by Rob Wilkins.
Subaru have been somewhat off the boil of late and as such, after Sebastien Loeb's run of five successive wins, Petter Solberg has dropped well behind the Frenchman in the battle for the 2005 drivers' title.
The Norwegian now trials Loeb by 23 points but, with eight events still to go, the battle is by no means over.
Here, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio in the week prior to the Rally Argentina, the event that will kick off the second half of the season, we caught up with Subaru team boss, David Lapworth, and asked him how Petter is coping following his recent run, how the team think they will do next weekend and what his thoughts are on the latest 'happenings' in the WRC, including plans to 'pair events' next year.
The new Impreza was introduced at the Rally Mexico and you got off to a good start, but you seem to have fallen behind Citroen and Sebastien Loeb recently.
Yeah. I suppose the biggest factor that we can put our finger on is that Michelin made a huge step forward on tyres, which they introduced in New Zealand. I guess that is the biggest element to it. Petter is still getting himself completely comfortable with the new car, but I think that is more because he is trying to do unreasonable things with it. He is trying to deal with that imbalance. Once Pirelli can narrow the gap - and now that we go to Argentina, the surfaces are different [to Greece, Turkey and Cyprus et al], hopefully it is a different situation.
Loeb's been seemingly unstoppable of late, winning five events on the trot. Have Subaru got any aces left to play or is it just the tyre factor?
I think, on the last few rallies, it has mainly been a tyre factor. I mean, there is no question Citroen are a very good professional team with huge resources and they have got a very good car. Sebastien is on top form and he has hit the sweet spot where, if you are very, very confident, you gain extra speed because you don't try too hard.
What you can see when drivers are in a position where they are just not quite on the pace, is that, the harder the try, the slower they go. Sebastien has broken out of that, he has got such confidence when he drives, he knows he has the confidence not to push too hard and it just comes easy. Petter has been in that situation in the past and we have seen periods where, if I think back a few years, to the late 90s/early 2000 period, Tommi [Makinen] just hit that sweet spot and everything was easy. That doesn't make life easy for us, but I think it will change.
The tyre situation, I hope, is specific to these recent events - these hot, dry rallies where you have a very hard base and precision in the tyre is very important. We now go to Argentina. where it is much cooler, a much softer surface – and, hopefully, a different story.
How's Petter Solberg been handling things - there is obviously quite a big gap between him and Loeb now?
It's difficult, a real test for him. For the last couple of years, we have been very, very strong on gravel. If you look back, Petter had a run of three consecutive gravel rallies, towards the end of season last year, where he won and won quite comfortably. We have been in this situation ourselves - I mean five is impressive - but we did three in a row only last season.