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Q&A: Mark Higgins – EXCLUSIVE

4 December 2006

by Rob Wilkins


Three-time British Rally champion, Mark Higgins got a chance to take on the 'big boys' on the Rally GB at the weekend, having secured a one-off drive to use a Ford Focus WRC car.

Although Mark was forced out on day two he shone prior to his exit - setting seven top ten stages times from a possible eight and he was on course to finish eighth and score a point for much of the event. Here he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio at the end of day two on Saturday and reflects on his outing in Wales and his year as a whole, which saw him once again take the BRC title…



Q:
Mark, Rally GB was a good chance in a WRC car for you. Unfortunately it ended prematurely. Talk us through what happened.

Mark Higgins:
We had a good first day, our plans were to be in top ten and that would have been great. We were eighth after the first day and we were looking forward to Saturday's stages.

Unfortunately on the second stage in the morning [SS8], we had a problem with the turbo and dropped boost and going into the next stage [SS9] we had to drive through it with no turbo boost, which was criminal it felt so slow - two cars passed us and we dropped about 5 minutes. Unfortunately, the oil pressure was dropping and after communication with the team, it was decided by all that we weren't going to get much further - and we pulled the car up on the road section on the way back in.

It was a real shame because this rally is always a rally of attrition, especially when the weather conditions are like they are and who knows where we could have been. But there are plenty of ifs and buts in rallying. I have really enjoyed the opportunity I have had and would like to thank Steve Perez for letting us use his car.

Q:
It was looking positive wasn't it? You were running in the points and were setting good times - something that was all the more remarkable, given, you have been using a Group N car for most of the year in the BRC…

MH:
Yeah as I say we were in the points straight away and for us that was great. It is very hard to come into a rally like this with a WRC car – this is the 16th round in the championship and a lot of them have been doing it all year. It is very hard to do a one-off. We are a private team, this is a great private team, but it is difficult to keep up with the works boys. We were all happy and everybody was up for a good result. We were all enjoying it and it was just great to be out here with all the World Rally boys and be amongst them.

Q:
You have to take the positives from this don't you really? In terms of the times and in light of your success in the BRC and winning the championship again, it is mission accomplished in that sense?

MH:
Yeah that is the thing we can't be too despondent. We have had an excellent year, Rory and I. It was a new partnership and we have worked very well together. It would have been great to finish on a high. It is a shame to finish like this because you carry this forward to the new year - but there have been plenty of good memories and plenty of good thins on Friday and Saturday morning. Just to get an opportunity to drive these cars is incredible anyway and to be able to be amongst the WRC boys was an added bonus.

Q:
Talk us through your year in the BRC, which started with the Pirelli Rally in May…

MH:
Yeah it seems like a long time ago now. That went very much according to plan. We decided we wanted to drive for the championship, as opposed to the previous year where we just had to win rallies. I really enjoyed the World Rally Cars, but the Group N formula was very competitive. It definitely worked and we were fighting for seconds on every stage between four or five drivers, which is what it is all about.

We had a good lead on the Pirelli, but unfortunately we had a double puncture which dropped as down. But Ryan Champion came through and did a great job and he won the rally. So going onto the tarmac rounds there was a bit of pressure on. We had a great battle with Rory Galligan [on the Jim Clark] and finished on equal times as it was, [but we got the win there under the tie break rule] and that put us back in the lead in the championship. From there on we weren't able to control it, but for the Manx, getting another good result there made it a lot easier for us.

Q:
Next season are you going to continue in the BRC?

MH:
It would be nice to come back and do three in a row – it has never been done before, but we are just looking. Normally after GB you know what you are doing. Unfortunately though with GB being so late this year I think we have all got a bit too relaxed to be honest and nobody knows what is going to be going on for next year. We have got some options. We are looking at what we are going to be doing next year. I would like to be back out in the BRC again and have a crack at that title, but who knows. It is a very strange sport and it is very expensive and it is getting more and more difficult every year. I am sure though we will be back doing something.

Q:
What do you make of the International Rally Challenge and the new Super 2000 cars? Is that something that is worth considering?

MH:
I think it is a very good formula, if you can get enough manufacturers involved. They are quite exciting cars and you have got to drive them really, really hard. It all depends how they are gauged against Group N. Wales Rally GB is a wet rally and is never going to favour a Super 2000 car. But maybe on a dry event they are going to be very, very competitive and I think, especially when you go to the tarmac rallies, it will be a very good car. If you get four or five manufacturers', then it is back like the F2 days, and that is what we need to try and achieve again if we can. If we can do that it would be excellent.

Q:
Do you think the IRC will be able to rival the WRC?

MH:
It depends on the drivers' and cars'. The rallies are good and it is a championship which a lot of people would very much like to do. Again it is a chance for drivers' to get involved with manufacturers', which hasn't happened for a while, because in the WRC you have got Ford, Citroen and Subaru and that is pretty much it unfortunately. So to get in with somebody and build up - and if they get a taste for the WRC in the future, that is another bonus. I think the IRC will be good if it gets good TV coverage and there is a little bit of hype that is starting to gather about it – it is maybe going to be a bit late for 2007, and maybe they need to look to the following year, because there are not really enough cars about at the moment. But I think when people see how competitive and exciting they are, hopefully it could be the future.

Q:
You have been working for Pirelli this season. You must be quite sad to see them pull out of the WRC at the end of this year?

MH:
Very much so, they have been apart of rallying for many, many years. The history they have in rallying and the wins they have had is incredible. They have had good and bad years, but then we all have. For them to be pulling out is a big shame - but they have got plenty of things they will be working on for the future. There is a single make tyre coming in, in a couple of years, so maybe they are working for that. I don't know. I have done a lot of testing for them this year and if development is going on still, hopefully we will be involved in that.

Q:
BF Goodrich tyres have been dominant this season in the WRC. How much of that was down to Pirelli dropping the ball and how much was down to Subaru – or was it a bit of both?

MH:
I think you have got to look, OK, Michelin or BF Goodrich have done a very good job this year, but Pirelli have had only one team with Subaru - and Subaru have had a lot of problems. With all the tyres, on certain rallies, you have got to pick the right tyres for the conditions. It is all about compromise and that is what rallying is all about. The package needs to work from both sides. It has been frustrating for both parties this year – for Subaru and Pirelli. But that is rallying, you have to take the highs and the lows and you can guarantee that Subaru and Pirelli will be back fighting shortly.

Q:
Returning to the BRC, the championship has obviously finished this year with the Rally GB. The 2007 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship schedule looks set to be pretty much exactly the same. Do you think it is a good idea to finish off with Rally GB? Also should there be more events?

MH:
Rally GB is a tough one. It is just how you score the points. The points are the same as they are for any other round. I mean we have just come from the Trackrod, which is a one-day event and now we go to a three-day – nearly three times the mileage.

The SupeRally system is very confusing too [Mark was speaking before the finish on Sunday and the confusion over who actually won the BRC category - ed]. They don't know whether to come back in or what is going on - and from a competitor and the general public's point of view, I think it really is, a bit of a problem. How they get around that I don't know.

The calendar itself though is a good one. It would be nice to have a few more events in there as well in an ideal world. But everything is down to finances and these cars get more and more expensive to run. Getting sponsors and making it all work is tough. They did a great job with the BRC in 2006 though and let's hope it continues in 2007.

Q:
In 2007 they are going to allow the Super 2000 cars in. Is that a good decision?

MH:
I think it is a good decision if we can regulate the cars so they are equal with the Group N cars or whatever. That is going to be very hard to do though until you actually get out on the rallies and there is no point putting a weight penalty on after the events, because they will have already have got the points. If they are all equal and everyone can fight, yeah great, bring in as many cars as we can. But the last thing anybody wants is a runaway car, which is going to take the victory on every event. We want to have close fights, like we have had this year and a good scrap to the end.

Q:
That's been the good thing about the BRC this season hasn't it - the competition has been very close and for you, from a personal point of view, it must make it even more satisfying to have come out top?

MH:
Yeah it has been good this year, because last year we got a bit of criticism that there was no real competition with the WRC cars. But we still had a great crack when we went to Ireland [and drove a WRC car a few months back]. When we won it in 1997, it was a great year with all the F2 cars. So it was nice to have had a go with the three different categories. But yeah, nobody wants to win a rally when there is no competition and we have definitely had plenty of that this year.

Q:
WRC wise, looking to 2007, what are your predictions?

MH:
I think you will see Sebastien [Loeb and Citroen] come back and win, they have got a lot of development time that has gone into this new car [the Citroen C4]. They are going to be very, very strong. Ford has done a great job this year - and I am sure the fight will be between Marcus [Gronholm] and Sebastien again. Petter [Solberg] and Subaru should be working better too and they will be up there as well. They have put some good times in now and then and they are always fighting hard. I think those are the three drivers that will be scrapping it out for the title – but I think my money would probably be on Loeb again.


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