by Rob Wilkins.

Skoda team leader Armin Schwarz is part of the 'old guard' in the WRC, having made his debut on the RAC Rally GB back in 1988. The German is currently in his second year with the Czech manufacturer, having rejoined the outfit in 2004.

Thus far, neither party has enjoyed the best of results this season as, on the whole, the Fabia WRC has struggled to match the other manufacturer entries.

Speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio, Schwarz speaks about his season thus far, his hopes for the next event and, controversially perhaps, why the exit of Peugeot and Citroen could well be a positive.

Q:
Armin, the WRC is off to Greece next weekend for the Acropolis Rally, which marks the halfway point in the season. Skoda has had quite a tough time of things this season, haven't they?

Armin Schwarz:
Yes. I think there have been some circumstances which we really didn't need. And I think, at the moment, it is not really... the current situation is, for sure, not where the car is. But certain things haven't come together - and, for that, it didn't look so good until now.

Q:
You're best result thus far this season came in Mexico when you finished ninth. Have you personally been disappointed with the season to date?

AS:
It was disappointing until now. I think we could have had a few good points in Sardinia, in Cyprus and in Turkey, but we couldn't get it to the finish.

Q:
We spoke to your former team-mate, Toni Gardemeister, a few months back, and asked him what was needed for Skoda to go forward. He said they need more reliability and more engineers. Would you agree with that?

AS:
In one way, yes. I mean, it is not just more engineers, I think more testing would be required. Also, I think a different planning on that what we are going to develop should help.

Q:
I believe you were going to do the Saarland Rally this weekend, but have instead opted to do some more testing instead. Is that right?

AS:
Yes. We are not doing the Saarland Rally this weekend. We had on Thursday a little bit of contact with a fence and we damaged the left side of car. So the team are concentrating on re-building the car for the rally. As such, we decided to stay on in France and continue testing. We were testing Thursday and the day before, and also today [Friday], Alex Bengue is testing again. So we make more use out of the test than going to the Saarland Rally.

Q:
Turning to the next event - what are your aims for Greece?

AS:
Like always before we need to get points. I would hope we are able to fight for maybe fifth to sixth to seventh places on our own performance - and get it to the finish.

Q:
Looking at the WRC as a whole, the sport was rocked last year by the announcement that Peugeot and Citroen are going to pull out. Peugeot's decision now looks set in stone following news this week they will shift their focus and contest the Le Mans 24 Hours. Citroen appear to be wavering somewhat. How important is it that they remain?

AS:
I think, in one way or another, if they are going out, it will bring maybe the costs a little bit down. Both French manufacturers' have increased all the development, all the testing and all the unnecessary technical aspects on the car. It's very high profile - and very expensive for everybody and in that way, I think it will maybe come down a little bit to a normal level so that other manufacturers' can afford it.

Q:
So you think it is positive in that respect then?

AS:
You have to see the positive from one side. For sure, it is not very positive that we are losing four or six driver seats. I mean, this will makes it more complicated to get drives. I always said that the best format of the championship for me would be if you have to enter three cars and the best two cars count for points. You then get more drivers who are getting competitive machinery and who can then win rallies.

Q:
Talking of Citroen, they have confirmed that Francois Duval will be back in the car for Argentina. Does he deserve a second chance?

AS:
I think there is always for a young driver, not only a second [chance], but sometimes a third, a fourth, and a fifth chance. If he is talented and if he is learning out of his mistakes... ...why not?

Q:
There has been talk that events might be paired in the future so there are back-to-back rallies. Ford boss Malcolm Wilson has said this will help save quite a bit of money for the manufacturers. What's your view on this?

AS:
I think it is just shifting money from one side to another - or a problem from one side to another one. Pairing, for sure, is a good thing as you don't need to move twice to an overseas event or something like that. But, generally, I see only one chance that is: reducing the number of events in the world championship. Maybe [we should] have a calendar where they are moving rallies and all current organisers get a WRC round from year to year, but you have like a roll-over system for the championship.

Q:
Would you be happy to do back-to-back events?

AS:
Yeah, why not?

Q:
Now I know this is still quite early in 2005, but what are your plans for next season?

AS:
For sure, I am thinking about something and there are some opportunities to do some different motorsport activities as well. But I think I will give myself time until September before I am going to decide something and then I will see.

Q:
You have been rallying now for over 20 years. You have only won one WRC event. Is it more a case of better one than none, or does that frustrate you?

AS:
No. It will not change drastically my life if I could win more. It has always been like that, and there have probably been a few unlucky moves to and from teams that didn't give me a car where I am able to win rallies. It has never been very easy to win though and you have to be always spot on - in the right car, in the right team and in the right form - and if you don't get everything together it is almost impossible to win - then you are going for some [points] positions but not wins.

Q:
Thanks Armin. Good luck in Greece.