Wilson believes M-Sport could even establish a small production line for low-volume vehicles – perhaps 200 a year. At present, he’s thinking about modified versions of existing cars (an M-Sport road-going Bentley drawing on the race car’s styling would be an interesting possibility) but, for the moment, he’s not being so prescriptive.
For good measure, M-Sport is also in the throes of building a smaller outpost in Krakow, Poland, following a realisation (on a tourist trip to the former concentration camp at Auschwitz) that Krakow was ideally placed to draw customers from all over Europe to an engineering centre. It began as a base to build 20 ‘junior’ Fiestas for rallying in just 12 weeks, but soon it’ll be twothirds the size of M-Sport’s current base in Cockermouth, Cumbria, the home town that Wilson has always refused to leave.
Most of this expansion has come in the four years since M-Sport unexpectedly lost a long-standing contract to design and build WRC cars for Ford and run its team. Since it was the Ford deal that brought M-Sport to global prominence in the first place, many presumed its ending would scupper the business.
“It was definitely the worst phone conversation I’ve had in business,” Wilson recalls. “We’d just had our best Rally GB result ever. I think we’d filled six of the first eight places. So when Ford’s chairman, Steve Odell, rang the next day, I thought he was ringing to say well done. But he was ringing to end the programme, and not in a year’s time, as the contract specified, but straight away.
“In fairness, Ford had their own big problems at the time. Their press release linked the end of our contract with the closure of their plant in Genk, Belgium, which was big stuff. But it was still a huge shock.”
Luckily, the Ford ‘starter’ cars were going gangbusters and have continued that way. A new sponsorship link with Qatar allowed the WRC programme to continue.
Then into the fray, just few weeks after the Ford deal collapsed, walked Bentley’s competitions director, Brian Gush, with a plan to involve M-Sport in a new Bentley GT3 racing programme. The deal was done very quickly, and on a handshake, before the protagonists had even discussed schedules or budgets, but it has worked very well. The Bentleys have been fast and reliable from the beginning, if not always lucky.
The upshot is that M-Sport is bigger than ever – at 230 employees, the region’s second-biggest local employer – and by the time the new factory is percolating, beyond 2020, there will be another 100 people on the payroll.
In short, M-Sport will soon be the envy of every OEM (original equipment manufacturer) in the country. M-Sport is bound to go on building winning competition cars, but it could also become an important engineering outpost for much bigger car companies, or even a base for low-volume car production.
Nothing is certain, Wilson believes. Even when things look bad, you must stay open to unforeseen opportunities; the Ford and Bentley deals have taught him that. But you can always improve your chances of success by effort. Work hard, grab opportunities when they arise, chase quality and do the right thing by your workforce and success comes closer.