By Rob Wilkins.

Suzuki driver Guy Wilks is the reigning BRC Junior champion and currently, along with fellow Briton Kris Meeke, is one of the countries hottest prospects.

Both are being strongly tipped to step up from the Junior WRC to 'senior' level in the not so distant future and replace former British WRC stars, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, as household names.

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Here, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio following his S1600 win in Cyprus, and ahead of the next event in Turkey, Wilks speaks about his year so far, his hopes for the future and loads, loads more...

Q:
Guy, were nearly halfway through the season now - or at least we will be following the Acropolis Rally at the end of next month [June 24-26]. How do you feel the season has gone for you thus far?

Guy Wilks:
Pretty mixed to be honest. We've had our fair share of good luck and bad luck. But I think the bad luck is slightly outweighing the good at the moment and we need to redress that balance.

Q:
Suzuki is pretty much the team to beat this year in the Junior WRC, but how big a threat is Citroen, following the introduction of the C2?

GW:
I think competition is only good. In any sport, you have got to have stiff competition and I think they are definitely doing a good job in developing the C2. It is obviously a good car on both gravel and tarmac now. I think it is going to be a fantastic season to watch to see how the JWRC pans out. But, like I said, it's a good thing really because, with Suzuki having been so dominant, it's good to have some stiff competition. But that's not to say we can't beat them.

Q:
The C2 went well with Kris Meeke in Monte Carlo, when he won - and of course the C2 won again in Sardinia, in the hands of Daniel Sordo. How well do you know Kris? Do you have a friendly rivalry?

GW:
Yeah, definitely. I mean, we used to be a bit more friendly than we are at the moment, but we are sort of growing apart a little bit because, obviously, we spend so little time at home, especially myself with doing the full World Rally Championship. We used to socialise together a year ago. Kris is obviously very busy with Citroen now, testing and developing that car, and I'm pretty busy with what we are doing at Suzuki.

So, yeah, definitely a good friendly rivalry but I think, as everybody knows, there is a very strong competitive edge between us both and we obviously like to beat everyone else, as well as each other.

Q:
Focusing on Suzuki again, they are obviously doing all the events this year - not just the Junior rounds - but the other eight rounds too. How are you finding that? Is it a good bonus?

GW:
Yeah, it's a good bonus. It's very interesting and, actually, it's very interesting how much time of your life it actually takes up doing 16 rounds, compared to the seven or six as we have had in the JWRC before. You know, it is an awesome experience and I wouldn't change it for anything.

From my point of view, where I want to go is into a World Rally Car into the World Rally Championship. That is my main goal. I think it is a good schooling for us, that myself and Per-Gunnar Andersson have got a good opportunity to learn the rallies because they are so specialist. New Zealand was incredibly specialist and it was just a fantastic opportunity to gain experience of those roads, as well as other places we have been and are going to go this year.

Q:
A lot of the manufacturers don't seem very pleased with 16 WRC events in a year. Is it a case of two, or even four, too many?

GW:
Yeah, I mean... like I said it's quite interesting just talking to you there. I said we spend very little time at home [and] I think 16 is possibly slightly too many. I think they have definitely got to cap it, because the sport is an expensive sport, whether it be for a manufacturer or privateer at any level.

I definitely think 16 rallies is too much. I have my own personal opinion what opportunities could be to change it.

We are doing it in a Junior WRC car this year, and we are not testing so much for each event, just turning up and doing them. But, if you are having to test for those events - every event - it's just a massive amount of time spent and money spent testing for 16 rounds. So much time goes into it, whether that's for an engineer, mechanic or driver - you spend a lot of time away from home.

That, though, is the nature of sport. I don't mind spending time away from home, but you have got to be sensible how much money the championship has got.

Q:
There is a lot of talk Suzuki might step up and compete in the 'senior' WRC in 2006. What can you tell us about that? Are you and Per-Gunnar Andersson a part of those plans?

GW:
I'm not really in a position to comment to be honest. Not that I am trying to be blunt with you, but I haven't really... we've just been concentrating so hard on testing and developing the Swift.

I don't like to think too far ahead with my own career - I try to plan out and achieve my goals rally on rally, or on a year on year basis. But, like I say, we haven't done anything. I can tell you I haven't physically done anything with a four-wheel drive in terms of Suzuki. Like I say, we are so busy doing the rallies at the moment and testing and developing a new car. It's just so hectic all my time is taken up with that. So, one step at a time really.

Q:
If Suzuki does step up, does it worry you that Marcus Gronholm has been linked to the team and that this might be at the expensive of yourself or Andersson?

GW:
It doesn't worry me. I mean, I know how that rumour was brought about but, never mind, it is one of those things - that's if it is a rumour. I mean there could always be some seriousness, even if it is a rumour like that. Obviously, if a manufacturer is coming in, they want to do the job properly.

But I don't think they would be spending the money on myself and P-G, if they were going to just plump for a driver like Marcus Gronholm. Why do the 16 rallies with us to get us the experience? It just one of those things, but you have always got to be wary and got to be on top of your game. If I'm bringing in the results for Suzuki, and if Suzuki is happy with me, then that's great. I'm sure there is a future.

Q:
With the withdrawal of Peugeot and Citroen, it's going to make it even tougher isn't it for drivers from the Junior WRC to graduate to the senior class?

GW:
Yeah, absolutely - it's slightly demoralising in that respect. I mean, I think it is a big blow if they both go.

There are rumours Citroen might stay in a privateer form, whichever way that might be, and then come back 2007. I think there are probably another few manufacturers teetering on the brink as well. But we touched on this before, with 16 rounds, with the escalating costs of competing on these rallies, it takes it toll after a while if you're not getting the results. Manufacturers obviously have to justify their budget. Good publicity is best and, if you are not getting the results, manufacturers either cut their losses or go, and do something else.

I think it's going to be harder with losing Peugeot, but I think there are a few older drivers - should we say tongue in cheek - knocking around, so there could be a few free spaces coming up in the next year or two.

Q:
Are you planning to stay in the JWRC for another year in 2006, or are you hoping to move on?

GW:
I don't know. It is really dependent on Suzuki at the moment. That's the team I drive for, along with MSE. It's one of those things - chicken and the egg type thing. It is dependent on the development of the WRC as and when that will come around.

It's so difficult. Kris has spoken openly about it and I have as well. We feel we are more than ready to move up to the WRC. I think we have learned a hell of a lot in the Junior WRC and I'm confident in my own abilities that I can go up there and do a good job. But, obviously, a good rider has to have good horse, but it's one of those things. I feel the time is right and I think you have to try not to get stagnant in one formula. I don't want to hang around to long in JWRC. So I would like to get up to WRC as soon as possible.

Q:
What is your aim for Turkey and then, of course, the next JWRC event in Greece?

GW:
Well, actually, Turkey is going to be a really interesting event. Normally, when we go out in these rounds, which are not part of the JWRC, there is not much competition [in terms of the S1600 class]. But Turkey is going to be a round of the Turkish championship as well, which is S1600 based, so we will have some Turkish drivers, as well as David Higgins in an Opel Corsa. It should be good. It should keep us sharp and, obviously, it will be a little bit more representative to Greece than Cyprus was.

It should be a good basis just to sharpen ourselves up and get ready for a quick, rough rally in Greece. The aim has still got to be to win the S1600 for myself and Phil [Pugh], as always, it doesn't change any time we go out. So I'm looking forward to it.

Q:
Junior WRC drivers are not allowed to run with mousse in their tyres. Do you think you need them for those kind of events?

GW:
That's a tricky one. It all stems from what runs in front you. The WRC cars run mousse in their tyres and it is unbelievable when you watch on-board cameras, the lines they take in some places.

We've seen in Cyprus, the mousse system is not totally 100 per cent fail safe. There can sometimes be problems with it or the tyre. The stuff they pull out onto the roads or the pace they can drive the roads because they have the mousse in them makes it so rough.

We are running behind them and it spoils rallies, results, championships, even drivers' careers. If you look at myself in Sardinia... we had how many punctures? We competed on four stages and had five punctures. That's no ratio - I mean, that was ridiculous. On the first stage, we punctured 7km from the end and I drove on the puncture and we lost over a minute-and-a-half and ripped the brake pipe off. But we still managed to finish third fastest in the JWRC, even though we had a puncture for 7km.

I'm not trying to demean the lack of pace of anyone else, it just shows all the problems all the other people had as well. Only people who had clean runs set good times and they tended to drive at a pace that was maybe not going to set the world alight. Okay, that may be a tactical move, but I'm in the JWRC, I want to try, it doesn't matter which team I'm with, I want to try impress the team. I want to drive fast and set good stage times to prove I'm a fast driver. We are being limited by punctures, and it is definitely a race of attrition - or the person who gets the least punctures.

Q:
I take it you are going for the title again this year after only just missing out last year?

GW:
Yeah, absolutely.

Q:
How is development going on the Suzuki Swift Super 1600 car, which is due to replace the Ignis? When will it make its debut?

GW:
Well, it's due to make its debut in Japan, but testing is going really well and I'm really impressed with the car. In the Ignis, we have a very strong and reliable car. Everybody looks at it as a magnificent car and, as my team manager would tell you, it is a good all-round package. I think the Swift is definitely starting to generate and develop areas such as dampers and suspension, and generate pace out of the car, as opposed to having to drive the car immensely hard. It is just one of those things - now that development has come on so much more, I think you will see a big difference between the Swift and the Ignis.

Q:
Do you think it will be more on par with the C2 - or do you consider the Ignis to already be on par?

GW:
It is difficult, because obviously we have only done one rough rally. So who's to say how lucky or unlucky whichever side was?

It's one of those things. You can never really say until you've done a few rallies and see how it averages out. We could get to a really smooth gravel rally... well we will see in Greece, even though it's a rough rally, how quick it is. The Suzuki is very quick in places, we will just see what the C2 is made of. We know the Ignis is more than capable in those sorts of conditions.

But they have definitely developed a good car, although it's not about matching your rivals - you need to go and beat them. With the testing and development we have done with the Swift, hopefully we will have as good package, if not better.

Q:
Thanks Guy and good luck in Turkey and Greece.

GW:
Cheers.