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Volkswagen's Sven Smeets says M-Sport kept the WRC alive

Ogier Rally Australia 2017

Volkswagen Motorsport director Sven Smeets says M-Sport's 2017 title success is payback for keeping the World Rally Championship afloat when most manufacturers deserted it.

Malcolm Wilson's independent M-Sport team took ex-VW driver Sebastien Ogier to the title this year and also won the manufacturers' crown - for the first time since its successes as the Ford works squad in 2006/07 - against factory opposition from Hyundai, Toyota and Citroen.

Between Subaru's pullout at the end of 2008 and VW's arrival in 2013, M-Sport's Ford team was Citroen's only full-time works rival in the WRC.

M-Sport then kept its WRC programme running on a private basis even after Ford withdrew its factory support following the 2012 season.

"It's absolutely fantastic what M-Sport has done this year," Smeets told Autosport.

"It's some reward for Malcolm for staying in the sport after Ford officially went away.

"He kept the championship alive by fighting Citroen in a few years where there were only four factory cars.

"I think he got paid back all what he invested, all the hours of his factory, his people and his team.

"I am really, deeply honestly happy for him and M-Sport in general."

VW would have been favourite for a fifth straight championship double with Ogier had it stayed in the WRC for 2017.

Smeets said he was particularly pleased Ogier had been able to carry on winning after VW.

"To do it with one of our old drivers, you feel a little bit connected and that's nice," he added.

"It's fantastic what Seb and Malcolm did."

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