Inside one of the new-for-2017 World Rally Cars – and he was highly impressed
excitement – you can feel it running through the whole company.” And through the sport. “You’re right,” he continues, “everything changes next season. Nobody knows what anybody else has got. Everybody’s started from afresh and there’s more room for a spark of genius than there has been for a long time.”
Has there been a spark of genius in Cumbria?
“Maybe,” says Wilson with a smile that spreads quickly to a grin.
“I think there will be some surprises everywhere, but nobody knows who’s done what. One of the areas we don’t know about and won’t know about until we’re a few rounds in is the aerodynamics. How have they worked with each model? Who’s got it right? Who’s made the best job? We’re very happy with what we’ve done here, the solution we’ve come up with is fantastic.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’ve been amazed at just what the team here have come up with. The depth of analysis they’ve gone into is, quite simply, breathtaking – they’ve done simulations of fuel levels, things I’ve never even considered. It’s really made me understand just what a skillset we’ve got here.”
Nobody in the service park can boast more World Rally Car know-how than M-sport; next season will mark the 20th anniversary of cutting-edge cars coming from Cumbria.
Much as he’s keen to extoll the virtues of those in Cockermouth, Wilson’s equally quick to pay tribute to a personal and professional relationship with Ford which has encompassed the vast majority of his working life – and pretty much all his time behind the wheel of a rally car.
“Ford’s back to where it was when I began driving in the sport,” says Wilson. “I came in at the grass roots level in a Ford and stayed in a car with that famous blue oval badge all the way up to world championship level. You can do the same now and that’s so important to me, like I said personally, but also for the business.”
And Wilson made the 2017 Fiesta even more personal when he became the first man to stick Geoffrey in stage mode earlier this year.
“I’ll admit,” he says, “I was one of the ones questioning if we needed more power from these regulations. I don’t have that concern now. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the whole time I was driving it. It’s a beautifully balanced car with so much feel and power, it’s stunning.”
Head of rally engineering Chris Williams has been the man in charge of the 2017 motor, but M-sport’s technical director Christian Loriaux has had an involvement in the process as much as his Bentley and World RX commitments have allowed.
Wilson Sr reaches for his mobile telephone. “Have a look at this,” he says, finding an email from Loriaux.
The Belgian’s typically blunt: “Bloody hell boss this new car is so impressive!!!”
From a man credited with revolutionising rally car design 15 years ago, that’s serious praise for Williams and his team.
Moving into our third lap and third diff map under sunny September skies in Greystoke, it’s impossible to disagree.
By now, 380 horses have taken their toll in some of the slower sections of the stage we’re using – the ruts are deep and getting deeper. But the car’s quick and getting quicker.
Nothing phases the car in the slightest and Wilson Junior’s speed is hugely impressive.
Today’s not about Matthew, but this reminder that his natural talent is a welcome by-product of what’s been a genuinely eye-opening day.
“It’ll definitely be a bit sad when the test and development work comes to an end,” says Wilson. “I just love driving this car. Having said that, I was never the biggest fan of the Monte and if it’s a tricky one, I won’t be panicking too much about not being in the car. But if Sweden’s a proper one with good ice and snow…”
The sentence is left hanging. It doesn’t need finishing.
This unique insight into what M-sport have planned for next season has left me more excited than ever about the next generation of World Rally Cars. We have become fixated on more horses and bigger, bolder aero, but there’s so much more to next year’s cars. Undoubtedly, they will be quicker, but they’re also going to be so much more efficient, so much more dynamic and so much more exciting than the cars we’ll see in Catalunya this week. And, let’s face it, the cars in Salou are already pretty special.
It was with a heavy heart that I turned south and left Matthew, Malcolm and Geoffrey in the woods – a heavy heart, but a stronger sense of anticipation than ever about the start of a new season.
Monte Carlo can’t come soon enough. ■