there was RED, Mike Tay­lor De­vel­op­ments, Mike Lit­tle Prepa­ra­tions, Gor­don Spooner En­gi­neer­ing, Mal­colm Wil­son Mo­tor­sport. There were a vast amount of big teams [in the UK] who all had big con­tracts and were do­ing the world cham­pi­onship, but that tailed off over time.

“I could see there weren’t that many UK teams do­ing things prop­erly in the world or Euro­pean cham­pi­onships in 2006. I thought if we can do a good job, we could go and get some good cus­tomers and do an in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onship. With the knowl­edge I had and the me­chan­ics I knew – I’ve worked for most of the man­u­fac­turer teams at one point or an­other – I thought there was scope for it. When I started CA1 sport that was the in­ten­tion: to run peo­ple prop­erly with the full pack­age.”

And pro­vide a pack­age it has. CA1 has had suc­cess with Ott Tanak, Robert Barrable and most re­cently Fredrik Ah­lin, who will form part of this year’s BRC at­tack.

De­spite run­ning rel­a­tively suc­cess­fully in WRC2, Wilkinson be­lieves that the new-look BRC is some­where he wants to place his fo­cus. “I’m pas­sion­ate about hav­ing a Bri­tish cham­pi­onship,” he says. “It needs to be a place where peo­ple from all over the world will look at, cer­tainly as a step­ping stone into the WRC if not even a step into a fac­tory drive. It’s died off over the past few years and it’s been ter­ri­ble for Bri­tish ral­ly­ing.”

CA1 Sport has put to­gether a crack squad this year, start­ing with 2011 BRC cham­pion David Bo­gie, who has been con­firmed for the BRC in a Skoda Fabia R5 ( see Rally News).

The se­cond CA1 driver, who is also ex­pected to run at the front of the se­ries, is Fredrik Ah­lin, a young Swede who has shown a lot of pace but hasn’t quite de­liv­ered the re­sults.

“For Fredrik, there are a lot of peo­ple don’t know him,” says Wilkinson. “His times are fan­tas­tic. Most peo­ple have heard of Jari Ke­tomaa and if you look at the times he was do­ing two years ago in Swe­den, Fredrik was match­ing and beat­ing his times. He has the raw pace.”

Wilkinson does ad­mit that Ah­lin will strug­gle through lack of ex­pe­ri­ence on as­phalt – and it isn’t Bo­gie’s favourite sur­face ei­ther – but the third driver in the team is Alex Laf­fey, mul­ti­ple MSA As­phalt Ju­nior cham­pion.

The di­rec­tion of the CA1 squad will al­ways favour young driv­ers thanks to Wilkinson’s ethos of favour­ing ju­nior tal­ent.

“I did the world cham­pi­onship for over 20 years,” adds Wilkinson. “I’ve seen the tran­si­tion from it be­ing manic with things like chase cars, he­li­copters and 10 to 12 ser­vice ve­hi­cles to it now be­ing a sin­gle-point ser­vice area where the cars get one ser­vice a day.

“I’ve seen the whole spec­trum. From Group B, through Group A and into WRC cars, I have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence there.

“I like work­ing with younger driv­ers and bring them on. As a di­rec­tion for the com­pany, I don’t have any as­pi­ra­tions to def­i­nitely go and do the whole WRC again or the whole Euro­pean cham­pi­onship.

“I’m happy to do a cham­pi­onship with a young driver where I can watch him im­prove through that time. If that means a full pro­gramme in the world cham­pi­onship then fan­tas­tic, that’s great for us. That’s not the point though: I’m en­joy­ing help­ing the guys and do­ing the job prop­erly.”

Talk­ing about do­ing the job prop­erly, Wilkinson has put his faith in the BRC this year by run­ning three cars in the se­ries, but he be­lieves end re­sult will be worth it.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to the BRC this year,” con­cludes Wilkinson. “Prob­a­bly more so than we have done any year be­fore the world cham­pi­onship.”

Can CA1 Sport de­liver the first BRC cham­pion of the new era?

That’s a ques­tion we’ll only have an an­swer for at the end of the 2016 BRC sea­son on the Isle of Man, but if the an­swer is no, it won’t be for a lack of tal­ent and man­age­ment from the small out­fit on the edge of the Lake District. ■

Wilkinson started his out­fit in 2006 Mcrae needed Wilkinson’s help af­ter Cor­sica crash Grist says CA1 chief made the im­pos­si­ble pos­si­ble

Fredrik Ah­lin is Wilkinson’s lat­est at­tempt to help young driv­ers

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