'Strong' Tänak has eyes on winning Monte and WRC says M-Sport

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After a three-season lean spell, M-Sport won again in 2022 – its team principal Richard Millener says the team and returning Ott Tänak can claim the 2023 WRC title

Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRC driver Monte Carlo Rally 2023

Tänak and M-Sport mean business in 2023


M-Sport is the team that’s run the full gauntlet of WRC experiences, from plucky privateer to full blown manufacturer squad, frequently being a semi-works operation in between.

Almost always living on its wits, the squad has always done what’s necessary to survive at the top level – and to win.

In one sense this year is no different, but it could also be one to remember. With 2019 world champion Ott Tänak returning at this weekend’s Monte Carlo Rally to begin a third stint with the team that made him, and with the powerful Rally1 Ford Puma hybrid fully firing, M-Sport is set to be a 2023 force to be reckoned with.

As team principal Rich Millener tells Motor Sport: “It’s always very difficult – but this year we’re quietly confident.”

Founded by rally driver turned motor sport supremo Malcom Wilson in the 1980s, M-Sport’s long-time association with Ford eventually led to it becoming the works squad, running big-money signing Colin McRae in the then-new Guenther Steiner-developed Ford Focus WRC for 1999.


McRae M-Sport era brought in numerous WRC rally wins


Illustrious names such as McRae, Sainz, Gronholm and Ogier have helped bring in titles and rally wins for the Cumbrian team – but a recent lean period was ended by Sébastien Loeb at last year’s Monte with a brilliant cameo win.

It hinted that with the right man behind the wheel, the semi-works supported M-Sport could be back on top again – despite it fighting against the odds and might of huge car manufacturers as usual.

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“Through no fault of our own, we’re always the last ones to bring everything together,” says Millener, whose team announced Tänak and young ace Pierre-Loubet Loubet for 2023 at the 11th hour.

“We often have to go down to the wire to get drivers, sponsors, partners all lined up for the following year.

“We’re a bit different to the other manufacturers [Toyota and Hyundai] who are able to make a little bit more of a longer-term plan – but we’re used to it. I think the guys and the girls involved are really motivated for this year, I think it’s an incredibly strong line-up.”

The man leading the line is Tänak, whose record speaks for itself. The 2019 champion has 17 event wins and has developed from world rally wild child to someone who can grind out a result on any occasion.

“Ott’s a different character now”

Last season, in which the Estonian still managed to take a highly problematic Hyundai i20 to three rally wins and second in the championship, is the perfect demonstration of this.

Millener describes what’s been like witnessing his development across three stints at the team, as well as the tangible effect his arrival has had on the Cockermouth team.

“I was there when he first arrived at M-Sport [in 2012], we started our careers together and have known each other a long time,” says Millener. “It’s different now, he’s matured, he’s a different character. Ott’s strong in the mind and knows what he wants.

“The signing of someone like him gives the most motivation you can ask for without doing anything else. You don’t need to give pay rises, promotions – having him in the team does that for you.

“We’re quietly confident within ourselves. There’s probably a lot of expectation, which we have to just control a little bit, and give him the tools to deliver – I don’t want an angry Ott on the phone!”

The recent tenures of the two Sebs – Ogier and Loeb – had a similar uplifting effect on the Cumbrian outfit.

At one point it looked like the latter might be able to make another romantic rallying return, but Millener says the team was faced with a decision on a full-time Tänak or a part-time Loeb – whilst also stressing never say never for the WRC’s all-time great.

“I think there was a little bit of choice that we had to make, as we weren’t able to secure the funding for both of those guys – it would have been a fantastic team to have,” Millener says.

Loeb snow

Loeb brought the Monte magic last time out – it could happen again in 2023


“But we also have to think about the company as well, not put that into any danger. We have to start strongly, not overstretch the team.

“We’re running two Fiestas in WRC2, because we want to showcase that it’s still a competitive car – the [customer] sales of those cars are the bread and butter for M-Sport, we can’t ignore them.

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“However there’s no no denying we’d all love to have Seb on the rallies, and a goal would be to find a way later in the season to see him on one of our events. He’s made it clear he would still love to do it.

“Working with Seb was for me personally a bit of a dream come true – the memories we made 12 months ago here will forever stick in everyone’s mind.”

Millener is keen to stress though that M-Sport’s primary focus is on the here and now.

Tänak has a strong chance of winning both this weekend’s Monte and the championship – last year’s promising start faltered due to both reliability issues and inconsistent driving performances.

“I think gradually over the last few years we have started to stabilise everything and show that we are a very good option to go forward for partners,” he says. “We’ve managed to keep the Red Bull funding on the car, which is important, they’re a huge asset to us.

Loubet M-Sport Ford WRC driver Monte Carlo Rally 2023

Millener stresses how tight each event will be this year


“However just because we have a good, strong team doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

“All the rallies will be incredibly tight. It’s just nice to know that we have someone that’s capable of challenging on every rally – we need to score points consistently

“Craig [Breen] last year was great, but we knew it was going to be difficult for him leading a team.

“Ott’s already won the world championship – he wants to win it again. We just have to help him do that.”