Where there’s a Wilson, there’s a way

Where there's a Wilson, there's a way

How’s the transition been from rallying to racing?

MW: “A very big change! But something I’ve really enjoyed. M-Sport had no experience of racing before, as we were 100 per cent rally for years and years. So, it was a baptism of fire, but I think we’ve come into it with some different ideas and that was one of the things that Bentley liked. We weren’t a race team set in our ways and it was a new challenge that was brilliant for a lot of the more experienced guys at M-Sport. For me personally, stopping driving was a bit of a shock to begin with, but it was sort of happening anyway in the background. It wasn’t a straight step from one role into the other, and even now I’m still doing some of the testing and development on the rallying side.”

What advantage does having been a rally driver bring to your management role?

“I think you can definitely picture what the drivers are going through. Especially in the endurance races, when they’re doing a double stint or a triple stint in the night and you think: ‘I know that’s not easy’. You’re maybe a little more understanding of the position that they’re in. And I think the long night races are the closest thing you’ll ever get to rallying. And you know it’s a real team effort where you rely on your mechanics totally.”

Do you still feel the same adrenalin rush as a manager as you did behind the steering wheel?

“I get more nervous now than I did when I was driving to be honest, because at least when I was driving I thought: ‘it’s just me if I mess up, it’s under my control’. Whereas here, there are so many outside factors and variables. You can be involved in an incident that’s not entirely your fault and be put out of the race. That definitely makes me nervous.”

Have you driven the Bentley Continental GT3 yourself?

“I’ve driven it a couple of times. Nothing serious, just basically to get a feel for it. I didn’t do a full day or anything daft like that, but 10 to 15 laps and you get a good understanding of how the car is and what the drivers are going through.”

Racing doesn't hold too many mysteries for you though: you started off as a racing driver, didn’t you?

“True! I’d always wanted to drive, but in rallying there’s nothing you can do at a serious level until you get your road licence. I did three years of circuit racing, ending up with Formula Renault when I was 16. That year, there were people like Lewis Hamilton, Susie Wolff, Paul Di Resta, and Mike Conway competing; it was pretty amazing. At the end of the year I was old enough to get my road licence and I went off rallying. But racing was a brilliant grounding because the margins on circuits are obviously a lot smaller and car set-up is crucial.”

It must be a big accolade for M-Sport to be chosen for such a prestigious project by Bentley?

“Massively. I think it was a real shock to us when it happened because it all came together so quickly. But Bentley had obviously done their research and they knew just what facilities we have up at M-Sport: they probably had more faith than we did that we could do the job really! I think this programme has taken us onto the next level; there’s quite a diverse array of things going on at M-Sport now, from racing to rallycross. And we’ve got a big investment programme planned for the future that will take us to the next level still, including our own test track.”

As well as managing Bentley on the Blancpain GT Series, you do a few other things as well: how do you fit it all in?

“It’s true that this year is one of the busiest I’ve ever had: I also present for Red Bull TV on the World Rally Championship and on top of that we have a few other races outside of the Blancpain events, such as Bathurst in Australia. There’s a lot on, but when you’re doing something you enjoy it’s fine isn’t it?”

Which is your favourite race?

“For me, Spa is the one. Everybody wants to win it. We came close before and it still hurts to talk about it now really. I reckon it’s the closest thing to rallying as well. Everybody – and I mean every single person – is crucial to the final result. But I’ve really enjoyed some of the sprint races as well. When we won the pit stop challenge at Brands Hatch, that was a really proud moment for all of us. Although Spa is the one everybody wants. And winning in Paul Ricard was a great start towards achieving that ambition…”

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