by Rob Wilkins.

Britain's leading female rally driver, Natalie Barratt kicked off her Production Car WRC campaign in New Zealand at the beginning of April, and her next event will be in Cyprus in two weeks' time.

Here, talking exclusively to Crash.net Radio, she reflects on the trip to the other side of the world and casts her thoughts towards the next challenge...

Q:
Natalie, a difficult rally in New Zealand, in many respects - but, in light of the fact you and your co-driver Carl Williamson were feeling ill and all the gearbox troubles you had, were you pleased just to get to the finish?

Natalie Barratt:
On Friday afternoon, when the gearbox went, I thought it wouldn't make any difference whether we got to the finish. I know we only just missed out on getting a point in the end, but I was bitterly, bitterly disappointed - one with my performance and second, in the car. So now I am just trying to put it all behind me - pretty rapidly - and I am now focusing on Cyprus, which is our next round.

Q:
How difficult was it feeling sick and trying to compete on a World Rally?

NB:
It was very odd. Carl [Williamson] and I ate the same thing on the Thursday, just before the rally started, and, on the Friday morning, I felt pretty rough, and I said to him: 'Have you been feeling okay?' and he said: 'actually, no' - and I thought: 'great!'. The worst bit was Saturday night, when we went round the superspecial. I felt, really, really, really rough. I literally had my hand over my mouth and I must have looked an absolute prat. But I don't know what it was - we obviously both ate something dodgy.

Q:
I take it you won't be returning to where you ate if you go back to NZ in the future?

NB:
Well, yeah... Recently, I have been getting sick a bit on the rallies and I don't know why. It must be something somewhere I am eating. In Turkey last year, I ended up in hospital for two days, with chronic food poisoning - you know, on a drip and everything. So I am really not looking forward to going back to Turkey.

Q:
How are you finding switching back to a Production Car after taking part in the Junior WRC in 2004?

NB:
It is different. The cars are a lot different to drive. They should be more reliable. Well, they are more reliable, what happened to us was pretty freaky with the gearbox failure [in NZ]. The Junior drivers do Sardinia and it is so rough for them to do in those cars. It should be a Production Car round, because the cars are much tougher.

As for my driving style, I have had to change it quite a bit. I am over-revving the car now, which is a trait from driving a Super 1600 car, so I have to learn to change up the gears earlier. It's just different really, but I am enjoying it.

Q:
You did the International Rally of Wales recently, the opening round in the BRC. That didn't go to well either, did it?

NB:
No, it was very freaky. I still don't quite know what happened. The car ran all week. It ran the morning of the rally and, literally, I came to get in it and it wouldn't start. It just wouldn't start. It was very, very strange. Too much fuel was going into the engine basically, and two of the spark plugs were completely drowned. It wasn't getting any spark and that was that. We made it over the [start] ramp, but that was it. It was finished around 2km down the road when stopped. Great, eh?

Q:
Not exactly what you planned I'm sure. Are you doing a full BRC campaign this year?

NB:
No, I am going to do the gravel ones, hopefully. I'd love to do the Manx, but there is no need for me to do the Manx really, as we don't do any tarmac rallying this year in the PCWRC. So we will have to see how it goes. I want to do the Pirelli and everything.

We will have to get these car problems sorted out with the car we use at home, because it is obviously a different car [to what we use in the PCWRC], we use a Subaru. It was just freaky. Weird day, weird things going on and then the car wouldn't start and I was like, 'this is strange'. So yeah, not good.

Q:
You've mentioned that Cyprus is next in your PCWRC campaign. What are your targets?

NB:
I quite like Cyprus. I quite like twisty, hot, rough rallies, so I want a good finish really. I am in a new Evo VIII - although it is criminal to take a brand new car there - and it's not even finished yet. You just can't think about it, because it just not going to be the same car when we leave. It is just so rough. It's incredibly rough.

Q:
Any tests planned before then to get you up to speed?

NB:
Well, obviously Wales was suppose to be a test, but that's gone downhill. We have a test in Cyprus on the Monday before the recce starts. We have got a full day planned, so we will just have to see how that is, but apart from that no.

Q:
In terms of the PCWRC as a whole, what are you looking to do this season in terms of a finish?

NB:
Well, these two events coming up now are my most important rallies - Cyprus and Turkey. I know them both and they are where I can get the best results. I have really got to concentrate on them. I know I have got Wales Rally GB later on in the year, but I have never had a good result there in my life - never had a good rally there, full stop. Everything goes wrong for me on Rally GB! I said to my sponsor: 'do I have to do it' and they said: 'yes'. And I said: 'I really don't want to do it, do you understand?' and they said: 'yes - but you have to do it.'

I am a bit disappointed with New Zealand, so that has given us a bad start now. But we have just got to see what we can do now. With obviously only six rounds, once you start missing out on one, you've lost it really. However, I am not giving up.

Q:
Now you have been rallying since 1996. How have you improved then?

NB:
A lot, I hope. When I started, I didn't do a lot. I just did it for fun really. It's only in the last four years maybe that I started to take things more seriously. I would say I have improved a lot - I should flipping hope so too! Otherwise, it's a bit disappointing isn't it?

Q:
Very true. Do you think you can challenge the likes of Toshi Arai and the other leading drivers' in the PCWRC this year?

NB:
Toshi is an exceptional driver anyway and, no, I really don't [think I can challenge them]. Toshi has been doing it a long, long time and has driven a lot of stuff and is very experienced. So, no, I wouldn't expect that.

I would like to get as close as I can to them this year and just see how it goes. I am not making promises to anybody about anything. I want to drive as hard as I can and I have until New Zealand. That's why I was so bitterly disappointed as well, because the first stage of the rally is the stage I had a crash on in the rally last year, and I took it steady. Then, when things starting coming together later on in the day, the gearbox broke. At the moment, I just seem to be hampered with things. You have to try and put it out of your mind, but it's very difficult to put it out of your mind when things keep going wrong all the time.

Q:
There are not many Brits competing in the WRC this year, in addition to yourself in the PCWRC there is Mark Higgins and, in the JWRC, there are Guy Wilks and Kris Meeke, but none obviously in the senior WRC. It's a shame isn't it after the Colin McRae-Richard Burns years?

NB:
It is really, because the television coverage suffers as well. It is a knock-on effect for all of us, because it is not pushed as hard because there is no one at the absolute top. It makes it harder for us to get sponsorship.

You know, Colin McRae's name is dying out a little bit now, because he hasn't done anything for quite a while, and the same for Richard. We need somebody back up there at the top, to make it in front of the public more of a spectacle and, second, for sponsorship.

Q:
I've got to ask this, and I appreciate you probably get sick to death of this question, but motorsport is a very male-dominated sport and the WRC is no exception. How do you find that?

NB:
It's not too bad. You get use to it. It is no problem within the sport. I think the only places I ever have problems is places like Cyprus, with the spectators and things like that. Okay, there is the odd local driver that wouldn't be happy that a girl is beating him and things like these, but that is the only problem - you get spectators looking at you funny!

Q:
Good luck in Cyprus, Natalie, and thanks for taking time out to speak to Crash.net Radio.

NB:
Thanks.