Will M-Sport return to top of WRC in 2022’s Rally1 era?

Much has been made of M-Sport’s focus on the World Rally Championship’s introduction of its Rally1 era in 2022. And rightly so. M-Sport was the first manufacturer to switch its attention from developing its last World Rally Car to designing and testing its first-ever hybrid Rally1 car.

The Ford-backed British-based team has strengthened its line-up and invested in its Ford Puma Rally1. All in the hope that it will return the team back to the top of WRC’s three manufacturers.

But will it really be enough for a team beaten to the manufacturers’ title by over 300 points last year?

If it is, Adam Hall has reviewed three areas which will be essential for M-Sport to challenge for its first title, and rally win, since 2018.

Engineering expertise

WRC’s new technical regulations are an engineer’s dream. It’s exactly the type of thing you became an engineer for. M-Sport has designed its Ford Puma Rally1 from scratch and it is fair to say things look impressive so far.

The sleek, smooth bodywork looks aerodynamically efficient and utilises teams’ new ability to scale panels to fit WRC’s new spaceframe chassis.

In theory the Puma should be bulkier and less effective than the Fiesta M-Sport based it’s last World Rally Car on. But thanks to bodywork trimming and scaling, the crossover SUV looks incredibly racey.

Of course, looks don’t make a car go any faster but the Puma has a few interesting features that engineers will hope helps give it an edge.

M-Sport is the only team so far to include edges leading up to and along its front wheel arches. While these designs are much simpler than those on 2017-2021 World Rally Cars, any edge will help maintain airflow along the bodywork rather than into disturbed air exiting the wheel arch.

The Puma exhibits a large side skirt that inclines away from the car’s floor towards the rear wheel arches. This will also encourage smooth airflow along the rear wheel arches, reducing drag, and helping improve top speed performance.

A downside to this is that air could get trapped below the side skirt ahead of the blanked off wheel arch. If this happens it will increase drag and the gap could also leak air below the floor, disturbing the airflow underneath the car and reducing the effectiveness of any downforce generating floor designs.

M-Sport displays quite a clean looking air intake for battery cooling just below the rear side window. This looks smaller than Toyota’s design which would aid M-Sport’s top speed performance.

Unrivalled experience

Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport has lived and breathed WRC for more than 20 years. While it may struggle to match the financial might of Hyundai and Toyota, M-Sport has the know-how to make things like what WRC will witness for the first time in Monte-Carlo just work.

2017 was the perfect example. In the preceding years, M-Sport couldn’t match Hyundai, Citroen, and Volkswagen. But given a chance for a fresh design, a new homologation cycle, and extra support from Ford, M-Sport built the car to beat in WRC.

There is one difference this time and it ironically creates a unique situation. Many lauded Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia as the “greatest of all time” crews when they won titles with M-Sport in 2017 and ‘18.

The Frenchmen were dominant with Volkswagen but their ability to do it with a resurgent team like M-Sport showed their class was limitless.

There is no dream Ogier-Ingrassia combination for M-Sport this year. If the Cumbrian outfit set the benchmark in 2022, M-Sport’s overachieving credentials will reach an all-time high.

Unwavering Irishmen

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will lead the way for M-Sport this year. Their first full-time WRC season together offers so much potential but behind all the uncontainable excitement will be an awful lot of fresh learning and seismic challenges.

Sebastien Loeb may be many people’s star attraction in Monte-Carlo but the nine-time World Rally Champion will only dip in and out of his Puma throughout the year.

Breen and Nagle will shoulder a large chunk of the responsibility to lead M-Sport’s manufacturers’ championship campaign.

Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux have pacey potential but their inexperience make it difficult to demand continued championship-challenging results.

Breen’s past two years with Hyundai have proved he now has the speed to win world rallies. Pair that with the Irish crew’s consistency and they hold the key that could unlock M-Sport’s return to the top of WRC.

Can’t wait to see what happens? You’re in luck, Monte-Carlo is just around the corner!

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Photos courtesy of M-Sport

Adam Hall

Brought up in the Irish countryside, Adam was never far away from the world of rallying. From following local events like the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally, Adam now puts the stories from stages all around the world into words through his website Rally Insight.

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