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Q&A: Malcolm Wilson - EXCLUSIVE

25 November 2006

by Rob Wilkins


BP Ford team director, Malcolm Wilson realised one of his dreams in New Zealand, when his M-Sport-run operation clinched the manufacturers' championship for the 'Blue Oval'. Crash.net Radio caught up with Malcolm to gets his thoughts on that success and to get him to look ahead to Rally GB and beyond...



Q:
Malcolm, first up congratulations on your success in the manufacturers' championship, BP Ford really took it in style didn't they, with that dominant one-two finish on the Rally New Zealand?

Malcolm Wilson:
Yeah, if you think about it we had a fantastic start to the season winning in Monte Carlo and Sweden, and then to actually clinch the championship, we had the icing on the cake with a first and second in NZ from Marcus [Gronholm] and Mikko [Hirvonen]. So it was a dream result in the end that got us the championship.

Q:
It must have been a very special moment for you not only because of your history with Ford and the fact the last time they won it was 27 years ago, but also because it is your first since teaming up with them in 1997 and taking on the task of running the Ford WRT through M-Sport?

MW:
We obviously took on the contract in 1997, as you say, and I am disappointed in one sense, that it has taken us ten years to actually clinch that title. We have just been looking back at the statistics and we have actually finished runners-up five times in those ten years. So it is long over due, but I must admit I am really pleased to have delivered this to Ford, especially after 27 years since they last won it. We have just got to make sure that it is not another 27 years now!

But I think in fairness, it has taken a long time to build up the team and the infrastructure and the resources and everything you need to be able to go on and take on the best in the world. I think we are now in a position where we can actually sustain it and in fairness, certainly we feel at this moment in time, we can go and challenge for the victory on any of the events in 2007.

Q:
It must also be very sweet, as only a few years ago, you had to fight to keep Ford in the WRC?

MW:
We went through difficult times a couple of years ago but I think at the end of the day, Ford has obviously got fantastic heritage in the sport and they didn't want to walk away. But obviously like a lot of things and motorsport in general, it is difficult times. Between M-Sport and Ford though we found a solution, which gave us a four-year commitment and there are a lot of other avenues that are open to M-Sport, related to rally now - it is our remit to look at all those aspects, so we have introduced new things, like the Fiesta one-make series, which has obviously been a great success. This is all part of building up the programme for the future, so that we can sustain it and keep Ford in the championship for the foreseeable future.

Q:
Now, without wishing to take anything away from all you have achieved - and I know you can only compete against those drivers' that are in action, but do you think the situation might have been different had Sebastien Loeb not broken his arm?

MW:
Well, we felt that the drivers' championship was long gone and there is no question had Seb been there, there would have been no chance, as he only needed something like a third place finish out of the final four rallies. So, in real terms, there was no chance of that. Obviously once he unfortunately broke his shoulder then there was an opportunity. Sadly though that went wrong for Marcus in Australia and I am sure, he has obviously won two out of the three so far, and if he goes to GB and wins that one... I know how cut up he is already about it - but in fairness that was always a long shot.

In real terms however, we always felt from mid-season on-wards and I think if you look we were only seven points behind [Kronos] Citroen [in the manufacturers' after the Cyprus Rally, before Seb got injured]. We felt we could be very strong on the last four rallies and we have proved that to be the case with the string of results that the guys have had. Mikko has now taken eight podiums on the last nine rallies and he had a really bad start. So, it is really the team effort and the way that Mikko has improved that has been one of the vital parts of giving us the manufacturers' championship. I really feel we were well on track even if Sebastien had been there for the manufacturers', but as I say, for the drivers', we had no chance.

Q:
Just one round to go now, what's the game plan and target for Rally GB?

MW:
The game plan is great - it is completely different to what it has been for the rest of the season. I agree with both drivers' that they can go and enjoy themselves and go and drive exactly as they want, with no team orders, in any shape or form. I think it is going to be a very exciting rally because Mikko has basically being playing the perfect number two role for most of the season. He has got the brakes off and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Q:
Looking to 2007, can you keep up this momentum?

MW:
I really feel so, I mentioned it before, I really feel as a team that we have got everything in place. I have said about the infrastructure and everything before, but, the thing I didn't mention, we have got two great drivers as well. If you look at the way they have performed in the second half of the season, then I think we are going to be a very strong team, right from the very first event.

We are working, obviously, all the time to try and improve the car, because we realise when Seb comes back, Citroen are going to be very competitive with their new car. It is very important that we continue to keep developing and pushing that envelope and make sure that we are ready when they return.

Q:
Rumours suggest you are going to delay the introduction of the 2007 spec Focus, why is that and are you confident it is going to be just as good?

MW:
We feel, certainly, in the first four or five events of the new season that they are not all about out and out performance. They are quite specialised events. I think the important thing we need for those events is a reasonably good set-up and reliability's key too - that is where we feel we have to be very strong to start with.

Also with certain new regulations with the FIA, in terms of homologation, you are a bit more restricted. So you want to make sure you're test and development parts are 100 per cent reliable - and you have got to test them in a lot more different environments to make sure you are going to be much more competitive in all situations. So we are not too concerned. We still feel we will have a very good car. There are changes that we will be making too, that are not homologation issues, so it is not that the car won't be improved. There is always something small that happens for every rally.

Q:
When might we see the new car in action then, you said four or five events into 2007, which would be for Mexico or Portugal...

MW:
At this moment in time it could be then or it could be in the middle of the year. I think a lot will depend on how the first few events go.

Q:
Final two questions, Ford have been running a 'B' team this season, will that continue next year and could we see the Blue-oval running more than one 'B' team [as has been talked about for a while]?

MW:
Yeah, obviously we have been running the Stobart VK team this year with Matthew and that will continue next year as well. We will also be introducing a second Manufacturer 2 team. So on most events we will have six Focus WRC 06 cars and maybe on some events we will even have more. There is going to be a strong Ford presence in the WRC in 2007.

Q:
Can you reveal anything more on that second M2 team?

MW:
Well... [pause] ...it will probably be linked with Luis-Perez Companc, who has been driving for us this year on certain events with the Stobart team. So, there is going to be a link there for sure.

Q:
Lastly, the Super 2000 spec cars seem to be getting a lot of press and are gaining support. Will Ford enter this arena, and is this the future for the WRC?

MW:
Super 2000 is there for the European manufacturers', who don't produce a four-wheel drive car. It is to put people like ourselves, Peugeot, Citroen, Renault, if you want to get into the Group N side of it – and then obviously it is great that there is that opportunity there for a manufacturer to do that.

It is something for sure that we will be looking at in the future, because part of the remit is, that I want to try and create this complete ladder of opportunity within Ford. We have started with the Fiesta one-make series, we have got the Fiesta JWRC and the obvious next step is Super 2000 and then straight onto World Rally Cars. Basically at the moment we are reviewing all the future models and looking at hopefully what would be the best package to do that. But again, it will obviously be customer based and customer driven - a commercial operation.

Q:
Thanks for your time.


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