M-Sport has competed in rallying for decades, including the World Rally Championship since the late 1990s as Ford‘s factory team with multiple victories and titles. However, the Wilson family, who has owned the team since its founding in 1979, is now looking to tackle the world of rally raid.
With aspirations to compete in the legendary Dakar Rally, M-Sport announced a partnership with Neil Woolridge Motorsport, who also fields Ford vehicles in its rally raid endeavours. As part of their new alliance, M-Sport will oversee NWM’s operations in Europe and work together to develop the NWM Ford Ranger T1+ for competitive and customer purposes.
Neil Woolridge Motorsport intends to race the T1 in the South African Rally Raid Championship, which introduces the Class FIA T1+ as its main category for 2022, to gauge its capabilities. The T1+ Ranger is larger than the T1 by 300mm with 350mm long-travel suspension and 37-inch tyres. Neil’s sons Lance and Gareth Woolridge will pilot the Rangers.
The Wilsons, led by managing director Malcolm Wilson and his son Matthew, visited the Woolridges in South Africa to test the Ranger. Matthew, who works as team director and has WRC experience, drove the Ranger T1+ alongside Lance, an Extreme E driver.
“M-Sport and NWM have a shared vision, we feel that our respective outfits complement each other in a way that would create an unrivalled rally raid outfit,” said Malcolm Wilson. “The NWM Ranger has definite potential, it is built on a very solid foundation, Matthew tested the car during our visit and was very positive about his experience. It’s fair to say I’m not one to stray away from a challenge, it’s what I love about motorsport and it’s no secret we have some work to do to contend for the prestigious Dakar Rally. That said, I am confident that M-Sport and NWM have the tools and know-how to push the Ford Ranger T1+ to new heights.”
Matthew Wilson added, “I don’t have any prior experience of driving or operating a T1+ vehicle, but the first impression was really good, which is very significant as we have got a good base to go from. We feel from the collaboration, we will be able to push on the vehicle’s development programme in conjunction with Neil and his team.
“Fundamentally, we are encouraged about the strong basis that the car is built around and it was great for us to get a real feel for what the car is like. It’s the start of a very new era for M-Sport, one which we are excited to learn from and see what our knowledge could bring to the development cycle.”
Neil Woolridge Motorsport won the South African Cross Country Series with Lance Woolridge in 2018 and 2019. NWM and Ford has also scored Cross County titles in the Brazilian and South American divisions with Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea; NWM’s South African programme is fielded in partnership with X Rally Team. A Brazilian outfit, X Rally Team has competed in the Dakar Rally using Rangers prepared by NWM.
“This is a landmark moment for NWM and a proud moment for me personally,” commented Neil Woolridge. “I have always admired Malcolm from afar and M-Sport is an outfit I’ve always wanted to collaborate with for a variety of reasons. Our Ranger T1+ is a vehicle we are looking forward to developing and building a strong customer line-up with, which is something M-Sport has demonstrated it can create and strengthen. Our T1+ Ranger is built on the reliable and well-tested foundation of our previous generation Ranger and as such, places our new vehicle on a great starting level of performance in comparison to the competition.”
A specific timetable for M-Sport’s Dakar début was not immediately given. In the meantime, the team is running multiple Ford Puma Rally1 cars in WRC, with Sébastien Loeb—the 2022 Dakar Rally runner-up—winning the season opener in Monte Carlo.