By Rob Wilkins.

Ford may not have won this year in the World Rally Championship but it hasn't all been bad, quite the contrary in fact and Toni Gardemeister's run which has seen him notch up three podiums and score points on every event thus far has given them plenty of reasons to smile.

Prior to the Rally Finland Crash.net Radio spoke to M-Sport boss, Malcolm Wilson and asked him about the year to date, how work is progressing on the new Focus and, of course, which drivers they hope to sign in 2006...

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Q:
Malcolm. How do you assess Ford's season thus far?

Malcolm Wilson:
I think bearing in mind what decisions we had to make in relation to drivers and what our longer term plans were, I have to say, we are very happy to find at this moment in time that Toni Gardemeister is only four points behind Petter Solberg, who is lying runner up in the championship - and the way that Sebastien Loeb is driving at the moment, there is just nobody that is going to get anywhere near him. All in all we are pretty pleased. Toni's confidence is growing as each rally goes by - his results are getting better and better. So I have to say we are pretty pleased at the moment.

Q:
Thus far this season you have managed to get three podiums, but no wins. Is that frustrating?

MW:
In fairness, it is probably a little bit frustrating for me because when you know you have got a car that is still capable of winning... But we made that decision at the end of last year for this year, because obviously we wanted to invest in the future - which was designing and developing the new Focus for next year. So as I say, at the end of day, we can't be too, we can't be disappointed, because in fairness we probably didn't expect to be where we are either.

Q:
You opted for two new drivers for this season, in the shape of Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta. Have they delivered what you expected to date?

MW:
Yeah I am very happy - certainly very happy with Toni. Toni's results speak for themselves. But it's been a very difficult season so far for Roman. He has made one or two unfortunate errors which have really played on his confidence. At the moment we are basically just trying to, it's a confidence building exercise, to get him back up to where we know he can drive.

Q:
There is lots of talk already about 2006, you've mentioned the new Focus. How is work on that going?

MW:
Very well. I mean we haven't got a finished product yet or anywhere near, but everything is starting to come together now. Obviously everything has been done on the CAM screen and the parts have started to come in. The first body-shell is not too far away from being completed so hopefully we will have a running car sometime in September.

Q:
Obviously there are rumours that we might see it in action this year. Can you tell us anything more on that?

MW:
Well we are trying to achieve that. We are trying to get everything ready so we can debut the car in Australia and I mean that is for one or two reasons. But I think most importantly, once the season starts next year there is no break between events. So at least if we do Australia and we find that you know, we have got - we are going to have very little chance to test, so we are going to have no time, at least then we have got like a seven-week window between Australia and Monte Carlo next year. Whereas once the season starts they come obviously pretty thick and fast. So it is important to try and get it out so if we have to do any major re-engineering at least we have got some window of time to do that.

Q:
Now there has also been lots of speculation on the driver front - can you tell us anything about Ford's plans for next year?

MW:
Obviously the market place is completely different to what it was at the start of this year with the two French teams withdrawing from the sport. It's fair to say, that basically all the drivers that are driving for those teams have approached us and we are speaking to everybody at the moment. So we will just see basically what happens in the next couple of months and then make a decision probably towards the end of September.

Q:
And in an ideal world who would you opt for?

MW:
I mean at the moment, you have to say, nobody comes anywhere near Sebastien. He is in an absolute class of his own and obviously he would be the number one choice if we could get his services.

Q:
Obviously Markko Martin and to a lesser extent, Francois Duval would be a logical choice, in light of their history with your team?

MW:
Yeah I mean obviously we know what they are both capable of and Markko won quite a few rallies for us. But he has obviously struggled this year in the Peugeot. But as I say we have been speaking to them all and they are all available at this moment in time. We will not be rushing into anything in the immediate future.

Q:
Is there any chance Ford might run three works car next year?

MW:
No - the regulations are two cars. I mean what we might look to do, if there are private drivers, there is a lot of interest in private drivers, we are running five cars here in Finland, maybe we could run two two-car teams next year - who knows.

Q:
The new Ford Fiesta ST Group N car has been launched this weekend prior to the Rally Finland. What's the aim with that? Are you trying to rival the Group N Lancers and Impreza's and give Ford a presence in the Production Class?

MW:
What we want to try and achieve now, what we want to create, is this complete 'ladder of opportunity'. The Fiesta ST is the perfect base car to actually do that with because then we have got that, we've got the Fiesta Junior World Rally Car and then the World Rally Car itself - so we have got a full line-up. But we are really looking to try and hopefully create a one make series where there is a real opportunity for drivers to evolve and develop and look at the right price structure to go with it. Then at least the young up and coming drivers know there is something at the end of it.

Q:
Staying with the Fiesta - any news on the Junior version?

MW:
They are very busy at the moment doing a lot of re-engineering and a lot testing. Hopefully we will have that car out in the not to distant future - maybe the Ulster Rally towards the end of the month. But the testing and the engineering is still on going at quite a pace. Hopefully towards the end of season we will have a fully developed and competitive car.

Q:
Moving slight off track now, you're son Matthew was taking part in the British Rally Championship this year. He obviously had that nasty accident back in April at the Rally of Wales. How is he doing?

MW:
He is making great progress. He is actually been out here in Finland doing the recce for the rally so he can get an understanding of the stages and the event for next year. Hopefully he will do his first event, in around two weeks' time, with a view to Rally GB being his first World Rally Championship event back again, since his accident.

Q:
What would the event be in two weeks time?

MW:
There is an event in Scotland. I think it is a Scottish championship event - up in Elgin, the Speyside stages [August 20]. That's maybe a possibility but we will just look and see. Obviously he has got to go and do some testing first and see how he copes. But that is what we are trying to target to do.

Q:
That's good news. Finally returning to the WRC - what are your aims for the remainder of the year?

MW:
A realistic target is to try for Toni to finish in top three in drivers championship and to try and retain the third pace in the manufacturers'. If we achieve that, with the driver line-up we've had, we would be pretty pleased - and obviously we have got that invaluable experience for going forward again for when we come out next year with the new car.

Q:
Thanks for your time Malcolm.

MW:
Thank you.