M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson believes that his team will face an even bigger challenge to defend its World Rally Championship title next year after predicting an even closer fight between the manufacturers.
M-Sport will retain world champion Sebastien Ogier and has signed Elfyn Evans to drive its second Ford Fiesta WRC, which will feature technical backing from Ford Performance in America.
While this year’s championship featured seven different event winners – including four different victors for each of the opening four events, in terms of both drivers and manufacturers – Wilson said he believed the static technical regulations would lead to an even closer battle in 2018.
“There’s going to be serious competition, there’s no question about that,” said Wilson. “Every manufacturer is going to be out there and definitely challenging to take that crown away from us. Hyundai has strengthened its line-up with Andreas [Mikkelsen]; we know Kris [Meeke] is very, very quick when things are right and we’ve lost one of our drivers in Ott [Tanak to Toyota] and we know how quick he is.
“The good thing is that we have some really good, tight technical regulations, which should preclude any one team making a massive step – at least I hope they do! I’m sure the teams will find small things here and there, but it’s going to be tight.
“But I am really confident that our team will step up to this challenge, but it’s going to be a very big ask for us to retain both titles.”
Wilson added that he also expected next year’s title battle to go right to the final round.
“I’m willing to have a bet here and now that the championship will go down to the wire next year,” he said. “It’s going to be one of the most exciting seasons ever. And this can only be good for the sport – and especially for the sport in the UK.
“I’ve been doing this job for 20 years and before that I was driving and not since the days of Group B have we seen these sort of levels of popularity. For us here in Britain and Ireland, we have the Colin [McRae] and Richard [Burns] impact again with Elfyn [Evans], Kris [Meeke] and Craig Breen. Everything is going in a positive direction. But, like I said, I know, sitting here, we’re not going to be able to win next year by the same margin we did this time. It’s going to be tough, but we’ll be right there and fighting.”