by Rob Wilkins.

Petter Solberg's co-driver, Phil Mills kindly took time out of his schedule at the recent Rallyday to talk to Crash.net Radio.

Here, he chats about the current state of the WRC and the new Impreza, which is scheduled to be officially unveiled next month at the Frankfurt Motor Show - and loads more...

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Q:
Phil, here at the Rallyday, the weather is not exactly good at the moment [it was raining very heavily], but are you enjoying things so far?

Phil Mills:
Yeah, it is great - great atmosphere, great people and great cars. It's just a very special day out.

Q:
Good to get close to the fans as well, I'm sure?

PM:
Yeah, it is and it is something we don't get enough opportunity to do. Even on the Wales Rally GB, when we get down there, you get these slots you have to push into and it always seems a bit strange because the whole world championship is now so condensed because you have got 16 events, the time slots to do this sort of thing are so few and far between. It is just nice to have a whole day here, where you can just mingle and do whatever you want and chat to people. There are [loads of] fans - half the people here are dressed in Subaru gear, it's just amazing.

Q:
You mentioned 16 events there. There is talk that, in 2007, we might have more, which will make things even more hectic. Is that good or bad?

PM:
Yeah, there is talk about 24 events and all this sort of thing [but], as far as I can see, that is impossible to do. We all said 14 events was the limit, that 16 was stretching it. Everybody in the championship who does 16 events says it is too stretched and would like it to go back down to twelve events. My personal opinion is it should be twelve events with three cars teams - and the third car of each team should be an under-25 driver to get some youngsters into the 'big time'. That's my philosophy on the future of the WRC. But 16 events on the schedule means it is very, very stretched.

Q:
The year to date has been tough really for you, what with the form of Sebastien Loeb?

PM:
It is tough. It is not the year we planned, not the year we predicted. We've had lots of problems along the way. We are struggling in the dry a little bit. In the wet, there is no problem at all. But it's not the year we planned. We've had some breakages, some offs, some self-inflicted accidents - Monte Carlo and so on. It's not the year we planned - we planned to be world champions this year. There is a 30-point difference as we stand, and it is difficult to close that gap.

Q:
Is it possible though?

PM:
It's mathematically do-able - whether it is realistic, though, I'm not sure. But we continue to go to every event to try and win it outright. It is as simple as that and we will never change that philosophy.

Q:
Obviously, next year, you should have a better chance, what with Citroen and Peugeot pulling out?

PM:
Yes and no. The French cars aren't simply going to disappear into an underground lock-up. There is a fair chance that someone like Sebastien [Loeb] will come back in a Citroen and run privately, and it will still be a world-winning car for at least next year. It's not just going disappear.

So, if Sebastien came back as private driver next year, just to sit out the year with his present car, then he will take off where he is this year. He will be serious threat even though he won't [be competing under] the official badge of Citroen. But, yeah, there are four manufacturers represented next year, unless someone else comes in for a bit. It will be business as normal next year - I guarantee it.

Q:
The new Impreza is going to be unveiled officially next month, at the Frankfurt Motor show. What are your thoughts on that?

PM:
Once again, it is an exciting project. It is a similar car to the old one although, obviously, it looks a bit different [with] the bumpers and a full face-lift. There are lots of things under the skin coming on which we have only just started to test now in Italy. It's early days for the car - as I say, we have only just started testing it - but there are lots of exciting things going on there, especially for Mexico onwards.

Q:
Obviously Subaru are planning to start the season with [the new car], as opposed to introducing it at the third event as they have done in recent years. That is to do with new regulations, isn't it?

PM:
Yeah, that's right. All the active differentials and so on have been banned next year, so we are back to normal differentials - back to Mk2 Escort differentials - which I never we'd thought go back to.

It is interesting all round. Seeing how the teams will cope with that and how teams set the car-up. Seeing who are the ones who get it right from the first event and who are the ones who will take a few events to get the combination right of all the passive differentials. It will be very interesting next year.

Q:
Is it a positive move to get rid of some of those technical gizmos?

PM:
Yes and no. Cost-wise, they tell me the new systems are not that much cheaper than the active systems. I'm sure it will be [cheaper] once they start producing them in volume. [With regard to] grip levels and so on, you won't quite see such exciting driving, I think, with the new system. I might be wrong. We will just have to wait and see.

Q:
Staying with next year, obviously events are going to be paired where possible. What do you think about this?

PM:
It makes a lot of sense from a logistical point of view. Obviously, just to hop across from one event to another, as we are doing from Corsica to Spain this year, logistically and cost-wise there is a massive difference. It means people don't go back to base and people stay on the road for two weeks instead of one. So, cost-wise great, [but] it won't make that much difference to us as competitors. It won't make any difference to us at all but, for the team and the people behind the team, and obviously the cost, it is going to make a huge difference.

Q:
What about the personal cost for the people involved. Doing back-to-back rallies will mean longer times apart from family and friends, and that's the obvious downside, isn't it?

PM:
Exactly, but, if you actually look at it properly, you actually do spend a little bit more time at home when you pair events. Okay, so you are away two-and-a-half weeks but, in the present system, we are away eleven days, then home three days, then away eleven days. So it does actually work out better in the long run.

Q:
That's great Phil. Thanks for your time.