Behind the scenes at M-Sport, a WRC powerhouse

30th September 2019
Dan Trent

With one obvious exception the sight of a WRC car casually driving through the gates to a stately home would be somewhat extraordinary. But 400 miles north of Goodwood lies another country estate where competition cars regularly let rip, this being Dovenby Hall, headquarters for M-Sport and the centre of Malcolm Wilson’s dream to create a motorsport empire in the heart of his Cumbrian homeland.


M-Sport took on Dovenby nearly 20 years ago, having formalised its rallying partnership with Ford. Appropriately one of the cars on display here is the 1999 Safari-spec Focus WRC Colin McRae drove to one of his most critically acclaimed victories, delivering the team’s maiden WRC win on only the car’s third outing. Manufacturer titles in 2006 and 2007 followed before Ford officially pulled out in 2012, though the association remains close and M-Sport Fiestas took Frenchman Sébastien Ogier to driver’s titles in 2017 and 2018.

As a former team driver himself, Ford remains a brand close to Wilson’s heart, his business founded when he spotted an opportunity to supply parts to northern-based privateer rally drivers like himself. From there he has expanded into an international motorsport operation, GT3 Bentleys and Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy cars built alongside rally Fiestas. The recent addition of an FIA-spec test track on site meanwhile demonstrates Wilson’s ambition to create a northern motorsport powerhouse.


The chance to drive a new Focus ST around the new circuit is too good to pass up, a sprinkling of Cumbrian rain on the immaculately laid tarmac providing exactly the kind of test you’d want. Depending on the configuration there’s up to a mile and half of track, plus a low-friction steering circle. It’s perfect for demonstrating the ST’s fancy front differential too, the Focus able to deploy its 280hp effectively even on a greasy surface like this. A single lap in a Ford GT on dry-weather Michelin tyres requires rather more concentration but demonstrates room for even a Le Mans-inspired supercar to stretch its legs.

“First and foremost I intended the track for our own shakedowns, and particularly for race testing,” says Wilson. “But the feedback from manufacturers has been great. We’ve got the Ford press event here now and Cummins testing with a commercial vehicle – things I never thought of but seem to be attracting a lot of attention. We’ve had interest from all sorts of manufacturers and race teams and, with the engineering facilities we have on site, we can work as a one-stop shop.”

A tour of the existing facility proves his point, I-Pace and Bentley circuit racers shoulder to shoulder with rally Fiestas of all types. The WRC cars grab the attention but it’s the cost-controlled R5 Fiestas run by customer teams in WRC2 that really put bread on the table, M-Sport having delivered over 250 of the previous version and supporting them with upgrades, parts and service. There’s now an all-new generation of R5 Fiesta, M-Sport capable of supporting drivers and teams from first steps in the sport through the very top tier. It’s a far cry from the family garage from where Wilson first started operating. But the spirit is the same.


Because M-Sport doesn’t just build cars – it also nurtures talent. Hiring Ogier when VW pulled out of WRC was a big gamble for Wilson but one that paid off with two titles and a taste for victory across the business. And the upper ranks of WRC are packed with M-Sport alumni, including Toyota’s championship leader Ott Tänak. M-Sport’s current lead driver Elfyn Evans meanwhile earned his 2012 WRC Academy title in a Fiesta and is keen to repeat 2017 victory in his home Wales Rally GB after a frustrating season sidelined with a back injury.

Doubtless Wilson is a canny and ambitious businessman but it’s clear his heart is in the sport, his determination to attract talented drivers and engineers to this picturesque corner of Cumbria rooted in local pride and a burning desire to prove M-Sport’s talents at the highest level. As long as there’s a World Rally Championship you can expect the guys from Dovenby to be in the thick of it.  

  • M-Sport

  • WRC

  • Rally

  • Ford

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